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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Great NZ Whites

A roundup of exceptional NZ white wines

White wine is what we do best. Sure – pinot noir, syrah and other reds have their intermittent good years. But the overwhelming bulk of our acclaimed exports, year after year are white wines – pretty well hugely dominated by sauvignon blanc which represents about 75% of our grape plantings.

Having said that, given our cool climate, other more obscure white grapes deserve a mention. I have long been a fan of our (formerly unfashionable) chardonnay grape variety. We also do fantastic pinot gris, viognier, riesling, gewürztraminer and others.

Here is a selection of recent samples.

Ngatarawa Stables Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2014 $NZ 15.00
Pinot gris has become a hugely popular wine in NZ as a mid-range option on the scale from dry, crisp and citrusy sauvignon blancs - to oaky rounded soft buttery chardonnays. This one smells like citrus fruit and nectarine. In the mouth it has a full and generous palate, with ripe nectarine and stone fruit flavours. Yet it has a dry and crisp finish.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Gewürztraminer 2013 $NZ 29.50
A lovely complex style of gewürz. Barrel aged for a while and including some botrytised (i.e. late picked and sweet) grape juice. Aromas of jasmine and spice, it opens out in the mouth with guava, quince and an off-dry finish.
Coopers Creek Hawkes Bay Limeworks Chardonnay 2014 $NZ 22.00
Aromas of toasty brioche, vanilla, toffee apple and some florals. Showing nice characters for such a young chardonnay, with soft acid, Baba Rhum, creamy yeast and vanilla. Mouth filling with a dry lengthy finish.

Peacock Sky Chardonnay Waiheke 2014 $39.00
Smells like marzipan, vanilla, and citrus. In the mouth - flavours of peach, apricot, mandarin, toast and toffee apple and a lovely lengthy palate.  This one’s a keeper. Hide it for 3-4 years.

Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2013 $NZ 38.90
Aromas of grapefruit and spicy oak. Creamy and complex flavours of nectarine and mandarin with little a hint of clover honey.

Ransom Rousanne 2014 $NZ 26.00
Rousanne is a quite obscure French grape from the southern Rhône.
Yet, North Auckland’s boutique Ransom Vineyard produces a tiny amount.
Smells very complex - with toffee apple, funky spicy yeast and citrus lemon. Once swished around the mouth - complex and lush, mouth filling. Chardonnay-like, with crisp finish and lengthy palate.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Foxes Island Celebrates 24 years

John Belsham, one of New Zealand’s top winemakers and wine critics founded Foxes Island in Marlborough 24 years ago. His focus is on hand made, regionally expressive wines – the philosophy that he absorbed in his time as a winemaker in France, where he lived in Bordeaux from 1977 to 1981. In 2010, Foxes Island achieved full sustainable certification (SWNZ). The following year, an organic farming program was implemented on the estate.

In mid-2013 Foxes opened their cellar door, not in Marlborough but at 15 Williamson Avenue, two blocks from Ponsonby Road. The central location and spacious, elegant show room/cellar door provides a tasting room with further options as a venue for weddings and corporate functions catering for up to 75 people. Onsite they also have a ‘wine library’ of hard to find older vintages for sale.

Small group tastings are by arrangement and larger groups can be catered for, including the option of a private guided tasting with John Belsham. Foxes have a mail order Hunt Club where a mixed case can be shipped at regular intervals through the year, plus they have just launched regular Wine Wednesdays where locals save 10% on all Single Vineyard & FOX Wines.
Company director Kelly Brown is often onsite. She has a sound science, viticulture and oenology background and has served on international wine judging panels.

I dropped in recently to sample the latest line-up. They were all great.

Foxes Island Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2013  $NZ 26
A softer style of sauvignon without the over the top Marlborough acidity that can be off-putting. Fermented in oak barrels. Aromas and flavours of blackcurrant and pineapple, and ripe guava with a medium crisp finish.

Foxes Island Icon Lapine 2012  $NZ 60
This is actually another barrel fermented sauv blanc, with no mention of the grape variety on the label – à la French wines. Lovely complex and soft wine with aromas and flavours of roast bell pepper, black currant, ripe peach and a hint of herbs.

Foxes Island Single Vineyard Riesling 2010 $NZ 30
Aromas of beeswax, citrus blossom and tropical fruit. Tastes just off-dry. Flavours of baked apple and lime with soft acids.

Foxes Island Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2010 $NZ 45
Aromas of popcorn, lime and a hint of toast. Creamy, toasty and mellow with ripe nectarine, apricot and grapefruit with a long finish.

FOX Pinot Noir 2014 $NZ 28
Incredible value. Silky and ripe with aromas of plum, cherry pie and a hint of star anise. In the mouth – savoury, rich and soft, with black cherry and black boy peach.

Foxes Island Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 $NZ 45
More complex and lean, with mineral aromas, and a hint of spice. Flavours of tamarillo, black olive and ripe cherry, with medium tannins.

Phil Parker hosts wine tours in Auckland

Sunday, February 22, 2015

By Jove - Heron's Flight winery - Sangiovese

(A cautionary tale)

Heron’s Flight pioneered sangiovese about 17 years ago in the clay soils of Matakana. The first vines were planted in the late 1980s, by couple David Hoskins and Mary Evans, starting off with chardonnay, cabernet and merlot. Then in 1994 David’s infatuation with Italian wines led him to plant sangiovese. Since then, all the other vines have been pulled out and replaced with either sangiovese or latterly, northern Italian grape dolcetto. Sangiovese translates as ‘the blood of Jupiter’ and is the variety from which the famous Brunello di Montalcino red wine is made.

I was first introduced to the wine, by David and Mary about 14 years ago when I started my wine tour business. Since then I have got to know David and Mary and watched their wine develop to gain the attention of some of our top critics. On a recent visit, David handed me a bottle of the brand new 2013 release, and said, “Here. See what you think.”
So, I tucked the bottle inside a carry bag and popped it in the rear of the tour coach. All very well. On arrival at home, sadly ‘some items had moved during transit’ and when I opened the hatch, horrors – the carry bag slid out of the coach and landed in the gutter with a loud crack. I immediately thought, “Oh no. I can’t ask David for a second bottle. Plus I won’t be up that way for several weeks. Golly.”
Thus, the sight of a fiftyish man, furtively drinking red wine from a Pt. Chev gutter with a teaspoon did occur some time in the second week of February. Luckily, I soon got another Matakana tour booking and David supplied me with my second sample bottle. It tasted a whole lot better. I also opened a bottle of the 2012 second tier sangiovese for comparison.

Heron’s Flight Matakana Sangiovese 2012 $30.00
This is a second tier wine, made in years when David feels the quality is not quite up to premium level. Yet after three years bottle age, this wine is drinking very nicely. Earthy, smoky and black cherry aromas. Ripe flavours of blackberry, liquorice, and sour cherry, with a gently rustic long finish.

Heron’s Flight Matakana Sangiovese 2013 $60.00
Literally a few weeks in the bottle, this is very much a youngster but shows huge promise. Purple crimson colour. Aromas of ripe plum, spice and herbs. Opens out after decanting with rich ripe flavours of black cherry, dark berry fruit, spice and chocolate with a long finish. Fantastic.  I won’t drop another bottle of this one.

Heron’s Flight Vineyard
9 Sharp Road
09 950 6643 or 021 0258 8203
Open 7 days from 9.00 am. Don’t miss pizza on summer weekends!

Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland  

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Waiheke Island's new wineries

Over the hols we managed to catch up with two brand spanking new winery operations on Waiheke Island.

Batch Winery
129 Carsons Road
09 372 3223
Open Summer 7 days 11.00 pm – 7.00 pm 
Winter Saturday & Sunday 12.30 am – 4.30 pm
The highest elevated vineyard on the island, Batch has spectacular views out over the gulf and islands. Local architect David Scott has designed a suitably stylish Kiwi shed-like winery building that also incorporates state of the art gravity flow technology and winemaking equipment. They have three labels: Fizz (sparkling Prosecco method 100% chardonnay, riesling and rosé); Batch Winery Estate, and the top tier Thomas & Sons reserve label.  All wines are grown, vinted and bottled onsite, including pinot gris, flora, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and syrah.
Notable wines – flora $60, syrah $44, and the Prosecco style sparklers $34 - $42
Food Café
Lunch 11.30 am – 3.00 pm   High Tea 3.00 pm – 7.00 pm
Simple menu with fresh and tasty options accompanied by local olive oils and freshly baked artisan Italian style breads. High Tea consists of a tall platter of savoury and sweet goodies, accompanied by a glass of Fizz.
Vineyard Dog – Ranger
The viticulturist’s dog, his favourite pastimes are meeting and greeting visitors and running madly through the vineyard

Frenchman’s Hill Estate and Expatrius Wines
1 Margaret Reeve Lane
09 372 3387
Open Summer 11.00 am – 4.00 pm Thursday to Sunday
Winter 11.00 am – 3.00 pm Thursday to Sunday (phone ahead)
Couple, Luc and Anna Desbonnets bring a touch of Gallic flair to Waiheke with their new vineyard, café, cellar door/gift shop and boutique accommodation. Anna takes care of the retail and wine tasting, while Luc looks after the vines and makes wines under the Frenchmans Hill Estate and Expatrius labels. The property consists of 5 hectares of north facing, steeply sloping vineyard just below the tasting room, plus olive groves and wetlands. Frenchman’s Hill also has two other vineyard blocks on Waiheke. Olive oil and figs prodded on the property are also for sale. The gift shop features art works and funky homeware and décor items. Tastings can be had at a small bar, or in the spacious covered courtyard with views across to Anzac Bay.
Notable wines
The Rocks Rosé $35, Blood Creek (Meritage Bordeaux style) $98.
Food – Café
Simple bistro fare at reasonable prices
Accommodation - Guest House
The secluded guest house provides a luxury getaway accommodation with an apartment for 1 to 4 guests. Continental breakfast and complimentary wine tasting is included in tariff ($345 to $445 depending on numbers and season.)

Phil Parker runs the best wine tours in Auckland known to human kind 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NZ Wine & Cheese - Marriage Made In Foodie Heaven

I remember as a student in the 1970s, attending a ‘wine and cheese’ function held by Auckland University students. I consisted of scruffy long-haired people drinking bad red wine accompanied by bits of Colby on toothpicks.
Happily, NZ has come a long way since then with both its cheese production and wine quality. And surely, two of our major industries – dairy and wine, should complement each other. I’m not a major foodie, but I do know a few and have picked a bit of knowledge along the way. These cheese matches are just a suggestion. As for most food and wine matching, it’s all about personal preference and experimentation.

Yealands PGR Awatere Aromatic Blend 2014 $NZ 15.99
Something quite different from Yealands – a blend of three grape varieties: 49% Pinot Gris, 32% Riesling, 19% Gewürztraminer.
Aromas of pear and red apple skin, with flavours of ripe pears and citrus fruits, with a tangy dry finish.
Cheese match – Puhoi Feta

Ngatarawa Stables Pinot Gris Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2014 $NZ 15.00
A medium-bodied style stone fruit and ripe pear aromas. Nashi pear and white peach flavours and a clean crisp finish.
Cheese match – Kapiti Triple Cream Brie

Matawhero  Gisborne Gewürztraminer 2014 $15.00
On the nose, mineral, spice, tonic water and rosewater. On the palate, dry and crisp, with spicy clove, lychee fruit, lime and quinine.
Cheese match – Mainland Vintage Cheddar

Heron’s Flight Matakana Dolcetto Rosé 2014 $24.00
Vivid raspberry juice pink colour, on the nose a hint of strawberries and minerality.  In the mouth, quite surprisingly rich with spice and red fruit flavours a hint of sweetness and a dry finish.
Cheese match – Whitestone Creamy Havarti

Catalina Sounds Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 $NZ 27.00
Aromas of toast, black berry fruit and spice. Silky ripe palate with flavours of red berry fruits and black cherry.
Cheese match -
Kapiti Kahikatea Camembert

Mountford Estate Pinot Noir 2009  $NZ 67.00 (approx)
Starts off on the nose with savoury and fruitcake aromas and hint of tawny port. One sip and I’m seduced - gorgeously soft and integrated flavours of fruit cake, Maraschino cherry, sweet liquorice and mocha.
Cheese match – Bouton d’Or Camembert

Fernado De Castilla Pedro Ximinez Sherry 750 ml $NZ 34.00
Pedro Ximinex (PX for short) is a famous Spanish grape variety from which the eponymous rich, sweet sherry is vinted. Greeny brown in the glass, it smells a bit like molasses. In the mouth, unctuous and intensely sweet with muscatel raisin and golden syrup flavours. Mmmmm.
Cheese match – Barry’s Bay Peninsula Blue

Pegasus Bay Finale Waipara Noble Semillon 2011 (barrel matured)
$NZ 40.00
Aromas of dried apricots, honey and marzipan. Mouth filling, sweet and
Rich, it has flavours of honey and marmalade with a hint of acid to balance the sugars.
Cheese match – Puhoi 7 Year Old Cheddar

Special thanks to Tracey Larsen from Matua Valley cellar door for cheese matching advice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Got A Whole Lotta Wine

As per my last column – there have been many opportunities to taste new wine releases as we head toward Auckland’s summer.  I still have a heap awaiting review but here we go with the latest.  Cheers!

Villa Maria Pinot Gris Private Bin Light 2014 $15
I was a bit cynical about low alcohol wines – but this is the real deal. At only 9% alcohol, this tastes like a full bodied, crisp and fruity Pinot Gris. It has enough complexity and balance to stand up against a regular 12-14% alcohol wine.

Craggy Range Te Muna Martinborough Pinot Gris 2014 $27
Aromas of orange blossom and minerality. This is an elegant and lean style of Pinot Gris with flavours of lime, fennel, white peach, and fresh pineapple and a crisp finish.

Gladstone 12,000 Central Otago Miles Pinot Gris 2014 $21
Citrus blossom and poached pear aromas. Time spent on yeast residue had added a layer of creaminess to the stone fruit and Nashi pear flavours.

Vidal Marlborough Riesling 2014 $18
Citrus and floral aromas. On the palate, an elegant and delicate, just off-dry wine with lime, ripe pear flavours and a crisp clean finish at only 11% alcohol.

Waimea Classic Nelson Riesling 2014 $20
Aromas of lemon/lime and green apple, but opens up on the palate with ripe honeysuckle, lemon squash, and tropical fruit.  Yet with a crisp clean finish.

Dry River Martinborough Viognier 2012 $45
Nectarine and rhubarb aromas, with elegant, complex flavours of apricot, white peach and lemon squash with hint of sweetness. Crisp, dry and lengthy palate.

Pegasus Bay Waipara Gewürztraminer 2012  $29
Yellow gold colour, with aromas of honey and ripe nectarines. This wine was aged in old oak barrels.  Flavours of spice, honey, grapefruit marmalade and lychee fruit in an unctuous and lush style.

Vidal Anthony Joseph Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 $16
Citrus and mineral aromas. Palate of toasted almond, grapefruit, ripe pear and quince – with a lengthy aftertaste.

Vidal Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 $25
Floral potpourri aromas, with ripe black fruit.  In the mouth – ripe fruit flavours, with Black Doris plum and savoury smooth finish.

Heron’s Flight Matakana Sangiovese 2012
Dark berry fruit, floral and subtle spice aromas.  Dark cherry/berry and earthy fruit cake flavours with a firm tannic finish. One to cellar for a few more years.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV $140
Billecart is a family run winery, making Champagne in Epernay since 1818. Their Rosé is the flagship wine, made with about 50% Chardonnay, plus around 1/3 Pinot Noir and a dash of Pinot Meunier. Aromas of red berries, brioche and mineral. A fine beaded Champagne with subtle cherry and spiced fruit and crisp mineral finish.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV $60 - $99
Citrus flower and red berry fruit aromas. Crisp mineral acidity with flavours of pear, apple, a hint of toast, and stone fruit.
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Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland 

lots of new wines from NZ

For a wine writer, spring is the best time of year. Wines that have been held back for release are suddenly flooding the market in a vinous tsunami of diversity – from softly aged reds that have been quietly snoozing in seasoned oak barrels for a number years, to fruity and fresh young things bursting with flavour, from the last vintage.

This is one of those times when I don’t mind the courier knocking on the door at 7.15 am to deliver mystery packages – because mostly they contain what we in the wine scribe fraternity describe as ‘trade samples.’
And thus, in the name of ongoing professional development, these wines must be sampled.

NZ has been blessed by two fantastic vintages – 2013 and 2014.
The former, more about quality yet with less quantity.  And the latter, a rare ‘beautiful collision’ of both quality and quantity.  We can be justly proud of our wines. As locals, we have access to some amazing wines, many of which are not exported. As a nod to the fine reds from Australia, I have also included a great Shiraz.

Mudhouse Marlborough Pinot Gris 2014 $20.00
Pale gold colour. Aromas of lemon squash lime juice. Medium sweet and lush with flavours of spice, quince and poached pear.  Time ageing in oak barrels has added a layer of complexity and softer flavours.

Mountford Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2011 $29.00
Hailing from Waipara, this is a lush and unctuous late harvest style sweet wine in line with the Vendange Tardive style from northern France’s Alsace region. A mouthful of spiced quince, pear, honey and golden queen peach. 

Gladstone Vineyard Sophie’s Choice Wairarapa (Oak Aged) Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $35.00
A great Savvie for those who are put off by the Marlborough acidity.  This one has spent 10 months in French barrels. Classic gooseberry and passionfruit flavours with a hint of toasty hazel nut, yet with a crisp finish.

West Brook Barrique Marlborough Chardonnay 2013 $24.00
Formerly, a blend of Auckland and Marlborough fruit, this time it’s 100% Marlborough fruit. A rich and rewarding wine with ripe flavours of canned peach, grapefruit and mandarin, a crisp citrus finish and a hint of toasty oak.

Main Divide Te Hau Reserve Waipara Pinot Noir 2012 $33.00
Garnet red colour with aromas of spice, potpourri, toasted almonds, and cigar box. Ripe black cherry/berry flavours, with medium soft tannins and a lengthy, tarry dry finish.
Waimea Nelson Pinot Noir 2013 $25.00
Garnet red and clear, this is a classic Burgundy style Pinot, with savoury smoky aromas and a complex palate of cherries, dark chocolate and spices, with soft tannins.  If I had the patience, I would put this away for 4 more years
Gillman Matakana 2008 $70.00
Retired medical specialist, John Gillman and his son Toby explored winemaking way back in the mid-1980s, working at local Providence vineyard. Toby further explored winemaking in Bordeaux in 1997, and on his return the family invested in establishing their own vineyard in Matakana.
This wine is in the classic NZ Bordeaux style and vinted from Cab Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Typical black spiced berry fruit, black currant and soft leathery savoury flavours. At six years in the bottle, this is drinking extremely well now, but will cellar for at least two to three years.

Brown Brothers Patricia Shiraz 2009  $55.00
Dark opaque garnet/purple colour, with aromas of blackberry and black currant, marshmallow, and a hint of spice. Rich, ripe and generous, this is a big Aussie wine, yet with seductively sweet and ripe dark berry fruits which open up into spicy and soft tannins with a silky yet lengthy finish.