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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

John Banks - my part in his campaign

Today I attended a Tourism Auckland 'Industry Update' meeting at the Auckland Museum's new functions venue. It's very impressive - from the ground floor atrium, it looks like a huge wooden egg plonked in the centre of the museum building. Downstairs they have the Kai to Pie exhibition of NZ food, but the 3rd floor has a vast functions centre, with sweeping 360 views of the city. Pretty fab on a fine day - tho I did exit the lift into blinding natural light pouring in from the wall-to-wall windows. Having slightly over-imbibed last night, it was something I'd rather be prepared for with my sunnies on, to be honest. I groped my way blindly to the name tag table, knocking over vases and small council workers.

It was one of those things where there's swags of people, but you don't know anyone, and you scan the crowd for a familiar face but have no luck - so I went to the Gents, circled the room again, looked out the window, had a coffee and finally sat down three rows from the front about ten minutes before kick-off time.

And golly gosh, who was right up the front talking to his mates, but our incumbent Mayor John Banks. Himself. I have seen him before, but not up close. He is quite short - even sitting down, and doesn't quite look in rude good health. His hands are very pale and he has that grey complexion of a deskbound bureaucrat who never sees the sun. Shoulders slightly hunched form endless committee meetings stuck in an ‘executive’ chair. But he was nattily dressed and spoke well in his slightly hectoring school principal manner. He spoke convincingly - and was funny. I may even vote for him.

Then my mind wandered a bit and I got to thinking about blogging and servers. I figure that Blogger Inc. and Google, and Facebook and other big Internet thingies must each need to have a HUGE storage device that stores all my blogs and those of millions of others. Or a USB flash drive the size of a Unbelievably Stupendous Big … thing. I have a conspiracy theory that Auckland’s Sky Tower revolving restaurant is really a monumental disc drive on a stick.

So where is all our stuff being stored? What happens if the cleaner pulls the plug out by mistake? Eeee-ooops! All my Twitbook utterances lost. My expensive website reduced to a blue screen of death. Gahhh. All those highly organised zeroes and ones flatlining in a dead storage device.

Now I need a drink.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Le Wednesday - Tour des Francaises

Well, turns out that the couple were French - he was born in Bordeaux, she was born in Spain. 
He pronounced Bordeaux with that hoiky thing that French do with their words - so it was Bor*hoik*deaux!

They lived in Marseilles for many years, and now have a second year in Tahiti  (where she teaches Spanish at high school and Uni) before returning to La Belle France.   He tells me that babies are reared on red wine rather than milk in Bordeaux.  I'm quite envious - he grew up tasting some of the best red wines in France the Bordeaux classics like St. Emilion and Pomerol.  As I (vaguely) recall from my wine classes these two are Merlot dominant blends of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Luckily, he speaks pretty good English, but I do get to try my fractured French at times, as she speaks very little.  I even remembered that framboise is French for raspberry (when describing the sorbet at lunch).

So, we did the Matakana Full Day tour - setting off at 9.30 from their hotel, cheese tasting and a coffee at Puhoi, tastings at Ascension and Heron's Flight, lunch at Heron's Flight.  As they wanted to see a barrel hall I took them back to the City via West Brook winery in Kumeu.  here they tasted what they judged to be the best wine of the day ... the envelope please... West Brook 2006 Merlot Malbec blend.  This is a lovely soft red, grown on the estate in the Waikoukou Valley.

Tired but happy, I deposited them back at their hotel on the dot (by sheer good luck) of four p.m.

Au revoir ... Bon Vacances!!!

It's nearly Wednesday

Phil Parker takes wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

I just realised that I posted two video links last week - one from a Cockatoo who dances better than I do, and one from a four year-old boy who drums as well as I do. 
Anyway I got my own blog - so nerny nerny ner ner. In Your Face 4 y/o drummer boy!

I still can't design the blog they way it was before, as the Blogger Inc. site seems to have re-set all the design elements. I'm not the only one - others bloggers have had the same drama. Still, I quite like the new settings because it's full page and easier to read for the over 40s with long-sightedness.

Today I also reflected on Murphy's Law.
I could add another - Parker's Law of Dropped Objects:  When ever you drop something, it will almost always roll away to, or land in, the worst possible and/or inaccessible place.
E.g. Cleaning the coffee plunger.  Undid the nut that holds everything on the spindle - the nut sprang loose and promptly plopped down the kitchen sink plug hole.
E.g. 'Fixing' the dish washer. Trying to reassemble the door - the tiny screw slips and falls into the hidden hinge mechanism.

Tomorrow - off to Matakana for a full day tour for two.  Not sure what nationality they are - they booked through Tourism Auckland travel desk ... could be French?  Dunno - the name sounds a tad Gallic.  So I may get to practice the 5th from French.  Anyway, looking forward to revisiting Brick Bay and Heron's Flight.

More wine reviews to follow ... watchez cette espace mes Amis!!!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

He too got riddum .. 4 year old drummer!!

Matakana's Brick Bay wines

One of the youngest wineries in Matakana – the first wines were released in 1998 and has been open for tasting January 2007

Owned by the Didsbury family who were largely instigators of the Matakana Farmers Market and Matakana Cinema. Very small production – about 1,000 cases per year from the tiny 5 Ha (12-acre) vineyard.

Very stylish architecture by Noel Lane has an airy ‘glasshouse’ tasting facility and offices cantilevered over a large mirrored pond.

Sculpture Trail $10 per head including a map and catalogue. It takes approximately an hour to walk through the undulating farm and vineyard grounds. Large outdoor works by leading NZ artists are featured and also for sale.

Latest releases:
Brick Bay Pinot Gris 2009 $NZ32
Lush flavours of white peach, honeysuckle and pear with some minerality

Brick Bay Martello Rock 2006 $NZ24
Malbec dominant, plus Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Dusty aromas, with flavours of almond, cherry and raspberry.

Brick Bay Pharos 2006 NZD$32.00
Bordeaux style blend of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot aged in new French oak – flavours and aromas of pot pourri, herbs, ripe black cherry and liquorice with velvety tannins.


Well... for some reason I can't format the blog layout the way I did before - it's one of those update things that they do to middle-aged people like me who don't know about Facer and TwitBook.

I did opt for a new background thing anyway.
I seem to have lost my Followers list and my blog list is buried at the bottom of the page. Yeah, thanks Blogger.

Yennyhoo.. got some fab stuff coming up soon



Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crazy Drummer

Dunno if saw this one before - I managed to copy the html link to Youtube.

It's pretty funny - this drummer is what we used to call a skite i.e. a show-off.
As an ex drummer moiself, the beat here is what we call a four-on-the-floor, a basic 4/4 rhythm. But he is throwing in all the showman percussive pyrotechnics in the book. I hope he's got Rexona on under that yellow jacket.

Award for Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir

Phil runs Auckland Wine Tours.

(From edited press release):

The 2009 Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir has been voted WineNZ’s Outstanding & Best Value Under $30 in its recent Pinot Noir tasting. It retails for about $20 locally/

Wine NZ, New Zealand’s only dedicated wine magazine, engaged three internationallly experienced judges, Colin Ford, Rebecca Gibb and Corey Hall, to taste close on 90 Pinot Noirs across three categories – Outstanding & Best Value Under $30; Outstanding Wines Equal Over $30; Best Value Wine over $30.

Judges said:

“Sacred Hill has a deserved reputation for the quality and value for money of their wines. Here we see a good example of why. Along with lush fruit-pastille aromas on the nose we found a dense, fruity palate that is ripe but not overly sweet and that shows plenty of concentration and depth of flavor. There is a touch of peppery spice in with the pretty, lifted blueberries and violets and oak provides support to both the flavor and structure.”

Sacred Hill’s Senior Winemaker Tony Bish is delighted with WineNZ’s accolade:
“This is a fine vintage that was always destined for great things –a stunning Pinot that has vibrant soft appeal with lingering red fruit flavours,” says Tony.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Snowball the Cockatoo - He Got Rhythm

This is truly amazing - Snowball, a sulphur crested cockatoo does his own dance moves to Queen's Another One Bites the Dust. This is a Youtube clip - there are others where he shows questionable taste (Stevie Nicks, Back Street Boys, Ringo Starr).

Such is his fame, that he has been studied by neuroscientists who are fascinated by the brain / motor connection in human appreciation of rhythm. Rhythm is closely linked to the ability to sing and mimic - which humans share with birds but not with any of the primates. So are we more bird brained than we thought?

Rock on, Snowball!!

lots of stuff ..

Assuming that I have a small but loyal readership, I do try to post regular blogs and keep it interesting. And I think at the very least, if nobody reads it, I'm keeping a sort of online diary that I can look back on in the future and remember stuff - like the wine I consumed - which is ironically also responsible for the amnesia in the first place.

Anyway - just lately I've had loads of other stuff going on. E.g. paying bills, writing two wine columns, doing some gardening, running the odd wine tour, walking the dog, allegedly writing my new best-seller wine book (all very hush-hush, need to know etc.)

Which probably sounds quite impressive, other than the fact that I am a very lazy bastard and really lack the motivation to do any of the above. However, I did manage to have my Dad over for lunch and did the good ol' Countdown pre-cooked chicken plus roast spuds and steamed veg. Then I had a rare rush of energy and scooped up all the wet decaying leaves from the driveway and also cut back the plants that were scraping my van when I drove out of the house.

I am now knackered and just want an early night. Though ... the dog is doing his bright-eyed, hopeful, semi-happy, please-o-please-o-please tail wag 'Let's go for a walkie' thing.

Probably will end up doing a 20 min round the block with Jasper, with a bag full of dog poo as normal.

Then perchance to dream. Big day tomorrow - two clients for a full day Up North. Matakana here I come.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

NZ Winegrowers' Chief calls 2010 a good year.

By Phil Parker - wine writer.Phil runs wine tours in Auckland see:

Philip Gregan, NZ Winegrowers Chief predicts that the grapes from this year's harvest will prove to be some of the best - but with a drop in production of 19,000 tonnes to a total of 266,000. A warm and dry extended summer produced optimum ripeness in most regions.

The 2010 vintage has changed the balance, with Marlborough (previously about 56%) now producing around 70% of NZ's wine. Gisborne and Hawkes Bay - previously about 30% between them, have dropped to 22% of ther national vineyard. (Sadly, Pernod Ricard NZ has pulled out a lot of Chardonnay from Gisborne, a renowned area for that variety).

Top drop from the national vintage is still Sauvignon Blanc, with 66%. Followed by Chardonnay (10%), Pinot Noir (9%), Pinot Gris (5%), and Merlot (3%). All other varieties totalled only (7%), which means trendy Viognier, Arneis, and Syrah - and even old fashioned Cabernet are barely on the radar.

Lookie Likie - Sasquatch

On the left - Harry the Sasquatch from 'Harry and the Hendersons'

On the right - Helen Mirren's husband Taylor Hackman.

Are they, by any chance, related?

Jasper ... again

I got Jaz as a genial bruiser of a dog from the Manukau Dog Pound back about ten years ago, when I was doing a
physio locum in Papakura. He was on death row and the Lab Rescue people had alerted me to his status. So, after getting his shots and recovering from kennel cough, I handed over $50 and got a big, goofy, happy, gorgeous one year-old Black Lab. He may have been pedigree or he may have had a bit of Rottweiler – I dunno. He didn’t come with a biography. Or a name. So we called him Jasper and he seemed to like it. Especially when we said, “Come here Jasper. Food!” He is the most food-driven-obsessed dog I have ever known.

He is also the most stubborn, pig-headed, disobedient bastard dog have ever known.

Sure, I took him to obedience classes. He would rocket out of the car, dragging me in his wake as soon as I let the car door open, as 40kg of solid wild-eyed mad Lab hurtled towards the darkened playing field where the FUN was.

All the other dogs sat neatly in line, ears cocked, trembling in coil-sprung readiness for the slightest hint of a verbal cue, with eyes laser-focused on their owner. Meanwhile Jasper was looking over his shoulder with a zero attention span: Hey! There’s a dog barking over there! Hey! Lookit! That dog’s owner has special foodie treats! I can smell FOOD! I’m hungry! Why don’t you bring treats???!!!

We managed some semblance of SIT! And WAIT! – after about 6 weeks. But he did it with a good-humoured yet grudging, ‘yeah – whatever’ attitude. After ten years, I realise that Jasper never got the idea of me being the Alpha Male. To him, I'm basically a talented equal.

Jasper: Yes - Phil has a magical fridge thing that endlessly produces food when you open the door, but He is quite uncooperative when I walk him. Phil insists on going the OTHER WAY on walks. He pulls on the leash and can be very annoying. He insists on removing my poo - even after I've gone to a lot of trouble to find a perfect location. But he does good tickles, back massage and ear rubs.

Phil: We've got used to each other. having a dog is not unlike having a permanent 3-year old child: broken sleep, messes to clean up, regular feeding timetable, and discipline issues.
But at least he won't get anyone pregant or want to borrow the car when he's older.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Matawhero – Goodies from Gissie

By Phil Parker - wine writer.

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland see:

Gisborne, known as the Chardonnay Capital of NZ, and the first city in the world to see the dawn light, produces over 26,000 tonnes of grapes and is our third largest wine region. Right on the Pacific east Coast, it is a Mecca for surfers, scuba divers and fishermen as well as a few intrepid wine fans.

Denis Irwin set up his Matawhero Wine label in the mid-1970s using a small part of the grapes his father Bill grew and sold to other Gisborne wineries. Success followed quickly with both Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay wines attracting national and international attention. The 1977 Matawhero Gewürztraminer achieved fourth in a wine show in Paris.
Denis sold most of the business in 2004 but still operates his renowned wine bar and restaurant ‘The Colosseum’ at 185 Riverpoint Road, Matawhero, where he keeps a back catalogue of some of his best vintages for the wine list.

2009 Gisborne Arneis $26
The Arneis grape’s (pron. Are-nace) historical home is Piedmont in Northern Italy, and is a difficult variety to grow. The grapes only achieve fruit ripeness at very high sugar levels, which means they need to be well managed, thinned and crop-reduced. This is a high alcohol wine at 14.5%. Aromas of herbs, citrus and white grape juice, with crisp mineral flavours and a hint of oregano.

2009 Gisborne Chardonnay $26 The grapes for this wine were sourced from Paul and Jenny Tietjens’ vineyard on back Ormond road in the ‘Golden Slope’ region in Gisborne. The vineyard was selected for its rich history in producing premium Chardonnay. This is a suitably outstanding Chardonnay to represent the region. Rich, complex and ripe, with peach and melon flavours, some balanced acidity and lovely toasty oak, which lingers on the palate.

2009 Gisborne Merlot $26 The grapes for this wine were sourced from the Patutahi region just across the river from Matawhero. Probably a tad young, it has fairly assertive tannins – but these will settle down given three years or so. There are complex flavours of sweet black berry fruits and black currant, with a bit of Black Doris plum and some oak in the mix, and a dry finish.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eine Kleine Fuhrer Joke

"Und now! Please break up into small groups for fifteen minutes und discuss our proposed mission statement!"

BOYS' NIGHT OUT: Tietjen Witters Gisborne Viogier 2008 $NZ 22

Okay - about every 6 weeks, I have a boys' night out, with two of my dear friends - the Law Professor and the Doctor. I feel a bit like a groupie at MENSA - but I have known these two for about 40 years, and we do enjoy a night out with a few wines. We share a twisted Weltschmerz sense of humour and a palate for food and good wine.

We found a very good Japanese restaurant in Mt. Eden - a BYO Wine, where the food and service was way above average. We brought along two wines, and had a bottle of Sapporo each.

One of the wines was ... Tietjen Witters Gisborne Viogier 2008 A rich palate of peaches, melon, Jasmine flowers and honey. Lovely wine at its peak of freshness.

The winery: T.W. Wines (Tietjen-Witters) Web:
(Open by appointment. Phone ahead. Highly recommended.)
Tastings here are very informal, but well worth booking in advance, and take place outdoors on a large concrete table, in a shaded glade surrounded by tall swaying macrocarpas. Surely NZ’s most unique tasting room.

TW were formerly growers for other labels including Nobilo and Montana, Geordie Witters and Paul Tietjen, launched their TW label in 1998.

Using a small amount of high quality grapes from both their Ormond Road vineyards, they produced a premium Chardonnay. Today, the range also includes Malbec/Merlot, Viognier, a Chardonnay/Viognier blend, and a Rosé called Lilly.

Winemaker is Anita Ewart-Croy of KEW wines.

Notable wines - Growers Selection Viognier, Chardonnay and Chardonnay/Viognier blend. Prices very reasonable at around $20 a bottle. My pick – Viognier, weighty and rich.

meeting joke

"Okay. I'd like to start with some house keeping.
Sales and Marketing must empty the dishwasher and tidy their rooms."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Bottle Shock - movie review

Phil operates wine tours around Auckland NZ.

This is the wine movie – all about the famous ‘blind’ tasting competition in Paris in 1976, where both Californian Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon beat the best of the French appellations.

Oops – gave away the plot. Anyway, it’s a widely known story – so no surprises as to the final outcome, but it is an enjoyable ride – with some solid performances by a good cast.

Alan Rickman plays Steven Spurrier, the British wine snob owner of a Parisian fine wine shop, who ventures to California to see if their wines are worth drinking. Rickman’s upper class, woodwindy nasal monotone delivery is admirably suited to the cynical know-all character.

Spurrier arrives in Napa Valley in 1976. Cue appropriate mid 70s soundtrack - Doobie Brothers, Harry Nilsson et al.

On his travels in a particularly unreliable hire car, he eventually meets Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman) whose winery - Chateau Montelena produces Chardonnay. Jim’s ne’er do well hippy son Bo (Star Trek’s Chris Pine who is either having a bad hair year or is wearing a bad longhair wig), has a strained relationship with his dad as they struggle though the winery’s deep financial doodoo and the fallout from his parents’ divorce.

The B plots here relate to the foreman Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), a Mexican farm worker’s son secretly making his own wine. Plus, there's a love triangle between blonde and willowy Sam (Rachel Taylor), a UC Davis viticulture graduate student, and Gustavo and Bo.

As Spurrier organizes the "Judgment of Paris," with his selection of Napa reds and whites, Jim melts down from his own bottle shock, while Bo realises that all is not lost.
All up, kind of formulaic, but it’s a true story and insight into the day that French wine fell off its gilded perch for once and for ever.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rotorua - the good bits

Phil operates wine tours around Auckland New Zealand.

The city centre is patchy – lots of food outlets and souvenir shops, mixed in with chain stores. There is a general atmosphere of economic slowdown – with some abandoned shops, unrepaired signage etc.
Of course there are many unique features of the Rotorua region that warrant a visit.

Anyway, we can recommend two very good cafes where the food was fresh and the espresso strong: Capers 1181 Ererua St, and another called Lime - Corner Fenton and Whakaue Sts.

Having been to Rotorua many times before, we skipped some of the obvious tourist spots like Whakarewarewa thermal village area and the Polynesian Pools.

We were impressed by the Buried Village exhibit and park. Te Wairoa was literally buried in the 1886 eruption of Mt. Tarawera. Volcanic ash preserved many of the buildings and other features of the village and visitors today can get a rare insight into 19th-century NZ life. Over 150 people died in the 4 hour bombardment of ash and mud and rocks. It is a moving experience that is put into context by displays in the Museum of Te Wairoa. The site of the village – an ironically peaceful and beautiful 12-acre park is filled with tall trees, meadows and native birds. The waterfall walk is spectacular and not to be missed.

The Rotorua Museum of Art & History is another don’t miss. Formerly a Victorian era bathhouse and health spa, it features an exhibit – Taking the Cure from its heyday as a Southern Seas spa, where visitors from all over the globe came to soak in hot water and be subjected to various quasi medical therapies.
The building itself has been restored and features a Victorian take on Elizabethan architecture, with many ornate marble sculptures and elegant wooden interiors.

At the time also there was a large exhibit of the Maori Battalion, featuring B Company of 28 Maori Battalion and its epic battles in Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy during World War II. B Company were volunteers drawn from Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, Taupo and Thames-Coromandel.

Also there is a permanent exhibit – the Te Arawa Gallery, which traces the ancestry and migration of the Maori Te Arawa tribe from 20 generations ago when they left their northern Polynesia home of Hawaiki.
So - don't give up on RotoVegas - maybe just don't stay overnight.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Restless in RotoVegas

Sorry if the blog has been a tad quiet lately. Had a few tours and took a 2-day break in Rotorua – one of our NZ tourist draws.

I will be treating all my regular readers to a glass of wine. I think half a bottle should cover it. Meet me in the phone box on Sandringham Road. Bring a friend.

Anyway – Rotorua. AKA Sulphur City. AKA RotoVegas. It’s main claim to fame is the geothermal activity in the region: geysers, bubbling mud pools, hot springs, Maori culture display, and a lingering farty-eggy smell of hydrogen sulphide.

My partner had scored a 2 nights for the price of 1 deal at Heritage Hotels Rotorua. So we drove down on Tuesday night, all perky and looking forward to a getaway - in her bright yellow SLK Merc sports, arriving at about 9.00 pm. We checked in, struggled to carry our bags by ourselves and eagerly opened the door to our promised ‘superior quality’ room.

First off - freezing bloody cold. Nobody bothered to warm up the room. Also no electric blankets. And two double beds. (Two?)
Green sulphur stains in the toilet bowl, and rust on the shower rail. Plus a tired 20-year old décor and a Samsung flat screen that picked up only free-to-air TV.

Whatever – we were tired after a four-hour drive, so we cranked up the heat, watched some TV and crashed into bed. Next morning we went downstairs for the breakfast buffet. OK - usual brekkie suspects: eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, some rice and nori for the Asian market. I like muesli and fruit normally, and they had some on hand – but sadly the soaked Bircher Muesli was so old that it had fermented and fizzed on the tongue. The fruit salad was tired and had been obviously served before. It was begging to be given a decent burial – dull, dry and limp. Table service for our coffee was perfunctory – one cup liberally spilled onto the tablecloth.

Sooooooo – not generally given to complaining, we did however register a certain degree of surprise to the duty manager, of the condition of our ‘superior room’. We met with a blank faced denial that anything was amiss – and told there was nothing more that could be done, and that if we had any complaints, that we should fill in the customer feedback card prior to departure. (Thank God we didn’t get the ‘inferior’ room.) I didn’t even mention the dismal breakfast fare.

That evening – a senior manager who had been informed of our discomfort contacted us. And after a short discussion she agreed that we could have a new room. Surprise. New décor, large double bed, good quality linens, multi channel TV, sparkling new bathroom.

As a New Zealander, I have a degree of tolerance for less than perfect service and facilities, but this was really a way below par experience. I am embarrassed if this is the standard for overseas visitors with cash to spare.
I’ll write some more about the whole Rotorua thing – but essentially the whole town trades heavily on its unique geothermal and Maori culture angle, with customer service and attention to detail an afterthought. Sadly a half-arsed, near enough is good enough attitude pervades the township in general. Not remotely good enough, or worthy of international tourists.