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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."


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!