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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, February 26, 2010

Felton Road Winery - Central Otago New Zealand

Felton Road’s winery is in a nouveau-rustic corrugated iron barn-style building, looking north over the vineyards. Two blocks of vineyards are at either end of Bannockburn. Felton leases local Calvert Vineyard, which also is entirely planted in Pinot. Launched in 1997, Felton road has achieved prominence as another one of Central Otago’s star producers. Their wines are highly rated by influential US magazine, Wine Spectator. Winemaker, Blair Walter uses only French oak barrels and has a philosophy of minimal gravity-feed handling methods.

The wines:

2009 Dry Riesling $NZ26.00
Crisp and mineral with stone fruit flavours.

2009 Riesling $NZ26.00
With 53 grams/litre of residual sugar, the palate is sweet and rich, balanced by crisp acidity.

2008 Chardonnay $NZ32.00
Crisp, with apple and grapefruit flavours.

2008 Pinot Noir $NZ46.00
My pick - full bodied in the typical Central Otago way. Silky texture, and flavours of black berry fruits, earthy spice and cherry.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Carrick Wines - Central Otago, New Zealand

As part of out trip down south a few weeks back, we made a visit to the Bannockburn wine region in Central Otago - a small area near Clyde which hosts some very good wineries.

Our first stop for wine tasting was Carrick wines, in Cairnmuir Road

Carrick has an impressive tasting room and restaurant overlooking the Bannockburn inlet of Lake Dunstan, and in the distance, the Carrick Range. On a fine day you can eat al fresco and enjoy the superb views. Meanwhile inside the Cellar Door, glass floor panels allow views of around 300 barrels in the cellars below.
Around 30 Ha (74 acres) are planted in the usual Central suspects, but also Sauvignon Blanc – which undergoes some oak ageing before bottling.

The wines ...
Carrick Sauvignon Blanc 2009 $NZ19.50
Local fruit and partially fermented in old French oak barrels.
Fuller and richer than the Marlborough style, flavours of gooseberry and green bell pepper.

Carrick Riesling 2008 $NZ20.50
19 grams per litre of residual sugar – balances nicely with the lemon/lime and floral flavours.

Carrick Chardonnay 2007 $NZ25.50
Crisp and mineral, with a cashew nut creaminess.

Carrick Crown & Ross Pinot Noir 2008 $NZ32.50
Spicy and savoury aromas, with red berry fruit flavours. Medium style.

Carrick Pinot Noir 2007 $NZ45.00
Low cropping vintage gives intense fruit flavours. Smoky aromas and flavours of black cherry and mocha.

For info on my wine tours in auckland New Zealand see: Fine Wine Tours

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Invictus - review

Invictus charts South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup campaign, when Nelson Mandela as the new President, foresaw a SA rugby victory over New Zealand's formidable All BLacks as a means of uniting dysfunctional white and black South Africans. Clint Eastwood directs.

Morgan Freeman successfully inhabits the Mandela persona, occasionally struggling with the accent. Matt Damon (looking pretty fit despite his age) plays François Pienaar the SA Springbok captain.

I understand that this movie didn't do all that well in the USA because it features the weird game of rugby - which is a pity, as it is a movie about reconciliation and forgiveness as much as anything else.

For me, it competently covered the facts - but in a fairly plodding and unengaging manner. Freeman and Damon did a good workmanlike job, but the end result failed to fire emotionally. And - hey, that Haka by the 'All Blacks' was a travesty!

Bladen Wines

In 1997 the first wines were produced wine under the Bladen label, by owners Dave and Christine Macdonald. They own a small 8-Ha (19 acres) vineyard, specialising in ‘aromatic’ wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris. However, they also do a Pinot Noir and a Merlot/Malbec blend. Their tiny tasting room welcomes visitors.

The Bladen name refers to Chris and Dave’s children – Blair and Deni – who were toddlers when the vineyard was developed.

Last night a friend dropped in for dinner and brought a bottle of Bladen Pinot Gris 2008. We were eating roast chicken, cubed roast potato and salad - the wine was a good match: dry, mineral and crisp, with citrus and Nashi pear flavours.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tom Jones - live at Villa Maria Winery

We were lucky enough to score two tickets to Tom Jones - in concert at Villa Maria's Auckland winery concert venue. And a fab venue it was - with attention to detail, great atmosphere, and generous hospitality as usual from one of NZ's premium wineries.

Yennyhoo - the show: Fantastic. The Voice is totally there at 70-something. He nailed every single song in a brilliant two-hour show, starting with a Bono tune written for Jones (Sugar Daddy), through all his hits - Delilah, Green Green Grass, What's New Pussycat etc., to a stonking club mix finale of Prince's 'Kiss'.

(Kiss was the techno-funk breakthrough hit for Jones in the 80s, via his collaboration with Art Of Noise.)

He's given up on the hair dye, looks toned, fit, dynamic, happy and very comfortable in his own skin.

In a recent interview he recalled how Sinatra had once said, 'You don't have to work that hard on your songs.'

Today, the delivery onstage is relaxed, confident and in total control. Yet, he projects his voice effortlessly, without losing any of the passion and expressiveness in every word.

A tight and hugely talented backing band of 9 players ensured seamless renditions of every genre from Country to Techno.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jasper & Me 2

It's now a week since Jasper's trip to the vet. He has definitely improved over that time, although much slower than he used to be. He had been so lame that he couldn't make it up or down stairs - but after we got home late last evening he had made his way downstairs to greet us. He quite happily plodded upstairs and promptly ascended the next set to flop down beside our bed (on my side). I didn't have the heart to banish him to the dining room to his dog bed, so resigned to broken sleep - with Labrador snores rattling the windows and frightening small mammals.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Turn your kid into a spook

Yes, folks - just when you thought the internet was a trawling ground for the bad guys, now your kids can log on, via the CIA home page to the CIA Kids Page and check out career opportunities, read up on CIA history and play games! (I did very badly at the observation game)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sound Riesling

Riesling is the wine that a lot of people love to hate. In fact, many of my wine tour clients from overseas produce garlic and crucifixes at the very mention of the word and have to be seriously talked into trying one of ours.

(By the way, it’s pronounced Rees-ling. Not Rise-ling. It’s a German grape and that’s how they say the ‘ie’ sound. Same as in Diesel.

The blame 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.

Here in New Zealand, as in Australia we 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 sweeter 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.

Here’s a selection:

WAIMEA ESTATES Nelson Riesling
Just a smidgen off dry, with Granny Smith apple and flinty flavours.

MUDDY WATER James Hardwick Riesling
Great wine – full flavoured medium style Riesling, complex palate for a young wine, with flavours of crisp lime, prince melon and honey. Yum.

WEST BROOK Riesling Marlborough Crisp and citrussy. Lemon squash and Granny Smith apple aromas, fruity flavours. Picked up a Gold at the Air NZ Wine Awards 2004.

WEST BROOK Blue Ridge Late Harvest Riesling Marlborough
146 grams per litre of residual sugar. Aged in new oak. Botrytis influenced – with honey, apricots and fresh citrus on the palate. Yum.

MUDDY WATER Riesling ‘Unplugged’
Sweet Riesling with flavours of honey, sultanas and lime, with crisp and tangy acidity.

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

Jasper and Me

This is Jasper doing his lying on the floor Hi5.

He is funny, sort-of-smart, cuddly, affectionate, stubborn and typically omnivorous. He has never bitten any person, or any other animal.

I got him from the Manukau pound, where he was on death row. He had been found wandering in south Auckland – a fit, happy, neutered black Lab – technically worth about $1,500. Nobody claimed him.

I got Jaz for $50 after they cleared up his kennel cough and released him. He leapt into my car in a flash, and as I drove away, I felt a gentle pressure on my left shoulder from the back seat, his chin – ‘thanks for getting me out of here.’

Fast-forward 10 years. Last Monday he wasn’t the same in the morning. Normally he would be wide-awake at 7.30 on the dot, knocking on the door, demanding breakfast and wagging his tail like crazy.

This time, he was limping, and in pain, couldn’t raise his head and wasn’t even interested in food. This was the second time this happened. A week previously he was slow and painful, but that time, after an hour or two he had resumed his normal joie de vivre.

This time was different. I took him to the vet that day. Hmmm. Not sure, said the Vet. Maybe arthritis, or slipped disc?
$1700 later (X-rays of neck, thorax, spine and hips; bloods tests.)

Still no definite diagnosis. Bloods normal. X-rays showed arthritic changes in the thoracic spine and right elbow. Rx anti-inflammatory tabs, antibiotics (for ear infection), injection for arthritis.

Today: perky and happy. Eating as normal. But, took him for a walk just now – slow and plodding, but still fascinated by every olfactory distraction at ground level. He was in some discomfort getting up the steps on return home.
Right now, he’s on his dog bed, snoring softly. Another day gone.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Marley & Me

Okay. Fab cast - Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and a Golden Lab.

Yeah, sounds like a no-fail recipe for cuteness, cuddles and Kleenex.

Naaaah. A Dog Movie for, (and I gather - by) people who don't really like dogs.

Great storyline: Young couple adopt renegade, untrainable but cute puppy. Marry, have 3 kids, encounter post-partum depression etc. Man stays friends with faithful (yet naughty) dog. Dog remains faithful (yet naughty). Dog gets twisted bowel. Dog dies.
Family feel sad and yet … slightly guilty. Soppy graveside eulogies as dog is buried.

Roll the credits. Dab your eyes and exit quietly.

As a dog owner (of an untrainable yet cute 10 y/o Black Lab) the movie was just a showcase for a couple of Hollywood hacks, with very little reference to the title dog as a personality. The direction focuses on the relationship between the couple, with the dog as a background feature – periodically doing something demonic, which Owen tolerates, and Jennifer doesn’t.

The relationship between the dog and Wilson’s character is one-dimensional at best: exasperated, yet grudgingly amused tolerance.
Sight gags do not justice to the complexity of a dog’s interaction with a human.

Could have done better - appropriately, a pile of poo is the result.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bagpipes and Pinot Noir

After we left Dunedin we drove down the Island in our hire Toyota, the roads practically deserted, as we meandered through north Otago. Stopping overnight with friends in Ranfurly we were treated to more southern hospitality – a riotous dinner on Sunday night, complete with freshly caught blue cod, BBQ steak, Pinot Noir, an impromptu bagpipe performance, and some very fine single malt Scotch.

The rolling green plains of the Maniatoto and Ida Valley eventually gave way to Central Otago’s schist slopes and sparse, low-to-the -ground alpine desert foliage, as we followed the mighty Clutha River toward its source. A good old mince pie – the classic Kiwi takeaway food, settled my (slightly) queasy stomach when we stopped for lunch in Cromwell.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dunedin - Scarfies, Snow and Speights

For our non NZ blog readers - bit of a primer on Dunedin.

It's NZ's 5th largest city, with a population of about 150,000. At one time, back in the late 1800s it was also our richest city - due to the Otago gold rush. Many magnificent Victorian era buildings still reflect that wealth, and have fortuitously survived the wreckers ball.

Nowadays, Dunedin's biggest industry is education, with many NZ and international students studying at Otago university (which incorporates our second medical school).
The 'scarfies' - scarf-wearing students, occupy flats in old Victorian villas, in the more run-down northern end of town. The local beer - Speights lager is the favoured beverage of both scarfies and locals.

Tourism is another employer, though not hugely significant, with visitors attracted by the coastal wildlife on the Otago peninsula, which offers encounters with albatross, seals, sea lions and the rare yellow-eyed penguin. Around 60 cruise ship visits this season have helped boost tourism numbers.

At 45 degrees latitude, Dunedin like most of the deep South experiences a more European climate with short very hot summers (up to 40 deg C) and longer winters where temperatures can drop below 15 degrees C and snow and ice are expected.

At Brighton beach nearby our accommodation, snow on the beach is a regular winter event. Incidentally, property prices here are extremely favourable compared with Auckland. A basic beach cottage with sea views and a 5 minute walk to pristine white sand beaches will cost about $NZ120,000.

Which is all very tempting - but ... talking to a local, he says "Sure it's cheap to buy land here, but then what are you going to do for a living?"
Essentially the main employers in Dunedin are farming, the university, the city council and the hospital. Other than some tourism opportunities there isn't much else to tempt anyone this far south. Not surprising that there total population of the South Island is around half a million, where our total is around 4.2 million for the whole country.

The deep South certainly is gorgeous and it's very tempting to move. But realistically, only as a retirement option for me personally.

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

Notes from the South

A few problems accessing my Blogger site from a friend's PC but got there in the end.

Dunedin proved elusive despite our 5 a.m. start to catch the plane from Auckland Airport. All went spiffingly till we descended to land - only to be stuck in a holding pattern for about an hour in the vain hope that fog would lift. No such luck, so managed a hire car from Queenstown and by accident, had a scenic drive North to Dunedin through Central Otago and many verdant vineyard views.

The last time I was in Central was about 7 years ago in late Autumn - so the perfect blue skies and green landscape were a surprise. Also interesting to see that the Pohutukawa and Manuka are in full flower down here - whereas Auckland's blooms are at least a month gone.

Currently camped just North of Brighton beach with the in-laws and being spoiled rotten by Southern hospitality

Monday, February 1, 2010

Heading for Grand Central

Central Otago, that is ...
My partner Annie & I are heading down south to Dunedin for a family birthday, then on to Queenstown/Central Otago for Pinot Noir and R&R.

I'll keep you posted!



Time to smell the Rosés

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

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!

A few to Rosés look out for :

West Brook Rosé - delicious off-dry rosé which has ripe plum and strawberry flavours.

Matua Bullrush Rosé - Light, fresh and dry, with strawberry/raspberry flavours.

Ransom Vin Gris Rosé - light rosé style made from Cabernet grapes fermented on the skins for only a few hours. It is light dry, crisp and refreshing.

Kumeu River Village Rosé - blend of 50% Merlot and 50% Pinot Noir, fermented for 24 hours on the skins. Delicate rose pink wine with fresh, clean raspberry flavours and crisp finish.

Soljan’s Rosé - light and fragrant with strawberry flavours, sweet palate but crisp finish.

Coopers Creek Rosé - light fruity rosé style made from Hawkes Bay Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes.