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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."


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
80 Hammerichs Road
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

Phil runs the best wine tours known to mankind and womankind see 

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.

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

SWITZERLAND for beginners


·         Food – fantastic quality across the board, from supermarket to cafes, to high-end restaurants, the quality and presentation of food is superb.  Local laws prevent the use of many pesticides and chemicals commonly used in NZ. Being summer, there is an abundance of crisp fresh local vegetables and luscious summer fruits and berries.

·         Smoking – many people smoke openly on the street and inside restaurants and cafes. Cigarettes are relatively cheap in Europe compared with NZ. And street vending machines are available to sell cigarettes to anyone regardless of age.
·         Waitpersons – the rule here is polite, very efficient and professional but with little warmth. Meals and drinks arrive in short order. You pay at the table. They have a little holster with a mobile  eftpos and a purse to give change. Tipping is not obligatory.

·         Fashion – I am amazed at how global the fashion world has become. Being summer, it’s short shorts and crop tops for the girls, jeans and check shirts for the boys. Tattoos (see below) are abundant. Also many ‘Vikings’ haircuts – shaved sides with ponytail and variations thereof.

·         Tattoos – not so prevalent or extensive. Mainly monochromatic and minimal.
·         Children. Maybe because it’s a day away from the big summer break, but the Swiss grade school kids are the loudest white children I have ever encountered, albeit fairly well behaved. Fecking deafening.

·         Wine. Very good. No really. Very good. I had a local Swiss Pinot Noir/Beaujolais last night and a Syrah tonight – both extremely clean flavoured and memorable.
  Health and Safety – the Swiss are a very complex mix of liberal and prescriptive. You can smoke pretty well anywhere except inside an office. Openly drinking alcohol on the street is OK. We went on a lake cruise – and there was no mention of life jackets or emergency protocol. Dogs are allowed inside shops and on public transport. There are no hazard warnings on anything. Touristi Emptor. Yet in 5 days I have seen no dog poo on the pavement, public transport runs precisely on time, and I have spotted only one homeless person.

·         Military. The Swiss are proudly independent, yet aware of their vulnerability. Military training is still compulsory for Swiss males. The Cold War period made them pretty well paranoid. By law, every home must have a nuclear bunker for the family with provisions to last months. There are at least 40 kilometres of tunnels under the Alps containing military infrastructure in case of war. Even in the Alps there is an Air Force base at Ballenburg, just by a popular tourist attraction dotted with historic Swiss rural buildings and docile animals. The FA-18 jets do routine training flights through the Alps with a deafening and alarming roar during the day. Luckily the animals appear to have got used to it or have suffered sufficient hearing damage over a  lifetime.

·         Economy – pretty damn fine. The Swiss Franc is stable and hearty and they regard the EU with disdain.  Banking and pharmaceuticals are the two main drivers of the economy. Agriculture is subsidised, yet the Swiss chocolate and cheese are world famous. Lindt is a huge international chockie brand.

·          Cuckoo clocks. Touristy bollocks. Yes you can find them if you want. Just like Swiss Army knives.

·         Watches – yes there are still some famous Swiss brands, despite the democratisation of the quartz watches. I spotted a watch at a local store on sale for 22,000 Swiss Francs.

·         Exchange rate. Pretty awful. A basic Domino’s Pizza costs $NZD 29.00  ($USD 19.50)

·         Minimum wage – about 20 Swiss francs an  hour  ($NZD29.00)

·         People – friendly, practical, honest, hard-working 


Wednesday, June 22, 2016


The rise of craft beer in New Zealand

Anyone who’s a beer fan can’t have failed to notice the huge number of craft breweries popping up all over NZ in the last 5 years or so.

Along with the renaissance of cider and rosé wines, craft beers are very popular over summer and now extending into the cooler months. Craft beer enthusiasts are just as passionate as wine buffs with many attending informal clubs and organised tastings. Styles range from light easy drinking lagers and Pilsners, through to hoppy/bitter IPAs (India Pale Ales), red ales and dark heavy stouts. Not constrained by using traditional ingredients, many craft brewers are experimenting with adding spices, citrus, chocolate and vanilla – to name a few, to add complexity and character to their brews.
Here we go with a selection from north to south:

Sawmill Pale Ale 4.5% alcohol 500ml $8.00
IPA style from north Auckland’s Leigh Sawmill Brewery in Matakana. A rich mouthful. Nicely hoppy and toasty with medium bitterness. Amber coloured, with a creamy foam it has a hint of florals on the palate with a rounded dry hoppy finish.

Three Boys Pils 5.5% alcohol 500ml $8.00
This one hails from Three Boys Brewery in Woolston, Christchurch.
Golden brown with white foam. Funky and yeasty, hoppy aromas. This is the classic Czech style Pilsner, using traditional saaz hops. Lighter on the palate, it’s clean and refreshing with a hint of citrus zest.

Liberty Elixir Bright Ale 4.75% alcohol 330ml $3.75
From Helensville in northwest Auckland. Golden hued with pure white foam, opens up in the mouth with citrus, floral and a nudge of coriander. Amarillo and Sauvin hops were used. Fine beaded bubbles and a softer palate make this a nice easy drinking style.

Harrington Breweries Belgian Tempest Spiced Strong Ale 7% alcohol 500ml $6.67
Amber coloured with not much carbonation or head after pouring.
Softly spicy aromas in a medium bodied ale with a palate influenced by addition of coriander seed and orange zest. Quite deceptively alcoholic, clocking in at 7% ABV, and with a soft finish hinting at pear juice. Made by Harrington Breweries in Christchurch.

Tuatara Pale Ale 5% alcohol 500ml $6.79
Tuatara Brewing hails from Paraparaumu, northwest of Wellington. Highly carbonated, this one foams up with a creamy head in the glass. Another IPA style but not as bitter as some. Made with English yeast, it has a smooth palate of apricot, toast and yeast.

Garage Project Hapi Daze Pacific Pale Ale 4.8% alcohol $3.99
330 ml can
From Wellington’s Garage Project brewery, located in an old garage in central Wellington. Having a bit of fun with the name ‘Hapi’ is the Māori word for hops. Orange amber with white foam, it has aromas of malt and grassiness. The sweet malt carries through on the palate with a dash of tropical fruits and a softer finish.

Behemoth Hopped Up On Pils 5% alcohol  330ml can $4.99
Old gold colour with white foam. Interesting nose of passionfruit and hoppy aromas. Tangy and yeasty in the mouth it has a nice balanced hoppy flavour. Similar in style to the Hapi Daze. Behemoth are from Warkworth in north Auckland, not far from the Matakana wine region. 

Eagle Red IPA 5.8% alcohol 500 ml $8.80
Another brew from Christchurch – Eagle Brewing Co in Riccarton.
Red amber colour with a tan coloured light head. Very hoppy on the nose, with hints of coffee, toffee, molasses, and a suitably IPA style bitter lengthy aftertaste.

Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black South Pacific Porter 6% alcohol 330 ml $5.90
Great name for a brewery, Yeastie Boys is brewed in Invercargill.
Suitably black in the glass with a light brown foamy head. Dark porter aromas of coffee, liquorice and toasted grains. In the mouth, it’s foamy and full with more coffee, chocolate, malt and funky yeast flavours. Nice medium to full bodied palate.

Renaissance Craftsman Chocolate Oatmeal Stout 4.9% alcohol 500 ml $10.80
Very dark in the glass with a mid-brown foam. Aromas of coffee, toffee and vanilla. Nice and full bodied, with more vanilla and chocolate flavours from cocoa nibs in the mash. Easy on the palate and slightly sweet. Another South Island brew, this one hails from Blenheim.

Emerson’s The Rapture Seasonal Black IPA 7.4% alcohol 500ml $8.00
Reddish black with a generous tan foamy head. Plenty of hops and yeast on the nose. Kicks in with good bitterness and upfront hops, this is quite a big mouthful at 7.5% ABV. One to linger over, with lots of dark toasted grain stout-like flavours that linger on the palate. Emerson’s are based in Dunedin.

Friday, June 17, 2016

French Fab Four

Here we go with a selection of French wines, reasonably priced and unpretentious, yet capturing the essence of their Gallic heritage. Interestingly, only one of these is sealed with a traditional cork (the Fleurie). The Bourillon Vouvray has one of those demonic plastic corks that are nigh well impossible to extract without incurring a hernia, whereas the other two are sensibly sealed with screw caps. French wines are making a comeback after many years of overinflated prices and losing ground to producers from not only Spain and Italy but also South America, New Zealand and Australia. These four are highly recommended as good value examples of French regional wines.

Bourillon Dorléans Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) Loire France 2012 Demi-sec $NZ 30.00
From east of the Loire region, of my favourite obscure white varieties, Vouvray always delivers a complex, mouth-filling experience. This is a demi-sec i.e. off-dry to medium sweet style that smells like clover honey and pineapple juice with a whiff of funky yeast. On the palate it’s a cocktail of flavours – from fresh cut pineapple, to toffee, ginger, mango and a hint of fennel. The finish isn’t sweet, but lingering and slightly mineral. A good match with a veal casserole.
Available: Glengarry

Gisselbrecht Pinot Gris Alsace 2015 $NZ 20.00
From the home of ‘aromatic wines’ in Alsace on the French/German border.
Smells like warm red apple skin on a sunny day, with a hint of honey and citrus blossom. It is a rich and fruity style leaning more towards sweet than off-dry. Lovely flavours of clear apple juice, and pear & apple cake, and a little muskiness on the lengthy finish. Would match well with creamy pasta or chicken dishes.
Available: Glengarry

Muré Gewürztraminer Alsace 2013  $NZ 35.50
Another classic wine variety from northern France, this is a voluptuous seductive blonde, with aromas of honey, spice and beeswax. A lovely complex palate of preserved ginger, lychee and a dash of florals – but not the usual rosewater flavours. It has a hint of sweetness but finishes dry and tangy. It reminds me very much of the Dry River Gewürztraminer. Typically matches well with pork.
Available: Herne Bay Cellars.

Albert Ponnelle Fleurie Gamay Beaujolais 2013  $NZ 47.50
From the Beaujolais region, this is very typically French – more about savoury and spice than fruit yet quite generous and complex. Aromas of earth, smoke, sour cherry and gamey meats open up in the mouth with an initial hit of acidity and a bit of astringency. Then it’s all savoury spice, soy sauce and black cherry and a fruity ripe mid palate. The finish is savoury and dry. Nicely matched with a winter beef dish.
Available: contact Dhall & Nash wines

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Six Top Drops

I was going to title this article ‘Six top drops for the NZ winter,’ but today as I write it’s a balmy 19 degrees in Auckland despite a fresh westerly! However, by the time you read this it may indeed be a bit cooler.

Anyway, no Big Theme for this month’s column. Just some very good wines for you to enjoy, including two fab bubblies. I do believe that our NZ traditional method sparkling wines are hugely under-rated. Crowds of Kiwis rush off to grab industrial scale French fizz at $70.00 a bottle on special, while we have some gorgeous hand crafted sparklers here which stack upon very well in comparison, for twenty bucks less.

Loveblock Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 $NZ 26.00
From Kim and Erica Crawford’s organic vineyard, this is an atypical savvie versus the ‘smack in the mouth with a gooseberry flavoured lemon style.’ Lovely and elegant with shy aromas of stone fruit, citrus and hint of ripe black currant. It opens up on the palate with gooseberry, crisp lemon, with a hint of green bell pepper and pineapple.
Availability: Possibly Glengarry or direct from Loveblock

Spade Oak Voysey Gisborne Chardonnay 2014 $NZ 16.00
Light nose – apple, stone fruit. Easy drinking light style with a hint of oak, and fresh fruit flavours of quince, lime and stone fruit.
Available: Fine Wine Delivery Company, Spade Oak Wine

The Prospect Ormond/Gisborne Chardonnay 2014 $NZ 20
Made by the Spade Oak folk. Spent 12 months maturing in French oak barrels. Enticing aromas of ripe peach, marzipan.  Opens up on the palate with ripe nectarine, lime and grapefruit. Crisp clean finish with lingering toasty oak.
Available: Fine Wine Delivery Company, Spade Oak Wine

Hawkshead Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 $NZ 30.00
Smells of toasted oak, black cherry and tamarillo, with a bit of forest floor and spice. Generous palate of black berry fruits and ripe black currant, with medium soft tannins and lengthy dry palate. Very classy wine that would reward cellaring for another 3-4 years.
Available: Scenic Cellars, Vino Fino, City Centre Wine & Spirits Wgton.

Spade Oak Gisborne Methode Traditionelle Blanc de Blanc NV $NZ 38.00
‘Blanc de blanc’ translates as ‘white from white’ i.e. a bubbly made entirely from white chardonnay grapes. The traditional mix is chardonnay blended with clear wine made from pinot noir. This is a lovely balanced and rich NZ fizzy. Pale gold with persistent fine beaded bubbles and aromas of apple, minerality and a hint of herbs. In the mouth it’s a party of foamy bubbles with flavours of strewed pear & apple, clover honey, nougat, nectarine and lime crispness.
Available: Spade Oak Wines

Saint Clair ‘Dawn’ Methode Traditionelle 2012 $NZ 49.00
Named after Dawn Ibbotson, matriarch of Saint Clair, who accomplished 100 years in December 2014. This is the tradional blend of pinot noir and chardonnay and was rested on yeast residue in the bottle for 35 months.
Dry, crisp and elegant – this wine has a delicate nose of Nashi pear and minerality. One the palate it’s subtle lime citrus, nougat, brioche and poached pear with a tangy, clean dry finish.

Available: Negociants NZ, Saint Clair Wines