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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, August 27, 2011

Pinot Gris - 2010 Vintage Selection

Pinot Gris seems to have come out of nowhere, to be the fashionable white wine both here in NZ, and also overseas.  The grape is a mutation of the Pinot Noir family and like other Pinots, is described by its colour.  In French, Gris (grey) - or in Italian, Grigio. 

Only problem is – you never know quite what you’re getting.  Pinot Gris can be anything from dry, flinty and delicate – to sweet, full bodied, and complex.  Basically, it pays to read the back label if you want an idea of how it’s going to taste.  

In Europe – Germany, Alsace, and Italy the best Pinot Gris are oily, sweetish, full-bodied luscious wines.  And some of our best NZ examples are coming from Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago.

As an alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, it is gaining popularity as a white wine which suits most of the foods which the other two do, but it also has the delicacy to double as a ‘settle the guests before dinner’ aperitif, or get-home-from-work-need-a-drink-ASAP type wine.

Typical flavours to expect: poached pear, stewed apples, honeysuckle, stone fruit, lime & lager.  Oak ageing will add smoky and spicy nuances.  Call me a philistine, but I think a good Pinot Gris tastes not unlike a gin & tonic.  Or as a friend’s wife once said, (after a few), ‘a ginnic and ton.’

For food matches, I would highly recommend seafood, even in preference to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Ripe sweet fruit and background acidity are a perfect match for crayfish, scallops, crab, and most NZ white fish.

To the wnes... I award them variously - three bananas, four thumbs up and smiley face each.

Soljans  Kumeu 2010 Pinot Gris
Medium style - fruity slightly sweet, clean flavoured with crisp apple and nashi pear flavours. From their local Auckland Kumeu estate fruit.
Staete Landt 2010 Pinot Gris.  Marlborough higher end producer, makes this in a rounded oak barrel fermented style, which adds complexity and a lush softness to the poached pear flavours.
Kim Crawford 'First Pick' Pinot Gris 2010
Young, crisp and clean flavoured. More of a dry crisp style - verging on Sauv Blanc flavours. Acidic apple/pear and mouth watering finish.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to judge and score wine

How does one judge and then score a wine? 
This has been preying on my mind lately - and was brought into sharp focus when I was asked to participate in evaluating some full bodied reds.  Sixty Seven of them. Not a printing error. 67 glasses of Merlot, Merlot blends, Cabernet, Cabernet blends and Syrah/Shiraz in three hours.  This may sound like fun.  It is not.

As a wine enthusiast and someone who writes about wine, I  like to take an individual bottle of wine, sip away quietly at home of an evening, share some with my charming assistant, and take time to write some notes on aromas and flavours.  Beyond that I don’t grade or score a wine – either I like it or I don’t.  Mostly I won’t write about I wine I don’t like – I’d rather that people look at my wine reviews in the knowledge that I’m saying: ‘this is a wine I like and recommend – see what you think.’

Scoring systems generally fall into four categories: marks out of 5;  marks out of 20; marks out of 100; and Gold, Silver, Bronze.

The five point system is fairly easily understood five point (or five star) grading as practiced by one of our top critics Michael Cooper and many magazines and newspaper wine columns.  It’s a nice concise assessment – you know you won’t be forking out $30 for a two star wine if there’s a four star wine next to it on the shelf at $25.

A few years back I completed an Intermediate Certificate in Wines and Spirits, with the London-based Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET).  Their grading system was a composite score out of 20: Appearance (clarity, colour etc.) 5 points, Aromas 5 points, and Palate 10 points.  Scores tended to hover around the 15 to 16 region when we judged wines in class.  The odd real gem would kick in with 18 or 19.  I have always thought that giving points for appearance is a bit silly – it’s a red wine, ergo sum it looks red, 5 points. Duh.  Sure there are clues in a wine’s colour that will give clues to its age and condition.  Red wines tend toward brick red and brown as they age; white wines tend to gold and amber with age. A light red wine will be clear and see-through, a full bodied red will be opaque.  But any fault in an over oxidised (too old) wine will be just as apparent on the palate as by noting colour.

Famous USA wine critic Robert Parker (no relation. Okay I’m his Antipodean Love Child),  uses a 100 point system explained here, where anything below 60 is considered below average. (Whaa?  My rudimentary high school maths tells me that average of 100 is 50).  Parker has a complex formula  for breaking down the score into components a la WSET, and then gives an over all rating.  My problem with that, is what’s the difference between a 93 and a 94 score?  How about the poor bugger whose wine gets 59 and the lucky one who creaks in at 60?  According to his scale 80 to 89 covers  ‘barely above average to very good.’ And quite irrelevantly: Fess Parker who played Daniel Boone (no relation)  in the eponymous TV series, established his own winery in California after acting jobs took a dive.

Finally there is the much simpler Gold, Bronze, Silver, Not-Good-Enough-U-Lose scale used by wine competitions.  This is more aimed at final judging of very good wines, leaving out those that didn’t make the cut.  Again, it’s pretty subjective but it is easier for the punter to get a grip on.  And is more in line with the concept of ‘here are some good drinkable wines graded from good, to very good, to outstanding.’

The subjective nature of evaluating wine, like music or art is hugely controversial and will continue to be debated for a long time yet.
And what of the 67 reds?  Well… I tip my hat to my two fellow wine evaluators – one a winemaker, and the other a wine company director. These guys are seasoned, efficient and organised.  They wrote copious notes, scored within a point of each other most times and whipped through the lot in 4 hours (that’s 3.5 minutes per wine – including lunch and ‘comfort stops.’  I, on the other hand, scored way too low on the first flight of 17 wines and took twice as long as the others. Then I think I got into the swing of it by the second flight – my scores were more consistent and I got quicker, but I really wasn’t a whole lot of use.  By the last flight my teeth were grey, I had a black tongue, my tasting notes were often limited to one or two indecipherable words, and was praying to be let out.

Phil Parker (no relation to Robert)  runs Wine and Food Tours in Auckland New Zealand
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Monday, August 8, 2011

West Brook Waimauku Pinot Noir 2010 $28

I was lucky enough to be given this a a sample bottle by winemaker Anthony Ivicevich of West Brook (a boutique sized Kumeu winery, 35 minutes from Auckland City).  Just released - this is a brand new red and would obviously benefit from lying down in a darkened room for a wee while (as you do).

"You'll taste a wine that's been grown in salty mineral soil," Anthony advised me.   He wasn't kidding.  The 2008 Waimauku Pinot Noir gained a gold medal - this one is quite different.
Colour - garnet red and almost opaque.
Aromas - where the 2008 was savoury and gamey, this wine has an amazing mineral nose dominated by aromas of sea salt.  Under that, there are layers of ripe black cherry and raspberry, with a hint of floral.
Palate - minerals, black cherry, vegemite, cassis, red berries.  The tannins are still quite grippy - these will soften out and make the wine last longer.

Verdict: one to watch. Put it away for three years at least.

Phil is a published author and wine writer who runs FAB wine tours around Auckland

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Dry River Lovat Vineyard Gewurtztraminer 2008

Okay - short story: It's moi birthday, well tomorrow really.  55 years on planet Earth so far.

The wine - boutique and very hard to find wines from Dry River are famous in NZ.  As a pre-dinner drink I decided to crack this one from the 2008 vintage.
Colour - clear yellow gold.
Aromas - honey, clove, lime, lychee fruit.
Palate - off-dry, teetering on sweet, with luscious unctuous texture and flavours of ginger in syrup, lychee, honey, clove and lime.  Amazing length of palate.
Verdict - More please.

Phil runs Fine Wine& Food Tours Auckland ...Nooo Zeeeland!!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ngatarawa Stables Pinot Gris 2011 $NZ19.00

Ngatarawa, apart from being one of the best Cellar Door visits in Hawkes Bay, is also a damn fine wine producer.
By far one of the most friendly and approachable of the wineries in the area.  Nice people, great wines, great location.  Unpretentious.  Alwyn Corban and Garry Glazebrook established their venture in a former racing Stables back in 1981.  Garry’s background was horse racing; Alwyn’s a long history of winemaking, going back to his west Auckland Lebanese forebears. The Glazebrooks have now sold their share to Alwyn’s cousin, Brian.
Cellar door and winery are located in charming old wooden stables, and there is an ornamental lake on the property.  Wines are in four levels.  Entry level is Stables range (about $19), then Silks (about $25), Glazebrook (around $29), and finally the top shelf Alwyn series (up to $60)

This one – a tad young of course being 2011 vintage, but showing the bright youthful qualities of a fresh white wine.
Colour – clear, pale gold.  Aromas – citrus, hay, pear.  Palate – crisp Nashi pear, lager, lime juice, hint of golden tobacco. 
Verdict – great.  Very young but approachable and refreshing.

Phil runs a not-for-profit business AKA Fine Wine & Food Tours Auckland New Zealand.


By Phil Parker – owner and tour guide – Fine Wine Tours Auckland New Zealand

NZ’s temperate climate favours white grape varieties (near 90% of plantings). The remaining grapes are mainly early ripening cool climate Reds like Pinot Noir and Merlot.


Our most planted grape variety, which is our largest export wine and, allegedly ‘put us on the map’ internationally. (Personally I tend to attribute that to seismic activity, and the hand of the Almighty).  Nevertheless, the majority of our Savvy vines are in Marlborough, but some grown in Nelson, Central Otago, Waipara, Martinborough and Hawkes Bay.  The character which typifies the Marlborough and some Nelson Sauvignon Blancs, is the acidic, intensely grassy, green bell pepper and gooseberry quality of the aroma and flavour.  Hawkes Bay Sauvignons, on the other hand, because of the warmer climate have a less crisp profile and can have some tropical flavours like melon and pineapple.  Some winemakers take the option of allowing the wine to ferment and/or age for a short period in oak barrels.  This has the effect of softening and rounding out the wine, normally without any detectable oak flavour. As they age, after about three years, Sauvignon Blanc takes on vegetable characters – like tinned peas, and asparagus.

New Zealand’s Chardonnays, our third most planted variety, are famous for intensity of fruit and concentrated aromas.  Winemakers have a multitude of options available to them to vary the flavour of the wine, including - varying periods of grape skin contact, different yeasts, types of oak, length of oak maturation, barrel toasting, and Malolactic fermentation (a secondary bacterial ferment that removes acidic flavours and gives smooth buttery characters).  Oak ageing for 12 months or more, imparts complexity, tannins and some oxidation, which softens the more assertive acids.  Flame-seasoned barrel treatment can add toasty characters.   Many regions grow Chardonnay successfully, however Gisborne has earned the title ‘Chardonnay Capital’ of NZ - and rightly so, for its full-bodied lush and fruity wines which typically show tropical and stone fruit characters. 
Hawkes Bay Chardonnays tend to taste more of citrus with some tropical flavours.  Chardonnay from Marlborough tends more to a mineral and citrus flavour profile.  Almost every region has a crack at this variety – with Auckland’s Kumeu River being acknowledged as one of the world’s best.

Riesling is the classic white wine of Germany.  The grapes are low cropping, ripen late in the season, and flourish in colder climates – where intensity of fruit flavour develops.  Our Rieslings are mainly dry or ‘off-dry’- a little sweet.  More than 80% of plantings are in the South Island – Marlborough, Canterbury, Waipara, Nelson and central Otago.  These cool climate areas help to create wines with crisp acidity, which enables some of the best to age for up to 15 years. Typical aromas and flavours can include citrus, floral (honeysuckle, orange blossom); and dried fruit- raisins, muscatel).  As Rieslings age, they can take on honey, apricots, and dare I say it kerosene/petrol characters.

This is the same grape as Italian Pinot Grigio, (a distant cousin of Pinot Noir).  An increasingly trendy wine, it can be a tad hard to nail flavour-wise, but is commonly described as tasting like pear juice, with musky and spicy flavours – somewhere between a Riesling and a Gewürztraminer.  Plantings are widespread in NZ, from Central Otago to North Auckland.  The cooler regions in the south tend to produce crisper, light-bodied wines - whereas the riper grapes from the north can lead to some high alcohol, lush and full-bodied wines.

Okay – most people don’t buy it because they can’t pronounce it.  Get over it. ‘Gah-Vertz-Tra-Meaner.’
This is a variety best known in Alsace, the French wine region on the Rhine bordering Germany.  In NZ it has been under-appreciated wine, which can have gorgeous spicy ginger, cinnamon and Turkish Delight/rosewater and lychee flavours.  Gisborne, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay are the main regions, with the majority coming from Gisborne. Cooler regions produce more mineral flavoured wines. A fantastic match with spicy (not chilli-hot) foods e.g. Thai, Japanese.

French Rhöne grape variety with delicate light apricot flavours. Pronounced – ‘Vee-yon-yay.’ Constitutes about .05% of NZ’s grape harvest.  It ripens early; often with high sugar levels and can result in quite high in alcohol wines. The über-groovy white wine, now that Pinot Gris has had its 15 minutes of fame.  Classic flavours are apricot and peach.

Pronounced ‘Are-Nace’.  North Italian grape. A tad hard to nail flavour-wise but can be very high in alcohol, with restrained spice and stone fruit flavours. Only two wineries here producing it – Clevedon Hills and Coopers Creek.



Is our second most widely planted grape variety.  The famous velvety wine of Burgundy is being produced in Marlborough, Canterbury, Waipara, Central Otago and the Wairarapa – with the latter two being our premium Pinot regions.  Pinot Noir thrives in cool climates, giving the wine a complexity of scents and flavours.  Not that it’s an easy grape to grow.  Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult. Tight bunches of small, thin-skinned grapes are prone to rot late in the season.  Even when the grapes are crushed, it takes a skilled winemaker to turn it into a successful wine.
Domestically, a large proportion of ours goes into Champagne style sparkling wines like Lindauer, usually combined with Chardonnay. Clear Pinot juice is fermented without any contact with the skins – hence a white wine results. 
Young Pinot medium bodied Pinot Noir tastes of strawberries and raspberries. In the prime Pinot regions of Central Otago and the Wairarapa, the wines can be rich, silky and full-bodied with black cherry and black fruit flavours. Some wine critics describe a classic Pinot Noir aroma as ‘Barnyardy’ – slightly poohey! 

Second most popular red grape is Merlot – Bordeaux.  Until recently its role was in blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, but now 100% Merlot is gaining popularity.  Merlot can be deceptively soft, smoky, fruity and silky and low in tannins – like a more powerful version of Pinot Noir. Aromas and Flavours are similar to Cab-Sav but more rounded and reminiscent of tobacco, chocolate and leather. Around ¾ of NZ’s Merlot is grown in Hawkes Bay, with the remainder from Gisborne and Marlborough.  The North Island Merlots are generally riper and softer and higher in alcohol than the South Island variety.

The red wine of Bordeaux, a red grape, more suited to hotter climates and “A tough nut to crack in New Zealand,” says Michael Cooper, wine expert. S till, a good vintage from Hawkes Bay or Waiheke Island can stack up against some of the world’s best reds.
And often blended with the other Bordeaux varieties Merlot, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc.  Newly fermented or under-ripe Cabernet can have a stemmy, herbal minty character. High tannins mean that this wine will cellar well, giving it time to mellow. Typical flavours from oak give cigar box characters. Fruit characters are typically blackcurrant, cherry, berry fruits, plums, and leather. 

Exactly the same grape as Shiraz.  Unlike the big tannic knock-down-drag-out Aussie’s, our Syrahs are soft, ripe, and medium to full-bodied, with earthy flavours of liquorice, spice, black pepper and cherries. Increasing popularity, makes Syrah our fourth most planted red with acreage increasing fourfold in the last 8 years.  Hawkes Bay has become Syrah Central, with Trinity Hill’s Syrah winning the 2006 Tri-Nations Wine Challenge, beating Australia and South Africa.


Fruity, earthy/spicy blackcurrant flavours, with high tannins.

A hybrid of Pinot Noir and ‘Hermitage’ (Cinsault), developed in South Africa.  Typically has smoky aromas and red, plummy fruit flavours

SANGIOVESE- Italian red Chianti grape. Grown in very small amounts in NZ. Earthy warm, spicy and savoury.


The vast majority of our sparkling Méthode Traditionelle is made from Marlborough Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  It used to be also called Méthode Champenoise before the French got all protective about the name.  The traditional method uses a secondary fermentation in the bottle, by adding more yeast and sugar after the first ferment is finished, to produce characteristic C02 bubbles.
NZ sparkling wine has been a huge success for us in UK, where over 250,000 cases found their way in 2007, with Pernod Ricard’s Lindauer leading the pack.  Small wineries find traditional sparklers very labour intensive and too expensive to produce; yet there are some boutique style examples like Quartz Reef, Nautilus, No.1 Family Estate, Morton and Amisfield.  Simple cheap, and often sweet sparklers are made by injecting C02 into still wine before bottling.



Dessert wines AKA Stickies are unfortunately rejected by a lot of wine drinkers, just because they are sweet. That’s a pity, as suitably aged dessert wines can be the perfect partner to a citrus pudding, liver pâté, or strong cheeses like Cheddars and Blues.
The most famous dessert wines come from Sauternes in France.
In NZ most Stickies usually are made from Riesling, Semillon or Sauvignon Blanc. They fall into three categories: Botrytised or Noble wines – where a beneficial mould called Botrytis (Noble Rot) has affected the grapes, and natural sugars are intensified by the action of tiny mould organism filaments which suck out water content.
Late Harvest wines – here the grapes are left for an extended period on the vine where they ripen even further and start to shrivel like sultanas.
Ice wines – most notably from Germany, Oregon and Canada, the grapes are harvested in the early hours of the morning while they are still frozen.  Crushing them straight away leaves the ice content behind and produces a sugar rich juice.  In NZ we give Mother Nature a hand - and tank freeze the fresh juice, filtering off the sweet content and leaving the ice crystals behind.
Because of the preservative quality of high sugar levels in the wine, and despite low alcohol, these wines (other than our Ice wines) reward cellaring for ten years or longer.

Grove Mill 'High Ground' Marlborough Riesling 2009 Villa Maria 'Private Bin' Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009

Herewith, a completely random selection from this week's samplings:

Grove Mill 'High Ground' Marlborough Riesling 2009
We picked this one up at Grove Mill  winery a month or so back - on a trip to Marlborough.
Around $NZ22 bottle - this is one Riesling that stood out in our whistle stop tour  of NZ's largest wine region (over 60% of our grapes produced there). Colour - clear and bright, pale green/gold.  Aromas - Lime cordial, minerals, citrus, a hint of petrol.  Palate - honey, lime juice, crisp apple.  Juuuuust off-dry, with medium weight palate and a lengthy citric finish.

  Villa Maria 'Private Bin' Central Otago Pinot Noir 2009 Again - about $NZ22.
Confusingly, Villa Maria's entry level range has been named the Private Bin - which would normally connote some elevated status in the portfolio.  But no,  Private Bin is the least expensive in the range - with 'Villa Maria' standard label  (around $NZ30) being the next step, and then the top tier Reserve range of exquisite wines but at a price to match e.g. about $NZ70 bottle.
Yennyhoo - entry level is not a bad thing in the case of VM's consistent winemaking.  This is obviously not going  to be a blockbuster grunty Central Otago P Noir at the twenty dollar mark, but just the same, it's a very approachable and good value red.
Colour - light garnet red, clear and bright.  Aromas - earthy and spicy.  Red berry fruits.
Palate - raspberry, black cherry, spice, toasted oak, mushrooms and truffles.  Medium to light palate weight, clean finish.

Phil runs the best wine tours in the Universe at Fine Wine & Food Tours