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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, April 26, 2010

Red wine helps in stroke recovery

These findings appeared online in Experimental Neurology.

WASHINGTON - Researchers have discovered that red wine consumption may protect the brain from damage following a stroke.

After simulating an ischaemic stroke (i.e.caused by blocked blood supply), mice which had been previously fed red wine antioxidant resveratrol, suffered significantly less brain damage than the ones that had not been given the compound

Sylvain Doré, associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, says his study suggests that resveratrol increases levels of an enzyme (heme oxygenase) already known to shield nerve cells in the brain from damage.
“Our study adds to evidence that resveratrol can potentially build brain resistance to ischemic stroke,” says Doré.

Red wine has received a lot of attention lately for its purported health benefits. Along with reducing stroke, moderate wine consumption has been linked to a lowered incidence of cardiovascular disease - the so-called French paradox.

He also notes that even if further research affirms the benefits of red wine, no one yet knows how much would be optimal to protect the brain, or even what kind of red wine might be best, because not all types contain the same amount of resveratrol. More research is needed, he says. So say I. Cheers!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

Is that it? Bob Geldof autobiography

I have just finished reading this rather long book - it was a fluent, but challenging read. Highly descriptive and disarmingly open, it tells of Geldof's life up to his involvement in Band Aid and the Live Aid concert phenomenon.

The sad irony here is - Geldof speaks of his deep love for Paula Yates, and this was way before the shit hit the fan re Michael Hutchence, his suicide/eroticide and her subsequent death from a heroin overdose.

Geldof presents as a 'my way or the highway' type of person, who on one hand craves the spotlight as a pop star, yet eschews the trappings of fame as a charity fund raiser.
He is a complex character - foul-mouthed, impatient and uncompromising at times - yet capable of great political insight, empathy and selflessness.

I can't help but admire his guts and motivation to try to address the tragedy of Africa's political and economic guagmire.

Did Geldof make a difference? Yes - I believe he did, when so many others did nothing (and still do).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Elephant Hill wines - Hawkes Bay New Zealand

Phil Parker runs wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

Elephant Hill is a new Hawkes Bay venture – begun by Reydan and Roger Weiss who first fell in love with the beauty of this region when visiting from Germany in 2001.
They envisaged a state-of-the-art winery, merging the new and old world wine styles to produce exceptional wines. Managing Director, Günter Thies graduated with degrees in Agriculture and Viticulture from the University of Bonn and Stuttgart, and local winemaker Steve Skinner completes the team. Steve has worked many harvests in Hawke’s Bay and abroad including France, California and Canada.

The first planting of over 25 hectares was made in 2003. The first vintage was in 2007 when 115 tonnes of grapes were picked and processed. The winery is ultimately capable of processing 400 tonnes per year. Elephant Hill has been recently audited for SWNZ (Sustainable Winegrowers New Zealand) accreditation and we passed with flying colours.

Onsite, they have a very stylish and highly rated 5-star restaurant which features a welcoming fireplace in the reception area. How about for lunch, start with Seared Nelson scallops melon & cucumber salad, white onion vinaigrette ($22), and for mains - Rare juniper crusted venison, carrot purée, Savoy cabbage, lardons ($36).

There is also a super-duper luxury accommodation – Elephant Hill Lodge with rates from $7,800 a night - $11,000 in high season! (Use of the Rolls Royce by prior arrangement). Apart from the main Lodge building and master bedroom, there are two private residences each with king size beds, private bathrooms, mini bar and kitchenette. The Lodge kitchen features European fittings, five wine fridges, and heated floor tiles. Guess I’ll keep buying those Lotto tickets.

They have a wide range of estate wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah (AKA Shiraz!). They also produce a Rosé and Pinot Noir from Central Otago fruit.

Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Viognier 2009 $NZ29
A lovely example of this new trendy grape variety (pronounced: Vee-on-yay). Originally from the Northern Rhone Valley in France, it was used and still is, to add fruit lift to Syrah in that region. (The only case I know where white and red wine is blended in a classic wine).
This one has floral and slightly spicy flavours, with some stone fruit and preserved ginger in the mix.

Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2009 $NZ29
Aromas of black berry fruit, dark chocolate and anise. flavours of ripe, juicy black fruits, with savoury spicy undertones.

Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Reserve Syrah 2009 $NZ45
Classic Syrah aromas of black pepper, cassis, blackberry and anise combine with some floral notes. Sweet ripe dark fruits fill a palate that perfectly balances richness and acidity

Monday, April 19, 2010

West Brook Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2009

Another stunner from small family winery West Brook

Rich and mildly toasty with flavours of peach, grapefruit, butterscotch and hazel nut. Fantastic for such a young wine - it will only blossom and get even better over 5 years. Watch this one for major awards (already picked up a Gold).

West Brook’s new modern concrete winery complex has landscaped manicured lawns leading down to a placid duck pond with rows of neat vines beyond.
Third generation Croatian winemaker Anthony Ivicevich and his charming wife Susan own the operation, which produces about 40,000 cases per year. The original family vineyard was planted in Henderson in 1937, but in 1998 they relocated to the new site. Every Labour Weekend, they host a Food Wine & Jazz festival, with hearty food, wines by the glass and Swing jazz to relax to. Last year, a young woman, egged on by mates and (ahem) ‘happy’ crowd, swam across the duck pond for $500.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Look thin in just 30 seconds!! Amazing new method!!

Just buy a BIG pair of pants!!

Cookbook cock-up

Phil Parker runs wine and food tours around Auckland New Zealand
NZ Herald reports that Penguin Group Australia has had to reprint 7,000 copies of new recipe book "Pasta Bible" costing Penguin $AUD 20,000.

A recipe for tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto, included "salt and freshly ground black people."

Head of publishing, Bob Sessions, acknowledging that the proofreader for the Pasta Bible should have picked up the error, called it nothing more than a "silly mistake."

The recipe was supposed to call for black pepper.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

restaurant joke II

"Now, Sir. How would you like your service - surly, fawning or indifferent?"

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sticky moment - Spy Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc

Phil Parker runs Food & Wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

It was one of those moments when you have been invited to friends for dinner and you offer to bring pre-dinner nibbles. And then you realise, bugger, you don't have anything much at all to bring.

Then - lightbulb FX, I realised that we hade some very nice French Brie plus a Bleu d'Auvergne, and a chunk of fab NZ Whitestone cheddar. I made a cheese board up, added some crystallised ginger in a little dish and took the Spy Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc 2009 out of the fridge where it had been lying unloved for some time.

The French often serve sweet wines, such as Sauternes with pate de foie gras as a pre dinner thing - so we substituted some great cheeses for ther savoury element.
Verdict: fantastic. The Spy Valley Late Harvest Savvy was a treat - rich flavours of passionfruit, lychee, ripe pineapple and cape gooseberry jam, with a subtle crisp acidity on the finish. A really perfect match for the stronger cheeses.

dog joke

"Well, nice talking to you, but right now I gotta go check my peemail."

restaurant joke

"Ha ha. Yes - that's all very well, Garcon. But my bouche is not amused."

Monday, April 12, 2010

elephant joke

"We really should stop ignoring the person in the living room."


Phil Parker operates wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

Herewith - edited press release from Wine Marlborough:

Vintage in Marlborough may be slightly behind the long term average in terms of ripening, but that’s not concerning growers and winemakers in the region.

At the halfway point of vintage 2010, the general consensus from winemakers and growers in Marlborough is that the fruit flavours are superb, the vine balance excellent and the yields below average.

Chris Simmonds a grower in the Southern Valley sub region of Marlborough says some of the fruit flavours are the best he has ever seen.
“The fruit is excellent, clean and particularly in the Chardonnay and Riesling there are some wonderful flavours,” says Chris.

Fromm Winery’s winemaker William Hoare says the cool weather in December means crops are lighter than average, but it also means growers haven’t had to intervene as extensively as in 2009 to remove excess fruit from their vineyards leading into harvest - “The vine/fruit is in perfect natural balance and we are getting riper flavours with lower alcohol.”

Nick Lane, winemaker at Cloudy Bay agrees saying the fruit has benefited from the very hot March temperatures,resulting in “nice flavour ripeness, without excessive sugar levels. Yields are down on previous years, particularly in the earlier ripening varieties of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But there is some real phenolic ripeness in the Pinot and the Sauvignon Blanc has the classic flavours it has become world famous for.”

Marlborough is renowned for its high sunshine hours and cool night time temperatures that help lock in the zesty flavours and give the signature crisp and fruity structure to the wines. The vintage so far reflects this perfectly.

While some smaller wineries have almost completed harvesting their fruit, the majority are still waiting for specialised parcels of Sauvignon Blanc to come in. Much of the regions fruit is being strategically harvested so the profile of flavour
is just right allowing the expert winemakers to develop on and extend the world famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc profile.

The vast majority of the harvest is expected to be complete before Anzac Day on April 25 th .

Last year Marlborough processed 192,000 tonnes of fruit. Even with more land coming on stream for the first time this year, predictions are the eventual yield will be below that figure in 2010.

A lonely rant re NZ tourism

Having been in the tourism business for nearly 10 years, I believe that I have a handle on what makes New Zealand such a special and memorable holiday destination.

Tourism NZ has very successfully marketed the 100% Pure NZ brand for many years – and it has worked. NZ is associated with the Clean Green image. Lord of the Rings has also boosted this with its Middle Earth scenery and the Hollywood profile of director Peter Jackson.

At the moment there is quite a vigorous debate about just how clean and green we are – with a proposal to mine native forest parks for gold and other minerals. NZ is definitely cleaner and greener than most countries – but we do have issues with water purity, over-fishing, CO2 emissions, waste disposal, air pollution, use of agricultural chemicals and so on, as do other developed nations.

So – at present there is widespread hand wringing about whether we can afford to sacrifice our Eco Tourism brand for the short-term spoils of mining. That debate goes on and in my usual ambivalent fashion, I haven’t reached a firm opinion yet.

However, when I ask my clients what it is that they enjoyed about NZ – they almost universally say: the friendliness of the people, fantastic food and wine … and sure, beautiful scenery. So I think that Tourism NZ is missing out on a significant sector of the market – food and wine tourism. Sure, promote the magnificent fiords, pristine beaches, snow capped mountains yadda yadda, but why not mention that we have fantastic fresh seafood, lamb, beef, venison, fruit and vegetables, world-famous wines and a nation of friendly people.

I have done a certain amount of lobbying in my limited capacity – but generally get a lukewarm response. This is despite the fact that wine and food tourists – stay longer, spend more money and have higher levels of satisfaction with their NZ vacation, than all other tourist groups. Go figure …

Friday, April 9, 2010

Marlborough's Spy Valley gets down and dirty ...

Here's a clip of a young Spy Valley couple caught in the act of performing the perverse French practice known as 'pigeage a pied'!!

Quelle horreur!!

(grape stomping with the feet) from the 2010 harvest.

Air New Zealand Wine Awards - taking the piss

Herewith - the (very un-PC)and hilarious Air New Zealand Wine Awards intro video from 2007's awards dinner.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good things ahead with Kumeu River Chardonnay 2010

Auckland in particular has has an excellent growing season for grapes. An unusually dry and extended summer has led to optimum ripeness in local regions such as Kumeu in northwest Auckland, and Matakana in north Auckland.

It's an old adage in the industry that you can make bad wine from good grapes but you can't make good wine from bad grapes. Ripeness and harvesting at exactly the right time is the key to a great vintage. Little is left to chance: grapes are tested for pH, sugar levels and acid levels before the green light is given. In Auckland all harvesting is done by hand, thus most grapes are whole bunch pressed.

Kumeu River winery was established by the late Mate Brajkovich in 1944 and now his eldest son Michael is the winemaker. Kumeu River would be NZ's most prestigious Chardonnay producer, gaining numerous awards for their wines both here and internationally - with regular placings in Wine Spectator's top 100 Chardonnays.

Here is a very recent clip of Michael with the 2010 Chardonnay under ferment.

Pity the wine writer

I have always enjoyed writing, and over the last 20 years have had a rollercoaster ride in freelance journalism, till I reached my current derailment as wine tour operator, on the gravy train of mixed metaphors.

Therefore, reductio ad absurdum, caveat emptor, I am a wine writer.

I drink, therefore I am one.

Problem is – most wine writers are regarded as total tossers by the general public.

And not without good reason. There is a tendency for them to wax poetical about the aromatic and metaphoric virtues of wines in way which alienates the average drinker –i.e. somebody with a neck and a thirst. And to be totally honest, after three glasses of anything, subjectivity goes out the window because wine contains alcohol.

This very fact is sadly overlooked by nearly all wine writers, who would rather say, “Subtle oak nuances flirt with the nose, while crème brulée and tropical fruit flavours predominate, and a symphony of citrus notes play on the mid-palate before a sunset of honeyed vanilla”, than “This is a Chardonnay which will get you totally rat-arsed after two bottles.”

But then, most of your mates could say that, if they were intelligible – and it would neither be terribly interesting, amusing nor informative. So as a writer you are rather stuck with having to say something descriptive about the wine. And there is a standard vocabulary based on the Aroma Wheel developed at the University of California at Davis by professor emeritus Ann C. Noble.

The good professor has obviously spent many an hour drinking good wine and analysing the aromas and flavours thereof. This is extremely helpful when you try to describe in print how you interpret a particular wine and distinguish it from others. Each grape has its own flavours and characteristics just as a Granny Smith differs from a Braeburn apple, or a raspberry tastes different to a boysenberry.

Writers do have to try to convey something in print which evokes the very subjective experience of a glass of wine (or two). I always think it's akin to writing about music - trying to nail the ethereal in a pithy phrase.

So do spare a thought for the hapless wine writer – caught somewhere between oenology and onanology.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Food and Wine matching - the Devil's Advocate writes ...

One thing, which really annoys the crap out of me about wine culture particularly in New Zealand, is the whole food and wine matching obsession.

Generally they fall into two camps. On one side, are wine writers who are vehemently prescriptive about what precise food has to be matched with a particular wine. On the other hand – newbie wine fans who worry themselves sick about serving the wrong wine with the wrong food, and therefore causing great social embarrassment.

Refreshingly, most of us don’t give a toss, and quite rightly drink whatever we feel like at the time. And personally, I think the flavour of food often intrudes on a very good wine which can often be enjoyed by itself.

A not over-chilled glass of three year-old Chardonnay is a symphony of flavour and complexity in its own right, and doesn’t necessarily need to matched with broiled, quince jam glazed spatchcock, resting on a salmon truffle mousseline duvet, accompanied by a string quartet of king prawns in black tie with lemon grass cummerbunds.

Sure – delicate poached Snapper and a knock-down drag-out South Australian Shiraz are a dodgy combination. Conversely, a shy floral Pinot Gris won’t stand up to a hearty venison casserole. But my experience with most dinner parties is that by around main course time, there are about five wines on the table – whites and reds, and everyone is helping themselves to a bit of this and a bit of that, talking nine to the dozen and having a fab time.

Meanwhile the po-faced wine writers would be rolling their eyes, and the newbie wine fans sobbing into their soufflés in a fit of confusion. Yes, there are some classic combinations: Sauterne and blue cheese. Chardonnay and oysters. Sauvignon Blanc and asparagus. Gewürztraminer and Thai food.

Just don’t forget – wine is all about enjoyment and good company.Even if it is just yourself and a damn fine bottle of your favourite wine.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - and why I hate it so

Phil Parker runs Food & Wine tours around Auckland New Zealand

Sauvignon Blanc: according to our wine industry PR it is “the grape which put New Zealand on the map”. I personally tend to attribute that to plate tectonics, and the hand of the Almighty.

Either way, we can’t produce enough of it to satisfy UK and US fans of the crisp, fruity acidic white wine, predominantly sourced from Marlborough. And unfortunately, Cloudy Bay, due to their carpet-bombing overseas marketing campaign, is the knee-jerk Savvy associated with NZ.

“Hi. We just flew in from L.A. to Ahhkland. Can we go to Cloudy Bay?”

Our very new, raw Sauv Blancs taste like a smack in the mouth with a gooseberry-flavoured lemon. On the quiet, and if you prod them with mildly sharp sticks, most of our winemakers will dismiss it as a no-brainer: squash it in the autumn; stick it in a steel tank for three months. Add the SO2. Bottle it. Sell it in the spring.

Personally, I can’t stand it. As an aperitif, you might as well have freshly squeezed lime juice. One glass and my lips pucker, and my grumbling hiatus hernia screams out for more Losec as the rising tide of gastric lava threatens to burn a hole through my sternum.

However, some winemakers do strive for a more complex Sauvignon by introducing oak barrel ageing. This adds complexity to the flavours by softening acidity and lending a rounder character, which brings out mellow fruit flavours in the wine. Some good examples would be the Selaks Founders Reserve and West Brook’s Blue Ridge labels.

Over time, even an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc does take on more complex flavours as the acids mellow and the strident fruit flavours change to a more vegetal character. After three years, you get complex flavours of asparagus, tinned peas, rhubarb and a rounder more integrated flavour profile.

Sauvs from Hawkes Bay, by contrast are far more approachable in their youth, due to hotter longer ripening time. The flavours are softer and hint of trpoical fruits like pineapple, guava and melon; mandarine rather than lime/lemon.

I once tasted a 20 year-old Montana Sauv Blanc, and it had a wonderful mellow flavour not unlike asparagus rolls – with that hint of buttery softness and juicy, mushy asparagus spears.

I say save the Savvy and savour.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Fine Wine Tours Auckland New Zealand - 10 years old this year

Phil Parker runs food and wine tours around Auckland New Zealand.

Phil Parker of Auckland Fine Wine Tours celebrates ten years in operation this year.

Inspired by a cramped and tedious 40-seater bus tour of Melbourne’s Yarra Valley back in 1997, he had the idea of setting up a wine tour of Auckland’s regional wine country, particularly Kumeu and Matakana.

"The idea was to make it a personal experience for my guests, treat them as intelligent wine fans and include extra things like: detailed tasting notes, a hearty country style lunch, a cheese board to go with the wines, and mineral water. Also to supply some stunning local rural and coastal scenery and give guests a run down on wine history in New Zealand," says Phil

Ten years on, he's still a one-man business and continues to enjoy giving a personalised experience to his tour clients.

"I get to meet wine fans from all over the world, and to keep updating my knowledge of wines and winemaking," adds Phil.

Phil's tours are recommended by a number of international travel writers, plus Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, Frommer's and Fodors. Fine Wine Tours are rated #12 out of the top 100 Auckland attractions by TripAdvisor