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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."


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How To Taste Wine

The whole ritual of wine tasting can look a tad pretentious and silly, but essentially it does make sense.

If you are visiting a number of wineries in a day, or lucky enough to be at a hosted wine tasting event, it pays to take your time and stick to a few basic principles: The 6 S approach is pretty standard. See, Swirl, Sniff, Swish, Spit (or Swallow). Drink plenty of water and take meal breaks.

Looking through the wine against a white background gives clues to age and concentration. A white wine will progress to golden hues with age. A red will take on brick red or brownish tones with age. Then vigorously swirl the wine around in the glass – this releases more aromas into the bowl of the glass. Stick your nose right in the glass and sniff heartily. Apart from picking up aromas it will also tell you if the wine is ‘off’ ! (See last month’s column). Swish the wine right around the inside of your mouth. In fact, most of your taste receptors are in your nose (that’s why you can’t taste food when you have a cold). Your mouth and tongue have taste buds, but they are receptors for just five basic flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami -or savoury. But the mouth cavity connects to the nasal receptors that pick up the nuances of flavour. Now, to spit or swallow? Your choice, but even in small amounts over many samples, you can absorb a lot of alcohol. I was once invited to judge sixty big reds for Cuisine mag. Yay, I thought. On the day there were ten ‘flights’ of six Aus and NZ reds. I dutifully spat and rinsed my mouth with water, but by the end of the day I was shattered and probably over the legal limit. One final thing – don’t rinse your glass with water between samples. Water in the glass changes the pH of the wine and thus its flavour.

Anyway, here’s some great wines to sample!

Kumeu River Estate Pinot Gris 2018 $26

Iconic west Auckland chardonnay producers, Kumeu River also have a few other whites on the shelf, including the above, plus a Gewürztraminer, a bottle fermented sparkler and a Hawkes Bay sauvignon blanc. This pinot gris is crisp and luscious, with Nashi pear, lime citrus and a hint of Kumeu clay minerality.
Available: Caros, Fine Wine Delivery Co.

Thomas Waiheke Blanc de Gris 2017 $46
One of Waiheke’s newest wineries and also the highest-elevated vineyard on the island, Batch has spectacular views out over the gulf and islands.
This sparkler is possibly the only prosecco style, tank fermented style currently in NZ. Dry and crisp with a satisfying yeasty tang. Flavours of crisp apple and pear.
Available: Batch Winery or Waiheke Wine Centre

Coopers Creek Hawkes Bay Swamp Reserve 2014
Swamp Reserve has always been Coopers’ top chardonnay. This one from my cellar is gorgeous at 5 years old. Lovely deep gold colour, seamless lengthy and rich flavours of hazelnut, canned peach, a hint of grapefruit and yeasty brioche. The 2017 is out now at about $29
Available: Caros, Herne Bay Cellars

Thomas Field Blend Rose 2018 $38
A complex  blend of 87% syrah, 5% pinot gris, 5% chardonnay, 2% flora and 1% riesling – delivers a crisp refreshing ideal summer wine with strawberry, raspberry and a hint of toffee apple. Dry finish.
Available: Batch Winery or Waiheke Wine centre Waiheke Island.

Pegasus Bay Aged Release Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2009 $65
I was lucky enough to sample this ten year old lighter style pinot. It has aged very gracefully with a slightly smoky, gamy nose. Flavours of cherry, truffle and cassis with bit of spice and soft tannins
Available: from Pegasus Bay winery online, or

Phil runs Wine Tours Auckland New Zealand

Wine Faults 101

  Is your wine On or Off?

When is a wine ‘off’?
There are a lot of misconceptions around the concept of wine that has gone off.

Okaythe classic example is a wine that has been tainted by a bad cork or by unhygienic winemaking. I.e. a ‘corked’ wine. This is why people often sniff the cork as part of the wine tasting ritual. The culprit here is a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). It is present in moulds that can grow in a cork tree, and can also exist in damp surfaces within a winery environment. The chemical is so powerful, that we can detect a few parts per trillion. Typically, and at its worst, TCA smells like mouldy damp cardboard. In diluted amounts it robs the wine of any fruit flavours. Hence the gamble of wines sealed with a natural cork – and why I am such a fan of the screw top closure.

Probably the second most common fault is a wine that is oxidised. This can happen when a cork breaks down over time and oxygen interacts with the wine, making it smell like sherry – or even vinegar. Also if a wine is opened for a few days, oxidation will start to happen. (That’s why I hardly ever order wine by the glass at a restaurant or wine bar).

Less commonly are sulphides as a result of faulty winemaking, which typically results in a smell like rotten eggs or burnt rubber. Another fault - volatile acidity (VA) gives the wine aromas of acetone (nail polish remover). VA is acceptable in sweet dessert wines, but is a fault if you discover it in a normal dry table wine.

Anyway, here is a selection of wines that have definitely passed the test and come out squeaky clean!

Tohu Whenua Awa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018  $NZ 30.00
A very approachable style of sauvignon. Typical aromas of gooseberry and passionfruit, but an unusually softer medium palate with rich guava, green capsicum and passion fruit, with a tad of lychee fruit.
Availability: Glengarry.

Main Divide North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc 2019  $NZ 21.00
Second tier label from Pegasus Bay, delivers great bang for buck across the whole range. Cape gooseberry and passionfruit aromas and a big hit of crisp elderberry, pink tinned guava and fresh cut pineapple, with clean mineral acidity.
Availability: Glengarry.

Giesen Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018 $NZ 13.00
Nice and juicy pinot gris from Giesen. Great value for a fruity, drink any time wine. Flavours of stewed apple, nashi pear and a dash of fresh pineapple.

Hera Gisborne Chardonnay 2018 $NZ 70.00
From consistent Gisborne producer, Odyssey wines, this is a premium chardonnay with a great pedigree. Handpicked Mendoza clone fruit and fermented in 50% new French oak. A very elegant chardonnay that reminds me of Kumeu River. Creamy palate with toasty hazelnut woven through ripe nectarine and pear, with a lengthy crisp finish.
Availability: Caros Wines

Dry River Martinborough Syrah 2016 $NZ 70.00
Another stunner from Dry River. Who says that you can’t make fab syrah south of Hawke’s Bay? Inky crimson in the glass, this wine is big and bold with firm tannins, lush ripe Black Doris plum and black cherry. Laced with a hint of peppery spice and fruitcake, this one’s a definite keeper. Very drinkable now, but could cellar for ten years.
Availability: Caros

Phil runs the best wine tours in Auckland New Zealand !

It’s all about the Taste. Are you a super-taster?

Having been a wine tour guide, plus doing wine writing gigs for over twenty years, I have observed literally thousands of people tasting thousands of wines.

And I have noticed that they do fall into two general categories. So, here is my own take on why people like certain wines. And why people don’t like other wines. The Phil Parker Theory of Wine Palate goes something like this: Some (not many) people have a Sensitive Palate. And conversely, most other people have a Robust Palate. No shame about being in either group. It’s not a competition. It’s like having brown eyes or green eyes. Get over it. Thus, my completely unproven theory divides you into two groups.

Quite possibly the sensitive palate folk are supertasters i.e. they have many more taste buds than others. This means that they react strongly to sweet, bitter, salt and sour.

Sensitive Palate
May not like: Brussels sprouts, broad beans, strong blue cheeses, mustard, bitter dark chocolate, horseradish, wasabi, salt & vinegar chips, strong black coffee, hot chilli sauce, vinegary pickles, sauvignon blanc, acidic riesling, cabernet sauvignon and other very tannic (dry) red wines such as Barolo, cabernet or shiraz. Also in general, hates very hoppy and bitter craft beers, and sweet wines – especially dessert wines.
Probably likes: pinot gris, fruity soft chardonnay, soft and silky pinot noir, ripe and soft syrah and merlot.

Robust Palate
May not like
: soft fruity chardonnay, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, pinot noir or merlot.
Probably likes: dark chocolate, hot spicy foods, strong coffee, vinegary foods, Brussels sprouts, salt & vinegar chips, salty foods, mineral chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, big butterychardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, malbec, zinfandel and other very tannic dry reds. Also loves bitter hoppy IPA beers and whiskey. Also, may enjoy a cigarette or a good cigar.

Unfortunately for me, I am of the Sensitive Palate whanau. To me, sauvignon blanc tastes like battery acid and a hoppy IPA can wipe out my sense of taste for about 3 hours. But, as a wine writer I have to know a good sav when I see one, so I don’t skew my reviews toward my personal palate.
Anyway, here are some recent tastings.

Richmond Plains Blanc de Noir Marlborough 2018  $NZ 23.40
I discovered this fab wine on a winter trip to the south this July. Certified organic and biodynamic, vegetarian and made from 100% Pinot Noir. Crisp, fresh and fruity. Flavours of baked pear, nectarine and apple. Availability:

Tohu Pinot Blanc Whenua Awa Marlborough 2018  $NZ 29.00
Pinot blanc, along with pinot gris is a cousin of pinot noir. This is a crisp refreshing wine, ideal slightly chilled. In the mouth, it’s fresh and fruity with flavours of mandarin, nectarine and hint of riesling-like bees’ wax. Great match for seafood.
Availability: Glengarry

Tohu Albariño Whenua Matua Nelson 2018  $NZ 29.00
This Spanish grape variety (pronounced Al-Ba-Reenyo). produces crisp white wines with stone fruit flavours not unlike Viognier.  In Portugal it is known as Alvarinho. To me – ripe pear, mandarin and minerality with a crisp finish.
Availability: Glengarry

Rockburn The Chosen Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018  $NZ 65
Inviting aromas of ripe, juicy black cherries and Christmas plum cake. A rich, soft generous and silky palate of red and black berry compote with a hint of mixed spices, and a soft tannic lengthy finish. Another knockout Pinot Noir from Rockburn.
Availability: Glengarry,
Outback Jack Brenton Vineyard Australin Cabernet Merlot 2017 $NZ 8.99
Not a typo. This is a very drinkable, fruit forward with plums and fruitcake, with not too much tannin. A total bargain Aus red.

Little x Hawkes Bay Syrah 2014 $NZ 14.99
Again. Total bargain. Honestly - one of the best Hawkes bay syrahs that I have tasted from the memorable 2014 vintage. Soft spicy and seamless. With black pepper, stewed plum, black currant and plum pudding.

I run boutique Auckland Wine Tours in New Zealand - Rated No. 2 by TripAdvisor

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Two By Three

One of the things that I love about working around wine in New Zealand is the huge diversity of labels, wine varieties, regions and personalities that make up our wine industry. This month I have six wines to talk about – three pairs of wines, from three very different producers.

First up, Pleasant Valley Wines from Auckland’s historic Henderson wine region. They claim to be the oldest winery in NZ – founded in 1895 by Stipan Jelich (later anglicised to Steven Yelas). Winemaker Lee Winston is now stepping out with a new concept - blended wines.
Next, Main Divide, the second tier label from North Canterbury’s Pegasus Bay winery.  Owned by the extensive Donaldson family, Pegasus Bay is the local star in Waipara, with both their wines and superb restaurant having won many awards. Founder Ivan Donaldson is a professor of neurology, wine writer and wine judge. Son Mathew is in charge of winemaking.
In 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard a few kilometres from Dyerville in the very dry, gravely and free-draining Martinborough region, an hour north of Wellington. They named the enterprise Dry River, and in short order became a high end producer of premium wines. There have been changes of ownership and winemakers over the years. Current winemaker is the very talented Wilco Lam. Great wines and not very easy to find outside the winery website.

Untitled White Blend   $NZ 25
Untitled Wines is a project by Lee Winston, winemaker at Pleasant Valley Wines. His approach is to make an assemblage from wines of different years, and regions to produce a unique blend. This wine has aromas of citrus and floral with a whiff of minerality. It has a clean, crisp palate of clear apple juice, jasmine and stone fruit, with a dry finish.

Untitled Pink Blend Rosé   $NZ 20
Crisp, fresh and dry, with aromas of red apple skin. In the mouth there’s a hint of candy floss, with cherry, and strawberry jam. (By entering the code on the back label into your search engine, you can discover the wines that go into each of Lee’s wines.)

Main Divide North Canterbury Gewürztraminer  2018  $NZ 21
Definitely has the wow factor. Intense aromas of lychee fruit and pink sticky pink Turkish delight. Rich and lengthy oily and medium sweet palate of ginger in syrup, lychee, marmalade and jasmine.

Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Gris  2016  $NZ 21
Lovely full-flavoured style of pinot gris from Pegasus Bay’s second label. Aromas of poached pear and ripe grapefruit. Unctuous and generous palate of beeswax, quince, grapefruit marmalade and a hint of spice. Finishes dry after a total party in your mouth!

Dry River The Twelve Spies Martinborough 2017  $NZ 65 
Something new for Dry River, a blend: pinot noir, tempranillo, syrah and viognier. Aromas of cherry and spice and fruitcake. Palate of ripe black cherry, black pepper, poached tamarillo and black olive. One to keep for a few more years.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Outside the Square

While big NZ producers are pumping out millions of litres of wine a year, there are small wineries doing things a bit differently and on a much smaller scale.

There is a huge amount of fairly predictable large volume wine on the market, particularly in supermarkets and large liquor retailers. Nothing wrong with that, but you pretty well get what you pay for at the $15 and under price bracket. As I often tell my overseas guests, you will almost never get a bad NZ wine - but you won’t always get a great one in that price range. And I’m hearing a bit of backlash from some USA consumers who are tired of formulaic NZ export sauvignon blanc which they view as too acidic and grapefruity. NZ should be trying to capture the discerning wine fans with wines that are a bit out of the ordinary. And maybe – just maybe, it’s time to push some of the other fantastic wines that we produce other than sauvignon blanc - such as pinot gris, Riesling and chardonnay.
Meantime, here are some great individualistic wines that I sampled recently.

Theory & Practice Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2018   $NZ 25  (Fine Wine Delivery Co.)
For many years pinot gris was a bit of a gamble as winemakers got to grips with this variety. But this is a great example of a complex and full bodied aromatic wine. Aromas of quince and clover honey. A lovely rich palate of pink guava, quinine, and pear juice with a hint of spice and a dry yeasty finish. Produced by Ant McKenzie Wines.

Loveblock Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018  $NZ 22  (Glengarry)
From Kim Crawford’s organic label, a very appealing and atypical Marlborough sauvignon. Aromas of fresh black currant and gooseberry with a hint of funky yeast. A portion of the wine was fermented in old French barrels. And at least a quarter of the wine went through malolactic ferment. Soft acids plus lengthy flavours of pineapple, guava, peach and ripe grapefruit

Saint Clair James Sinclair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc  2018 $NZ 24.50 (Countdown)
Passionfruit pulp and gooseberry on the nose and palate.  A very approachable softer style of sav with mandarin citrus and a hint of fresh pineapple. Named after pioneering Marlborough  settler (1852) James Sinclair on whose former property Neal and Judy Ibbotson established the Saint Clair brand.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 $NZ 50  (Glengarry)
Rockin’ the South – Rockburn does it again.  Nose of spice dark plums and ripe cherry. Full bodied and seamless palate of blueberry, boysenberry, crème de cassis and spiced plum cake, with soft sensual earthy tannins.

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2016  $NZ 37 (Vinofino online)
Smells like spice drawer, poached plum and vanilla with a tad of pot pourri. Flavours of dark chocolate, cherry, poached plums and a hint of Glühwein. Smooth and velvety.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

NZ Sparkling Traditional Method wines

Okay. Bubbles. Fizz. Popping the cork for celebration! Nothing wrong with that. Enjoy. Wine- like food, humour and company is for sharing.

Grapes traditionally used in making true branded French Champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. All three are usually blended in the familiar mass-produced French fizz we see in NZ as Moët, Veuve Cliquot, Bollinger, Lanson, Pol Roger etc.
And I do mean mass production. We are talking millions upon millions bottles of bottles per year pumped out by French Champagne houses to satisfy the thirsty masses. There are variations on the theme: Blanc de Noir (pinot noir and/or pinot meunier), and Blanc De Blanc (100% chardonnay). And then, there are Rosé style “pink Champagne” sparklers, where sometimes the pinot noir has been left on the skins a short while to ferment and extract a blush of pink colour.

And the characteristic fine beaded frothy bubbles are the result of a secondary fermentation in the bottle after the wine has been sealed with added yeast and sugar. And … it’s the CO2 bubbles in the wine which make the alcohol absorb more quickly into the bloodstream and the brain. It may make you feel a little bit dizzy, totally fabulous, funny … and also may make you fancy complete strangers. (So I have been told.)

‘NV’ on a bottle means non-vintage i.e. the Champagne is made from a blend of various years’ base wines. Vintage Champagne is made solely from the grapes of a particularly good year, and that year is determined by the region’s producers. It is these vintage wines which can last ten years or more. NV Sparklers are designed to be consumed on release and won’t benefit from extended cellaring.

Anyway. Here are some fantastic small production local New Zealand Champenoise styles that - in my opinion, totally rival some of the best pretentious French labels. And at about half the price. Drink local. Drink fabulous. Enjoy.
Mudbrick Vineyard Methode Traditionelle (NV)  $NZ 30
Wow. 24 carat gold colour.  Aromas of beeswax, brioche and clover honey. In the mouth, it’s a complex and lush palate of preserved peach, ripe apricot, toffee and hint of toasty oak with a slow golden sunset finish. I’m in love.

Peacock Sky Reserve Waiheke Blanc de Noirs 2014  $NZ 45
Black grapes – 59% merlot and 41% cabernet sauvignon. Pale rose gold pink with fine beaded bubbles. Smells like almond nougat and brioche with a good whiff of CO2. Lovely rich, ripe and generous palate of sour cherry, almond and summer fruit compote. 
West Brook Waimauku Methode Traditionelle 2012  $NZ 39.90
Blanc de Noir style from Waimauku pinot noir. Very subtle and mineral French style that is best served just lightly chilled. Gold hues. Aromas of almond croissant. On the palate it’s crisp, dry, and restrained with hints of apple, almond nougat and mandarin.

Soljans Brut Methode Traditionelle 2012  $NZ 33.00
Award-winning Kumeu sparkler from third generation family winemakers. Traditional pinot noir/ chardonnay blend. Yellow gold colour. Aromas of yeasty baked bread.  Rich, complex and integrated palate of mandarin, peach crumble, and rock melon, with a dry crisp finish.
Soljans Brut Methode Traditionelle 2013  $NZ 33.00
A drier style than the 2102. Yellow gold. Smells like Packham pear, apricots and hazelnut nougat. Frothy bubbles on the palate with flavours of frangipane tart, yeasty croissant and canned peach – with a crisp dry finish.

Phil hosts Waiheke Wine Tours


Matakana Estate Matakana Pinot Gris 2017 $NZ 15
A very slightly reductive funky nose of citrus, minerality and grassy herbs.  A dry style with a mouthful of poached pear, Braeburn apple, a hint of anise and a lengthy very dry finish. Great aperitif wine

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Chardonnay 2017  $NZ 43
Okay, I’m not a fan of the ‘reductive’ funky chardonnays TBH. But this is a stunner. It does have that initial nasal hit of struck match sulphur thing, but that gives way to toasty oak, crème brûlée and grapefruit.  In the mouth, it’s poached pear, toffee apple, canned peach, blond tobacco and mandarine, with a long finish.  Creamy Chicken or pasta.

Soljans Estate Fifth Generation Series Kumeu Chardonnay 2016 $NZ 48
Delicate and elegant wine with a nose of yeasty brioche, stone fruit, vanilla with a hint of herbaceous fennel. Rich and complex palate of canned peach, fresh pineapple, and almond toffee, with a creamy and lengthy dry finish. Very classy and expressive of the Kumeu clay minerality.
Roast chicken, veal or cheese dishes.

Undivided ‘Vin De France’ Chardonnay 2017  $NZ 18.99
Great value bargain Chardonnay from France with a screw top. Vin De France pretty well means nothing as to where it came from. It could very well be a blend from different regions. Anyhoo – smells like pineapple and peach with a hint of spicy oak. Crisp and fruity with toasty spiced oak and pineapple, stone fruit and ripe pear, with a clean finish.  Match with seafood.

Matakana Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017 $ NZ 22
Pale brick red in the glass. Smoky, spicy aromas plus black cherry and plum. Flavours of red cherry, toasty oak and tar, with a hint of red summer berry fruit compote and cranberry. Dry finish. Great with lamb or ratatouille.

Vergence Red by Pegasus Bay North Canterbury 2017 $NZ 40
Dense deep garnet red in the glass. Tar, damp earth, black currant  and pot pourri aromas.
Flavours of cassis, blackberry truffle, black olive and poached tamarillo with medium tannins and long finish.  Match with venison or rich tomato based Italian dishes.

Saint Clair Gimblett Gravels  Hawkes Bay Origin Merlot $NZ 24.90
Dusty aromas, with plum and pot pourri. Cherry and plum, full bodied and fruity. Persistent tannins and a lengthy finish. One to put  away for a few years.  Roast beef or Lasagne.

Phil runs Waiheke Island wine tours in Auckland New Zealand