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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."


Monday, December 28, 2009

Whose wine is it anyway - wine fashionistas

As a colleague in the wine trade recently said: unfortunately, wine is now part of the fashion industry.

What it means for your average wine enthusiast (me included) is that what wine we enjoy - and how much we pay for it, is pretty well dictated by fashion. There has been a backlash against Chardonnay, for no other reason that wine fashion folk, suddenly decided it is ‘boring’. So now ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) is the rule for some white wine drinkers. All this in spite of the fact that Chardonnay, one of the few white wines which is aged in oak to add complexity to its flavours; is a great wine, and one which New Zealand winemakers are still doing particularly well.

Oak barrels sourced from France or the USA cost the wineries around $1,500 each, and last only about three vintages before they are cut in half and hocked off to the public at about fifty bucks apiece as planters. Chardonnay is an immensely complex and subtle wine, which has a major input from the winemaker as to its many variable influences. To write it off as unfashionable is shallow and ignorant.

Fashion, however is a two-edged sword, and that means that Chardonnay fans like me can pick up some damn fine Chards at bargain prices, while the wine fashion victims are running themselves ragged, all over Auckland for Viognier and Pinot Gris at $25 plus per bottle.

And not that I’m saying that there’s anything wrong with these exciting new wine varietals, either. They are very drinkable fragrant wines suited to subtly flavoured foods and are produced in fairly small quantities - which tends to push up prices.

However, there is a lag of something like three years before winemakers can establish new plantings to cope with a new grape varietal which is suddenly in demand. Only after the third harvest generally, are the grapes of sufficient quality and quantity to be a viable commercial proposition.
So by the time there are sufficient plantings to produce enough Viognier to meet increased demand, the fashion fascists may have moved on and decided that Chilean Petit Verdot is the next big thing and poor old Viognier will be out in the cold again.

Wine is essentially, and always has been about personal taste and enjoyment. The best wine for you is the wine you most enjoy – and to hell with anyone who tries to force you into drinking what they think you should. It’s all about personal preference. I liken it to someone saying that everyone has to like anchovies. In reality some like them, some hate them, and nobody should be forced to eat them because somebody else says they ought to. Same with wine.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Okay. Aromatics.
Officially, they are the three classic white wines from the French and, or German region of Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

The political history of the Alsace wine region has been a literal tug-o-war between Europe’s major powers for centuries. Since 1870 France has run it. Then Germany. Then France. Then, return service - back to Germany. And finally … back to France. Could have saved themselves all the bother, really. This cool northern European region produces white wines with intense fruit flavours and aromas – hence the name – ‘aromatics’.

Riesling is the wine that some people love to hate. The bad press goes way back to some pretty awful sugary sweet style Rieslings from the 1970s and early 1980s: wines like Blue Nun Liebfraumilch and Black Tower. 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 at all costs.

Here in New Zealand, as in Australia we now tend toward the dry end of the spectrum, producing wines that are crisp, fruity and dry or just slightly sweet (off-dry).

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 (very ripe and shrivelled) or Noble Riesling (affected by a fungus called Botrytis, which sucks out the water content and leaves very sweet concentrated juice with a honeyed taste).
In fact, I’m a big fan of the new wave of medium to sweet Rieslings – where the true nature of the grape is revealed as a luscious, fruity wine with honey, lime and apricot flavours, plus good cellaring potential. Food matches – think seafood (scallops, prawns, white fish).

The predominant character of Gewürztraminer (Ga-vertz-trah-meaner) is its spiciness. Often with hints of Turkish Delight, rose petals, apricot, ginger in syrup, and cinnamon. This is why Gewürzt is so often recommended as a good match for spicy food. But when you think spicy – think mild spice with not too much chilli. Some hot spicy dishes contain so much chilli that you can’t taste anything. The style of wine produced from the notoriously unreliable pink grapes, can be anywhere from dry and flinty through to musky, oily and sweet. New Zealand shares some of the Northern European cool climatic conditions, and has Gewürztraminer plantings in regions as diverse as Central Otago, Marlborough, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.

In the early Eighties Gewürzt was a bulk produced, sweet easy-drinking lightweight style, which suited the unsophisticated palates of young wine drinkers. Today, it represents a tiny amount compared to the most popular wine varieties. Just the same, they are worth hunting out for their subtlety of flavour and spicy nuances.

Pinot Gris seems to have come out of nowhere, to be the fashionable white wine both here in NZ, and also overseas. The grape is a mutation of the Pinot Noir family and like other Pinots, is described by its colour. In French, Gris (grey) - or in Italian, Grigio.

Again, as with the other two aromatics – you never know quite what you’re getting. Pinot Gris can be anything from dry, flinty and delicate – to sweet, full bodied, and complex. Basically, it pays to read the back label if you want an idea of how it’s going to taste.
In Europe – Germany, Alsace, and Italy the best Pinot Gris are oily, sweetish, full-bodied luscious wines. And some of our best NZ examples are coming from Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago.

Increasing plantings here have made it our fourth most planted white after Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. But even so, Pinot Gris accounts for only around 4 percent of our national vineyard. Typical flavours to expect: poached pear, stewed apples, honeysuckle, stone fruit, lime & lager. For food matches, I would highly recommend seafood, even in preference to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Ripe sweet fruit and background acidity are a perfect match for crayfish, scallops, crab, and most NZ white fish.


Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2007 $26
Medium to sweet, crisp ripe and lush. Fantastic.

West Brook Late Harvest Riesling 2003 $39
Grapes picked late in the harvest – full of natural sugars, ripe and raisiny, with flavours of honey and apricot jam.

Woollaston Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 $18
Newly released – complex and lush flavours of citrus, pear and melon.

Ti Point Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2008 $20
Big flavoured, ‘lager & lime’, with balanced acidity.

Dry River Lovat Gewürztraminer 2008 $40
Iconic NZ wine from Martinborough. Flavours of rose petals, and Turkish Delight; perfectly balanced. Spicy with great length of flavour.

Ascension Gisborne 2008 Gewürztraminer $29
From boutique north Auckland Matakana producer.
Again, floral aromas of rose petals, with Turkish delight flavours and a medium crisp finish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is Cardiology

The study of woollen knit, front-buttoning upper body apparel?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Son of a ...Gunn Estate Unoaked Chard and Pinot Noir

Hawkes Bay label - Gunn Estate, is a consistent producer of good value wines. The Gunn family has been in Hastings for over 90 years, with grandfather George Gunn moving there from Central Otago in 1920 to try to scratch a living by farming the poor Hastings soils.

It was in the early 1980s, when Alan Gunn - George Gunn's eldest grandson (son of a son of a Gunn) - suggested that the family's land had the potential to grow quality grapes. In 1983 the Gunn family planted their first vineyard and soon became suppliers to many high profile winemakers in the Hawke's Bay region.

Finally, In 1994, the first wine was released under the Gunn Estate name - an unoaked chardonnay.

Gunn Estate produces two ranges - a White Label and a Black Label. The Black Label are all Estate grown wines, whereas the White are from various other vineyards.

On special this week - I found the 2007 Pinot Noir and 2008 Unoaked Chardonnay at under $NZ10 a bottle very good value - ripe, clean fruit flavours - fantastic summer wines for the BBQ and beyond.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Joe Walsh - One Hit Wonder - but what a goodie!!

1974. I was cleaning the Government Print Office as an after school job in my final year in high school.

I would go in there after the print people had finished for the day and clean up the floors, toilets and offices. Just me in a big empty, spooky print shop smelling of ink and solvents - but the saving grace was a huge AM valve radio, pumping out the local roack station top 20.

One of the songs I boogied around to: Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way.

Along with Jet by Wings, The Man Who Sold the World by Lulu and Golden Earring's Radar Love.
Joe joined the Eagles and disappeared as a headline act in his own name. He could check out any time he likes, but he can never leave.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Te Mata's new Woodthorpe Sauvignon Blanc

Te Mata Estate Woodthorpe Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $NZ19.00

Hawkes Bay icon – Te Mata produces internationally famous labels such as the Coleraine and Awatea Cabernet/ Merlots, Bullnose Syrah, and Elston Chardonnay. Te Mata owns eleven Hawkes Bay vineyards including the relatively new Woodthorpe estate – where this Sauvignon was grown.

While I’m not a fan of the very green and puingent style of Marlborough Savvies, this Hawkes Bay example is much more approachable. Rounded and low in acidity, it has aromas and flavours of melon, pineapple, stonefruit and gooseberry.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Animal behaviourists

Can they pull a habit out of a rat?

Seifried - Nelson's top producer

Austrian born Hermann Seifried and his New Zealand wife Agnes started what is now the Nelson region’s largest producer, back in 1973.

Their three children are also involved – winemakers Heidi and Chris, and marketing manager Anna. The Old Coach Road and Seifried labels are familiar to most NZers, and now they have added a reserve selection of wines under the Seifried Winemakers Collection brand, with prices starting at around $18 and heading up to $35.

Two wines which I sampled recently:

2007 Gewurztraminer - clean flavoured and spicy with off-dry sweetness. Flavours of ginger in syrup, and lychee fruit. A great match for Thai spiced foods - lemon grass, ginger and coriander.

2007 Chardonnay - toasty and peachy, with a crisp acid balance. Lovely wine - will get even better.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hello, Halo - Sacred Hill's New brand launched

Top producing Hawkes Bay winery Sacred Hill has just launched another brand in its successful stable - the Halo range, retailing for about $26 a bottle, with fruit sourced from their own Hawkes Bay and Marlborough vineyards.

Winemaker Tony Bish has had great success with his Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2007 and Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2007.

The Halo 2008 Syrah is a soft rich red wine with black pepper aromas and flavours of black cherry, spice and liquorice.

Halo 2008 Pinot Gris is a very drinkable fruity white, with apple/pear and Nashi flavours with a clean, crisp finish.

These are both quite young wines, which will get even better over the next few years, but are drinking very nicely right now.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sticky Moments - Pegasus Bay Noble Riesling Encore 2008

Dessert wines AKA Stickies are unfortunately rejected by a lot of wine drinkers, just because they are sweet. That’s a pity, as suitably aged dessert wines can be the perfect partner to a citrus pudding, liver pâté, or strong cheeses like Cheddars and Blues.

In NZ most Stickies usually are made from Riesling, Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc. They fall into two main categories: Botrytised or Noble wines – where a beneficial mould called Botrytis (Noble Rot) has affected the grapes, and natural sugars are intensified by the action of tiny mould organism filaments which suck out water content.

Late Harvest wines – here the grapes are left for an extended period on the vine where they ripen even further and start to shrivel like sultanas.
Because of the preservative quality of high sugar levels in the wine, and despite low alcohol, these wines reward cellaring for ten years or longer.

Now, to Pegasus Bay 'Encore' Noble Riesling 2008

Friends had us over for dinner on Saturday, and Lizzie (mine hostess) cooked a fab beef curry from scratch, with all the accompaniments like fresh pineapple, banana in coconut, plus poppadoms and naan bread. Always hard to match curries with wine, but some hearty reds stood up quite nicely.

Then to dessert - my partner Annie bought some chocolate meringues, popped them in tall glasses and added fresh whipped cream and strawberries. I opened a bottle of the new release Pegasus Bay 'Encore' Noble Riesling 2008. Normally I prefer a cheese board with sweet wines, but in this case, the intense fresh rasiny sweetness and a lively citrus acid balance worked really nicely in partnership with desssert. The Peg Bay sweetie was probably opened a bit young - this wine will develop and gain complexityfor 6 years plus.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Two Paddocks - Sam Neill's winery

Two Paddocks is actor Sam Neill’s winery – a venture begun in 1993 in Gibbston, Central Otago with a modest 5 acres of Pinot Noir. Sam’s mate Roger Donaldson put vines in at the same time – hence the name. Donaldson and Neill worked together on the movie Sleeping Dogs back in the 1970s.

Further land has been acquired and now the label has over 70 acres planted in various Pinot Noir clones, plus a small amount of Riesling and a lavender farm.

I did manage to acquire a bottle of the 2007 vintage Pinot recently, through someone who knows someone who knows Sam… and it’s a very nice wine. Flavours of black cherry and black Doris plum, with medium tannins and savoury spicy notes.

Their website is also a treat – self-deprecating humour from Mr. Neill himself and a good read. Check out his Dances with Orangutans video on Sam’s TP Blog page.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Julie & Julia

Last night my partner Annie and I saw Julie & Julia - a feel-good movie about a blogger. So here I am blogging about a movie about a blogger.

It's about a woman about to turn 30 who gains a sense of purpose and achievement by cooking in 12 months, every recipe (524 count ‘em) in Julia Child’s 1960s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She maintains a weblog, charting her progress.

Amy Adams, a relative unknown, plays Julie. And Meryl Streep not so much acting but channelling the tall, effusive and endearing Julia Child. The movie is great – capturing 1950s postwar France with elegance as a counterpoint to Julia’s harassed 21st century gritty Queens NYC life.

As a kid I remember watching Julia Child on her TV cooking show, and was fascinated by her slightly diastracted and woozy personality as she beguilingly whipped up fab French nosh, accompanied by her American verbal quirks like saying ‘erbs’ and ‘ap-ricots.’

These were the good old days before celebrity chefs starting outing themselves, leaping out of the batwing kitchen doors, all sweaty and bug-eyed, craving adulation. These were the days when they were called cooks, and would be more than happy with ‘compliments,’ passed on by a waitperson. But I digress.

A great movie. Meryl is my pick for an Oscar.
And here's more good news: Julia died at 92 years after a life of eating French food, drinking wine and smoking.

Grasshopper Rocks!

Central Otago is one of NZ's premium Pinot Noir regions, on a par with, if not superior to Martinborough and Waipara.
(I'll leave that to others to argue.)

Grasshopper Rock is a relatively new winery on the scene, but has picked up a gold and a silver medal, plus numerous accolades for its 2007 Pinot Noir.

Managing Director Phil Handford was formerly a rural banker and heads a partnership of ‘hunter-gatherers’ from Waikato and Southland, including whitebaiters, duck shooters, rabbit hunters, fishers, creative arts folk and financiers.
Winemaking is by Carol Bunn of VinPro and grapes are grown in Earnscleugh Road Alexandra. The annual partnership review is held in Wanaka, where five families meet and share whitebait, scallops, crayfish, blue cod, venison and rabbit – with a bottle or two of their award-winning Pinot Noir.

Verdict: Lovely soft and ripe Pinot with cherry and savoury flavours. A bargain at $NZ30.00

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Campaign Against Raw Onion

Raw onion does not taste good. Right? Right.

Soooo … why do cooks insist on adding it as a special treat for the punters?
I was at a tasting of very expensive, aged fine wines recently. The canapés were suitably small and perfectly formed, but Chef’s mini salmon blinis came with a sprinkling of raw onion!

Raw onion used to be standard with burgers for some reason. I always intended asking ‘and can you cook the onions, please? Thanks.’ But invariably forgot and ended up picking it out before I could go near my Hawaiian Burger. Now, it’s creeping into haute cuisine. What next – quail eggs, with a culinary foam of uncooked onion and garlic.

Stand up for your rights as you sit at your dining table. Say NO to raw onion.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fab Red from Portugal - Bairrada Messias Reserva 1997

I’m always on the lookout for a new red wine experience – so I do often take gamble and grab one off the supermarket shelves, or act on recommendation from a retailer. In this case it was the latter – Kevin from Artisan Wines in Elliott Street stables. He knows I like full bodied, spicy reds, particularly those from South America – but in this case he suggested Bairrada Messias Reserva 1997. Bairrada is the region and Messias is the wine producer, founded in 1926.

Verdict: This is a soft, ripe and full bodied red with floral and earthy spice characters not unlike a Brunello di Montalcino or even a Bordeaux, and great value at about $NZ24. Nicely aged and just starting to brown at the edges, it still retains a lot of fruit.

My limited (i.e. non-existent) Portuguese language skills lead me to believe it is a ‘Meritage’ type blend of several Portuguese grape varieties.

For info on my New Zealand Wine Tours - see here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Day I Met the Queen

Seems to be the silly season - in that I'm getting invited to lots of fab wine tastings since the onset of spring.

Having written a bit about wine for about 7 years, ergo sum, I seem to have become a wine writer.

This time it was a tasting of the best of Louis Roederer Champagne - from the Rheims region in France. The tasting was hosted by the charming, diminutive and dapper Damien Motte, export manager. Venue and food pairing was by Mollies Hotel - a charming and diminutive B&B in St. Mary's Bay, Auckland.

Damien: Bonjour

Me: Bonjour..... er, ... ca va?

Damien: (enthusiastically in reply - a whole sentence in French of which I understood not un mot)

Me: Gaaaahhhh ... um ..Oui!!

So much for freestyling 5th form French in public.

Yennyhoo - the wines. All pretty fab.

Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier NV (non vintage - ie blend of different vintages and ready for drinking on release) $NZ100.00
A blend of 70% 2005 vintage plus oak-aged Reserve wine. Pinot Meuniere, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir. Aged 3 1/2 years prior to release. Clean flavoured, appley and crisp with light toast flavours.

Louis Roederer Champagne Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) Vintage 2002 $NZ135.00
Only 15 to 20 thousand bottles produced each year. Crisp, clean citrus flavours with creamy yeast lees influence.

Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Vintage 2003 $NZ144.00
Fuller bodied than the Blanc de Blancs - bigger palate weight, with crisp green apple and a tangy yeast finish.

Louis Roederer Champagne Rose Vintage 2002 $NZ135.00
Salmon pink colour, 70% Pinot Noir/30% Chardonnay. Yeasty and full, with a hint of sweet ripeness.

Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne Vintage 2002 $NZ405.00
Aged 5-6 years before release. Rounded, rich with brioche flavours. Only Premier Cru fruit was used.

Historical note: On the request of Czar Alexander II Cristal was created for his exclusive use. To set his personal sparkler apart from that of the average Czar, he demanded that the bottle be clear crystal glass and that it have a flat bottom. Vladimir Illich Lenin unfortunately put the kibosh on forward orders from the Palace with his Bolshevik uprising in the early 20th Century. Happily for Louis Roederer, other fabulously rich people were keen to buy his fab fizz.

I do recall an elderly lady fresh off her cruise ship saying, "I love Champagne! But of course I can only drink Cristal." Something about her her blue/white perfect teeth, immaculate clothes and the huge rock on her finger made me believe her.

Finally ...
Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne Rose Vintage 2000 $NZ885.00
Gorgeous wine - toasty, and rich with toffee and almonds and seamlessly integrated flavours of aged wine.

For info on my Auckland New Zealand Fine Wine & Food Tours see here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nederburg - Surprises from South Africa

I was lucky enough recently to attend a tasting of five of Nederburg's premium export labels. Hosted by Celler Master Razvan Macici and Asia Pacific marketing manager, Anabelle Poggenpoel - we tasted two Sauvignon Blancs two Shiraz, and a Noble Riesling dessert style.

Akin to sending coals to Newcastle, drinking S African Sauv Blanc in NZ does seem a bit odd. However, these were wines grown in cool climate, high altitude conditions. If I was drinking them blind, I could easily mistake them for NZ wines. The Winemaker's Reserve 2008 and Manor House 2007 Sauvignons both exhibited crisp mineral and gooseberry flavours with a lime/lemon citrus tang. More approachable than an over the top 'dissolve your fillings' Marlborough Savvie - and more akin to the Hawkes Bay versions.

The two reds were outstanding - hot climate Shiraz but without the blockbuster alcohol and tannin found in South Australia. The Winemaker's Reserve 2007 Paarl Shiraz was plummy, spicy and softly ripe. The Manor House 2007 had just a bit more class with 18 months oak ageing adding even more softness. Interestingly, neither had the pronounced black pepper character of the Aussie Shiraz.

Finally, the Noble Late Harvest Riesling was another knockout - intense flavous of toffee, honey and apricot with a lively acid balance.

The food (Kermadec - top seafood restaurant) to match was pretty fab, although Chef liked serving 'culinary foam' with everything a la Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. It did look rather chewed and spat out rather than carefully prepared in a fine dining kitchen.

After dinner story: Another interesting thing that I learned from Razvan (an ex-Rumanian) was that previous Rumanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu insisted on having an office built the size of a football field in his mansion. The carpet was hand-woven in one piece, by hundreds of workers on an enormous loom and had to be lowered into the building before the roof was added, as it was too heavy to be moved once the structure was finished.

For info on my New Zealand Wine Tours - see here.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Well, hello

Right now, NZ's vineyards are just starting to show the first tender leaves of what we call 'bud burst' - where leaf buds spring forth from dormant, woody vines and once again start the cycle of growth, which will eventuate in the next crop of grapes for the next vintage (with harvesting starting around March/April 2010 ).

My local wine region - Kumeu, located about 20 mins from Auckland's CBD, grows top quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, albeit in challenging clay loam soils and a maritime climate.

Despite north Auckland growing less than 3% of NZ's grape crop, we transport grapes and juice from other regions and make a lot of wine in west Auckland. West Auckland region is home to some of NZ's major exporters - Nobilo, Oyster Bay, Matua, Babich and many high end boutique wineries such as Cooper's Creek, Kumeu River, Soljans and West Brook.

It is an emerging wine tourism area - with local cafes, restaurants, B&Bs, coastal scenery and rolling green pasture land.