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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."


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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Mad Keen Wine Buff's Road Trip - Phil's guide to New Zealand wine regions

OK - time for shameless self-promotion.

I wrote this guide to NZ's wine regions, and it was published by Random House.  For a description of the book click here.

This book is the mad keen wine buff's indispensable guide to this country's host of fantastic wineries.

JUST $19.90 a signed copy.  Just in time for Father's Day.

“A practical handbook which lives up to its title.”
Terry Dunleavey – Editor of NZ WineGrower Magazine. (Former president of NZ Wine Institute)

Hankering for Hawkes Bay?
Keen as for Kumeu?
Wild for Wairarapa and Waiheke?
Mad about Matakana and Martinborough?

Another in Random House's successful ‘Mad Keen...Road Trip' series, wine tour expert Phil Parker has designed a series of 40 weekends among the vines in New Zealand's magnificent wine regions, with The Mad Keen Wine Buff's Road Trip. Wine buffs and even those with not much knowledge at all about wine but who like to drink it, can sniff, sip and slurp to the hearts' content. With well-considered itineraries for visits within regions and sub-regions, maps, recommendations for where to stay, where to eat, what to do when you're not wine-tasting and hilarious illustrations by ace cartoonist Chris Slane.