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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, December 9, 2017

Happy Holiday wine recommendations

Short and sweet – Happy Holidays everyone. Here’s a bunch of recommendations, from bargains to splurges to help you celebrate the end of the year, and spend time with your favourite people.

Best Wishes and Cheers!

Lamarca Prosecco NV $NZ 23.00
Italian sparkler to appeal to everyone. Frothy bubbles. Just off-dry, crisp and fruity with pear, apple and hint of spice.

Soljans Estate Marlborough Legacy Methode 2012 $NZ 29.99
Champagne style from a small family-owned winery in Kumeu. Creamy crisp texture, fine beads of bubbles, toasty and mouth filling. Great Value.

Tupari Marlborough Rose 2017 $NZ 20
Pale rose pink, with aromas of strawberry. Bone dry, with cranberry and red berry fruit flavours.

Soho Marlborough Rose 2017 $NZ 20
A softer off-dry style than the Tupari with strawberry, lychee and marshmallow. A clean fruity finish.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Gris 2016 $NZ 28
Poached pear aromas. A rich and unctuous palate of mandarin citrus, pineapple and ripe pear with a hint of sweetness. Yum.

Pegasus Bay Bel Canto North Canterbury Dry Riesling 2015 $NZ 35
Aromas of beeswax and florals. Rich and complex layers of flavour – ripe grapefruit, marmalade and clover honey. Just off-dry.

Kidnapper Cliffs Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2014 $NZ 55
Funky, yeasty aromas  plus a hint of grapefruit and flinty minerality.
Flavours of cashew nut, grapefruit, nectarine and mandarin with a dry crisp lengthy finish.

Matawhero Irwin Gisborne Chardonnay 2016 $NZ 56
Elegant and classic chardonnay. Subtle aromas of citrus and a hint of funky minerality. Flavours of toast, tropical fruit, grapefruit, brioche, a hint of toffee apple and a medium crisp finish.

Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2014 $NZ 47
Nose of spice, damp earth, slightly barnyardy with a bit of savoury truffle. On the palate, it is rich and soft, with spicy oak, black currant, tamarillo and a bit of good old Vegemite yeastiness. Dry finish.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Merlot 2014 $NZ38
Black berry fruit and earthy aromas. In the mouth, it’s spiced plum, cassis and vanilla oak with a dry finish.

Auckland's newest wine label - Hunting Lodge


A few years back, there were rumours in Auckland that Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates were planning to pull Matua winery out of Waimauku to centralise operations to Marlborough. And sure enough, in 2015 they announced that the entire site would be shut down and put on the market. Up for sale on the 31 hectare property was a large winery and bottling plant, admin and cellar door. Also for sale was the heritage listed Hunting Lodge built in 1868 as the property's original farm homestead - and formerly one of Auckland’s renowned fine dining restaurants.  The Matua label was established in 1968 by brothers Bill and Ross Spence from very humble beginnings in an old tin shed in Swanson. They pioneered Sauvignon Blanc in Waimauku, with mixed results. And the first Montana plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough were propagated by Ross Spence. Matua went on to become a major player, with the brothers eventually selling in 2001, and it has been owned by Treasury Wine Estates since 2011.
With around 50 jobs gone, and in the wake of an identical move by Constellation Brands USA shutting down the Nobilo site in Huapai, things were looking pretty grim for both local employment and west Auckland wine tourism.

But, to the rescue came the Sutton Group, a NZ dairy and infant formula company founded by Brent and Denise Sutton who are locals and have been friends of the Spence brothers for many years. Sutton Group is family-operated and has an estimated net worth of $55 million.
Since 2016 there has been a major revamp of the site and branding as Hunting Lodge Winery.
Says Michelle Hayes, cellar door manager who previously worked for Matua, “The biggest change obviously is that it’s come back to being a family business, which is what Matua originally was. And also not being run by big corporate that wasn’t really looking after the property. So the ethos behind the whole Hunting Lodge Winery is quite unique and there are so many different things going on here. It’s quite exciting.”
Some very smart branding and logos emphasise the sustainability angle of the new winery, with plans to eventually have a ‘farm to table’ dining experience using fresh produce from their own Waimauku market gardens. In addition to the totally renovated cellar door and admin block, there is a new tasting room café, and a brand new wedding and functions facility. The sizable winemaking and bottling plant has expanded its bottling line capacity, and the historic Hunting Lodge with be reopening in November with a return to its rustic fine dining roots, headed by former Clooney chef Des Harris.
On the winemaking front, former Matua winemaker Pete Turner has come back to oversee production of their own boutique Hunting Lodge label wines, as well as a large amount of continued contract bottling for Matua, plus bottling and contract winemaking for other labels. Around 50 staff have been re-employed and now back on site in and around the winery.

The Hunting Lodge wines are now made from contract grown fruit, but there are new Chardonnay plantings and plans to make a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc from Waimauku fruit. Meantime the tasting room features a diverse range of very elegant wines at $20 to $38. Current line-up is a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough Rosé, Gisborne Viognier, Marlborough Pinot Gris, Marlborough Albariño, Gisborne Marsanne/Viognier, two Marlborough Pinot Noirs and a Hawke’s Bay Syrah.
With a return to a functioning winery and vibrant visitor experience, Hunting Lodge has fortunately reversed the all-too common phenomenon of large corporate buyouts of family owned wineries. For now, the future of the label and local winemaking in Auckland is looking very positive.

Phil owns and runs Fine Wine Tours Ltd. in Auckland

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Visit To The USA West Coast

As a wine tour operator and occasional wine writer, over the last 16 years I have visited wineries in NZ, Australia, France, Italy, and just recently the USA. Last month I toured the wine regions of Sonoma California and Portland Oregon, visiting 15 wineries in total.

The huge size of the northern Californian wine business is quite overwhelming with about 800 wineries, and Portland Oregon boasting over 400.
I was advised to avoid the Napa region, in favour of Sonoma in order to avoid the very large commercialised wineries and summer crowds. And I picked Oregon because of its cooler climate wines, especially my favourite red variety, pinot noir. Wines from the USA are regarded as ‘new world’ wines by the vino cognoscenti. That is, their wine industry is relatively young compared to Europe. And similarly to NZ, a culture of regular wine consumption goes back about only about 40 years.
Napa and Sonoma in California are the major USA quality wine regions – famed for chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. Portland Oregon is located further north and more of a cool climate boutique region best known for pinot noir and aromatic varieties.
In Sonoma, we based ourselves in the very hip town of Healdsburg where the summer temperatures soared to 40C on some days. The town square reminds me of Martinborough, and is bustling with restaurants, tasting rooms and high end shopping. The local rural landscape was very dry and brown obviously suited to growing full bodied reds. Portland on the other hand is a large and prosperous city famed for its bohemian lifestyle and foodie culture. With a higher rainfall, Portland is very green and felt much more like home.

Over all, the wines were very impressive – with big, bold chardonnays and reds from Sonoma. Portland’s Willamette Valley boasted some velvety ripe pinot noirs and white varieties such as viognier and pinot gris.
Here’s a few that you can buy locally. Try Herne Bay Cellars or Glengarry.
Geyser Peak Pinot Grigio 2013  $NZ14.99
Bogle Chardonnay 2015 $NZ23.00
Bogle Petite Sirah 2014  $NZ23 .00
Erath Oregon Pinot Noir 2014 $NZ46.99
Mondavi Private Selection Californian Cabernet Sauvignon 2014  $NZ21.00
Geyser Peak Walking Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2013  $NZ18.99
XYZin Californian Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 $NZ11.99
Ravenswood Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 $NZ24.99

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Allan Scott Generations Gewurtztraminer 2016

Just last week I was invited the launch of a new release from the Allan Scott Family Winemakers label – the 2016 Marlborough Gewürztraminer. The Alan Scott winery is owned by founder Allan Scott and his family. Allan was a pioneering  wine grower, planting the first vines in the Marlborough region back in 1973 when he worked as viticulturist for Montana. He subsequently worked for Corbans before starting his own operation.
Wife, Catherine runs the cellar door and also oversee their Twelve Trees Restaurant at the winery. Son Josh (who founded the Moa beer) is wine maker.  Daughters Sara and Victoria are involved in viticulture and marketing, respectively.

On a rainy day, the launch was held in deepest Grey Lynn. Appropriately, the food match was fresh dumplings !

Allan Scott Generations Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2016 $NZ26
Pale green gold in the glass, it has the typical Gewürtz aromas of lychee fruit and Turkish delight.
Swished around in the mouth, it opens up with a just off-dry palate of tinned lychee, perfumey Turkish delight, with added tangy yeast and hint of green herbs. Some time in oak has added extra complexity.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cristom Wines from Oregon

Cristom Vineyards is a relatively new label, hailing from the Willamette Valley in Oregon USA. Willamette Valley is a USA AVA.
Pardon my TLA (Three Letter Acronym).  AVA = American Viticultural Area. That is, a designated wine growing region within the United States of America and distinguishable by geographic features and boundaries. (Not unlike the French appellation controllé system). Oregon, in general, is famous for its Pinot Noirs and cooler climate grape varieties
Cristom Vineyards is the result of collaboration since 1992, between an engineer, a winemaker and a farmer. Founder Paul Gerrie hired winemaker Steve Doerner and Vineyard Manager Mark Feltz in 1992. Together at the winery since day one, they have consistently produced excellent wines.
Cristom Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Oregon USA Viognier 2014 $NZD 40
Sealed with a very smart glass stopper. Fermented in a combination of stainless steel and oak, it is pale gold in the glass and smells of poached pear with a whiff of blond tobacco and vanilla. In the mouth it starts with subtlety then broadens out with peach, clover honey, quince and nectarine and then closes with an elegant and lengthy dry palate.

Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Willamette Valley Oregon USA Pinot Noir 2013 $NZD 40
Very much in the Burgundian Pinot Noir style. Translucent and a bit shy in the aromas, but has a whiff of plum, and savoury truffle. Lean and elegant, with mildly astringent tannins and mainly earthy flavours, plus plum, black currant, truffle and dark chocolate.

Cristom Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Oregon USA Pinot Noir 2013 $NZD 65
Definitely a step up from the Mt. Jefferson. Again a translucent garnet red colour. This time a bit more aromatic concentration with spice, white pepper, pot pourri, red fruit compote. In the mouth it opens up silky, fruity and generous with spiced plum, liquorice, and a cocktail of ripe berry fruit.
Stunningly good. Classically nuanced Burgundian style Pinot.