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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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Monday, July 21, 2014

Marlborough Wine Region - a winter snapshot


In 1976, our first commercial Sauvignon Blanc vineyards were planted by Montana (now known as Brancott) – and the rest is history.  Marlborough is NZ’s star wine region, with over 75% of the country’s grape harvest and around 23,200 hectares in vines. High sunshine hours and cool night temperatures, combined with old stony alluvial soils produce not only our internationally successful zingy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but also very good Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and traditional method sparkling wines.  
Today if you fly in to Marlborough to land at Blenheim airport you will see a patchwork of vineyards extending right up to the runway and further across the broad alluvial Wairau Plains.
During the School Hols, we flew down to Blenheim to catch up with family, but of course – somehow (gosh – how did that happen?) managed to visit a few wineries.

Rock Ferry Wines
80 Hammerichs Road
Rapaura
Open 7 days a week 10.00 am – 4.30 pm
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 in the USA. On his return he started his own vineyards in Marlborough, and in 2005 they launched the Rock Ferry label. All vineyards are certified organic. And 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.
Notable Wines Pinot Blanc $29, Chardonnay $35, Pinot Noir $45
Food – Café. Small, friendly and cosy, the café has a relaxed feel, with a good range of organic and largely gluten-free local produce on the menu. Reasonably priced and generous servings at about $25

Cloudy Bay Vineyards
Jacksons Road
Blenheim
Open 7 Days 10.00 am – 4.00 p.m.
Probably our most famous Sauvignon Blanc label in the key markets of US, UK, Australia and Japan, and largely responsible for the worldwide awareness of Marlborough as a New Zealand wine region - now part of the international wine portfolio of Luis Vuitton Moët Hennessy. In addition to Sauvignon Blanc, they also produce a super-premium $49 sparkler – Pelorus.  Friendly staff and wide list of wines on offer to sample.  The building is suitably handsome in unpainted concrete, with a welcoming Cellar door which has wide polished wooden counters.
Notable wines – As above, Pelorus Traditional Method both vintage and non-vintage.  Also Chardonnay $40, Gewürztraminer $30, standard label Sauvignon Blanc $30, and Te Koko (oak aged) Sauvignon Blanc $58, Pinot Noir $45.
Food – Jacks’ Raw Bar Open summer December 1st to end of April. Freshly shucked oysters, sashimi and other raw delights such as venison Carpaccio, salmon sashimi and gazpacho.


Giesen Wines 
26 Rapaura Rd
Renwick
Ph: 03 572 8500  Web:  www.
giesen.co.nz
Email: cellardoor@giesen.co.nz
Open 7 Days 10.00 am – 4.30 pm
The three Giesen brothers from Germany – Alex, Theo and Marcel came all the way to New Zealand and initially planted grapes in Canterbury in 1981, establishing a company that would become a major exporter and significant player in NZ’s wine scene. Yet … it all could have gone differently. But for Australia’s heat and snakes, the Giesen brothers could well have settled there. (After suffering in 40 degree temperatures and an incident involving a snake in a swimming pool, they decided that NZ was the better option).
Notable Wines – Marlborough Riesling $19, ‘August’ Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc $40, Pinot Noir $22,
Food – selection of platters available at the Cellar Door, with a cosy eating area adjacent.



Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates the Very Best Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland, if not the entire Planet   

Thursday, June 19, 2014

New Zealand's Northland wine region

There is a rich wine history in NZ’s Far North region.  In 1819 Anglican Missionary the Rev. Samuel Marsden planted the very first vines in Kerikeri’s rich soils, and in the late 1830s, Official British Resident James Busby produced the first recorded example of wine made in New Zealand.   In the late 1800s Croatian gum diggers settled in the far north, bringing their family cultural tradition of winemaking and establishing some of New Zealand’s firs commercial wineries.

North of Auckland City there are a few wineries spread along the Island, sprinkled from Matakana, Mangawhai, Whangarei, and Russell to Kaitaia. Northland is still a marginal wine region; sub-tropical summer temperatures and humidity make it difficult to grow many varieties. 

We recently took an opportunity to head up north to stay in Russell for a long weekend and to explore a few of the wineries in the region.  

Omata Estate
Aucks Road
Russell

Ph: 09 403 8007  Web: www.omata.co.nz
Omata is a historic area, purchased from local Maori in 1831, by Captain John Wright. This land was passed down through generations and then in 1994 the land was developed to make today's Omata Estate
where Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah are grown.  It is now owned by the Cashmore Family, with winemaking by Rod McIvor and vineyard management by viticulturalist Bruce Soland.
Notable wines – Deux Blanc $27 Blended medium sweet, fruity white wine.


Marsden Estate 
Wiroa Road
Kerikeri
Ph: 09 407 9398 Web: www.marsdenestate.co.nz
Nearly 20 years ago, Rod and Cindy McIvor named their vineyard after Samuel Marsden who planted the first grapes in Northland in 1819.  Their vineyards, with 3.5 Ha (9 acres) of vines are planted in Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, Malbec, Pinotage, Tempranillo and Chambourcin (a French/American hybrid red). Annual production is around 4,000 cases.
Notable wines
– Chambourcin $28 Dark and intense with spice and black berry flavours.


Cottle Hill Winery
State Highway 10
Phone: 09 407 5203   Web: cottlehill.co.nz
Californians Michael and Barbara Webb, sailed to NZ aboard their 10 metre yacht from San Diego, and fell in love with the Kerikeri region.  They decided to stay on, and established Cottle Hill Winery in 1996.  On their home vineyard they grow Chardonnay, Chambourcin and Dolcetto.  Gisborne and Hawkes Bay contract growers supply other grapes.  The Cellar Door offers spectacular views from the highest peak in Kerikeri.
Notable wines – Tawny Port $28 Classic tawny with rasiny caramel flavours.


Paroa Bay Winery
31 Otamarua Road,
Paroa Bay
Russell
Ph: 09 403 7928 Mob: 027 875 1094
Web: www.tarapunga.com/paroa-bay-winery
Paroa Bay winery is part of a large luxury accommodation estate near Russel, with stunning elevated views into the Bay of Islands.
They are associated with organic Urlar Martinborough winery and have some of these for tasting at the cellar door - alongside their own Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The cellar door is a simple square modern building, furnished with hot pink lamps and chairs, adjacent to gardens, a lake and a putting green. 
Notable wines – Chardonnay $27 Crisp and fruity with light oak.

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


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Malbec in NZ

The red Malbec grape hails from the Bordeaux region of France, where it was a constituent ingredient in the famous Bordeaux blends along with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. But over the years it has become a minority grape in the region and plantings have decreased. East of Bordeaux in the Cahors region (where it is also known as Auxerrois) it is still hanging in there as a principal grape variety. Mais Je digress …

The most famous 100% Malbec wines today are those from Argentina, particularly from the Mendoza region. In 1852, Malbec was brought to Argentina by Michel Pouget, a French viticulture expert who was hired by the Argentine government. Smart move. Argentina is now the main producer of Malbec, with 77,000 acres of vineyards planted, compared to second largest producer France (13,000 acres). Italy, Spain, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA grow smaller amounts. In some Argentine regions Malbec wines have a Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) certification, which helps to protect the name of the region and obliges winemakers to maintain quality standards.

In France, Malbec tends to be intensely dark, dry and tannic, whereas the New World style is often medium bodied and ripe, juicy and spicy with sweet black berry fruit flavours and medium tannins.  In New Zealand, Argentine Malbecs retail at about $15 for easy drinking Pizza/Pasta quaffers, then they head upward to $50 and beyond for the renowned DOC labels.
Food matches: Great right now with hearty winter casseroles and roast meats.  Also a good match with Italian tomato and garlic based sauces. 

Here’s a selection at random from a local wine shop, from light to full-bodied.

Finca Flichman Roble Malbec 2013 $12.00
Garnet red colour. Aromas of allspice and anise, with light body and flavours of cherry and plum.  Good easy drinking red.

Matawhero Church House Gisborne Malbec 2013 $28.00
Crimson colour. Restrained aromas of spicy oak with a whiff of fruitcake.
On the palate - medium youngish tannins and sweet ripe dark berry fruit and plum flavours. Drinking very well right now, but will benefit from 2-3 years cellaring. 

Chakana Estate Malbec 2012 $ $19.00
This is a big wine. Sealed with a cork closure (unlike the previous two under screw cap). Deep ruby red and opaque. Savoury oak aromas with hints of roast meat and some mature bottle age characters. In the mouth – ripe and spicy with flavours of cassis, chocolate and liquorice with medium tannins and a lengthy finish.  


Phil Parker runs the best Auckland winery tours known to mankind

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

NZ's Boutique regional wines


 
This month I was a bit stumped for inspiration, but luckily, Hallelujah ... I noticed that a bunch of recent wine samples were all from small producers in boutique regions. So in the end, the article focused on a random selection of great wines from some of the smaller producing areas of NZ’s varied geography and climate regions.

Marlborough and Hawkes bay are admittedly large and consistent wine regions, producing about 70% and 20% respectively by volume, of our fabulous NZ wines. Yet at the same time, we have small output producers located in boutique regions where exceptional wines are made - and rarely exported. Sure, we need the big producers to wave the flag internationally, but meantime we have some fantastic wines in local boutique regions where NZers have the chance to feel a bit special and have the inside knowledge to obtain some very special wines.

Soljans Gisborne Gewürztraminer 2010  $19As well as being renowned for Chardonnay production, the Gisborne plains are also home to some very good aromatic styles, Gewürztraminer in particular. Even at four years old, this is a lovely example and holding up well. Pale gold colour in the glass. Aromas and flavours of pear, apple, lemon squash, spice and lime.

 
Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Gris 2013 $21The northern Wairarapa Gladstone region is a relatively new wine growing region, with free-draining river terraces and a cool climate and plenty of sunshine. This wine was stainless steel fermented, but then left to age on lees (yeast residue) to add complexity. Aromas of citrus blossom, with flavours of ripe peach, creamy mouth texture and a hint of spice.

 
Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2013 $55
Just south of Gladstone, Dry River is an iconic Wairarapa producer. Wilco Lam has recently taken over winemaking duties from Katy ‘Poppy’ Hammond. Have no fear; the wines are in capable hands. This wine is opulent and unctuous medium sweet with flavours of lime squash, Golden Queen peach and poached pear.

 
Mt Difficulty Roaring Meg Central Otago Pinot Gris 2012 $21
Proof that ‘Central’ isn’t just about Pinot Noir. Pale gold colour, with flavours and aromas of pineapple, citrus, nectarine, grapefruit, lime and a hint of tonic water. Lush off-dry style with a lengthy finish.

 
Soho Waiheke Island Carter Chardonnay 2013 $31
Auckland’s star wine region, Waiheke continues to prove that the clay soils and warm climate with onshore breezes are suited to many varieties.  (Typically the two whites that do well there are Pinot Gris and Chardonnay). On the nose - mineral, citrus, and yeast. On the palate, lively and ripe, with pineapple, lime, nectarine, hazel nutty oak and a crisp finish.

 
Supper Club Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 $20
A new Christchurch label that sources fruit from Marlborough and central Otago, Supper Club aims to deliver wines at a good price. This one is a lighter style of Pinot, but still hits the buttons with medium dry tannins, spice and ripe black fruit flavours.

Phil Parker is an Auckland Wine Writer and operates boutique Wine & Food Tours in Auckland

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Craggy Range’s Epic 2013 Vintage



In 1986 North American billionaire Terry Peabody was tasked by his wife Mary, and daughter Mary-Jeanne to start a winery, after he had made his money in Canada and Australia. With the aid of renowned Kiwi viticulturist Steve Smith, he went on to develop Craggy Range – one of Hawke’s Bay’s premium red producers. Winemaker Matt Stafford gained experience in Marlborough, Australia and California before joining in 2006. 

Last week I attended the launch of Hawkes Bay winery Craggy Range’s ‘Vintage of a Generation.’ There is a lot of excitement in the industry about the wines from the epic 2013 vintage twelve months ago. The combination of lower cropping (which increases fruit quality) combined with a dry and sunny extended ripening period right up to harvest time, allowed growers the rare option of picking when grapes were at optimal ripeness.

The launch was held at the Auckland Observatory, with an impressive introductory video projected onto the Planetarium’s 360 degree overhead hemispherical screen.

Now, to the wines. Interestingly, I had anticipated that the white wines would be big, bold and full of flavour, but they were surprisingly delicate and elegant (admittedly, the riesling and the sauvignon were from Martinborough – a cooler region).  The reds on the other hand were more expressive of a hot, dry Hawkes Bay summer. We had a guided wine tasting of the new white wines, plus barrel samples of the four red wines that are blended into what will be the flagship Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ Bordeaux-style. And finally – a sneak preview of the 2013 Sophia blend (still in barrel).

2013 Te Muna Martinborough Riesling
Floral aromas, with some tropical pineapple and crisp lime on the palate. A crisp mouth-watering finish with lengthy lemon squash flavours.

2013 Te Muna Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc
Sweet ripe apricot and gooseberry aromas, with similar flavours plus guava and blackcurrant. Medium acidity makes this a very approachable sauvignon blanc.

2013 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay
Floral aromas with a palate of subtle citrus with hints of herbal and mineral flavours.

2013 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay
Toasty aromas with a whiff of lemon blossom.  In the mouth – soft acids, stone fruit, quinine and a lengthy finish.

Barrel Samples:
2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Merlot
Dusty aromas with pot pourri and spice.  On the palate, ripe black berry fruit and chocolate with a hint of smoke and soft tannins.

2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon
Again a hint of dust, plus black stone fruits, black currant and plum, with a dry finish.

2013 ‘Sophia’ Gimblett Gravels Petit Verdot
Petit Verdot is a Bordeaux red grape which only ripens in a very good year and normally is blended with other varieties.  Smoky aromas, with sweet fruit and high acidity.

And finally …tad-dah!
2013 Gimblett Gravels ‘Sophia’ blend
This will be a fabulous wine, even in its extreme youth it has the hallmarks of greatness. Aromas of spicy fruit cake and ripe black berry fruit.  Flavours of black fruit, almond, red plums and a hint of chocolate.  Lengthy dry finish with youthful tannins.
 
Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland
www.insidertouring.co.nz 

Martinborough New Zealand - Revisited



Around twenty years ago, word started spreading about some excellent wines north of Wellington, just over the winding, windy Rimutuka Ranges.  DSIR scientists had discovered a climate and soil type similar to the classic French region of Burgundy that was suitable for growing Pinot Noir and a few other grape varieties.  And now, the Wairarapa, and Martinborough in particular is one of our top boutique regions, producing not only internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir but also Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and even some big reds like Syrah. Famous wineries like Dry River, Ata Rangi, Kusuda, Martinborough Vineyard, Palliser and Te Kairanga all hail from this region. 

Great food and upmarket boutique accommodation has made this one of our main wine tourism regions for both locals and foreigners.  The broad, flat plains bake in summer months, but in winter it becomes a misty, dreamy adventure land of fine wines and excellent food.  Whatever the season – it is just right for a weekend away.

Seven years ago, I visited for the first time when I was researching my wine region guide – The Mad Keen Wine Buff’s Road Trip (Random House 2008).  And just recently I was lucky enough to spend two days there with a group of fellow wine writers.  We tasted many wines over the two days and visited a number of wineries.

Current Aromatic Releases – my picks:
Te Kairanga Estate Riesling 2013, Big Sky Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Hamden Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Poppies Pinot Gris 2013, Dry River Pinot Gris 2013, Dry River Gewürztraminer 2013, Brodie’s Angels Sigh Pinot Rose 2013

Current Chardonnay Releases – my picks:
Palliser Estate 2013, Julicher 2013, Nga Waka 2013

Current Pinot Noir Releases – my picks:
Te Kairanga Runholder 2013, Poppies 2012, Kusuda 2012, Schubert Marion’s Vineyard 2011, Te Hera Reserve 2011, Cabbage Tree 2009, Dry 2012

Barrel Samples (i.e. not botled yet but showing huge promise):
Ata Rangi, Big Sky, Margrain, Martinborough Vineyard, Te Hera

(I was hosted by Wine From Martinborough New Zealand  www.winesfrommartinborough.com)

Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland
www.insidertouring.co.nz 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stella Bella Wines - Perth

Being in the wine tourism business, I do get to meet some interesting characters.  And a recent tour to Waiheke Island with two Australian couples resulted in a box of nine bottles of very nice wine being delivered to my door (barking mad Maltese/Shitzu cross notwithstanding).  It turned out that the Aussies were investors in a Margaret River winery in Perth.  “How about we send you a few bottles and see what you think of them?” they suggested over lunch at Mudbrick.  “Jolly good,” I replied.



The winery goes by the name of Stella Bella – also the name of their premium range wines.  Sounds like a great name for a thoroughbred.
“And … it’s Stella Bella out of the bottle, into the glass and racing into the mouth. Swishing gently around the palate, down the neck and looking for a lengthy finish.” 
They had some fun with the other lower ranges, namely Skuttlebutt and Suckfizzle.

As you may know, Margaret River is a cooler climate boutique region near the Perth coast where the Western Australian climate is moderated by cool winds from the Indian Ocean. Consequently they can grow white grape varieties as well as the renowned reds.

Here we go.

Skuttlebutt Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2013
Surprisingly Marlborough-like, this is a soft but full flavoured blend with gooseberry and passion fruit flavours.

Suckfizzle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2009
This one was oak aged and not quite to my palate with more vegetative flavours than the previous white blend.

Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Again, not unlike a Marlborough Sauv but with softer acidity and gooseberry flavours.

Stella Bella Chardonnay 2010
Very classy wine, with a creamy soft texture, upfront stone fruit and toasty nutty and lengthy aftertaste.

Skuttlebutt Rosé 2013
A typical fresh young thing – raspberry and strawberry palate with mild sweetness and moderate acids.


Skuttlebutt Cabernet Shiraz 2010
Slightly ‘dusty’ aromas, fairly typical of Cabernet, with some spicy Shiraz notes in there.  Big, juicy and voluptuous velvety red.

Stella Bella Shiraz 2009
Slightly feral aged Shiraz aromas but balanced with medium to firm tannins and liquorice/spice flavours.  Yum.

Stella Bella Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2009
Dusty nose again.  Sweet ripeness and black berry fruit flavours, with medium tannins.

Suckfizzle Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Showing nice mellowing from bottle age. Ripe and soft with black currant and cherry flavours.

My personal faves – the big reds and the Chardonnay

Phil runs personal food & wine tours - Auckland New Zealand