Thursday, 28 April 2011

Weather we like it or not...

“Thank god we got the last of our reds in before the rain!” sighs a relieved Mel Lawson from Cypress Wines in Hawke’s Bay.  “It is just horrible here, hosing down in fact.  But there are growers out there with fruit still on the vines, so I’ve got no idea how they’ll get on”.  That was the state of play on April 26th, the day before the region experienced severe flooding on the tail end of what’s been a pretty rough year for most North Island wine regions.  “We’re all ok here” said Clearview Estate’s Tim Turvey, “The rest of Te Awanga is a bit of a train wreck though.  With a bit of fruit still to come in “it’ll be a very late harvest” he adds.
Wet and wild La Nina weather patterns put a real dampener on the 2011 ripening season, and while north island farmers will be gleefully gambolling around in their gumboots, predicting prolific grass growth; our winegrowers greet autumn rain with fists in the air and foul language. Rain encourages bunch rot (botrytis) and thirsty vines soak up water like a sponge, distributing that water up into the berries. This then causes the berries to swell and dilutes those intense, concentrated flavours needed to create fabulous wine.   
Nelson has also had it tough with growers really battling the conditions to manage crop spoilage from things like slip-skin and acetobacter, bacteria which can give the grapes a vinegar-like flavour, but wineries like Waiheke Island’s Destiny Bay have adopted the very expensive but extremely effective method of loading all the fruit onto sorting tables where only the best individual berries are selected to go into the ferment.  Marlborough is the powerhouse of New Zealand’s production and they’re putting a positive spin on things with growers saying that most grapes in Marlborough have been harvested and winemakers are hoping for a good end to the vintage despite the heavy rain.  They’re also not worried about fruit still on the vines with Constellation New Zealand’s viticulture and winemaking manager Darryl Woolley saying that this late in the season canopies were shutting down, so dilution of flavours by vines taking up moisture from the soil shouldn’t be a problem.
What could be a problem though, according to some North Island growers of those big, full-bodied red varieties like syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon is that while most of the fruit was bought in flavour-ripe, the sugar levels weren’t as high as they’d usually like.  “It just means we’ll have to be careful and creative in the winery” shrugs Mel.  It could be a blessing in disguise as lower alcohol levels may mean a swing to the more elegant, gentle red styles that the French are so famed for.
Wine lovers with a sweet tooth won’t be left wanting as the weather across the regions is ideal for fans of the sweet, sticky dessert styles.  All this extra moisture and mild daytime temperatures mean botrytis will lay claim to those aromatic whites such as gewürztraminer and riesling, encouraging the berries to shrivel, concentrating all those gorgeous honey, toffee and stonefruit flavours and making me a happy girl indeed.
Two for One Coleraine! 
Are you the owner of a bottle of 2005 Te Mata Coleraine?  Then the team at Te Mata Estate want to hear from you.  They’re in a pickle because they were so impressed with Coleraine 2005 at their Showcase 2011 tastings held around the country recently, that they realised they need more of this wine for their own cellar.  So, they’re asking New Zealanders “if you have Coleraine ‘05 then we want to talk to you”.  Te Mata will exchange your Coleraine in a two-for-one deal. Every bottle of Coleraine ’05 gets you two bottles of Coleraine ’07.  Call Sally Duncan now on 06 877 4399 or email if you’re interested in turning your good Coleraine into two excellent Coleraines.  
Medieval Beer Fest
If your memories of the Oktoberfest in Germany on your O.E back in the day are foggy at best, you can relive some of the glory over in Taranaki at the inaugural Mike’s Brewery Medieval Beer Fest.  Held on Saturday 21st May from 2pm – 11pm, it’ll be a grand opportunity to sample sensational organic beers, enjoy Medieval entertainment (jousting anyone?), an authentic Medieval feast, a free collectors drinking vessel, a groovy live band and best of all there’s buses to and from New Plymouth and Hawera so driving isn’t even in the equation!
Just remember to swap your lederhosen for tights, pointy shoes and a tunic of some description.  Suits of armour are also encouraged and even court jesters will be tolerated.
Situated on Main North Road Urenui, the team at Mike’s Organic Brewery want to make the event world famous in Taranaki, so if you’re keen to venture westward tickets are available from or you can email
A taste of their own medicine…
Italian-born kiwi winery owner Antonio Pasquale has recently returned from Italy with an excellent, yet slightly unusual export order.  Hundreds of cases of his Waitaki Valley Pinot Gris (or Pinot Grigio as it is known in Italy) have been ordered by high end restaurants in Milan and other Italian cities.  The unusual thing is that pinot gris is one of the signature grapes of Italy, very widely planted and is incredibly popular over there – so why would they want any from New Zealand?  “It’s a little like coals to Newcastle” says Antonio.  The wine is delicious; I can vouch for that, but being the only kiwi winery at Vinitaly, one of the worlds largest wine fairs definitely helped.  “We were the only NZ winery there, and despite being hidden away we were the only ones with long queues to taste our wines.  The Italians were stunned by the clarity and minerality in our pinot gris” he shrugs.  The expo attracted a record 156,000 people over three days.
Four of the Best
Man O War Gravestone Sauvignon Semillon 2010 $34 (5 Stars)
70% sauvignon blended with 30% semillon has created a masterpiece in this snappy, incredibly complex white.  Intense aromas of crushed green herbs, passionfruit, wild flowers, dandelions and hay – seriously it’s that good.  Tangy, herbaceous and crisply elegant –this is definitely one wine you won’t forget in a hurry.  Buy from fine wine stores or via
Spinyback Nelson Chardonnay 2009 $16 (4 Stars)
Fantastic value for money here!  Loaded with grapefruit, lemon and lovely tropical melony notes fringed with some toasty, nutty notes on the finish.  An absolute crowd-pleaser that has ‘drink me with roast chicken’ written all over it plus money from the sale of every bottle goes toward saving our own Spinyback, the Tuatara. Widely available or visit to buy.
Mikes Organic Brewery Imperial Porter 750ml $15
The pitch black and brooding Imperial Porter by Mike’s Organic Brewery is a heavyweight at 8.0%ABV and boasts molasses, tar and creamy, smoky flavours.  I love this beer with roast duck on a bed of garlicy mashed spuds and swimming in red wine sauce.  For stockists visit
Urlar Gladstone Riesling 2010 $25 (4 Stars)
Beautiful green apple and lemon aromas followed by punchy, tangy acidity and deliciously dry lemon verbena flavours on the finish – this organic, biodynamically produced riesling is lipsmackingly good.  Buy from fine wine stores or via

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Easter Sipping

Eager for Easter Sips

There’s nothing like a public holiday, nay a ‘religious’ holiday to get the festive juices working and the wine thirst calling.  We start planning where we’re going to be, or who’ll be coming around.  There could also be a bit of panic about what we’re going to eat because chances are it’s very likely to be the last time we use the barbeque.  Do we need to make peace with granddad because we haven’t seen him since Waitangi weekend? Is it our turn to do Easter lunch this year?  Have we bought enough Easter eggs for the kids?  So naturally we start thinking about wine.
Parents the length and breadth of the country are also in the midst of a very busy fortnight.  For me, school holidays conjure up daydreams of spending my days baking hot cross buns, pottering around in the garden, bottling fruit, visiting playgrounds and sewing dolls clothes with my little cherubs just like my mum did when I was little.  But after a couple of days of trying my hardest to work and keep the house clean and entertain the children with arty, crafty things, what I usually end up with are frustrated, scratchy little cretins suffering from Easter egg overload who demand that I please send them to the YMCA because home is so boring.  So again I find myself thinking about wine.

At least it’s autumn.  I adore autumn.  The firewood’s been delivered and safely stacked away, the electric blanket is dusted off, the rhubarb is ripe and piles of sweet-scented feijoas start appearing in my favourite fruit and veg shops. The figs are fit to bursting; foraging for edible fungus becomes a full-time occupation and best of all it’s quite acceptable to wear long pants every day, which is great because my summer tan is already a shadow of its former self.  Autumn is about wrapping up in something warm to catch the last of the afternoon sun, while sitting on my front step clutching a glass of something crisp and aromatic.

‘Aromatic’ is a term given to a group of white wines where so much of their appeal lies in their extremely distinctive aromas.  Wines like Riesling with its honeyed, floral, apple, lime and mineral aromas, Pinot Gris and its pear and quince notes, Viognier with it’s orange peel and spicy stone fruit and Gewurztraminer’s distinctive lychee, rose petal and spicy characters.  These wines, as a general rule are made without oak, and are matured in stainless steel tanks to preserve these bright, fresh, spritzy characters that make them famous.  However, the down side is that due to their delicate nature and high acidity, these wines are also highly prone to spoilage, so once the bottle is opened it will need to be consumed immediately.  Screwcaps will help it live overnight as will a vacuvin pump – but please don’t think you can leave an open bottle of aromatic wine in the fridge for a week and have it live up to your expectations. 

I won’t attempt to go into who grows the best examples of these styles because you know what?  Great aromatic wines are produced right across New Zealand; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Each November the Canterbury A&P Show hosts the International Aromatic Wine Competition which brings out the best of the best of these styles.  Last year, West Auckland winery Westbrook took out the Supreme Champion Trophy with their Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2010.

I love aromatic wines because they go so well with Asian food which my husband and I are addicted to, but they’re also sensational with flavours of a Spanish persuasion, and if you don’t believe me crack any aromatic and enjoy with my never-fail, Feijoa Firecracker Salsa.

  • 8 feijoas, peeled and diced
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped 
  •  ½ cup diced capsicum (try a mixture of red, yellow and orange if you can for extra colour)
  • Juice of 2 limes, (about 1/4 cup juice)
  • 1 level tsp freshly chopped red chilli (or ½tsp minced chilli from a jar)
  • 2 tblsp chopped coriander
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion or sweet onion

 Mix everything together and plough into it.

Beer for Brekkie?
As if they didn’t have a beer for every occasion already, the team at Moa have started brewing a Breakfast Beer.
A blend of premium wheat malt, floral Nelson hops and cherries, Moa Breakfast was launched last week at a trendy café in Auckland; but don’t let that put you off because it’s actually pretty good. Brewer Josh Scott and his father Allan would occasionally compliment a leisurely breakfast with beer, which got Josh thinking that if people could enjoy champagne at breakfast time, why not beer? The Breakfast brew has an alcohol content of 5.5%. Like champagne, it is bottle fermented and conditioned and is sealed with a cork, muselet and foil.
Additional ‘Moa Breakfast’ events are set to be held in Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown over the coming months.
Moa Breakfast is available in 375ml bottles in selected stores and premium cafes, bars and restaurants, and a four-pack of Moa Breakfast will cost you around $34. 


Lawsons Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2009 $26 êêêê
Big and blousy, but beautiful nonetheless.  I love this style of Gewurz, with its luscious lychee, rose and peach aromas pierced with ginger and it’s fleshed out with some sweetness and spice on the back palate.   Lawson’s are masters of the lengthy finish and this wine definitely leaves an impression, particularly if you pair it with Thai Larb Gai.
Georges Road Block Three Waipara Riesling 2010 $23 êêêê½
A few years making wine in Germany clearly infected Kirk Bray with the riesling bug and this superb example has subtle jazz apple, feijoa and lipsmacking lime notes underpinned with beautifully balanced acidity and superb persistence of flavour.  Gentle, wild fermentation gives this riesling extra depth and a hint of funk.
Rock Ferry Central Otago Viognier 2008 $29 êêêê
Classic aromas of orange zest, cinnamon, jasmine and tangy citrus oil lead to an ultra-clean and lean palate, punctuated by chalky minerality, fruit complexity and elegant length.  Super-tasty with pork spare ribs slathered in Hoisin sauce and sizzled under the grill.

The Mussel Inn Captain Cooker Manuka Beer 5%alc $5 330ml
Using organic malts, hops and water sourced from a tiny stream in the hills behind the brewery, this little outfit from Onekaka in Nelson’s Golden Bay area is turning out some seriously tasty tipples.  The ‘cooker is their signature brew and it boasts a rich, nutty molasses-like aroma, a smooth, creamy texture in the mouth with a hint of anise followed by tangy, ribsticking length of flavour.  Also available in 1.3lt PET $8.85.  For stockists in your area or to order visit
Kurow Village Cricklewood Pinot Gris 2010 $24 êêêê½
Produced from North Otago fruit this is hands down one of the loveliest pinot gris I’ve tried in ages.  Scented with classic apple, pear and quince, it delivers a crisp, clean burst of vibrant citrus which morphs into spicy strudel notes on the finish.  If you’re a plate of cumin seed gouda, fruit paste and oatcakes I’d be very afraid.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Summer Lovin'

Out in the leafy loveliness of west canterbury sits Melton Estate.

If you travel twenty minutes west of Christchurch on the West Coast Road (SH73) you’ll enter the leafy locale known as West Melton which is home to a plucky community of winegrowers including Melton Estate.  Previously known as Sherwood Estate, the Melton Estate winery is the brainchild of Philip Caunter, a million-miles-an-hour man who can add ‘software entrepreneur’ and ‘ardent fan of the West Melton RFC’ to his busy business card.  He’d asked me to pop out to the vineyard one warm, sunny day a few weeks back to sample some “summer love”. I thought about it.  He did sound quite nice on the phone and my husband did happen to be away for a few days so I said “sure, what’s the harm”. 
Upon arrival, rather than asking me up to see his etchings Philip led me out into the small, but perfectly formed vineyard where he began talking about Melton Estate’s flagship wine, a sparkling riesling called, wait for it, Summer Love.   “I started the sparkling riesling as an experiment” says Peter, “I visited the Yarra Valley and sampled a Pink Moscato, something I’d never tried before at a place called Innocent Bystander. It was spritzy, sweet, refreshing and I loved it.  I came back and said to our winemaker “let’s make this” and he said “well clearly we can’t grow Moscato here” and I agreed, but then he said “so we’re gonna make it with riesling and add 10% pinot noir to pink it up” laughs Philip.  “We’ve mixed something that’s never been done before and it’s worked”.  Initially I thought sparkling riesling sounded cheesy and lightweight, but on sipping it, the end result is anything but.  “We’ve been making it for three years now, every batch seems to get better and better so we think we’re onto a winner” he shrugs.  Melton have doubled production each year and it still sells out. 
Pinot noir is another variety that has Philip fizzing and looking at his pinot noir block it’s incredibly green and lush. “We’ve had a lot of growth this year which is amazing because this block doesn’t get watered at all.  And we’ve been very aggressive fruit thinning and leaf plucking aiming for maximum ripeness.  Today we’re about 19brix (which is a measure of sugar ripeness) but by harvest we need to be up around 24”.  Harvest chaos begins here around the week of April.  “Canterbury has a really nice autumn” adds Philip, handing me a taste of the newly bottled 2010 pinot.  “Canterbury maintains those essential warm days and cool nights right into May, which is just fantastic for growing grapes.  It’s quite even-tempered, but come July it’s custard like the rest of the south island, but the vines bounce back.” 
The vineyard is fully netted. “Birds are aggressive here in Canterbury because they’ve got very little to feed on, so they’re going to turn up and decimate your crop if you’re not careful”.  Sauvignon blanc isn’t a grape he’s worrying about however, “what’s the point? We could grow great sauvignon, but when you see it in the supermarkets for less than ten bucks a bottle it aint worth it. We make a Marlborough sauvignon that we serve for our events here, and that works for us.”  Everything is very compact at Melton Estate, and every inch of land is utilised by the vineyard, a function centre about to undergo some sensational renovations and Philip’s house, unlike much of West Melton’s ‘lifestyle’ surrounds which appear proudly devoted to dogs, ponies and tennis courts instead. 
Ninety percent of the wines are sold onsite, and while other cellar doors revel in their rusticity and ramshackle charm, Melton Estate makes no bones about promoting themselves as a slick, high-tech, corporate-friendly function centre.  “What we learnt early on is that we had all these people turning up for weddings, functions and corporate events and they only really wanted to drink Heineken and sauvignon blanc” admits Philip.  “We realised that rather than overtly or aggressively promoting our wine, we were happier encouraging wine hospitality.  People come here for lunch or for an event, and the fact that our wines are nice is an extra bonus”. 
Britain’s oldest wine store closes…
Managing Director Colin Baker also said there was a lack of customers in the village and that the overheads were just too high. "We had to look at the potential to break even and it just wasn't there", he added.
Manager Oliver Bartley said: "The main problem has been the downturn. Because people are earning less money they want to spend less on wine. "They go to the supermarket and spend just £3 pounds on a bottle of wine, and we can't compete with those prices. The landlord won't drop the rent so we had no hope of surviving”.

Melton Estate Summer Love Sparkling Riesling $25 êêê½
There are three things I like about this wine.  First is that a squirt of pinot noir gives it a pretty ballet-shoe pink colour while on the nose it has lovely fresh, vibrant peach stone and citrus aromas followed by a bright, spritzy, fruit-forward burst of flavour.  Secondly with a positively demure alcohol content of 6% it’ll hardly knock you sideways and thirdly, it’s also available in a 375ml bottle, just perfect for picnics.
Melton Estate Canterbury Pinot Noir 2010 $25 êêê½
If this is any indication of what the 2010 pinot’s from Canterbury are shaping up like, then I’m a very happy camper.  With baked strawberry, rosemary and rhubarb aromas and ripe, summer-pudding berries on the palate, this is definitely a tasty drink.  It is still just a puppy, but I can see those layers of flavour developing nicely over the next year or two.
Two Rivers Convergence Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 $22 êêêêê
Wow!  Intensely pungent pea-pod, green bean, lime and passionfruit aromas leap out of the glass and in the mouth it sings with pure citrus, crushed nettles and a hint of feijoa.  The acidity slices across the tongue adding excitement to the clean, tangy length of flavour.  Amazing with homemade paua fritters sprinkled with lemon and salt.
W5 Marlborough Chardonnay 2009 $14 êêêê
This is a classic rich, juicy chardonnay that oozes layers of tropical undertones and grapefruity goodness all wrapped up in a cosy cardigan of oak.  This is not available in shops but all you need do is tap into your browser and you’re away laughing – or should I say ‘sipping’.