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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."


Monday, December 28, 2009

Whose wine is it anyway - wine fashionistas

As a colleague in the wine trade recently said: unfortunately, wine is now part of the fashion industry.

What it means for your average wine enthusiast (me included) is that what wine we enjoy - and how much we pay for it, is pretty well dictated by fashion. There has been a backlash against Chardonnay, for no other reason that wine fashion folk, suddenly decided it is ‘boring’. So now ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) is the rule for some white wine drinkers. All this in spite of the fact that Chardonnay, one of the few white wines which is aged in oak to add complexity to its flavours; is a great wine, and one which New Zealand winemakers are still doing particularly well.

Oak barrels sourced from France or the USA cost the wineries around $1,500 each, and last only about three vintages before they are cut in half and hocked off to the public at about fifty bucks apiece as planters. Chardonnay is an immensely complex and subtle wine, which has a major input from the winemaker as to its many variable influences. To write it off as unfashionable is shallow and ignorant.

Fashion, however is a two-edged sword, and that means that Chardonnay fans like me can pick up some damn fine Chards at bargain prices, while the wine fashion victims are running themselves ragged, all over Auckland for Viognier and Pinot Gris at $25 plus per bottle.

And not that I’m saying that there’s anything wrong with these exciting new wine varietals, either. They are very drinkable fragrant wines suited to subtly flavoured foods and are produced in fairly small quantities - which tends to push up prices.

However, there is a lag of something like three years before winemakers can establish new plantings to cope with a new grape varietal which is suddenly in demand. Only after the third harvest generally, are the grapes of sufficient quality and quantity to be a viable commercial proposition.
So by the time there are sufficient plantings to produce enough Viognier to meet increased demand, the fashion fascists may have moved on and decided that Chilean Petit Verdot is the next big thing and poor old Viognier will be out in the cold again.

Wine is essentially, and always has been about personal taste and enjoyment. The best wine for you is the wine you most enjoy – and to hell with anyone who tries to force you into drinking what they think you should. It’s all about personal preference. I liken it to someone saying that everyone has to like anchovies. In reality some like them, some hate them, and nobody should be forced to eat them because somebody else says they ought to. Same with wine.

Phil Parker operates Auckland Fine Wine Tours and is a wine writer. Contact:

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Okay. Aromatics.
Officially, they are the three classic white wines from the French and, or German region of Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer.

The political history of the Alsace wine region has been a literal tug-o-war between Europe’s major powers for centuries. Since 1870 France has run it. Then Germany. Then France. Then, return service - back to Germany. And finally … back to France. Could have saved themselves all the bother, really. This cool northern European region produces white wines with intense fruit flavours and aromas – hence the name – ‘aromatics’.

Riesling is the wine that some people love to hate. The bad press goes way back to some pretty awful sugary sweet style Rieslings from the 1970s and early 1980s: wines like Blue Nun Liebfraumilch and Black Tower. These were cheap, mass-produced wines in quirky bottles which caught the imagination of newbie wine drinkers and for many years thereafter branded Riesling as a god-awful sweet wine to be avoided at all costs.

Here in New Zealand, as in Australia we now tend toward the dry end of the spectrum, producing wines that are crisp, fruity and dry or just slightly sweet (off-dry).

And that’s not to say that Riesling can’t shine as a sweet style when the grapes are left on the vine till they are extremely ripe and full of
natural fructose sugar. Taken to extreme, these wines are called Late Harvest (very ripe and shrivelled) or Noble Riesling (affected by a fungus called Botrytis, which sucks out the water content and leaves very sweet concentrated juice with a honeyed taste).
In fact, I’m a big fan of the new wave of medium to sweet Rieslings – where the true nature of the grape is revealed as a luscious, fruity wine with honey, lime and apricot flavours, plus good cellaring potential. Food matches – think seafood (scallops, prawns, white fish).

The predominant character of Gewürztraminer (Ga-vertz-trah-meaner) is its spiciness. Often with hints of Turkish Delight, rose petals, apricot, ginger in syrup, and cinnamon. This is why Gewürzt is so often recommended as a good match for spicy food. But when you think spicy – think mild spice with not too much chilli. Some hot spicy dishes contain so much chilli that you can’t taste anything. The style of wine produced from the notoriously unreliable pink grapes, can be anywhere from dry and flinty through to musky, oily and sweet. New Zealand shares some of the Northern European cool climatic conditions, and has Gewürztraminer plantings in regions as diverse as Central Otago, Marlborough, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.

In the early Eighties Gewürzt was a bulk produced, sweet easy-drinking lightweight style, which suited the unsophisticated palates of young wine drinkers. Today, it represents a tiny amount compared to the most popular wine varieties. Just the same, they are worth hunting out for their subtlety of flavour and spicy nuances.

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.

Again, as with the other two aromatics – 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.

Increasing plantings here have made it our fourth most planted white after Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. But even so, Pinot Gris accounts for only around 4 percent of our national vineyard. Typical flavours to expect: poached pear, stewed apples, honeysuckle, stone fruit, lime & lager. 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.


Pegasus Bay Waipara Riesling 2007 $26
Medium to sweet, crisp ripe and lush. Fantastic.

West Brook Late Harvest Riesling 2003 $39
Grapes picked late in the harvest – full of natural sugars, ripe and raisiny, with flavours of honey and apricot jam.

Woollaston Nelson Pinot Gris 2008 $18
Newly released – complex and lush flavours of citrus, pear and melon.

Ti Point Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2008 $20
Big flavoured, ‘lager & lime’, with balanced acidity.

Dry River Lovat Gewürztraminer 2008 $40
Iconic NZ wine from Martinborough. Flavours of rose petals, and Turkish Delight; perfectly balanced. Spicy with great length of flavour.

Ascension Gisborne 2008 Gewürztraminer $29
From boutique north Auckland Matakana producer.
Again, floral aromas of rose petals, with Turkish delight flavours and a medium crisp finish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Is Cardiology

The study of woollen knit, front-buttoning upper body apparel?