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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, November 19, 2015

Sparkling Wines for Celebratation

Sparkling wine and celebrations go together, thus the festive season is a great opportunity to pop a few corks and enjoy some bubbly with your besties and favourite relatives.

The vast majority of our bottle fermented sparkling wine is made from the traditional blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We used to call it Méthode Champenoise before the French got all proprietorial about the name. The traditional method uses a secondary fermentation in the bottle under a crown seal, by adding more yeast and sugar after the first ferment is finished, producing characteristic CO2 bubbles.

A cheaper process, the Charmat method of producing bulk quality sparkling wine, is to make the wine in bulk and the secondary ferment is done under pressure in sealed stainless steel vats. And a third method produces simple cheap sparklers by injecting CO2 into still wine before bottling (AKA the SodaStream method).

Here is a line-up of very classy sparklers to share with someone special. As someone once said (possibly the painter Francis Bacon), “Champagne for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends.”

Champagne Bouby–Legouge France Brut NV $NZ 54.25
Grapes grown in the  Vallée de la Marne, midway between the two famous Champagne towns of Épernay and Reims. Yeasty aromas of brioche and subtle herbs. In the mouth, it’s classic French fizz flavours of toast, yeast, a hint of clover honey and oyster shell.

Schramsberg  Calistoga California Brut Rosé NV $NZ 77.50
An attractive salmon pink, this is a voluptuous blend of 61% pinot noir and 39% chardonnay.  Hints of cherry cola and yeast aromas. Lovely creamy palate of sour cherry, toasted almond, canned peach and strawberries. Beguilingly ripe and soft, it has just 1.11 gram of sugar per litre.

Pares Balta Cava Catalonia Spain NV  $NZ 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.

Sartori Prosecco Italy NV $NZ 25.85
Ticks all the boxes as a typical Prosecco. Pale green gold in colour, this one smells of citrus blossom and pear. Light and crisp flavours of apple juice and Nashi pear and a hint of sweetness, with a dry refreshing finish.

Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs  France NV $NZ 92.92
Aromas of creamy vanilla. Rich palate of crème brulée, crisp apple and citrus with a hint of marzipan. Dry, clean finish.

West Brook Methode Traditionelle Blanc  2012 $NZ 39
Just to show that NZ can make a very respectable traditional method bottle fermented style. Made exclusively from their Waimauku estate Pinot noir grapes. On the nose it’s subtle yeasty brioche with a hint of clover honey. Lively foaming effervescent fine bubbles tickle the palate with gentle flavours of prince melon, honey, cherry and strawberry. Dry and crisp mineral finish. 
Availability all except the West Brook are available from Herne Bay Cellars. West Brook: cellar door in Waimauku
Phil Parker is a wine writer and operates Fine Wine & Food Tours in Auckland. See:

Phil’s new cellar door book ‘NZ Wine Regions – A Visitor’s Guide’ is now available on Amazon Kindle

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


As a hobby wine writer on a modest income I do like to open a different bottle of wine each night and share it with my charming spouse during dinner and over the course of an evening. But, aside from trade samples, I am obliged to buy my own wines. And these generally fall under the $25 dollar mark. I’d dearly love to say that I have a huge cellar stocked with many hand-picked bottles from the very best vintages and producers, but the sad fact is no, I don’t. 

Thus I’m always on the lookout for a bargain and sometimes stumble upon the odd gem – largely by trial and error.  As a rule of thumb, it’s extremely rare to get anything drinkable under $10. And there are some truly awful imported supermarket cheapies in the $8.99 and below range.

Generally you do get what you pay for, so don’t expect concentration of flavour, longevity or complexity in a sub $10 wine. Wines in the $25 plus range are generally produced with a lot more TLC, including crop-thinning and vineyard selection.

Anyway, here’s a selection of very good value wines that I managed to bring in under the $16 price point, on a recent hunting and gathering expedition into deepest Ponsonby.

Disclaimer: I bought the wines on special at the time of writing, from Glengarry in late September, so current prices may vary depending on where you buy these wines.

Kumeu Village Pinot Gris 2013 $NZ 14.99
Yeasty lime aromas, leading on to a rich and complex medium palate of nougat, lime juice quince and grapefruit, with a mineral dry finish. Yum.  Reflects a hot dry vintage in west Auckland. Fantastic value.  A brilliant pre-dinner wine. And during. And after.
Available from Glengarry or direct from the winery

Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2014 $NZ 14.99
A clean, crisp and mineral style of pinot gris. Smells like lime juice and cut grass. Medium palate of prince melon, lime juice, Nashi pear and a tangy dry, crisp finish. Good match with seafood.
Available from Glengarry

Coopers Creek Fat Cat East Coast Chardonnay 2014 $14.99
Smells like rock melon and citrus with a whiff of funky yeast.  A nice soft and light easy-drinking style with flavours of melon, lemon squash and nougat and a dry finish. Nice chilled as a picnic wine or a friendly BBQ white wine option for the savvie averse.
Available from Glengarry, or direct from the winery

Kate Radburnd Vine Velvet Martinborough Pinot Noir 2013  $NZ 15.99
Earthy and briny, savoury aromas.  This is a great value intense and complex Martinborough pinot.  Flavours of ripe black cherry, tamarillo, and earthy spice with a dry finish.
Available from Glengarry, Pask winery  and Boozee Liquor Online (!)
Yalumba Y Series South Australia Shiraz/Viognier 2013 $NZ 10.99
Bang for buck. Typical South Aussie dark fruit number. Blackberry and spice on the nose and again on the palate. Also some savoury baked meat flavours, plus black cherry, with medium firm tannins and a dry finish. Great with BBQ steak and snarlers.
Available from Glengarry.

Rosemount Estate Diamond  South Australia Shiraz 2011 $NZ 14.99
Yum. Big fat and sweet like a juicy ripe blackberry in the summer heat.  Again, the Aussies nail it with a value for money stunning red. Num num num. Boysenberry, blackberry, black cherry, hint of spice and a voluptuous silky palate with a soft mouthfeel.

Available from Glengarry and Countdown online.

Phil Parker runs wine tours in Auckland region.
Phil's e-book NZ Wine Regions - A Visitor's Guide is available on Amazon kindle.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Tuscany Comes to North Auckland

 When Tuscan winemaker Stefano Guidi dropped in to Matakana’s Herons Flight winery for the first time he wasn't looking for a job, he was just there to sample their Italian varietal wines and chat with the winemaker.  Owners David Hoskins and Mary Evans weren't really looking for a winemaker either, but since that first amiable meeting in Matakana in 2013, Stefano Guidi took a keen interest in Heron’s Flight’s sustainable winegrowing approach to Sangiovese and Dolcetto.

Over the next two years, Stefano supervised the winemaking, albeit from a distance, while still working full time in Tuscany. He had previously gained an engineering degree at the University of Milan, followed by a PhD in winemaking and studying oenology and viticulture in Bordeaux. His first winemaking job was in the Chianti Classico region, in Tuscany, where he worked mainly with Sangiovese - the dominant variety at Heron’s Flight.

Grapes were first planted at Heron's Flight Vineyard and Winery in 1987 by David Hoskins, a chemist and philosopher turned winemaker, and Mary Evans, a scholar and teacher. David (ex-Philadelphia USA) started off with plantings of Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot. Then in 1994 his infatuation with Italian wines led him to plant the Sangiovese. Since then, all the other vines have been pulled out and replaced with either Sangiovese or the northern Italian grape Dolcetto.  Heron’s Flight produces around 1500 cases of wine per annum, mostly sold domestically, but with some exports to UK, Hong Kong and China.

On return to Italy, Stefano met the love of his life, Napier-born lyric soprano opera singer Anna Leese, and in January 2015 the newlyweds moved permanently to Warkworth where Stefano took over as chief winemaker at Heron’s Flight. As part of the inventory from Italy, Stefano imported a 500 litre terracotta amphora in his shipping container along with his household goods. The amphora was made by a very tiny producer in Impruneta, close to Florence. Stefano’s amphora is now being used to make Heron’s Flight’s flagship premium 2015 Sangiovese. Indigenous yeasts are used in a wild ferment and there is no use of sulphites. His technique involves removing around a third of the skins post fermentation, and then leaving the wine in contact with the remaining skins for four to six months. He explains that the remaining skins prevent any oxidation by constantly releasing tannins and polyphenols which are extremely strong antioxidants.

The wine will eventually be bottled after spending no time in barrel: “With barrel ageing, there is a marriage of the tannins of the oak and the tannins of the wine. The amphora is different – the tannins in the wine are one hundred percent from the grape. After six months I take out all the skins from the amphora and then we bottle the wine.”

Stefano’s other pet projects at Heron’s Flight are making rosé, a Champagne style and a passito style sweet wine also from Sangiovese and Dolcetto (only about 50 litres) after drying the fruit on a mobile wooden rack that is put away at night.
“These are the old tricks that we use in the Mediterranean,” he chuckles.

Phil Parker runs wine tours in Auckland region.
Phil's e-book NZ Wine Regions - A Visitor's Guide is available on Amazon kindle.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Riesling Revisited

Sound Riesling

Riesling is one of three classic aromatic white grape varieties originally from the cool northern European wine region of Alsace. The other two are Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Riesling is also a wine that a lot of people love to hate.  In fact, many of my overseas wine tour clients (especially Brits) produce garlic and crucifixes at the very mention of the word and have to be seriously talked into trying one of ours.

The blame goes way back to some pretty awful sugary sweet style Rieslings from the 1970s and early 1980s.These were cheap, mass-produced wines in quirky bottles which caught the imagination of newbie wine drinkers and for many years thereafter branded Riesling as a god-awful sweet wine to be avoided. Nowadays we tend toward the drier end of the spectrum, mainly producing wines that are crisp, fruity and dry, or ‘off-dry’ - just slightly sweet. And that’s not to say that Riesling can’t shine as a sweet style when the grapes are left on the vine till they are extremely ripe and full of
natural fructose sugar. Taken to extreme, these wines are called Late Harvest Riesling (very ripe and shrivelled); or Noble Riesling (affected by a symbiotic fungus called Botrytis, which sucks out the water content and leaves very sweet concentrated juice with a honeyed taste).

Craggy Range Te Muna Martinborough Riesling 2014 $NZ 33.00 
A very classy, lean and elegant style with aromas of lemon squash and jasmine.  Fruity and just nudging off-dry with a mouth-watering crisp finish.
Available from Glengarry

Rockburn  Tigermoth Central Otago Riesling 2013 $NZ 30.60 
Another clean and lean style.  Not a lot of aromas – with just a hint of herbs and beeswax, but opens up on the palate with tangerine, honey and Rose’s lime juice. The back label says ‘medium sweet’ which is about right, but there is some racy acidity in there to balance the natural sugars. 9% alcohol.
Available from Glengarry, or online at Advintage

Dusky Sounds Waipara Riesling 2014 $NZ 12.00
Just to prove that it’s not always about the price. Great value easy-drinking medium dry style with flavours of lime and lemonade, and hint of green herbs. Finishes dry.
Widely available

Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Kabinett Semi-Dry Riesling 2013 $NZ 27
Rheingau is one of the smallest of Germany's 13 wine regions, yet renowned for its Rieslings. The bottle presentation is pretty cool – it looks like a metal screwcap closure, but is sealed with a T-shaped glass stopper and a clear plastic seal.  Anyway, this is a more subtle yet complex wine, with faint citrus blossom and ripe grapefruit aromas.  Swished around the mouth it has a rich palate of grapefruit, nougat and a creamy richness that I’d normally associate with a Champagne method wine.
Available from Glengarry

Ngatarawa Proprietors Reserve Hawkes Bay Noble Riesling 2014  $NZ 39
Yum. I’m a fan of desert wines and this one’s a ripper. Aromas of beeswax, honey and candied orange peel.  It’s a luscious medium bodied sweet wine, but not syrupy. Flavours of dried apricot, honey and marmalade, with just enough zip of citrus to balance the sugars.
Available online from Advintage and Ngatarawa winery.

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Some Big NZ and Aus Reds

It looks like winter is still with us for a month or two before we head into spring and the grapevines burst into life again.  And this time of year in Auckland in the vineyards , pruners are busy removing the old shoots from vines before the sap rises.  While vines are dormant over winter, this is the time to get in and trim off the old dead wood.  Not unlike rose bushes, the vines are pruned vigorously. The vines are cut right back to often just one trunk with two or four lateral branches left before spring kicks in. (See the video on my blog).  Work never stops in the vineyard and winery – it’s a 7 day a week job for many people in the business.
Meanwhile hare’s a line-up of hearty reds for cooler nights (and days).

Rimu Grove ‘Bronte’ Nelson Pinot Noir 2011 $NZ 23
17 points
  ★★★★ Great value Pinot from Nelson.  Aromas of spice, and ripe black cherry. In the mouth – stewed plums, Lapsang Souchong, savoury BBQ mushrooms and ripe black berry fruits. 
Available: Glengarry
Saint Clair Pioneer Block ‘Doctor’s Creek’ Pinot Noir 2014 $NZ 38
19 points  ★★★★★
A seamlessly gorgeous and voluptuous silky Pinot with aromas of potpourri, fruit cake and Black Forest Cake. It opens up with flavours of ripe black cherry, boysenberry and subtle spice, with soft seductive yet lingering tannins.
Available: Glengarry
Selaks Reserve Hawke’s Bay Merlot Cabernet 2013 $22
17 points  ★★★★ Classy red at a good price. Spicy plum and black cherry aromas. Soft tannins and ripe flavours of black currant, cherry and black olive, with a hint of black pepper.
Available: most supermarkets and wine stores
Molly Dooker ‘The Boxer’  McLaren Vale Shiraz 2013 $NZ 35
20 points 
Classic south Australian knockout Shiraz.  Smells fabulous – aromas of vanilla oak, cassis, super-ripe dark berry fruits, and pepper.  Juicy and full flavoured, clocking in at 15.5% alcohol yet manages a seamless palate of ripe black currant, blackberry, spice and Black Forest Cake.
Available: Fine Wine Delivery Company, Village Winery Mt. Eden
Molly Dooker ‘Two Left Feet’  McLaren Vale Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot  2013  $NZ 35
19 points
  ★★★★★ Another monster at 15.5% alcohol but bang for buck nonetheless.  Smells like Christmas cake, anise and red cherries.  Smooth and savoury with some stewed plum and a hint of liquorice.  Medium firm tannins.
Available: Fine Wine Delivery Company, Village Winery Mt. Eden

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

Tuscan Wine Travels

 For all its distance, New Zealand seems to have an endless fascination with the food, wine and culture of Italy.  And not unlike the rest of the world, we have been eager to embrace panini, espresso, cappuccino, pasta, pizza, Chianti, Prada, Versace, and a whole bunch of other stuff ending in a, e, i, and o. So, this year’s wine holiday was the most ambitious to date – Italy, with focus on the Chianti region in Tuscany.

We flew in on Emirates, via Dubai.  The idea was to avoid all the security hold-ups associated with a transfer at LAX.  

I can report that Dubai is smelly, humid and extremely hot, with an airport terminal like something out of the Star Wars bar scene – many, many people of different cultures in strange clothes buying duty free like there’s no tomorrow.  

We had three days in Rome, then another three in Umbria.  Hiring a rental from Perugia, I drove nervously out of the city in our very comfortable Lancia automatic with no major trauma other than somehow ending in a bus-only lane which was running contra to the other peak hour traffic.  A judicious U-turn soon had us hopelessly lost, again in short order.  However we eventually located our B&B in Bastia – about 30 minutes away as dusk fell and tempers frayed.

Umbria was quiet and charming – endless fields of sunflowers and good affordable and very drinkable local wines from our nearby supermarket at about 6 Euros a bottle. 

Onward to Tuscany, by the very efficient Trenitalia rail network and local buses, we first stopped in San Gimignano – a walled hilltop township.  Dating from around the 10th Century, San Gimignano is a fortified town featuring the classic Tuscan terracotta pink and honey, brick and tile buildings.  Very much a tourist town now, it boasts numerous restaurants, a museum of religious art and a wine museum. The Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta has frescoes by Sienese school artists Bartolo di Fredi and Taddaeo di Bartolo.

But the highlight of the trip was definitely Montalcino, another fortress town dating back to the 14th century.  The whole township is easily traversed by foot and has a permanent population of about 5,000.  Spectacular postcard views of the Orcia valley are around every corner, giving panoramas of the region’s olive orchards, vineyards and wheat fields as they stretch into the hazy distance.

Renowned for the iconic Tuscan red Brunello, Montalcino is the most famous Chianti producer in the region.  Brunello is a 100% Sangiovese, produced and branded under very strict regulations.
Grapes have to be grown within the Commune of Montalcino, and ageing for two years in oak casks, plus a further 4 months in the bottle is obligatory.  208 producers make around 290,000 cases in total, of Brunello per annum.  The name Montalcino is a protected brand, like Champagne, and can only be applied to another red, Rosso di Montalcino and a white – Moscato di Montalcino.  Brunello retails in Italy at anything from 40 Euros upwards.

Few local vineyards are open for cellar door tasting, and only by appointment.  The best way is a hosted tasting at the Enoteca,  a wine boutique, restaurant and tasting facility.  It is located in the Fortezza, the castle keep – the last resort for siege in medieval battles.  I was treated to a line up of five Brunellos – Cerbaiona ’98, Banfi Riserva ’95, Capanna Riserva ’99, Poggio di Sotte ’01 and Cupano ’01.  The clouds parted and I heard bits of the Hallelujah Chorus.  These are glorious wines – full ripe and rich, with dried fruit old wine characters, soft tannins and lingering aftertaste.

Montalcino is also renowned for honey, extra virgin olive oils, and local cheeses like Pecorino.  Many restaurants and cafes make the best of local specialty produce. In fact, best meal we had in Italy is Trattoria Il Leccio – located in a small village – St. Angelo in Colle, just outside Montalcino. Other attractions include San Quirico d’Orca – a thermal spa town going back to Etruscan times, with many churches, gardens and upmarket tourist accommodation.

Phil Parker runs wine tours in Auckland NZ

Friday, July 3, 2015

Wine Regions of New Zealand - A visitor's Guide

Here's a new 44 second video presentation of my new guide to NZ's many cellar doors

 Phil Parker runs wine tours in Auckland New Zealand