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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."


Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year - Phil's top Ten from 2010

I looked under Google Images for an appropriate New Year image - the very first was six young women in thongs, squatting facing away from the camera with Happy New Year painted on their buttocks - one letter per cheek. Naturally I averted my eyes, and chose a wholesome exploding incendiary device instead.

Anyway - best wishes to my two readers.  Thanks Granny & Grandpa.

I have written a whole bunch of blog posts over the last 12 months and many of the earlier, really good stuff (before I became famous and sold out to The Establishment in return for mind-altering wine trade samples) may have escaped the attention of the discerning reader.

So here's a Top Ten from 2010 ... enjoy!  Discuss!

January - Vincent Price & Bob Dylan - are they related?
February -  Marley and Me - scathing movie review
March - Dry River Wines - Martinborough NZ
June - Helen Mirren's husband and a Sasquatch.  Are they related?
July - Dentists and Vets.  Why they pretend money is not involved.
July  - Movie Prequels - a word game for rainy days
September - Fine Food & Wine Tours Auckland - world famous in Shanghai
September - Interesting People I have met on my wine tours
December - The King's Speech movie review
December - Epic Fail for Snowy the Cat

Happy New Year !!!!

Phil runs wine tours around Auckland - rated #12 out 100 best things to do min Auckland by TripAdvisor.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Jasper the failed Labrador

Now, don't get me wrong.  I love my dog.  He wakes me up with his normal scratch on the door which signals feeding time.  His joy at seeing me only just superseded by the anticipatory joy of a bowl of dog sausage and Tux biscuits.

Not being one of those folk who like to pretend that animals have a clue as to the significance of human festivals I have spared him the indignity of wearing antlers or a Santa hat.  But as a Festive treat I gave him a chunk of frozen beef bone.  'Merry Christmas, Jasp' - I said.   I could have said 'Greco-Roman Toe Wrestling' - it would have made no difference to the wide-eyed, tail wagging unbridled joy that accompanied my gift.  (Hint: dog's don't speak English).

The pic above shows Jasper wading in a new pond to escape the heat on a sticky hot day this week.  Now Jasper, being a Lab is by definition a water dog.  Labs are originally from the island of Newfoundland where they were used to retrieve and pull fishing nets.  But Jasper is, in fact, only a water dog up to a certain point - his shoulders, that is.  Jasper can't swim and is scared of any water above shoulder height.  He will happily wade and plod around in the shallows, but tentatively explores any deeper water with an extended front paw, and a look of concern on his brow. 

Jasper should also technically be a retriever - but he has no concept of retrieving.  If I throw a stick for him he will feign interest, tracking its trajectory with a 'why did he throw away that stick?' look of puzzlement.  Even as a puppy when he was mildly interested in where the stick landed, I would have to find it for him. 
Look!  Jas - a stick!! 
Then, if he liked the stick he would grab it and refuse to let go.

Add to these incompetencies the fact that he is a lousy guard dog:  he never barks, and he greets any stranger at the door like a long lost friend.  Our grumpy cat totally dominates him and deliberately dawdles over his meals, making Jasper wait patiently in the hope of getting any cat food leftovers.

For all that,  he is basically a good dog solely because he has a genuinely nice nature - he is happy, amiable, loving and affectionate, despite having no concept of obedience, or wanting to 'please his master.' 
And ...I kind of respect that.


Phil runs Wine Tours in Auckland NewZealand

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blondie, The Pretenders and the smell of the crowd (Concert review)

Last night we caught the Blondie/Pretenders Auckland show - the first of three in NZ , the other two being vineyard gigs.

Cut to the chase - excellent. 
Auckland's cavernous Vector Arena even managed almost-okay sound quality where we were on the stalls floor area.  I swore I'd never sit at the raked back section again after being subjected to a roaring muffled wash of bass and echoey vocals at Bob Dylan and The Cure.

We missed the support band The Dukes, but arrived in time to get a nostalgic rum 'n' coke and find our seats in the refreshingly air conditioned Arena hangar.  First up - Blondie.  Deborah Harry appeared - to a rapturous response, dressed in a chunky white jacket, tutu, blonde wig and enormous black sunglasses.  It did look a tad like she was hiding behind all the gear, and she talked rather than sang through the first three songs, avoiding the high notes and hardly moving.  But by the time she'd ditched the shades and belted into Union City Men things were chugging along nicely. The Debbie Harry of old was summoned up and she rocked and sang just like she used to. Original co-founder Chris Stein on guitar was backed by a skilled younger lineup of bass, keyboards, drums and lead guitar.  They rolled through some new material - e.g Maria, but the hits were the winners, with the crowd (very tunefully) singing along - Rapture, Sunday Girl, Heart of Glass, The Tide is High, One Way or Another and Call Me.  By the end, Harry had also dropped the tutu and jacket to reveal a new slimline bod and fab pair of legs in a black hotpants suit. 

Somewhere around this time, I noticed a subtle yet noxious smell in the row we were in. Hard to place ... damp cardboard ... dog shit ... cheese ... all four, yet somehow ... worse than the sum of its parts. 
Then I nailed it - Smelly Sneakers.  Yup.  The young lady two seats away had worn her grooviest Chuck Taylors for style but not for aroma.  Good ol' Auckland heat and humidity had combined with rubber, canvas and sweaty feet to brew a pong worthy of a teenage boy.

Anyway,  we got a break while they set up for The Pretenders.  Chrissy Hynde didn't muck around.  Skinny legs clad in black jeans and a white shirt with rolled up sleeves - she kicked into a series of tight as a gnat's bum versions of some Pretenders gold - Precious, Brass in Pocket, Back On the Chain Gang, Talk of The Town, Don't Get Me Wrong.
Unfortunately, the audience (being average age around 50) were wee bit tired, and after all that hooting and clapping and standing up for Debbie and the boys, Chrissie Hynde struggled to maintain the crowd's momentum as they sat down for the less bouncy choons.  Where Blondie had presented an avalanche of very accessible singalong pop, The Pretenders presented as real Rawk band with a structured set and some quieter numbers.  But not to worry, the crowd lit up on the hits and sang along - ending with an appropriate version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and a stonking Brass in Pocket.

Great show.  Shame about the smell.

Savvy Savvy everywhere - and quite a lot to drink.

By Phil Parker - wine writer.

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland

Another bumper crop from this year’s Marlborough vintage has resulted in a flood of Sauvignon Blanc hitting the shelves. And just in time for summer, these wines are very typical of the famous assertive Marlborough style of Savvie that has made its mark internationally as NZ’s signature wine.

Retailing at around the $20 mark, they are full flavoured and crisp, intense drink-young wines, which can stand a bit of chilling (say 30 min in the fridge) and go well with summer salads and seafood BBQs.

Each winery has its particular style, and flavours and aromas will vary depending on which part of Marlborough’s vast wine growing region the grapes are sourced from.

Typically – look for aromas and flavours of any of the following: black currant, passion fruit, grapefruit, lime, lemon, bell pepper, guava, grass, tomato leaf, gooseberry, apple, herbs, lantana, geranium, melon, fresh peas, and asparagus.

Here are some classic examples from Marlborough’s 2010 vintage releases:

Waipara Hills Cuvee

Ideal sparkler for the festive season, this is a carbonated bubbly Sauvignon Blanc, just right for cork popping. Flavours of passion fruit, with grassy herbaceousness – a softer style suited to the fizzy interpretation of S Blanc.

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc

Highly rated – has flavours of grapefruit, herbs and passionfruit. Champion wine at the 2009 Liquorland Top 100 International Wine Competition

Selaks Winemakers Favourite Sauvignon Blanc

Awatere Valley fruit contributes to flavours of nettles, gooseberry and green bell pepper.

Sacred Hill Halo Sauvignon Blanc

A single vineyard wine from low cropped vines. Aromas of orange blossom and tropical fruits. Flavours of lemongrass and guava.

Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Fruit sourced from the stony northern Wairau Valley. Flavours of nectarine and grapefruit, with passion fruit and tropical notes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc top 100 in the world

A Villa Maria wine has been named the only New Zealand wine in a list of top 100 wines by the prestigious US Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

The Villa Maria Taylors Pass Sauvignon Blanc 2009 was the only New Zealand wine to make the list of 100 of ‘The Most Coveted Wines of 2010’, a guide put together by a panel who agree the wines on the list are exemplary.

Villa Maria is amongst good company on the list with the likes of Louis Roederer, Chateau Pontet-Canet.

Criteria for inclusion goes beyond the points assigned, it includes quality to price ratio, immediate drinkability and uniqueness. The panel assert that wines included represent the very best of their category.

This listing comes just after the same wine was listed in the December issue of Wine Enthusiast Buying Guide as Editors’ Choice at 92 Points. The Villa Maria Wairau Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2009 also received 92 points in the same issue.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pinot Noir - a bit of a gamble. Place your bets.

Now, I must state for starters, that for me - the Best Wine In The World is a damn fine Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir at its best is a glorious spectrum of flavours from funky to savoury to fruity to lush, ripe, spicy, smoky, herbal and opulent.

But, lately I have been the recipient of trade samples of a few P Noirs which really don't quite hit the mark.  And sadly, not a few from Central Otago.  Most have disappointed.

The very first P Noir that I fell in love with was from Matua Valley, in the days (1980s) when Bill & Ross Spence were still the owners (and before the sellout to Fosters Aus).  This was a good value locally grown West Auckland, see-thru light to medium red wine from the Kumeu clay soils - and yet barnyard/funky, and ripe with a glorious herbal spicy flavour and good length. 

Lately the P Noirs I have been sampling are a tad one dimensional.  They have an overpowering flavour of red fruits like strawberry and raspberry with a short length -and nothing more that is notable.

And yet - a wine that made me rejoice with the feeling of finding a long lost friend, was the Awa Valley Pinot Noir - grown in Huapai/Kumeu west Auckland and vinted by freelance winemaker Shane Cox.  This wine brought back all those nostalgic moments from the old Matua valley Days.

Sadly as a child I had threadworms. Ewwww!  Sorry to have to share that with you.  But anyway - the cure for the 'whole family' ('cos threadworm are a 'shared family experience') was a disgusting anti-wormy cure called Vanquin.  You had to skull a little plastic V-shaped measure cup of 20 ml of bright red, strawberry flavour-disguised worm death crapolla guck.  It was the kind of stuff that made you retch slightly when you swallowed it.

Even more sadly, when I sample some of these young, one-dimensional P Noirs, I am reminded on a subliminal level of the Strawberry Horrors of Vanquin and immediately feel a bit nauseous.

I can't escape my past.  But the Awa Valley hits the mark - with no anti-worm flashback memories.

Phil runs Wine Tours In Auckland, God help him.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Epic Fail for Snowy the Cat

Okay - we were watching TV, seated on the couch. 
Snowy decided that he would avoid climbing over Jasper the black Lab, and would leap with feline agility like a Crouching Tiger,  from the arm of one couch - onto the arm of the other couch and thence settle on my lap for a schmooze and snooze.

However - Snowy did not allow for the fact that a blanket was draped over the arm of our couch.  So,  he tensed up like a coiled spring, leapt into the air, hit the blanket with his front paws ...claws engaged with the blanket, it slipped down vertically, rapidly taking Snow with it. 


There was an embarassing thump and Snowy hit the deck.  We laughed loudly.  Snowy skulked away sat on the Flokati rug with his back to us, seething with resentment and humiliation and whispering special cat swear words in our direction, through his perfectly gritted little cat teeth.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Movie review - The King's Speech

The King’s Speech represents a leap in achievement for Colin Firth, as he takes on the role of the cripplingly speech impaired King George VI, in this beautifully crafted movie. Being in number of tepid Rom Com roles, he was in danger of being trapped as a cuddly Spaniel, sleep walking through chick flicks. But this challenging role presents him as a top notch actor, playing the part of ‘Bertie’ with sensitivity and understatement.

A veritable dream team of other players are involved – Helena Bonham Carter as his wife Queen Elizabeth (to become the Queen Mother in later life). Plus Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the irreverent and unconventional Australian speech coach who is brought in to help the King. Add to that, Guy Pearce as the Duke of Windsor (about to abdicate in favour of his American hottie Mrs. Simpson. No not that Mrs. Simpson), plus Michael Gambon as crusty King George V and Timothy Spall as a quintessential Winston Churchill.

This is based on true events, and was the result of a discovery of his father’s detailed diaries by the son of speech coach ‘Doctor’ Logue. The Queen Mother refused to countenance any movie based on the events, but now since she has departed, the movie was possible.

As much as it is a feel-good story of friendship and trust overcoming adversity, this movie explores areas of responsibility, duty and courage in the rarefied atmosphere of the British Royalty.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dining with the Rich and Famous - Langham's Barolo - Selaks Winemaker's Lunch

Okay - the other pics wouldn’t download for some technical reason – so all I have is a slightly gloomy shot of the wine selection.

Yennyhoo – as I have a passing acquaintance with the wine fraternity as a writer, I was invited along to this very fab lunch, with wine matches at ‘Barolo’ – the Langham Auckland’s renowned restaurants. Now, there were many wine luminaries there, plus a few food writers and industry people from Selak’s parent company Constellation NZ (the winery formerly known as Nobilo) and numerous PR agents.

Selak’s chief winemaker Brett Fullerton led us through the wines as the courses were served. Waitpersons with perfect posture stood to attention, and quietly swooped and efficiently served fab food, watered and cleared.

Now …funny thing. I was seated next to an alleged ‘famous’ wine critic. The list of wines was on a printed card with the food matches. But there was a minor cock-up. Wine number 1. was listed as a Viognier. But… in fact it was a Sauvignon Blanc. I sniffed wine #1 and thought – yep, Marlborough Savvy, no doubt. My wine writer famouse critic pal took about ten minutes and then exclaimed, ‘They switched them! I’ve been writing notes on the Viognier – and I just realised that it’s a Sauvignon!’

Sheesh. This is like watching the All Whites for ten minutes and then realising that they were the All Blacks.

Shame On You - alleged ‘famous’ wine critic. Cry bitter tears of shame into your SauViognier.

Anyway – the wines were pretty darn good. They only do about 1,000 cases of each of the wines as a premium brand: Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay (highly recommended), and a Merlot/Cab (also highly recommended).

Phil runs wine tours around Auckland in return for warm handshakes and pats on the back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Snowy the Cat May Have Killed A Legend

Last night, as we sat watching TV, Snowy the Cat appeared at the window, miaowing loudly and demanding entry. This is not unusual, though Snowy isn't normally that insistent. He has regarded Garfield as a role model and generally assumes that humans are a barely tolerable, inferior species of dedicated cat slaves.

So I let him in, and as he walked through the door, he dropped something with a 'there - deal with that. And don't say I never give you anything' nonchalance and swagger. But as he plopped onto my knee to settle in for a good four-hour back rub, I saw that his gift was small and dark and ...rodent like. In the dim TV lighting, I could see that it was possibly a large, long mouse with a big head and large ears. As I picked it up by its cold lifeless tail - I realised that it must be a rat. A young rat.

But the funny thing was - it had a certain anthropomorphic quality - long and lean - and in fact looked very much like the rat from the movie Ratatouille. I have seen many rats before – but normally solid, compact and muscular – but this one was different. I pondered this as I walked downstairs to drop it into the garbage bin. Could Snowy have killed a special rat? Was this rat the Neo of the Ratrix? The Chosen Rodent? The One rat, after millennia of evolution that made the jump to supreme rathood, and could change rat-human relations for ever. The peace broker. The Rodent Messiah??

Well, sadly Snowy was the Mr.Smith to Ratty’s Neo.
'So. Mister. Ratterson. Unfortunately, I am here to.  Exterminate you ...'

And we’ll never know the truth. And it’s garbage collection day.

Phil will do Wine Tours in Auckland for food stamps

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mud House Awarded Trophy at Air NZ Wine Awards. Okay - I'm flat out busy, but here's a press release from Sth Island's Mud House

Press release November 20, 2010

Popular Kiwi vineyard Mud House has won top honours for its Pinot Gris at New Zealand’s most prestigious wine awards.

The 2010 Mud House Estate Home Block Vineyard Waipara Valley Pinot Gris received the trophy for best Pinot Gris at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, announced at a gala dinner held in Auckland tonight.

The competition was organised by New Zealand Winegrowers, the national organisation for the country's 1,300 grape growers and winemakers.

Mud House winemaker Nadine Worley says the company is delighted to have their unique varietal recognised at the awards.
“We’ve always known that our old vines in Waipara were something special, and with this new release wine we wanted to show this to the world. Getting this recognition so soon after bottling the wine was certainly more than we expected, but further shows the depth and richness that this wine has and will continue to show in the coming years,” she says.

With an ongoing commitment to regional varietal specialisation, Mud House sourced the fruit for the award-winning Pinot Gris solely from its Home Block Vineyard in the Waipara Valley.

“Made from the oldest vines on our Home Block Vineyard, the fruit for this wine was handpicked, whole bunch pressed and cold settled before starting its fermentation in tank,” says Worley.

“Careful tending throughout this process was crucial to ensure that the fruit could evolve, and the palate flavours and texture could emerge. Lastly, knowing when to leave it alone, for time on lees, and just to settle down, so that it could come together as a wine and show all that it’s got to show right from the start.”

A number of other Mud House varietals have also been recognised at both local and international wines awards recently including the 2010 Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc which was presented with Gold at the New Zealand International Wine Competition. The 2009 Mud House Swan Central Otago Pinot Noir was also awarded Gold and Best of Class at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition in USA and Gold at San Francisco International Wine Competition.

For more information visit or

Phil runs the best Auckland wine tours.  Get over it

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Social Media

For a long time I was a Facebook member, but never logged on. I’d kind of lumped it in with all the other online teenage ennui-swapping sites like Twitter and Bebo. But about a year ago I kept hearing that it was ‘good for business’ to have a presence in Social Media, so I set up this blog, and started posting links on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve always had page one Google hits for my wine tours, but now I do seem to be getting a higher Google ranking and also scoring OK on MSN and Yahoo – so I guess it’s working.

To me, the downside of Facebook is that Famous people also use it as an advertising/PR medium – so musicians, comedians, politicians and so forth play it as a billboard for their latest policies, gig, CD releases etc., without any attempt to interact with their ‘friends’. So you might think that you’re Kiri Te Kawana’s Facebook best buddy, but she’ll just be running adverts for her career and certainly won’t bother replying to any conversation thread that you have added.

To my surprise, I have found a lot of former colleagues from many fields on Facebook, and have established contact with long lost pals from rock music, comedy, wine and writing. So I’ve become a bit of a born again fan and obsessively check the site during the day. Yet – the sort of friends who took a weeks to write back in the old days of snail mail are actually no faster online than they were then. Procrastinating bastards don’t change – even if a message reply can happen in a keystroke.

Phil runs wine tours around Auckland.  OK?  You gotta problem with that?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Bathtime for Jasper - how to bath a 40kg Black Labrador

One of the great things about living where I do, is local Waiatarua off-leash dog park that surrounds a recovered wetland area. I enjoy it because of the natural beauty, wildlife, peacefulness and clean air.

This is also Jasper’s favourite walkie – lots of other dogs to meet & greet, or growl. Lots of smells and sounds.  It takes about an hour to do the complete circuit from our house (allowing for Jasper’s many diversions and obsessive sniffing of anything decomposing or related to other dogs’ excretory functions.)

So anyway yesterday afternoon, we entered the park, I let Jaz off leash. Shortly after that, Molly - a Labradoodle 1-year old, appeared with her owner. Molly took a shine to Jaz, did the sniff and greet and then raced of to a muddy drain alongside the path – alternately madly running into the water and up the bank and back to Jasper as if to say – ‘Hey this is cool! Lookit – a stinky old muddy drain! Come on in, old fellah, the water’s disgusting, darling!’

So Jasper unable to resist the perfect smile of a bedraggled curly black female mud puppy, plunged in – gerplosh! Problem was, the sides of the drain were too steep for is old back legs to gain any traction. He made a few half-hearted ‘leap-and-slide-backwards’ attempts, and then looked at me with a slightly embarrassed ‘Ahem. Would you be so kind as to assist me?’ expression. I managed to pull him up by his collar.

We continued the walkie. Molly, happy that she had successfully got Jaz literally in the crap, happily raced off to further adventures.
When we got home, I knew that Jasper needed a bath. Now I knew, from previous experience that Jasper hates baths. Any attempt to wash him in the past has resulted in whining, trembling, running away, hiding, or a combination thereof.  But I know that Jasper is so food obsessed that he’d betray state secrets and sell me into white slavery for a square of chocolate.  So the process is: I get a large bucket of warm water with dog shampoo in it. I get a frozen dog bone from the fridge and place it on a ledge so he can smell it, but just out of reach.  He stands, transfixed for the whole time it takes to wash and rinse, staring at the bone. I could probably perform major surgery and he wouldn’t notice a jot.

Final rinse. Good boy. Sit. Jasper grabs the bone and flies away where he does that mad rolling on the ground thing to dry off on some old towels, then settles down to demolish the bone. All sorted. Apart from the kilo or two of winter coat he will shed over the next day.

Phil runs the goddam best Auckland Wine Tours and Food Tours known to mankind. And to a few other sentient mammals.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pinot Blanc - the Uber Groovy White Wine of the Moment - you heard it here first

Move over, Pinot Gris - we were bored last month. 
Siddown Viognier, you're ssssssssssooo Tuesday. 

Step up - Pinot Blanc and step into the spotlight for your 15 minutes ....
Okay - it all starts with Pinot Noir. Not the easiest grape to grow, the viticulture vultures tell me.

Fickle, over-sensitive, stingy - and unstable. But enough about me.

Pinot Noir is genetically unstable and readily mutates into other subspecies - or whatever the gene genies and genome gnomes call it. 
From the original Pinot Noir Variety we now have Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. If you remember your 5th form French, Noir = black, Gris = grey, Blnc = white.  Thus the name describes the colour of the ripe grape.

I know when Pinot Gris first hit the shelves, they tended to be very wishy-washy, indistinct wines with little that you could nail in terms of aroma or flavour.  Basically a quaffing, forgettable slosh it down type drink.
Now there is more of a varietal character with Pinot Gris showing pear, apple and citrus, often with a lager-like aftertaste.

Just lately, I sampled two Pinot Blancs - one from north Canterbury's  Pyramid Valley wines and another from Nelson's Hope region - Greenhough label.  These are two family wineries - and I recommend clicking the links to read more.

Yennyhoo ... les vins

Pyramid Valley Kerner Estate Pinot Blanc 2008  $NZ30.00
Lovely golden colour, fermented and stored in French oak 450L barrels. Silky voluptuous wine with over ripe grapefruit, peach, melon and citrus.

Greenhough Hope Pinot Blanc 2009   $NZ32.00
13 months in French oak.  Pears, anise and a hint of ginger in syrup. Good palate weight and a lengthy finish.

Phil runs a not-for-profit business also known as Fine Wine Tours Auckland New Zealand

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mt Beautiful Cheviot Hills Riesling 2008

Just sampled this lovely wine from north Canterbury's Mt. Beautiful label.
Absolutely fab wine.  Every now and then I try a Riesling - and it restores my (somewhat irregular) faith in the Riesling grape.  This was one of those. 

A lot of Marlborough Rieslings seem to be too try-hard: way too acidic, aggressive and shouty 'look at me' wines.

This wine is subtle - off-dry style with aromas of minerals, crisp Nashi pear and lime.  On the palate - initial medium sweetness with a cascade of pear, peach, ripe grapefruit, honey and raisins.  Then a crisp, clean finish.  Very classy wine.
A great match for pork, seafood or Asian cuisine.  $NZ24.00 a bottle

Phil is a wine writer and hosts the best Auckland Wine Tours on Earth

Saturday, October 30, 2010

OKAY - This One IS Pretty Weird

Okay - this one is really weird. 
A Japanese family booked a tour with me - for four people.
So I pick them up: young Japanese woman (late teens, studying in Auckland), her parents and her boyfriend.
She was a tad alternative - tattoos, dressed in black.  But the parents were very stereotypical older Japanese: polite, quiet, groomed and reserved.  The boyfriend was something else. He talked with an 'Asian' accent, and looked vaguely Asian.  He was very scruffy, unwashed and ... smelly.  I said, 'So where are you from?' and he replied, 'I'm a Kiwi - but I talk like this because I hang out with a lot of Asian people.'
Sooooo - I thought WTF??? A Kiwi who talks like an Asian student - just because he associates with them?

Strangely - this was the second time I had struck this.  The first time, I was in a Melbourne Youth Hostel (escaping the fallout from my first marriage meltdown).  I was at breakfast, and noticed two Asian guys talking loudly.  But then I noticed that one was blue-eyed, blond, and not remotely Asian. He was channelling some kind of cod Korean accent when he talked to English-speaking Koreans!
I tried to eat my poached eggs and baked beans on toast, but for the life of me, could not ignore this Loony Tune Wannabe Feckin' Korean - rattling on in his staccato faux Eastern accent: 'When I sing. Kar-a-oke. My Fren' Kim get je luss. So he no my fren'. No more. I try talk to him bu' it no good.'
For some reason I found this intensely annoying - and I wanted to smack him on the head with my plastic brekkie tray and pour cold tea down his shirt before I returned it to the servery.  I didn't.

But ... meanwhile, back at the wine tour ... the parents were obviously (politely) totally horrifed at their daughter's choice of a Kiwi boyfriend.  He kept acting like a pretendy Japanese dork: chain-smoked, threw in the odd Japanese word that he knew and tried to be as Japanese as he could. His girlfriend was plainly vexed by his insensitivity, level of personal hygiene and general gormlessness.

I could see the relationship was dead in the water by lunchtime.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Even More Interesting People I have met on my wine tours

The brother and sister from Melbourne – both early 20s.  Booked a half day wine tour (three winery cellar door tastings, lunch, sightseeing in rural Kumeu wine region).
Then the following day rang me to complain that it wasn’t what they had expected.  I asked what the problem was. He replied, ‘Well we expected more of a wine tour.’
To this day, I have no idea what he expected. I did refund them 50% however - being a stupid newbie

The Mexican lady who brought her own supply of Tabasco to accompany lunch.

The Australian couple that insisted on ordering a Panini for their son at a very busy cheese shop café, even though I had told them lunch would be about 40 minutes away. It was Holiday season, the Panini took about 40 minutes. We arrived late at the fine dining restaurant and, as a result had to wait an hour and a half for our meals.

The cruise ship group of 60 people – we split into two busloads. Despite using a reputable coach company and supplying detailed maps, one driver got lost and ended up about 30 Km in the wrong direction. We were an hour late for our vineyard restaurant lunch (where I had got a last minute booking wedged in before a wedding party). The Maitre D had a hissy fit and stormed off the property – blaming me personally.

Awa Valley wines, Kumeu Auckland NZ

I recently revisited Awa Valley wines after a gap of about 6 months.  They have a lovely vineyard property, and tastings are in a spacious cellar door overlooking rows of vines deep in the peaceful Kumeu countryside.  The current lineup of wines is very impressive - not a dud among them.

Awa Valley is a very small family-owned winery. The vineyard was established in 1970 to supply grapes to local Kumeu River winery. In 1999 Stewart and Colleen Cameron purchased Awa Valley, growing grapes on contract for three years, then producing wines under their own label. Winemaking is by Shane Cox, a local who has his own label Corazon, in addition to contract winemaking for many Auckland growers.
They produce only 18,000 bottles (1,500 cases per year). 5 hectares are planted predominately in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot, with the remainder in Cabernet Franc and Malbec.

The wines - my favourites are the 2007 Chardonnay and the 2008 Merlot Malbec

2007 Chardonnay 
Elegant and integrated wine which is fruit-focused, with flavours of grapefruit, hazelnut, and honey plus a toasty a oak influence.

2008 Chardonnay
Spent 11 months in oak barrels. Similar flavour profile to the ’07 but more mineral and flinty.

2007 Pinot Noir
The grapes are from 25 year old vines which are aged in seasoned oak for 11 months. Aromas of ripe cherries and red fruits coupled with savoury notes of game and mushrooms. Silky tannins on the finish.

2006 Merlot Cabernet Franc Malbec
(Bronze Medal Romeo Bragato Wine Awards 2007)
"Light, soft and slightly sweet wine with a mix of berry and herb flavours. Pleasant, easy-drinking red that reminds me a little of Valpolicella" - Bob Campbell MW wine critic

2008 Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc
Rounder and softer than the 2006. Medium tannins. Earthy, soft and savoury with ripe black berry fruit, a hint of leather, soy and liquorice.

Phil runs the best wine tours in Auckland New Zealand since the Pre-Cambrian period.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Worst Person I Have Met On My Wine Tours

OK.  This is all true.
Many of my customers have said to me, something like: "Whoo!  Betcha had some real interesting people on your tours over the years, Phil?"
And I always say, "About 99% have been really nice people. Nobody ever was a problem.  And the more they drink, the more they sleep on the trip back to the hotel. And the drunker they are, the more generous they are with tips."

But there is one outstanding exception. 

Now, I have had many totally charming and happy people from Scandinavia in general - and Sweden in particular - but this guy was a total arsehole. 

Sadly, he learnt English with an American accent, which made everyone think he was an American arsehole - which was totally wrong.  Everywhere we went, out of a sense of fairness, I was in damage control on behalf of the good ol' USA, by stage whispering 'He's really from Sweden! Don't blame the Yanks!'

He was obviously loaded with cash: on a world trip and staying in five star hotels.  Large, loud, obnoxious, wildly self-confident, and pudgy.  He had his hair artificially highlighted in blond curls, and wore large red spectacles.  His wife was mousey, sour-faced, and dull. 

I took them to three of my favourite wineries. At each, he made it bluntly plain - beyond the point of rudeness, that in his opinion, their wines were no good.  He spotted a local clay target shooting club on the trip to West Brook wines, and insisted on doing some shooting there.  So I schmoozed the manager and Sven got his way.
(And I was secretly pleased to see he was, in fact, a fecking hopeless shot and maybe hit one out of 12 clay pigeons).

He complained about the lunch, and demanded mayonnaise and ketchup - so he could mix them together to eat with his French fries.

I dropped them back at his hotel, glad that I would very likely never see them again, but also regretting that he was here for another week and would be inflicting himself on our mild mannered tourist guides - and giving them the impression he was a loud American tourist.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Italian wine for beginners

By Phil Parker who runs the best goddam wine tours in Auckland NZ.

The World does have an endless fascination with the food, wine and culture of Italy. And most of us have been eager to embrace espresso, cappuccino, pasta, pizza, Chianti, Prada, Versace, and a whole bunch of other stuff ending in a, e, i and o.

Having said that, Italian wines tend to be a bit of a mixed bag. Even the quality control system is fairly random; with the DOC (Denominazione de Origine Controllata) appellation not much of an indication of how good the wine is it just says ‘the name of the area where these grapes were grown is controlled.’

DOCG is a bit better: (Denominazione de Origine Controllata e Garantita) - ‘the name of the area where these grapes were grown is controlled and we guarantee that’s where they came from.’

Italy has for many years been predominantly a bulk wine producer (second only in global output to France), pumping out gazillions of litres of fairly mediocre wines into Europe and beyond.

And as a general rule, any wine produced south of Rome is probably not going to be of high quality. Regions like Puglia and Sicily are hugely productive hot climate areas producing the bulk of Italy’s easy drinking lightweight wines – often simply called ‘Vino di Tavola’ – table wine, made from blended varieties. Generally pretty good value, but nothing remarkable.

Having said that, there are some interesting and also very good Italian wines worth seeking out.

Okay, starting with the cooler northern regions, Piedmont (Piemonte) is in the northwest and at the foot of the Alps, and produces some of Italy’s most famous wines. Asti – the low alcohol, sweet raisiny sparkler made from Moscato grapes is probably the most well known. This is a reliable brand – fruity, affordable fizz – ideal for that ‘Champagne breakfast’ or pre-dinner palate cleanser.

Barolo would probably be the next well known, a hugely tannic wine with a vaguely bitter aftertaste. I really don’t get the point, having been to a tasting of some top Barolos, but as I remember, the older they get, they do get better. Some of the 10 year-old Barolos were stunning and more like a vintage Port.

The other red variety from this region worth noting is Dolcetto. This is a bright purple coloured drink-young wine with slightly astringent blueberry flavours.

Veneto is a wine region of Italy in the northeast, extending from Venice up to the cooler climate Austrian border. It is a fairly prodigious region, not as highly regarded as the Tuscany or Piedmont regions. Just the same, some recognised names like Soave and Valpolicella come from the Veneto region. Soave is a very dry, largely tasteless white wine, blended from different grape varieties. Valpolicella is a bit of a gamble – anything from a Rosé style to a full-bodied red. Also in the past, I have indeed stumbled across (and, er stumbled after) some very drinkable bargain-priced Merlot de Veneto from the bulk-producing Pasqua label.

Tuscany. This is probably Italy’s most famous region, and currently the hot tourist destination. Chianti is what they do best, and some of the rarest and best reds come from this region, also renowned for its fine food and beautiful scenery.
Walled hilltop town, Montalcino is the most famous Chianti producer in the region, best known for its iconic Tuscan red - Brunello. Brunello is a 100% Sangiovese grape variety, 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 (c.f. Coopers Creeks output of around 100,000). 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, so they are pretty expensive wines.

Other good quality Chianti wines are blended from various grapes, predominantly Sangiovese. The best of these would be Chianti Classico DOCG and Chianti Ruffina DOCG. A label stating just ‘Chianti’ doesn’t tell you much other than it is grown in the region – and will give no hint as to quality or grape varieties.

Abruzzo is in east-central Italy and its most famous wine would be Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This is a medium bodied, soft fruity wine made from the Montepulciano grape variety.

Other than those famous regions, Pinot Grigio (same as Pinot Gris) is grown in a number of regions; the best of these would be Trentino, Veneto and Friuli in northwestern Italy. This is a white wine grape, a distant cousin of Pinot Noir. Flavours tend to be delicate citrus flavours with green apple or sometimes, poached pear.

Essentially, if you want a rewarding Italian wine experience – it does pay to do a bit of research. Make sure the wine variety suits the region it comes from, and look for the DOCG brand.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Pernod Ricard NZ (formerly known as Montana NZ) announced today that it has today entered into an agreement to sell selected wine brands and assets to Lion Nathan NZ (now Japanese owned) .

The sale includes five brands in the company’s sparkling wine portfolio (Lindauer, Aquila, Bernadino, Chardon, and Verde).  Plus seven brands in its still wine portfolio including:  Bensen Block, Corbans, Huntaway, Jackman Ridge, Riverlands, Saints and Timara.

Looks a tad like a fire sale when the wine industry is in recession mode.  And kind of ironic with so many NZers getting heated up about sales of our rural assets to foreign owners.  Here we are with three of the top 4 wineries foreign owned: Montana (Pernod Ricard), Nobilo (Constellation USA), Matua (Fosters AUS).
An iconic export brand - Lindauer is being passed along.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Interesting (tiny) people I have met on my wine tours Pt3

The solo elderly American woman who insisted on being called Doctor. She was tiny and shrivelled, crabby and bird-like,dressed in a musty tartan pants suit.  She had a Noo Yoik accent and walked unevenly with a stick. (I Googled her later, to discover she did have a Ph.D. in Chemistry from 1962).  Despite her size she threw every wine sample down her throat, and progressively got rat-arsed drunker and even more crabby by the end of the tour.  I had to half carry her off the minibus and escort her onto the hotel lobby.  She didn't tip.

Another tall dwarf - this one from Melbourne, has been on two tours with me.  He too, is small - about the size of a ten year-old boy.  He is basically very friendly and chats away loudly in a nasal Ocker monotone, to anyone.  Problem is he keeps talking. Non stop.  As in - he never shuts up. At all.  He also has no concept of the fact that other people (A) aren't all that fascinated with his life history and (B) do have schedules and timetables of their own.  I have watched him dawdle over a single cappuccino for over half an hour: tiny sip.  Swirl.  Talk..... sip ... He doesn't pick up on things like other people glancing at their watch, or standing up and stretching and saying "Hmmmm. Well!" 
Being the tour guide, and being responsible for timing he drove me nuts on both occasions.  The last time, to my joy, I saw him on tour with a rival wine tour company - just him and the guide.  Nerny nerny ner ner rival wine tour company, I thought.

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland New Zealand

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Interesting people I have met on my wine tours Part 2

Phil runs the Best Auckland Wine Tours that he can think of right now, anyway.

Okay - more interesting wine tour clients ...the envelope please.

The couple from Perth Aus, on their honeymoon.  She was very pale, quiet and frail looking. He was bearded, loud and hearty.  When I picked them up, he told me that she gets travel sick very easily, plus she had been in the rear seat of a bus the day before on an 8 hour Bay of Islands trip and was feeling a tad queasy today, plus she had not had any brekkie.
Fair enough - I sat her up front, and sloooooowly round the bends (practically no bends anyway on the way from the hotel out west).  But she just got worse - so I offered her some ginger tablets that I keep for the nauseous punters ...but she had never been able to swallow pills of any kind.  The  we decided to try to get her to eat something, and went to a local cafe.  All she could face was fresh fruit.  And then she threw up.
In short - I took her to the local A&E, she was seen by a GP, I returned her to the City hotel and the husband decided he wanted to carry on with the tour by himself and leave wifey, green and delirious in the hotel for the day by herself.

The tall, blond baby-faced US Navy guy who came on a tour by himself.  He was funny, friendly, goofy and intelligent - really good company. Liked his wine, and cracked jokes non stop.
Turned out, he was the intelligence officer for a visiting US navy ship.  His job was to fly out, ahead of the ship's visit to Auckland to assess any threat to the ship's security while  it was in dock. I had some of his fellow seamen on a tour when the ship arrived.  They said, 'Yeah he's a nice guy but he's very serious about his job.  We call him Tinfoil.'

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sauvignon Blanc / Pinot Gris Blends ... what the???

Phil runs the best wine tours that have ever existed in known human history. (Apart from that Thracian guy who used to tear around ancient Tuscany in a chariot getting tourists tipsy for silver coins.)

Just recently I was sent two trade samples of The Latest Thing – a blend of Sauv Blanc and Pinot Gris.

Now, I am not a fan of Sauv Blanc at all, so I can’t pretend to be completely objective about these wines.

But as a wine writer – you have to know how to recognise a good wine, even if it’s not to your personal taste.
Sewww … if you are a fan of crisply acidic, pungent Savvies – then you would probably love this blend.

Thus I apologise – in advance, to the NZ winemaking fraternity, the Governor General and John Hawkesby, for any following comments that may offend.

To my palate – I couldn’t tell it from a standard green acidic, dissolve yer fillings, Marlborough Savvie. Further to that, I have it on good authority that the blend is about 5% Pinot Gris/95% Sauv Blanc – so what’s the point? A cynic would say that we have a glut of unsold Sauv Blanc (after a combination of two bumper harvests and two years of global recession) and that maybe it’s just an excuse for large wineries to flick off excess wine by calling it a blend.

You might say that.  I couldn't possibly comment.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ladies ..a cautionary tale ..

Montana wines name change to Brancott Estate

Phil runs the darndest Best Auckland Wine Tours in the Known Universe.  (Apart from that five-armed three-nosed tour guide on Betelgeuse.)

Back in June, the NZ Herald reported that NZ's largest wine producer Montana was going to change the brand of its export wine label to Brancott Estate.

The main reason was that punters in the USA were confusing the origin of the wine with the state of Montana.  (They also find Marlborough confusing - because of the Marlboro cigarette brand).
In New Zealand, the Montana name will be retained for the Montana Classics range, with Brancott Estate being acknowledged on the label.  Brancott has been a label in the US for ten years, so they probably won't lose customers of the total switch to one label.

The Brancott brand was formerly best known to NZers for the  'B' label Sauvignon Blanc, grown on Montana's original Brancott vineyard block in Marlborough - where they pioneered Sauv Blanc planting in the stony river bed soils.   Already the new labels are on our NZ supermarket shelves.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I had a dream...

About my Cat.

He's while and grey and is called Snowy.  He hates the world, but grudgingly accepts humans because they feed him and provide warmth and shelter.

Anyway I dreamed that we had a conversation:
ME:  So, Snowy.  Why are you such a prick?  I must be the nicest cat owner in the world.
SNW: You'd be in the top three.
ME:  So what's wrong?
SNW: The cat food tastes too fishy.
ME:  Is that all?
SNW: No. You're a bit rough when you pat me.

Then the dream morphed into one of my (recurring) nightmares where I am back running a physio practice and trying to treat about five people at once, and running over time. 

Just as well my charming partner is a psychotherapist.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Time to smell the Rosés - And drink them

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

(Random dog picture.  Has no direct relevance to article other than sniffing ability)

A few years ago, Rosés were extremely rare and largely undrinkable. However, in the last few years the shelves have been steadily filling with a number of very respectable light reds vinted from grape varieties such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And the really good thing is, in warmer weather you can chill many of them with a clear conscience.

Rosés are made by crushing red grapes, then leaving the juice on the skins for a short period (as little as 24 hours) to extract a minimum of colour and maximum grape juice flavours before pressing and racking off into fermentation tanks. The resulting wines are light, often blush pink and have red fruit flavours of strawberries, and raspberries. These are crisp, refreshing drink-young wines, which will not benefit from cellaring. They also come in a spectrum of sugar level from dry to medium sweet.

The sweeter Rosé styles can tolerate serious chilling before serving, but the more delicate dry to off-dry Rosé, could be cooled in the fridge for 30 minutes or so prior to serving.

Food matches – BBQ tuna, salmon, crayfish, prawns, chicken, crab, spiced rare lamb. Here comes summer! Whoo Hoo!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

How green is my wine? New Zealand organic wines

Phil runs the best goddam wine tours in the world - but mainly wine tours in Auckland New Zealand.

Despite New Zealand’s clean, green image, surprisingly few of our wineries produce organic wines.

Yet organic wines are gaining popularity here and overseas – mainly driven by public concern about chemical residues in foods, and also the fact that some people - in extreme cases, have allergies to minimal levels of chemicals and additives in wine.

Sulphites have been used to preserve wines since Roman times, and are used extensively in the industry worldwide. They are added to sterilise, maintain colour and act as a preservative. If sulphur dioxide is used, the label will state: Preservative (220) added. However, sulphite residues are thought to be associated with asthma attacks in some people. Red wines generally have the lowest levels of sulphites, where white wines contain more. Sweet dessert wines contain the highest levels of sulphites because they are added to prevent further fermentation of grape sugars in the bottle. And cask wines have very high sulphites in order to give them longer shelf life ‘in the bag’.

Milk, egg and fish products are often used in ‘fining’ the wine – i.e. removing tiny protein particles, prior to bottling. Skim milk, egg white and isinglass (cod fish bladder extract) are commonly used. There is a possibility that people could be allergic to these agents, - although residual levels of fining agents are microscopically small if at all present after filtering.

Aside from sulphite and fining agents, there is the issue of use of antifungal sprays. In some parts of New Zealand, especially the humid north Auckland region, climate makes it impossible not to use some spraying. Fungus and moulds will invariably follow extended moist humid summer weather.

But now, many of our wineries subscribe voluntarily to Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ), which aims to provide a ‘best practice’ model of environmental practices in both the vineyard and winery. This means using very low levels of spraying, low sulphite levels and more environmental friendly vineyard management. Many of our top vineyards are SWNZ accredited: including Pernod Ricard (Montana), Nobilo, Villa Maria, Delegats, Oyster Bay, Hunters, Mudbrick, Matua, West Brook, Goldwater, Cable Bay, Te Motu, CJ Pask, Sileni, Palliser, Herzog, Hunters, Seresin, Neudorf, Seifried, Pegasus Bay and Chard Farm and Tiritiri.

Few NZ wineries subscribe to the very strict, totally organic systems prescribed by organisations such as Bio-Gro NZ, and the international Demeter organisation. Millton Vineyards of Gisborne were Bio-Gro pioneers. James and Annie Millton run their vineyards using companion planting, and use no artificial herbicides, fungicides, insecticides or fertilisers. Millton was the first certified organic vineyard in NZ and the 5th oldest in the world.

Biodynamics is a theory of agriculture developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner. He saw the farm a holistic being, where soil health is in balance with nature and also in harmony with phases of the moon. It does sound a tad New Age and wacky, but many sceptics have converted to Biodynamics after seeing a vast improvement in their grape, and wine quality.

Some other Bio-Gro members are: Felton Road, Richmond Plains and Sunset Valley of Nelson, Seresin Estate of Marlborough, Kingsley Estate of Hawkes Bay, and Kawarau Estate of Central Otago.

Other wineries use organic methods but haven’t gone through the full accreditation process – notably Rippon Valley, Stonyridge, and Vynfields.

Finally, do organic wines taste better than the average non-organic wines?

To my mind, yes they do. But I think that has a lot to do with the passion and commitment of the winemakers and grape growers involved in their production. These are hand-crafted wines, where the grapes have been nurtured and each stage of winemaking has been meticulous.

So you could say our wines are getting cleaner and greener, but slowly. In the longer term, it can only mean good news for our overseas export market image.

Phil Parker’s Orgasmic Organic Picks

Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc
Lush ripe pear and apple flavours, with a soft finish thanks to subtle oak ageing in large barrels.

Seresin Reserve Chardonnay
Big wine with stone fruit and toasty oak characters.

Rippon Pinot Noir
Black cherry and spicy, earthy flavours.

Kawarau Estate Reserve Pinot Noir
Spicy black berry fruit flavours with a silky texture

Kingsley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec
Plum, chocolate and spicy oak, with good cellaring potential.

Stonyridge Larose Cabernets
The critics rave – I haven’t managed to try the latest, but previous Laroses have been sublime.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Wairarapa Wine Region - revisited

While we were in Wellington, we were to meet some friends for brunch on Sunday.  But as it turned out, they decided to whisk us over the Rimutuka Hills to the Wairarapa wine region - barely an hour's drive from central Wellington.

Around fifteen years ago, word started spreading about some excellent wines from north of Wellington.

Scientists had discovered a climate and soil type similar to the classic French region of Burgundy that was suitable for growing Pinot Noir and a few other grape varieties. And now, the Wairarapa, and Martinborough in particular is one of our top boutique regions, producing not only internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir but also Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and even some big reds like Syrah and blended reds. Famous wineries like Dry River, Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyard, Palliser and Te Kairanga all hail from this region. Great food and upmarket accommodation has made this one of our main wine tourism regions for both locals and foreigners.
Lots to do and see – for local info Web: is the local tourism site.

We dropped in on Martinborough Vineyard.
Stars:  Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir  - Earthy and soft, with berry fruit, spice and cassis flavours.
Burnt Spur Sauvignon Blanc - Softer style than the pungent Marlborough Savvies. Gooseberry, passionfruit and soft citrus.

Then Ata Rangi
Stars: Pinot Gris 2009 - Medium soft style, with pear, quince and lime.
Pinot Noir 2008 - Rich, and spicy with silky tannins.

Then Palliser
Stars: Riesling 2009 - Soft and balanced medium style, with citrus, raisin and lime/lemon.
Pencarrow Chardonnay 2009 - Sweet vanilla oak and spice, integrated fruit - grapefruit, peach, melon.

Finally, Te Kairanga
Stars: Riesling 2009 - Light and medium sweet, with honey, nectarine and lime.
Casarina reserve Chardonnay 2008 - peach, citrus and toasty hazel nut oak.

Lunch - The White Swan in Greytown .Excellent local beef in burger format with shoestring fries and salad.  My lovely companion had good ol' fish 'n' chips. Or as we say 'Fush and Chups'

A grand day out!!

Phil has to mention, for tax purposes, that he runs wine tours in Auckland NZ (in the vain hope that he can claim a few bottles as trade samples)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

WOWed in Wellington - The World of Wearable Arts Awards

Our final getaway weekend for the year was a trip down to Wellington for the Word of Wearable Arts Awards show.

What started as a small arts event in Nelson, (top of the South Island) as a rural art gallery promotion,  WOW has grown to an annual extravaganza in our capital city, entertaining around 35,000 punters over a ten show run every  September.

I describe it as Cirque du Soleil with Fab Frocks - it's a fantastic mix of theatre, dance, art, fashion, music and spectacle. We (nearly) had front row seats.  We were just behind the VIP catered 3-course dinner tables of ten, but we had our own boxed dinner, catered by Ruth Pretty - small Lindauer bubbly, Waiwera mineral water, chicken club sams, smoked salmon blini, olives, chilli toffee smoked almonds, and a florentine for dessert. Yum.

One highlight, for me anyway, was about an hour into the show, the table of VIPs in front of us had a 'furniture malfunction' where their foldaway circular table with china, cutlery, bottles of wine, and glasses suddenly folded away - all by itself, and tilted to about 45 degrees, sliding all of the above to the ground with an almighty crashy/smashy noise and mini tsunami of wine salad.  Luckily for our VIPs, they had turned their seats to watch the show, so nobody ended up lap dancing a dinner setting. 
Almost immediately a clean-up crew appeared with little flashlights and whisked away the evidence in minutes. 

Meanwhile, The Show went on without a hitch.

The Show itself, was a seamless and totally professional production, choreographed with precision and panache. A dazzling spectacle of whimsical wearable creations, made from almost any imaginable material.

You really had to be there.  Two hours went by in a flash, and we exited well-fed, happy and suitably WOWed, vowing to return next year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fine Wine Tours Auckland - World Famous in Shanghai!!

Phil runs (arguably) the BEST AUCKLAND WINE TOURS on the planet!  Don't argue.

On the weekend, I was asked by Tourism NZ to take a Chinese doco crew from Shanghai around some top Auckland food and wine sites.  There were five people in all: presenter, cameraman/director,  female PA, NZ Chinese translator, and ...another guy.  Dunno what he does rilly.  I often do these 'media famils' for any foreign media interested and food & wine.

The presenter was a young Chinese chap (called Norman) who looked and acted very much like fashion guru  Gok Wan of TV's How to Look Good Naked. His English was very good, so the translator didn't have to translate at all - but he was handy with talking to the other four.

The plan was to start with a local French market, but they were late from shooting at the Fish Market, so I suggested Soljans winery in Kumeu. Turned out to be a good choice, as the presenter was a fan of sweeter wines and loved the Asti style sparkling Muscat 'Fusion', which is their biggest seller.  I don't knock sweet wines at all - this one is like a Muscat sorbet in a glass - clean flavoured, refreshing, naturally sweet and slightly crisp.  For better or for worse, the director decided that I should be filmed, showing Norman around the winery and tasting wines.  Not my first time on TV, but a bit of a surprise.  As usual it was about an hour and a half of filming for about 5 mins of finished product. We just finished when a group of 40 Chinese tourists showed up.

All day we were dodging rain squalls and the usual mixed weather salad that Auckland throws at us - especially in spring.

Next up - back to the City for Chocolate Boutique in Parnell (famous for pre-heart surgery Bill Clinton being a personal shopper).  The shop is tiny, so filming was like doing a square dance in a toilet, with shoppers, staff and crew all jostling and apologising and bumping into each other.  Our final shot was to be me and Norman enjoying a Chocolate frappe in the sunshine.  Naturally as soon as we sat down, the clouds formed overhead and horizontal rain kicked in.  Norman had to keep continuity, so he couldn't wear his squall jacket while filming, and shivered pathetically between takes and his PA rushed over to drape his shoulders.
After about 40 mins of stooging around, the rain stopped, Norman and Phil in position, and ...Action!
'So, Phil.  This is a delicious ice cream frappe, isn't it?'
"Yes!' enthused Phil who hates cream and could feel the cold, fatty milk solids congealing on the roof of his mouth.

Cut and wrap.  Phil reaches an audience of millions.  Fame and a frappe were thrust upon me.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Okay ... here's a few more words for the new millennium

Post Mortem Depression - realising that you are dead, and feeling really, really pissed off about it.
Jew Diligence - regulatory practices by Kosher accounting firm.
Hippocampus - tertiary education for large amphibians.
Mass  Wysteria - abundant mauve flora.
Bipolar Bear - ursine manic depressive.
Wormacht - German military mining corps.
Popealactic - Catholic birth control

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spartacus Blood and Sand - Okay I'm hooked now.

Okay, now I'm hooked. 

Maybe the first ep was a bit over hyped and the expectation was too high.  Or maybe the cast and direction was in *ahem* 'bedding in' mode before things settled down.

But now, the characters are more delineated, to my ADHD attention span, and a lot of the politics has been dealt with  - so we're left with a good old' protagonist/antagonist classic yarn with some interesting B plots ticking away in the background. 

Kill or be killed - get the baddies, find yer wife, don't get distracted by naked Roman totty, live happily ever after ...

Spartacus has just kicked the living shite out of, and decapitated in slo-mo (with two swords no less)  the baddest Gladiator known to mankind - Theokoles (whose nickname is The Shadow of Death).
'Hi I'm Theokoles.  Most folks just call me The Shadow of death. Can I interest you in life insurance?'
BTW - did he suffer Post Mortem Depression?  Like - realising that you are dead, and being really pissed off.

By happy coincidence, the drought breaks, and rain pours down as Theokoles torso spurts fountains of blood.  Surely the gods have smiled on Spartacus!  He's a Top Bloke - he's The Man.

Cue - celebration, chicks getting their boobs out, and cheering from the hoi polloi.
Roll the credits.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interesting people I have met on my wine tours ...

Over the years I have met a diverse and interesting number of tourists on my wine tours of Auckland region.
Many people say to me, 'I guess you had a lot of drunks on your tours, then?'

Well, not really.  I have never really had any problem regarding my guest's behaviour.  As with most wine drinkers, they just get a bit slurry and funny - and then fall asleep on the return journey the their hotel.

In ten years, the worst experience was a middle aged Japanese lady who neither spat nor tipped, her samples of about twenty wines during the four hour tour with her (more circumspect daughter).  We were nearly at the Hyatt, when I thought, "Hmmm. Why can I smell Parmesan cheese all of a sudden?'  Sure enough, the lady had very quietly, and accurately puked into the little parcel tray directly behind my driver's seat.
'Sorry for ... ah, dirty your car,' She slurred as she exited on wobbly legs.  I explained that a certain amount of cleaning would be required and that she would pay an extra $50.

Other memorable guests:
A Canadian who looked exactly like, and talked exactly like Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman.
'Hoo-wah!'  He got into the vehicle, at Sky City, then spotted a local Asian food joint 'Wong Kok!!  Ha ha ha - ya wanna get the Wight Cock!'  My Midwest USA guests, smiled nervously.

A Californian couple who had bought enough home-grown dope with them for their NZ holiday needs.
Didn't you worry about our border security?  I asked.
'Nah.  the little dog was really interested in someone close by, so we got outta there.  Anyway we both have doctor's certificates to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes.'

The sad, lone 60-ish Frenchman who had met an fallen in love with a British lass after WW2.  They owned a highly successful pub in the countryside where he built a reputation for it;s French cuisine. He was happy to do that for ever, but his wife insisted that they sell up, so that they could retire together.  When the pub sold, she took her money and ran off with the sales Rep from the brewery. During the tour, his English born kids texted him the latest football scores.

The charming Melburnian matron who is a regular world travel fan, and has been on three tours with me. She pursues a life of romance novel writing and attends the Romance Writers Conference in Auckland each year.

The totally rude and obnoxious Californian freelance journalist, who wrote a glowingly positive review of her tour with me.

The young 20-ish film maker, on holiday with his girlfriend.  He did card tricks,  cracked jokes, and invited me to the NZ premiere of his new movie: a parody of Summer Camp movies, with a Jewish theme and a host of cameo Hebrew Crew actors.

The Pentagon computer systems Wiz, who flew to Auckland to marry his Brit girlfriend.  He was totally blind, about 6 ft 4, and extremely generous. He brought a bottle of  Californian Zinfandel with him to give to me.  Utterly charming and a great sense of humour. We had been emailing each other for about 6 years. Sadly he died early this year.

The group booking where the son-in-law flirted with, and made dreadful double entendre jokes with his mother-in-law (with his wife sitting next to him).

The tall atractive Texan heart surgeon who flew to NZ to catch yup with her elderly aunt.  She hired me for 4 hours and tipped me $200.

The Aussie who asked the waitress at lunch, 'What is your biggest red wine?'
She replied, 'Ummmm.  They're all about the same size.'

It's a tough job ...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seifried Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008 and MasterChef New Zealand

Being partial to the odd GwZ, I spotted this one in Countdown for $NZ16.00

Now, one reason apart from the bargain price, which persuaded me to buy it was...that a friend of ours has been chosen to audition for MasterChef NZ, and he was coming over to cook his signature dish for us. (His family are sick of it - having had the same thing for nights on end as he practices and refines the recipe.)  Lucky us!

I probably should not reveal the nature of the dish, other than I thought that a nice spicy GwZ would be a great match.  So we set the clock, the young person got to work, and just slightly over time dinner was ready - immaculately presented. 

Unfortunately, by this stage I had consumed all the GwZ and we had to open a very nice Kim Crawford Tietjen Chardonnay 2007 which was bloody marvellous anyway.

But back to the Seifried Nelson Gewurztraminer 2008:  Aromas - soda water, rose water, and minerals.  Palate - dry-to-medium sweetness in the mid palate, Nashi pear, mildly spicy, and a tangy yeast dry finish.  Quite elegant and restrained.

Phil runs wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Day the Dishwasher Died

Finally, our elderly Fisher& Paykel Softouch dishwasher has carked it. 

It has been limping along pathetically, throwing hissy fits and LED error messages over the last year or so.
I had to go online to find the fix for the 'F1' error code which signalled total shut down and high pitched beeping.  The answer was (no kidding) drag the little bastard out of its cave and tilt the washer backwards at an angle of 45 degrees.  This empties soapy water all over the kitchen floor.  Then it would be back to normal for a while.

But lately when I turned it on, all the LED lights go on at once and it beeps furiously, refusing to do anything else. I have sworn at it, turned the power on and off again, kicked it, pleaded with it ... all to no avail.
I am reduced to DOING THE DISHES MANUALLY.  The horror!  The humanity!

And I have to clear the waste disposal while it's operating!!


The good news is - that we have a brand new dishwasher ready to be installed.
The bad news is we have to totally renovate the kitchen bench at great expense to install it.
To that end, I have previously posted The Brand New Harvey Norman Dishwasher Blues.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

European Beers - stuff I didn't know..

Having been seriously in the wine biz for about 10 years, I figure that I do know a bit about wine - I have two wine columns, a published NZ wine region guide and being a conscientious drinker of wine on a regular basis.   However I do know Feck-all about beer.

Today -I had a local Auckland group on a half day wine tour with me: two couples.  One - ex Liverpudlians, the other a Dutch chap who has lived here for 40 years, and his NZ wife. 

All really nice people who like a drink and a grand day out in the country sampling wine, scenery and great food, God bless 'em.

Anyway ..we got to talking about beer - and the way it is served in NZ.  My Dutch mate remarked that in NZ if beer is served with a large 'head' of foam, one gripes about the issue that it is not filled up to the top.
(Much the same as NZ Hospo industry wine glasses have a Plimsoll line to delineate the required 100ml serve level.)  He said that in Europe, the beer is poured vertically (not on the slope) so that there are three fingers of foam on the beer, in order that the froth acts as a barrier to oxygen, and therefore preserves the freshness and flavour of the beer while being consumed - a bit like a spa blanket on yer Lager.

Also, re: the Belgian beer ritual of immersing the glass in water before filling from the tap - this ensures that any remnants of detergent are removed, and thus the froth is allowed to naturally adhere to the glass.

I am partial to the odd Leffe Blond or Hoegaarden at our local Belgian beer pub.  But now I have a new understanding and respec', no less for the, beer aficionados. 

Cheers.  *urp*

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Free online wine tutorials - Jancis Robinson WSET

A few years ago I undertook a wine knowledge course with London-based Wines and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) - probably the world's leading wine education organisation. 

These are tutored courses run over many weeks, by a Master of Wine, and terminate in a fairly tough exam.  They are great fun, but do require serious study (and a certain amount of nerves) for the written exam and a 'mystery' wine evaluation at the end.

I would highly recommend these courses to anyone wanting to gain real expert knowledge.  Here is the link for the NZ WSET courses.  Interestingly, New Zealand has more Masters of Wine than any other country.
Michael Brajkovich - winemaker from Kumeu River, was our very first.

Anyway, as part of their promo stuff they have free online 3 minute tutorials presented by Jancis Robinson MW - fairly basic, but giving good background knowledge on many wines and wine regions. 

Go forth winelings, and learn...

Phil runs wine tours around Auckland New Zealand
He also wrote a jolly fine wine guide to NZ's best winery visits.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz 2008

Cool photo, eh?  Art directed by Jasper.  Well done, Jazz.  Good dog.

I got this wine on special at Nosh - a local Auckland suburban Green Lane foodie outfit. The shop itself is a bit disappointing - as I had heard good things about the range of Deli goods.  But NO e.g. very cruddy and way past the 'best by' mushrooms still on display, generally tired looking fruit & veg, and nobody at the checkout when I went to actually PAY MONEY.  Then when I got home, the garlic bulb I had bought was rotten in the centre. *Hmmmph*  Now I can't find the fecking receipt, so I can't go back and get fresh replacement garlic, or - for that matter tell you how much the wine cost. Bugger.

I think it was about $NZ20 on special.

Anyway ... there was a very keen young man in the Faine Waine Dept. doing free tastings, and vigorously urging me (the only punter in the shop) to sample the Aussie Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz, (of which, I had never previously heard). On examining the label tonight, I see it is a family-owned Australian winery from the Padthaway region of South Australia.

Now, Padthaway has a special resonance for me, because my former neighbours (a lovely Glaswegian couple named Pat & Anne) introduced me to Padthaway Shiraz about 10 years ago.  They are fabulous hosts and from my hazy memory we had baked lamb and LOTS of wine.  But I do recall that the Padthaway Shiraz was a  monster red - stonkingly alcoholic and wildly ripe, with intense almost overcooked flavours and a powerful oak influence.

This one is more subtle - and still tastes great after a day's rest after opening. From my notes:  Savoury aromas of leather and cigars. Ripe and generous palate of Christmas pudding, black cherry, black pepper and dark chocolate with a lovely looooong dry finish of tawny Port, liquorice and Anise

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland to Kumeu and Matakana

Friday, September 3, 2010

Gibbston Valley Pinot Gris 2009 Locharburn Pinot Gris 2009

Lucky me - I was sent these two as trade samples in the last week.  Pinot Gris is a very popular white wine, especially as the flavour profile falls somewhere between the extremes of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  The newcomer Viognier now has the mantle of 'most groovy white variety', having usurped PG in the last year or so.  However, Viognier can be a very big, high alcohol and overpowering wine - not in the pre-dinner tipple ballpark.

Pinot Gris when it emerged, was a hard wine to nail flavour-wise, and many winemakers weren't really sure what to do with it.  Now the predominant style is off-dry and fruity, with subtle Nashi pear and apple flavours.

These two are from Central Otago, proving that Pinot  Noir is not the only grape that does well in the Deep South.

Gibbston Valley Pinot Gris 2009 $NZ27.50
Picked up a gold medal at the Royal Easter Show. Aromas of white blossom and carnation.  Creamy texture, fruity Nashi pear flavours and a crisp dry finish.

Locharburn Pinot Gris 2009  $NZ25.95 Partly barrel fermented, so not as crisp and edgy as they tend to be from a sole stainless steel ferment. Lovely rounded and elegant flavours of pear and stewed apple.
Phil runs wine tours in Auckland to Kumeu and Matakana
He also published a book on visiting NZ's best wineries