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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."


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How To Taste Wine

The whole ritual of wine tasting can look a tad pretentious and silly, but essentially it does make sense.

If you are visiting a number of wineries in a day, or lucky enough to be at a hosted wine tasting event, it pays to take your time and stick to a few basic principles: The 6 S approach is pretty standard. See, Swirl, Sniff, Swish, Spit (or Swallow). Drink plenty of water and take meal breaks.

Looking through the wine against a white background gives clues to age and concentration. A white wine will progress to golden hues with age. A red will take on brick red or brownish tones with age. Then vigorously swirl the wine around in the glass – this releases more aromas into the bowl of the glass. Stick your nose right in the glass and sniff heartily. Apart from picking up aromas it will also tell you if the wine is ‘off’ ! (See last month’s column). Swish the wine right around the inside of your mouth. In fact, most of your taste receptors are in your nose (that’s why you can’t taste food when you have a cold). Your mouth and tongue have taste buds, but they are receptors for just five basic flavours: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami -or savoury. But the mouth cavity connects to the nasal receptors that pick up the nuances of flavour. Now, to spit or swallow? Your choice, but even in small amounts over many samples, you can absorb a lot of alcohol. I was once invited to judge sixty big reds for Cuisine mag. Yay, I thought. On the day there were ten ‘flights’ of six Aus and NZ reds. I dutifully spat and rinsed my mouth with water, but by the end of the day I was shattered and probably over the legal limit. One final thing – don’t rinse your glass with water between samples. Water in the glass changes the pH of the wine and thus its flavour.

Anyway, here’s some great wines to sample!

Kumeu River Estate Pinot Gris 2018 $26

Iconic west Auckland chardonnay producers, Kumeu River also have a few other whites on the shelf, including the above, plus a Gewürztraminer, a bottle fermented sparkler and a Hawkes Bay sauvignon blanc. This pinot gris is crisp and luscious, with Nashi pear, lime citrus and a hint of Kumeu clay minerality.
Available: Caros, Fine Wine Delivery Co.

Thomas Waiheke Blanc de Gris 2017 $46
One of Waiheke’s newest wineries and also the highest-elevated vineyard on the island, Batch has spectacular views out over the gulf and islands.
This sparkler is possibly the only prosecco style, tank fermented style currently in NZ. Dry and crisp with a satisfying yeasty tang. Flavours of crisp apple and pear.
Available: Batch Winery or Waiheke Wine Centre

Coopers Creek Hawkes Bay Swamp Reserve 2014
Swamp Reserve has always been Coopers’ top chardonnay. This one from my cellar is gorgeous at 5 years old. Lovely deep gold colour, seamless lengthy and rich flavours of hazelnut, canned peach, a hint of grapefruit and yeasty brioche. The 2017 is out now at about $29
Available: Caros, Herne Bay Cellars

Thomas Field Blend Rose 2018 $38
A complex  blend of 87% syrah, 5% pinot gris, 5% chardonnay, 2% flora and 1% riesling – delivers a crisp refreshing ideal summer wine with strawberry, raspberry and a hint of toffee apple. Dry finish.
Available: Batch Winery or Waiheke Wine centre Waiheke Island.

Pegasus Bay Aged Release Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2009 $65
I was lucky enough to sample this ten year old lighter style pinot. It has aged very gracefully with a slightly smoky, gamy nose. Flavours of cherry, truffle and cassis with bit of spice and soft tannins
Available: from Pegasus Bay winery online, or

Phil runs Wine Tours Auckland New Zealand

Wine Faults 101

  Is your wine On or Off?

When is a wine ‘off’?
There are a lot of misconceptions around the concept of wine that has gone off.

Okaythe classic example is a wine that has been tainted by a bad cork or by unhygienic winemaking. I.e. a ‘corked’ wine. This is why people often sniff the cork as part of the wine tasting ritual. The culprit here is a chemical compound called TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). It is present in moulds that can grow in a cork tree, and can also exist in damp surfaces within a winery environment. The chemical is so powerful, that we can detect a few parts per trillion. Typically, and at its worst, TCA smells like mouldy damp cardboard. In diluted amounts it robs the wine of any fruit flavours. Hence the gamble of wines sealed with a natural cork – and why I am such a fan of the screw top closure.

Probably the second most common fault is a wine that is oxidised. This can happen when a cork breaks down over time and oxygen interacts with the wine, making it smell like sherry – or even vinegar. Also if a wine is opened for a few days, oxidation will start to happen. (That’s why I hardly ever order wine by the glass at a restaurant or wine bar).

Less commonly are sulphides as a result of faulty winemaking, which typically results in a smell like rotten eggs or burnt rubber. Another fault - volatile acidity (VA) gives the wine aromas of acetone (nail polish remover). VA is acceptable in sweet dessert wines, but is a fault if you discover it in a normal dry table wine.

Anyway, here is a selection of wines that have definitely passed the test and come out squeaky clean!

Tohu Whenua Awa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018  $NZ 30.00
A very approachable style of sauvignon. Typical aromas of gooseberry and passionfruit, but an unusually softer medium palate with rich guava, green capsicum and passion fruit, with a tad of lychee fruit.
Availability: Glengarry.

Main Divide North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc 2019  $NZ 21.00
Second tier label from Pegasus Bay, delivers great bang for buck across the whole range. Cape gooseberry and passionfruit aromas and a big hit of crisp elderberry, pink tinned guava and fresh cut pineapple, with clean mineral acidity.
Availability: Glengarry.

Giesen Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018 $NZ 13.00
Nice and juicy pinot gris from Giesen. Great value for a fruity, drink any time wine. Flavours of stewed apple, nashi pear and a dash of fresh pineapple.

Hera Gisborne Chardonnay 2018 $NZ 70.00
From consistent Gisborne producer, Odyssey wines, this is a premium chardonnay with a great pedigree. Handpicked Mendoza clone fruit and fermented in 50% new French oak. A very elegant chardonnay that reminds me of Kumeu River. Creamy palate with toasty hazelnut woven through ripe nectarine and pear, with a lengthy crisp finish.
Availability: Caros Wines

Dry River Martinborough Syrah 2016 $NZ 70.00
Another stunner from Dry River. Who says that you can’t make fab syrah south of Hawke’s Bay? Inky crimson in the glass, this wine is big and bold with firm tannins, lush ripe Black Doris plum and black cherry. Laced with a hint of peppery spice and fruitcake, this one’s a definite keeper. Very drinkable now, but could cellar for ten years.
Availability: Caros

Phil runs the best wine tours in Auckland New Zealand !

It’s all about the Taste. Are you a super-taster?

Having been a wine tour guide, plus doing wine writing gigs for over twenty years, I have observed literally thousands of people tasting thousands of wines.

And I have noticed that they do fall into two general categories. So, here is my own take on why people like certain wines. And why people don’t like other wines. The Phil Parker Theory of Wine Palate goes something like this: Some (not many) people have a Sensitive Palate. And conversely, most other people have a Robust Palate. No shame about being in either group. It’s not a competition. It’s like having brown eyes or green eyes. Get over it. Thus, my completely unproven theory divides you into two groups.

Quite possibly the sensitive palate folk are supertasters i.e. they have many more taste buds than others. This means that they react strongly to sweet, bitter, salt and sour.

Sensitive Palate
May not like: Brussels sprouts, broad beans, strong blue cheeses, mustard, bitter dark chocolate, horseradish, wasabi, salt & vinegar chips, strong black coffee, hot chilli sauce, vinegary pickles, sauvignon blanc, acidic riesling, cabernet sauvignon and other very tannic (dry) red wines such as Barolo, cabernet or shiraz. Also in general, hates very hoppy and bitter craft beers, and sweet wines – especially dessert wines.
Probably likes: pinot gris, fruity soft chardonnay, soft and silky pinot noir, ripe and soft syrah and merlot.

Robust Palate
May not like
: soft fruity chardonnay, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, pinot noir or merlot.
Probably likes: dark chocolate, hot spicy foods, strong coffee, vinegary foods, Brussels sprouts, salt & vinegar chips, salty foods, mineral chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, big butterychardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, malbec, zinfandel and other very tannic dry reds. Also loves bitter hoppy IPA beers and whiskey. Also, may enjoy a cigarette or a good cigar.

Unfortunately for me, I am of the Sensitive Palate whanau. To me, sauvignon blanc tastes like battery acid and a hoppy IPA can wipe out my sense of taste for about 3 hours. But, as a wine writer I have to know a good sav when I see one, so I don’t skew my reviews toward my personal palate.
Anyway, here are some recent tastings.

Richmond Plains Blanc de Noir Marlborough 2018  $NZ 23.40
I discovered this fab wine on a winter trip to the south this July. Certified organic and biodynamic, vegetarian and made from 100% Pinot Noir. Crisp, fresh and fruity. Flavours of baked pear, nectarine and apple. Availability:

Tohu Pinot Blanc Whenua Awa Marlborough 2018  $NZ 29.00
Pinot blanc, along with pinot gris is a cousin of pinot noir. This is a crisp refreshing wine, ideal slightly chilled. In the mouth, it’s fresh and fruity with flavours of mandarin, nectarine and hint of riesling-like bees’ wax. Great match for seafood.
Availability: Glengarry

Tohu Albariño Whenua Matua Nelson 2018  $NZ 29.00
This Spanish grape variety (pronounced Al-Ba-Reenyo). produces crisp white wines with stone fruit flavours not unlike Viognier.  In Portugal it is known as Alvarinho. To me – ripe pear, mandarin and minerality with a crisp finish.
Availability: Glengarry

Rockburn The Chosen Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018  $NZ 65
Inviting aromas of ripe, juicy black cherries and Christmas plum cake. A rich, soft generous and silky palate of red and black berry compote with a hint of mixed spices, and a soft tannic lengthy finish. Another knockout Pinot Noir from Rockburn.
Availability: Glengarry,
Outback Jack Brenton Vineyard Australin Cabernet Merlot 2017 $NZ 8.99
Not a typo. This is a very drinkable, fruit forward with plums and fruitcake, with not too much tannin. A total bargain Aus red.

Little x Hawkes Bay Syrah 2014 $NZ 14.99
Again. Total bargain. Honestly - one of the best Hawkes bay syrahs that I have tasted from the memorable 2014 vintage. Soft spicy and seamless. With black pepper, stewed plum, black currant and plum pudding.

I run boutique Auckland Wine Tours in New Zealand - Rated No. 2 by TripAdvisor