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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."

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

A visit to Languedoc-Roussillon

As part of a family trip to Europe last July, we spent a week in stonkingly hot (45C) southern France with three days based in Carcassonne. Venturing out of our air-conditioned Airbnb apartment to take wine tours with a local boutique operator, we covered two local appellations – Corbières and Minervois.
Languedoc-Roussillon for many years was regarded as a bulk producer of cheap and not very good wine. The European ‘wine lake’ phenom of the 1980s was largely due to hyperproduction from this very region. However, things have changed. Modern winemaking techniques have resulted in much better quality wine, and some boutique wineries are stepping away from the hidebound French appellation rules and growing non-traditional varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir.





The hot, dry region grows approx 75% red grapes including carignan, grenache, cinsault, mourvèdre, syrah and merlot.  Whites include a number of obscure varieties like clairette, rolle, and picpoul and a few standards such as muscat, viognier and chardonnay.

Languedoc boasts 320 days of sunshine and I can confirm that there is sun - and a lot of it. Most days when we exited the Airbnb we would subconsciously head straight for the shady cool side of the street. Local history is quite fascinating and sadly barbaric. An 11th Century heretical Christian sect known as Cathars flourished and built many churches, and becoming the majority religion in many places in the region. Within a hundred years, they were ruthlessly persecuted and exterminated by the mainstream Catholic church.

Sorry to kill the holiday atmos.  Anyhoo – here we go with some ab fab local wines.



Châteu Tourens Minervois Languedoc-Roussillon 2013  $NZ 16.40
Typically French and a tad rustic, it has slightly dusty aromas with prune and plums. In the mouth it’s plummy, savoury and earthy with soft tannins and hints of rhubarb and liquorice. Medium bodied and soft. Match with mushroom risotto.
Availability – Regional Wines & Spirits Wellington.

Gérard Gertrand Corbières 2013 $NZ 28.00
Robust and chunky red. Smells like cedar, anise and black plums. Tastes like a medium to big tannic red with flavours of plums, Christmas cake, and dark Ghana chocolate. Long finish of savoury spice and tannin.
Availability - Caro’s Wines


Châteu Olliex Romanis Corbières 2014  Purchased in France
A renowned label in the Corbières  appellation, Fab and Bordeaux-like, this is a blend of four local grapes - carignan, grenache, mourvedre, and syrah. Very full, soft, ripe and juicy, it’s a slightly gamey with aromas of leather and savoury spices. Flavours of cassis, black plums, bouquet garni, and roast meat. Dry lengthy finish with fine tannins.  

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland - to Kumeu, Waiheke and Matakana



Thursday, February 2, 2017

New Zealand Gins - the Top Eight

Mother’s Ruin. The Demon Drink. G&T.
Gin has had many incarnations over hundreds of years – from the cheap and nasty opiate of 17th C masses to the boutique hipster thirst-quencher of millennials.

The early 17th century marks the first production of gin in the Netherlands. In Holland it was regarded as a medicine and was sold in apothecary shops to treat stomach problems, gout and gallstones. And to make it more palatable, the Dutch flavoured it with juniper, which also had purported medicinal properties.
In 1730, London had over 7,000 shops that sold only spirits. As consumption of gin increased alarmingly, the government introduced a distiller’s licence of £50, a huge sum in those days. This essentially created a black market in illegal gin of dubious quality. Then, heavy government restrictions in favour of the powerful beer lobby drove gin production underground, and almost out of existence.

The Empire Strikes Back.
Then when the British Crown took over governance of India, British expats struggled  with the ravages of malaria. A local folk cure came from the bark of the chinchona or ‘fever tree’, which contained bitter quinine. To make it more pleasant, sugar, lime, ice and gin were added – and thus the G&T was born.

Gin is basically a pure distilled ethanol white spirit with added botanical flavour compounds derived predominately from juniper berries but also a number of additives including angelica, hops, coriander, lime, lemon, orange, liquorice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, bitter almond, cucumber and cloves.

Here's a selection of 8 NZ made gins.

Black Robin Rare Gin 750 ml 43% alcohol $NZ69.99
With native Horopito and juniper in the mix of 11 botanicals, Black Robin is named for the endangered Chatham Islands Black Robin. A portion of the profits are donated to the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of NZ.
Aromas and flavours of juniper, lemon squash and bitter almond, with a hint of cloves. Opens up in the mouth soft and sweet with a nudge of liquorice.



Matakana Moonshine 700ml 37.2% alcohol $NZ36.70
Much softer than the Black Robin at 5.8% less ABV. Soft and subtle with stem ginger, gardenia florals and sandalwood.  Produced by In The Bush Ltd., they scooped a Bronze Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.







Light House Batch Distilled Gin 750ml 42% alcohol $NZ79.99
Perfumed on the nose with sweet lime, pomander and cloves.  Soft and smooth palate with orange zest, Turkish delight and angelica.







Source Pure Cardrona Gin 750ml 47% alcohol $NZ79.99
All the way from the Deep South, with classy packaging in a nice oblong bottle.
Batch distilled eight times over copper pot and column stills. They include botanicals of juniper, coriander, angelica, lemon & orange zest, plus rose hip.
One the nose, it’s assertive with coriander and juniper and a hint of pine resin.   Flavours of marshmallow plus all of the above botanicals.


Rogue Society Premium Dry Gin 700ml 42.2% alcohol $NZ79.99
Very classy packaging in a tall black bottle with a silver badge.
Aromas of Juniper, lemon zest, liquorice, ripe orange and talcum.
The palate is citrus dominant – with orange zest, florals and lychee tropical fruit.
 





Vaione Premium Pacific Gin 1 litre 40.2% alcohol  $NZ74.99
Pacifica style branding with fern leaves and tapa cloth images. Lime and orange dominate the palate. On the nose, there are cinnamon and clove aromas. In the mouth it’s very soft and integrated with flavours of cake spices and orange zest.


Karven Dry Gin 700ml  40.8% alcohol  $NZ74.99
Made by Puhoi based Ukrainian expat Alex Kirichuk. Has picked up two international awards. Botanicals include Manuka flower. On the nose it’s orange zest, cinnamon and clove, opening out on the palate with soft integrated flavours of cake spices and candied orange peel.







Broken Heart Gin 700ml 40% alcohol $NZ64.99
Another one from the Deep South – this time Queenstown. Uses glacial water from Queenstown. The brand reflects the relationship between two German master distillers who launched the brand. Joerg was a pilot and Bernd an engineer. Sadly, Bernd died after battling illness and Joerg’s gin is a testament to their friendship. Nose of juniper, lime and cumin.  With soft and spicy flavours of orange and lime





For availability – I highly recommend http://www.wine-searcher.com/

Phil drives people to drink - wine tours in Auckland 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Bodegas Franco-Españolas - red wines from Spain





Late last year I had the privilege of tasting some wines from Spanish producer Bodegas Franco-Españolas.
Founded in 1890 in Lograno, Spain Bodegas Franco-Españolas is one of the oldest wineries in the famous Rioja region.
Following the disastrous Phylloxera plague that affected many vineyards in France, French expat Fréderique Anglade Saurat departed France for Spain and founded Bodegas Franco-Españolas with some Spanish partners. By 1922 Bodegas Franco-Españolas became entirely Spanish owned and is now run by second generation Carlos and Rosa Eguizabal.



Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Bourdon Gran Reserva 2007
A garnet red and opaque wine made of Tempranillo, Mazueleo and Graciano.
Aromas of cedar, sherry and black pepper. Gamey and astringent. A complex and elegant wine with flavours of ripe plum, cherry, liquorice and spice with persistent tannins and a dry finish. Only 5,000 cases produced.

Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Bourdon Crianza Tinto 2013
Made from Tempranillo and Garnacha. Aromas of spice, cedar and a slightly minty Cab Sav hint.
Palate of ripe plums, medium bodied style with flavours of cherry with a hint of toasted almond and Christmas cake.

Bodegas Franco-Españolas Rioja Bourdon Reserva Tinto 2011
Aromas of spice, plum and sherry. Blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinto and Mazuelo. Medium bodied with flavours of plum pudding, Black Doris plum, liquorice, black tea and red fruit compote. Dry finish.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Festive Fizz - Sparklers for Christmas


Another year rolls by, and here we are heading for Christmas and New Year - with holidays for most of us, and a chance to celebrate with friends and family. Here’s to sand between the toes, the smell of sunscreen and cricket on the radio.
And it is always good to have some special wines to share with your nearest and dearest – something out of the ordinary. Perhaps some of those special occasion wines to haul out of your dusty subterranean cellar. Or (more likely) grab one from the local liquor outlet in a mad rush before all the shops shut.
By all means have a stock of good affordable quaffers and beer for the drop-in visitors, but a little extra effort is worth it for family dinners and special friends.
Happy Holidays!



Soljans Estate Marlborough Legacy Methode 2012 $29.99
Extremely good bottle fermented Champagne style from a small family-owned winery in Kumeu. Has picked up many medals overseas and in NZ. Creamy crisp texture, fine beads of bubbles, toasty and mouth filling. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, grown in Marlborough. Available from Soljans winery www.soljans.co.nz








Pares Balta Cava Catalonia Spain $22.79
Produced from three indigenous Spanish grapes – parellada, macabeu and xarel-lo. (Just don’t ask me to pronounce them).This is a bone dry crisp sparkler. Mineral, yeasty aromas lead on to a clean and crisp palate of brioche and soda water with a hint of Granny Smith apple and citrus. Available from Richmond Road Liquor 







‘French Cancan’ Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (by Cattier) $19.95
Easy drinking and affordable French sparkler with a delicate mousse, fruity, refreshing and silky. Pale golden colour with aromas of white peach and citrus fruits. Delicate palate of stone fruit and nougat. Ideal as an aperitif, but can also be enjoyed with food. Available from Fine Wine Delivery Company







Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV  $69.25
From a renowned Champagne house. Aromas of nougat and soda water.
Fine persistent beaded bubbles in the class. Very elegant with yeasty flavours of brioche, plus raw almond and a hint of citrus mandarin. A clean and bone dry mineral finish. Available from Fine Wine Delivery Company, Caro's and First Glass.







Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rock Ferry Wines - Marlborough

One of the best things about my annual catch-up with my 89 year-old Blenheim step-dad is the chance to also explore the Marlborough wine region.

This year, the whole family flew down and we met for lunch at Rock Ferry cellar door and café.  It is small, friendly and cosy, with a relaxed feel, and a good range of organic local produce on the menu also largely gluten-free (which is great for my gluten-intolerant daughter). Reasonably priced, hearty servings at about $27.  I had the organic steak open sandwich with hand cut fries, my wife had the Aoraki salmon with udon noodles and miso/lime dressing, My daughter opted for Portobello mushrooms with dukkha and pumpkin, topped with blue cheese and hazel nuts. All the meals were generous, tasty and perfectly cooked. Highly recommended.


A small family winery, Rock Ferry is operated by Tom Hutchison and his wife and co-owner Fiona Harvey. Tom is a former Wellingtonian who followed his love of wine to explore Europe’s wine regions and ended up studying viticulture at famous wine campus UCLA Davis in the US. On his return he started his own vineyards in Marlborough, and in 2005 they launched the Rock Ferry label. They own three vineyards – two in Marlborough and one in Bendigo, Central Otago. All vineyards are certified organic. They have a diverse range of grape varieties including sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling, pinot blanc, grüner veltliner, viognier, pinot noir, tempranillo, and nebbiolo.
Before lunch, we did a tasting through their range. I ordered a mixed case of three wines to be shipped home from their top tier single vineyard range:

Rock Ferry Central Otago Trig Hill Vineyard Pinot Gris  2013 $33.00
Dry and flinty style with just a tiny hint of sweetness (7g per litre), aged in a mixture of stainless steel tanks and large oak ‘puncheon’ barrels. Gentle aromas of citrus blossom, bee’s wax, tropical fruits and poached pear. With the oak influence, the style is very similar to Chablis. Flavours of Packham pear, crisp apple juice, quince and a musky lengthy palate with a dash of clover honey. Would be fab with seafood.

Rock Ferry Central Otago Trig Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013 $65.00Fermented with wild yeasts in French oak barrels. Smoky spicy aromas and red berry fruit, with a hint of earthy truffle. A good example of a great Central pinot, it opens up in the mouth with medium tannins, liquorice, black cherry, poached plum, vegemite, and a long finish of leathery gaminess. Would go well with duck, lamb or mushroom dishes.
 
Rock Ferry Central Otago Trig Hill Vineyard Tempranillo 2013 $40.00
Tempranillo is the main ingredient in Spanish Rioja wines. This is a lovely full-bodied red. Nice brick red in the glass with subtle aromas of baked Black Doris plum, cherry and a hint of savoury spices.  In the mouth, it’s a generous and seamlessly ripe soft palate of dark berry fruits, poached tamarillo and subtle spice. Great with Boeuf Bourguinon or a rich tomato based Italian dish.


Availability – through their website.
Cellar Door & Café
www.rockferry.co.nz
80 Hammerichs Road
Blenheim
Open 7 days 11.30 am–3.00 pm.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Screwcaps - we all need closure


New Zealand right now has around 95% of its wines sealed with a metal screwcap closure. 
The paramount reason for that is the problem of cork taint (or ‘corked’ wine). This occurs when a chemical known as TCA (trichloroanisole) in tiny amounts, contaminates the wine and contributes a mouldy odour and flavour. TCA occurs naturally in a mould that affects cork trees. 

Are screwcaps cheaper than corks? Yes, slightly, but the cost of converting a bottling line from a cork to screw cap is a very significant investment for the winery.

Will the wine last as long?  Experience with screw caps doesn’t go back much more than 20 years, but observations indicate that fruit flavours are preserved for a longer period. Yet the wines will still age and change characters over time. A cork on the other hand allows a small ingress of air which leads to faster ageing and oxidisation.  

Can a wine still be ‘off’ even when under Stelvin?  Yes, nothing’s perfect. It can happen but extremely rarely. There is the potential problem of sulphite formation in wines, leading to a bad egg/cabbage aroma.

What other closures are there? Plastic corks - are only good for drink straight away wines. They can leak, give the wine a plastic flavour, and are nigh on impossible to remove with a cork screw. Taint-free composite corks are making inroads – they are made from powdered cork that has been sterilised and are held are together by an inert polymer. Glass closures look pretty funky but rely on a plastic flange for a perfect fit. 

Anyway, here’s a line-up of great wines, sealed under different closures.




Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling 2014 $31
A German Riesling with pale gold colour and aromas of apple cider and lemon squash. Not sweet, but it is just nudging off-dry with a bright palate of apple, citrus, Roses Lime juice, raisins and minerality with a clean crisp finish. It’s a very refreshing clean and crisp light wine ideal for the warmer summer months. Glass stopper







Bourillon Dorleans La Coulee D’Argent Vouvray 2014  $27
Vouvray is a French Chenin Blanc appellation. Subtle aromas that hint of stone fruit and citrus blossom. On the palate, it’s clean and crisp with Chardonnay-like flavours of minerality, fresh cut apricot, pineapple and lemon with a hint of vanilla oak. Cork.








Seguinot Bordet Petit Chablis 2015 $20.00
Chablis is traditionally a French style of Chardonnay that has minimal or no oak ageing.  And… zut alors - even the French use screwcaps sometimes! It is a young wine, fermented in stainless steel tanks. Smells like citrus, minerals and stone fruit. In the mouth it’s crisp, elegant and dry with flavours of apricot, lemon, and nougat. Screwcap.





Coopers Creek Swamp Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013  $40 Aromas of rock melon and vanilla with a hint of toast and min erality. Swished around in the mouth, it is a mouth-filling, ripe and generous wine, opening up with hazelnutty oak, sweet vanilla, peach and mandarin with a lovely tangy sunset of honeyed yeast. Screwcap.







Bond Road Gewürztraminer Gisborne 2009 $60
I’m a huge fan of Gewürztraminer. This seven year-old wine has matured into a glorious mouth-filling off-dry style. Aromas of grapefruit, marmalade and preserved ginger. Generous palate of toffee, spice, tonic water, ginger in syrup, clover honey and a long musky finish. Cork.








Soho Westwood Waiheke Rosé 2016 $26
Hand harvested fruit - a beguiling fruit salad of Bordeaux grape varieties that have been fermented with minimal skin contact to produce a copper pink colour. Aromas of toffee apple and red berry fruit compote. Nudging just off-dry with flavours of strawberry, raspberry and hint of candy floss and a tangy crisp finish. Screwcap.








Hecht & Bannier Saint Chinian Southern France  ‘Vin Rouge’ 2011 $36
A blended wine made mainly from Syrah, with some Grenache and Mourvèdre. Smells like dark berry fruits, black cherries and tar. On the palate, rich and ripe flavours of cassis, liquorice, poached Black Doris plum and blackberry with gorgeous soft ripe tannins and a lengthy finish. Cork.  






For availability – I highly recommend international wine finder http://www.wine-searcher.com/

Phil runs the best wine tours known to mankind and womankind see www.insidertouring.co.nz 



Monday, September 5, 2016

What makes a wine writer ?




It’s a funny thing being a wine writer. On one hand you get lots of cool stuff like free wine samples for review, and invitations to tastings and events. The flipside is that everyone assumes that you’re an expert. 

I am not. But I have been freelance journo for thirty years, done wine education and run wine & food tours for 16 years.
Yet, I do get to hang out with real experts - my fellow members of Wine Writers of New Zealand, and sometimes I feel like a busker who gate-crashed a super group. Among my wine writing colleagues are Masters of Wine, winemakers, a Master Sommelier and people who have been in the trade for over 50 years. And these folks know wine inside out and could tell you heaps about the most rare grape varieties from very obscure regions all over the globe. But do you have to be an ‘expert’ to be a wine writer? E.g. do you need to be an All Black to be a rugby writer?
I like wine. I aim have fun, not be pretentious, and spread the joy of appreciating wine. I hope that you enjoy reading my columns as much as I do writing them. 

Here’s some recent wines I have tasted.
Cheers!




Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 $15
Private Bin ironically is Villa’s entry level label, but definitely bang for buck. Smells like lime and green capsicum. On the palate it has crisp acidity and flavours of passion fruit, melon and citrus. Nice aperitif style
 
Fairhall Downs Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 $23
Classic aromas of citrus, and passionfruit with a nudge of minerality. It’s big and has intense flavours of green capsicum and passionfruit, a hint of stone fruit and a lengthy crisp finish. Great with seafood.

Allan Scott Generations Marlborough Chardonnay 2015 $NZ31
From the Marlborough family winery, the label reflects the second generation – Allan’s three adult children who are taking over the reins. Toasty oak, crème brûlée and mandarin aromas. Elegant and ripe on the palate with flavours of mandarin, canned peach and buttery oak.
Would match well with seafood or chicken.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2013 $NZ36
Yum. Good old Central.  Another ripper from the deep south.  Complex savoury aromas of smoked meat with a hint of floral pot pourri, plus black cherry and black olives.  In the mouth it opens with black berry fruit plus all of the above aroma notes translated into flavours. Silky tannins and  lengthy savoury finish. Fab with venison.

Matawhero Church House Gisborne Malbec 2015 $NZ26.00
Medium bodied with plummy spicy aromas.  It’s all about berry fruit flavours.  A generous and silky palate of ripe boysenberry and cherry with a gentle tannic finish. Would be great with tomato based Italian dishes.

Heron’s Flight Amphora Sangiovese 2015 $NZ120
This one’s all about earthiness – the grapes were grown in Matakana’s orange clay, then fermented in an imported Italian terracotta amphora.  The aromas are Black Doris plum, black cherry and wet clay. On the palate again- earthy truffle, beetroot, spice, cassis, slightly gamey, with medium tannins, savoury bacon and a hint of pot pourri. I’d match this with an Italian tomato and mushroom dish – with molto parmesan !

Phil runs wine & food tours in Auckland New Zealand and is a member of Wine Writers of New Zealand