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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, September 14, 2019

Two By Three

One of the things that I love about working around wine in New Zealand is the huge diversity of labels, wine varieties, regions and personalities that make up our wine industry. This month I have six wines to talk about – three pairs of wines, from three very different producers.

First up, Pleasant Valley Wines from Auckland’s historic Henderson wine region. They claim to be the oldest winery in NZ – founded in 1895 by Stipan Jelich (later anglicised to Steven Yelas). Winemaker Lee Winston is now stepping out with a new concept - blended wines.
Next, Main Divide, the second tier label from North Canterbury’s Pegasus Bay winery.  Owned by the extensive Donaldson family, Pegasus Bay is the local star in Waipara, with both their wines and superb restaurant having won many awards. Founder Ivan Donaldson is a professor of neurology, wine writer and wine judge. Son Mathew is in charge of winemaking.
In 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard a few kilometres from Dyerville in the very dry, gravely and free-draining Martinborough region, an hour north of Wellington. They named the enterprise Dry River, and in short order became a high end producer of premium wines. There have been changes of ownership and winemakers over the years. Current winemaker is the very talented Wilco Lam. Great wines and not very easy to find outside the winery website.

Untitled White Blend   $NZ 25
Untitled Wines is a project by Lee Winston, winemaker at Pleasant Valley Wines. His approach is to make an assemblage from wines of different years, and regions to produce a unique blend. This wine has aromas of citrus and floral with a whiff of minerality. It has a clean, crisp palate of clear apple juice, jasmine and stone fruit, with a dry finish.

Untitled Pink Blend Rosé   $NZ 20
Crisp, fresh and dry, with aromas of red apple skin. In the mouth there’s a hint of candy floss, with cherry, and strawberry jam. (By entering the code on the back label into your search engine, you can discover the wines that go into each of Lee’s wines.)

Main Divide North Canterbury Gewürztraminer  2018  $NZ 21
Definitely has the wow factor. Intense aromas of lychee fruit and pink sticky pink Turkish delight. Rich and lengthy oily and medium sweet palate of ginger in syrup, lychee, marmalade and jasmine.

Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Gris  2016  $NZ 21
Lovely full-flavoured style of pinot gris from Pegasus Bay’s second label. Aromas of poached pear and ripe grapefruit. Unctuous and generous palate of beeswax, quince, grapefruit marmalade and a hint of spice. Finishes dry after a total party in your mouth!

Dry River The Twelve Spies Martinborough 2017  $NZ 65 
Something new for Dry River, a blend: pinot noir, tempranillo, syrah and viognier. Aromas of cherry and spice and fruitcake. Palate of ripe black cherry, black pepper, poached tamarillo and black olive. One to keep for a few more years.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Outside the Square

While big NZ producers are pumping out millions of litres of wine a year, there are small wineries doing things a bit differently and on a much smaller scale.

There is a huge amount of fairly predictable large volume wine on the market, particularly in supermarkets and large liquor retailers. Nothing wrong with that, but you pretty well get what you pay for at the $15 and under price bracket. As I often tell my overseas guests, you will almost never get a bad NZ wine - but you won’t always get a great one in that price range. And I’m hearing a bit of backlash from some USA consumers who are tired of formulaic NZ export sauvignon blanc which they view as too acidic and grapefruity. NZ should be trying to capture the discerning wine fans with wines that are a bit out of the ordinary. And maybe – just maybe, it’s time to push some of the other fantastic wines that we produce other than sauvignon blanc - such as pinot gris, Riesling and chardonnay.
Meantime, here are some great individualistic wines that I sampled recently.

Theory & Practice Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2018   $NZ 25  (Fine Wine Delivery Co.)
For many years pinot gris was a bit of a gamble as winemakers got to grips with this variety. But this is a great example of a complex and full bodied aromatic wine. Aromas of quince and clover honey. A lovely rich palate of pink guava, quinine, and pear juice with a hint of spice and a dry yeasty finish. Produced by Ant McKenzie Wines.

Loveblock Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018  $NZ 22  (Glengarry)
From Kim Crawford’s organic label, a very appealing and atypical Marlborough sauvignon. Aromas of fresh black currant and gooseberry with a hint of funky yeast. A portion of the wine was fermented in old French barrels. And at least a quarter of the wine went through malolactic ferment. Soft acids plus lengthy flavours of pineapple, guava, peach and ripe grapefruit

Saint Clair James Sinclair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc  2018 $NZ 24.50 (Countdown)
Passionfruit pulp and gooseberry on the nose and palate.  A very approachable softer style of sav with mandarin citrus and a hint of fresh pineapple. Named after pioneering Marlborough  settler (1852) James Sinclair on whose former property Neal and Judy Ibbotson established the Saint Clair brand.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 $NZ 50  (Glengarry)
Rockin’ the South – Rockburn does it again.  Nose of spice dark plums and ripe cherry. Full bodied and seamless palate of blueberry, boysenberry, crème de cassis and spiced plum cake, with soft sensual earthy tannins.

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2016  $NZ 37 (Vinofino online)
Smells like spice drawer, poached plum and vanilla with a tad of pot pourri. Flavours of dark chocolate, cherry, poached plums and a hint of Glühwein. Smooth and velvety.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

NZ Sparkling Traditional Method wines

Okay. Bubbles. Fizz. Popping the cork for celebration! Nothing wrong with that. Enjoy. Wine- like food, humour and company is for sharing.

Grapes traditionally used in making true branded French Champagne are chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. All three are usually blended in the familiar mass-produced French fizz we see in NZ as Moët, Veuve Cliquot, Bollinger, Lanson, Pol Roger etc.
And I do mean mass production. We are talking millions upon millions bottles of bottles per year pumped out by French Champagne houses to satisfy the thirsty masses. There are variations on the theme: Blanc de Noir (pinot noir and/or pinot meunier), and Blanc De Blanc (100% chardonnay). And then, there are Rosé style “pink Champagne” sparklers, where sometimes the pinot noir has been left on the skins a short while to ferment and extract a blush of pink colour.

And the characteristic fine beaded frothy bubbles are the result of a secondary fermentation in the bottle after the wine has been sealed with added yeast and sugar. And … it’s the CO2 bubbles in the wine which make the alcohol absorb more quickly into the bloodstream and the brain. It may make you feel a little bit dizzy, totally fabulous, funny … and also may make you fancy complete strangers. (So I have been told.)

‘NV’ on a bottle means non-vintage i.e. the Champagne is made from a blend of various years’ base wines. Vintage Champagne is made solely from the grapes of a particularly good year, and that year is determined by the region’s producers. It is these vintage wines which can last ten years or more. NV Sparklers are designed to be consumed on release and won’t benefit from extended cellaring.

Anyway. Here are some fantastic small production local New Zealand Champenoise styles that - in my opinion, totally rival some of the best pretentious French labels. And at about half the price. Drink local. Drink fabulous. Enjoy.
Mudbrick Vineyard Methode Traditionelle (NV)  $NZ 30
Wow. 24 carat gold colour.  Aromas of beeswax, brioche and clover honey. In the mouth, it’s a complex and lush palate of preserved peach, ripe apricot, toffee and hint of toasty oak with a slow golden sunset finish. I’m in love.

Peacock Sky Reserve Waiheke Blanc de Noirs 2014  $NZ 45
Black grapes – 59% merlot and 41% cabernet sauvignon. Pale rose gold pink with fine beaded bubbles. Smells like almond nougat and brioche with a good whiff of CO2. Lovely rich, ripe and generous palate of sour cherry, almond and summer fruit compote. 
West Brook Waimauku Methode Traditionelle 2012  $NZ 39.90
Blanc de Noir style from Waimauku pinot noir. Very subtle and mineral French style that is best served just lightly chilled. Gold hues. Aromas of almond croissant. On the palate it’s crisp, dry, and restrained with hints of apple, almond nougat and mandarin.

Soljans Brut Methode Traditionelle 2012  $NZ 33.00
Award-winning Kumeu sparkler from third generation family winemakers. Traditional pinot noir/ chardonnay blend. Yellow gold colour. Aromas of yeasty baked bread.  Rich, complex and integrated palate of mandarin, peach crumble, and rock melon, with a dry crisp finish.
Soljans Brut Methode Traditionelle 2013  $NZ 33.00
A drier style than the 2102. Yellow gold. Smells like Packham pear, apricots and hazelnut nougat. Frothy bubbles on the palate with flavours of frangipane tart, yeasty croissant and canned peach – with a crisp dry finish.

Phil hosts Waiheke Wine Tours


Matakana Estate Matakana Pinot Gris 2017 $NZ 15
A very slightly reductive funky nose of citrus, minerality and grassy herbs.  A dry style with a mouthful of poached pear, Braeburn apple, a hint of anise and a lengthy very dry finish. Great aperitif wine

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Chardonnay 2017  $NZ 43
Okay, I’m not a fan of the ‘reductive’ funky chardonnays TBH. But this is a stunner. It does have that initial nasal hit of struck match sulphur thing, but that gives way to toasty oak, crème brûlée and grapefruit.  In the mouth, it’s poached pear, toffee apple, canned peach, blond tobacco and mandarine, with a long finish.  Creamy Chicken or pasta.

Soljans Estate Fifth Generation Series Kumeu Chardonnay 2016 $NZ 48
Delicate and elegant wine with a nose of yeasty brioche, stone fruit, vanilla with a hint of herbaceous fennel. Rich and complex palate of canned peach, fresh pineapple, and almond toffee, with a creamy and lengthy dry finish. Very classy and expressive of the Kumeu clay minerality.
Roast chicken, veal or cheese dishes.

Undivided ‘Vin De France’ Chardonnay 2017  $NZ 18.99
Great value bargain Chardonnay from France with a screw top. Vin De France pretty well means nothing as to where it came from. It could very well be a blend from different regions. Anyhoo – smells like pineapple and peach with a hint of spicy oak. Crisp and fruity with toasty spiced oak and pineapple, stone fruit and ripe pear, with a clean finish.  Match with seafood.

Matakana Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir 2017 $ NZ 22
Pale brick red in the glass. Smoky, spicy aromas plus black cherry and plum. Flavours of red cherry, toasty oak and tar, with a hint of red summer berry fruit compote and cranberry. Dry finish. Great with lamb or ratatouille.

Vergence Red by Pegasus Bay North Canterbury 2017 $NZ 40
Dense deep garnet red in the glass. Tar, damp earth, black currant  and pot pourri aromas.
Flavours of cassis, blackberry truffle, black olive and poached tamarillo with medium tannins and long finish.  Match with venison or rich tomato based Italian dishes.

Saint Clair Gimblett Gravels  Hawkes Bay Origin Merlot $NZ 24.90
Dusty aromas, with plum and pot pourri. Cherry and plum, full bodied and fruity. Persistent tannins and a lengthy finish. One to put  away for a few years.  Roast beef or Lasagne.

Phil runs Waiheke Island wine tours in Auckland New Zealand

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Hits & Misses

No major theme this month, folks. Just a random selection of wines that I picked up and sampled.

Giesen Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018 $NZ 15.00
Very consistent pinot gris from Nelson based Giesen label. Smells a bit like clover honey and citrus blossom with a whiff of hay. Tastes like Roses lime juice, crisp apple and quince with a dry finish.  Pan fried Snapper with olive oil, capers and parsley.

Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc Gisborne Chenin Blanc 2017 $NZ 29.99
From organic Millton label, has spent time in old oak. Nose of blond tobacco, lantana and a hint of fennel. Crisp, clean and very dry on the palate with clover honey, tangy yeast and a nudge of fresh cut pineapple. Great match for seafood – Gurnard pan fried in olive oil.
Cleanskin South Africa Chardonnay 2018  $NZ 7.00
Okay. This is a bargain bin chardonnay from Pt. Chev Countdown. I bought it on a whim when shopping for groceries today. It’s actually really good value. Smells like stone fruit with a hint of oak. Palate of peach, pineapple and a bit of nectarine. Clean, crisp and dry finish.  Calamari salad. Nom nom.
Selaks Taste Collection Buttery Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay 2018 $NZ 21.99
Smells like grapefruit with a whiff of vanilla and lanoline. A tad disappointing for the fan of truly big and buttery chardonnays, but still delivers a good medium style without too much acid. Flavours of grapefruit, peach and a bit of dried apricot. Dry finish.  Match with creamy chicken pasta, or cheese based dishes.

Cupcake Chardonnay Monterey County USA Chardonnay 2015 $NZ 22.99
A big oaky Californian style chardonnay for those who are a bit over the current NZ fad for the acidic mineral style. Still very fruity in the mid palate with lots of peach and nectarine. Vanilla oaky sweetness and a medium dry finish.  A great match with scallops.
Fat Bastard California Chardonnay 2015 $NZ 20
Pretty well lives up to its label. Big American Oak! Lots of vanillin American oak extraction - no doubt from a while sitting in brand new barrels. But to be honest, it’s a bit out of balance. The oak way overpowers any fruit flavours but it does have some peachy fruit and crème brûlée toffee/toast characters.  It would match a big creamy pasta dish with loads of cheese.

The Big Top Lodi California Zinfandel 2016  $NZ 19.99

I suspect that this is mass produced. Just the same - it has easy drinking appeal to those with a sweet palate who like ripe Aussie shiraz. Black cherry, cassis and a hint of smoke.  Soft tannins and little or no oak influence.  A medium priced BBQ quaffer

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Young Wine Vs Old Wine

Over the last month I have opened a few wines, as one does, and this time it was a mixture of new and older vintages.

I often get this question – how long should I keep a wine before I drink it?
Anecdotally, in NZ the average time from purchase to consumption is about 30 minutes. So we are not all that great at cellaring. Fresh, fruity wines such as sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, semillon and rosés are best consumed within about 2 years. Oak-aged white wines such as chardonnay will improve and become more complex over 5 years.  Most reds will soften and integrate over 5 to ten years.  Full-bodied tannic reds can last even longer.  But it’s all a bit of guesswork in my experience. The best idea is to buy six or a dozen and pop one open very six months to see how the wine is progressing.
But as one of my elderly tour clients once said, after being told to cellar a wine for 15 years: “Honestly, at my age I don’t even buy green bananas.”

Mission Vineyard Selection Pinot Gris 2014
At five years old, pretty well at its peak, but still has a lot of complex, aged characters. Smells like canned apricots. The palate is rich and oily with pineapple, quince, marmalade and almond, with a lengthy very dry finish

Gisselbrecht  Alsace Pinot Gris 2016
Fresh, fruity and fab. A French wine under screw cap – zut alors! Smells like honeysuckle and citrus blossom. Just nudging off-dry and at 13.5% alcohol. Flavours of nectarine, tonic water and ginger spice.

 Spy Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
A lovely example of what a bit of bottle age can do to a NZ pinot. Very gamey and savoury on the nose. In the mouth it’s all about soft tannins and earthy spice with mushroom, truffle, a hint of salty minerality.

Mudbrick Shepherds Point Waiheke Merlot / Cabernet / Petit Verdot 2017
A real youngster that I opened in error very late at night last week. Moving right along…
Nose of florals, spice rack and tar. Amazingly approachable as a fresh young thing. Palate of ripe blackberries, cassis, soft dusty tannins, spiced plum and a hint of Vegemite (in a good way).

Rod McDonald Quarter Acre Hawkes Bay Merlot / Malbec 2013
Again – a fab red that has developed secondary characters from a bit of bottle age.
Slightly earthy nose, with fruitcake and cherry.  In the mouth it’s warm ripe and soft with black berry fruits, earthy truffle, cassis and liquorice.

Phil is a wine writer and runs Waiheke Island Wine Tours in Auckland New Zealand

Thursday, February 28, 2019

What I Drank in The Holidays

Our Auckland summer keeps going and going and long may it last. Grapes love dry, hot weather – so bring it on.
Most folks will now be in denial, having returned to work after the summer holiday break.  Summer is my busy season in wine tourism – driving people to drink in Kumeu and Waiheke Island.  Still, there have been many wines to sample over the last month or two and here are some highlights.
Happy New Year – and cheers!

Loveblock Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018 $NZ 21.99 (Glengarry)
From Kim Crawford’s organic boutique winery.  Aromas of stone fruit and citrus. Lush and fruity, with crisp pear, rock melon and a lengthy finish. Great with seafood.

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury  Sauvignon / Semillon $NZ 32.00 (Glengarry and Caro’s)
Sauvignon blanc and semillon 70/30 blend in a full-bodied, flavoursome style. Semillon was oak aged to add texture. Flinty aromas with a whiff of gooseberry.  A big lengthy palate of gooseberry, pineapple, green capsicum and grass.  Good match with seafood. Try a Thai fish curry.

Church Road McDonald Series Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2017 $NZ 22 (widely available)
Church Road chardonnay was the gateway wine that led me on my journey of discovery about 20 years ago. Respec.  It has varied a bit in style over the years, but has always been a good value chard from the Brancott stable (formerly known as Montana).  Nice nose of hazelnut and stone fruit. Creamy palate of grapefruit, nectarine and a dry crisp finish. Great with chicken and mango salad.

Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2015 $NZ 25 (Glengarry, Vino Fino,
Knockout great value pinot from Pegasus Bay’s second tier label. Aromas of spices  black cherry and ripe plum. Flavours of cherry, spice, black pepper, savoury truffle and silky, lengthy tannins.  Fab with any red meats, and  spiced duck.

No 1 Family Estate Marlborough Rosé NV $NZ 47 (Glengarry)
Stunningly good traditional method 100% Marlborough pinot noir rosé from Daniel Le Brun Smells like sour cherry and nougat. Rich, ripe and voluptuously frothy in the mouth with creamy almond nougat, sour cherry, a hint of sweetness. Lengthy finish. Drink any time!

Phil runs the best Auckland wine tours in the known Universe.