Friday, December 26, 2008

Meeting Mr Parker

We know the real Mr Parker. Not the one whose points and scores are taken too seriously. The Mr Parker we know is a true wine lover, serious, but down to earth, and with exceptional taste. He's generous to a fault, and the best friend one could ever have. His partner, Lovin' Lorna keeps him on the right track and prevents him being like the other Parker. SWMBO and I finally caught up with Mr Parker after a few months of non-contact. We can never quite do enough, but we tried with a couple of bottles from the cellar. Here's how lunch went:

Strawberries and pineapple with a Drambuie-infused creamy dip. Taittinger Folies Marquetterie NV, the new 1er cru expression, was weighty and textured, with a touch of TCA to the autolysis. Good stuff nevertheless. Then a 1976 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne. Golden, still some bubbles, solid and dense, with great fruit weight, but a little oxidation peeking in. Amazing taste sensation and very vinous.

Artisanal Chicken Parker Pie. All made by Mr Parker, including the pastry. 1982 Ch. Haut-Brion. This was great Bordeaux. Classical Graves resin-brick taste profile. Amazing richness, depth and life ahead - 15-25 years possible. Yet a subtle dryness to match the pie. Equally matched in fascination by a 1972 Penfolds Grange. Controversial year, with variability in bottling. Complex and developed red wine, but still Grange personality. A little acidic, but worked very well with the pie, making both wine and food more alive. No hurry.

Then a walk around to corner to Cutting Karl, the journo. A 2006 Chapoutier 'Invitare' Condrieu. Soft, but weighty and rounded. Apricots and ginger. Savoury and mouth-filling. Then another softie, a 1983 Knyphausen Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Auslese. Golden, caramel and toffee with burnt toast nuances. Low acid as Rheingau tends, but still with an elegance. Should have been consumed a decade plus ago, but still in a holding pattern.

Then back to home with a swag of pressies, totally unexpected. A brief session with Mr Parker and Lovin' Lorna. But one packed with goodies in every sense. We owe them, yet again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It's been a busy time with work, so the old treasures have taken a break. But last weekend, a big group of us were eating and drinking, and it was appropriate to add on a pair of old pairs of wines.
A look at a couple of reds at a quarter of a century of age. 1983 Ch. Chasse Spleen alongside a 1983 Cooks Private Bin Fernhill Cabernet Sauvignon. Surely the French aristocrat would be superior to the Antipodean upstart? Not so. While the claret was not old or fading, it was packed with brett. The Kiwi wine was a little unripe and greenish, but it was clean and fresh. Both were surprisingly drinkable. A pair of wines that reminded us to keep an open mind.
Then the next night, a pair of Wynns 'John Riddoch' Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignons. From two vintages which writers and critics say that they will be interesting foils to each other in the future. Both rated top years, the 1990 a perfectly ripe year which the Aussies rated better. The 1991 from a cooler, more elegant vintage, which trendy(at the time forward thinking, cool-climate espouser) types and New Zealanders liked. The 1990 was gloriously integrated with superb cedary notes. The 1991 more earthy and a touch grubby. It might have been a bad bottle, but I couldn't see how it could be better than the 1990. A pair of young ladies present preferred the 1991, 'cos it was their birth year!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Our special and notable visitor, who we see every quarter or so was in town again to do some work. Also in town was the tall Waiheke man, expounding his wares and the Island's. Down here, in Welly, it's quite some distance to that popular spot in the Hauraki Gulf, and the wines from there just don't get the exposure or the continued promotional push. But the tall Waiheke man overcame distance and re-ignited the flame for these northerly wines in many of the wine lovers down here.
So a dinner out at our favourite pan-Mediterranean eating house was in order. A drop of the ever-improving Bollinger 'Special Cuvee' was madatory before heading out. Fresher, more subtle than in the past, whilst retaining the complexity that the house is known for. At the restaurant, a lovely introductory 2007 Neudorf Moutere Riesling, Germanic in style and delicious, the sugar noticeable, but not intrusive. And a taste of a yet-to-be released 2007 Obsidian 'Weeping Sands' Syrah, lovely and spicy, with a touch too much oak toastiness showing at this early stage.
But the feature was a comparison of 1983 Ch. Haut-Brion and 1983 Ch. La Mission-Haut-Brion from the outskirts of Bordeaux city. Neighbours and rivals at the time, and the distance between the properties negligible. Yet in taste and style terms, the distance was a gulf (not a Hauraki Gulf!). The HB started out piercingly resiny-woody and linear with lightness and leanness. The LMHB full with lovely ripe Cabernet. It looked good. Then through the night, the ethereal nature and harmony, plus subtle nuances came out with the HB. It had 'line and length', and was indeed beautiful. However, our special visitor put a case forward for LMHB with its richness and size. Volume was a feature. Both had the Graves 'bricky' note, but it didn't dominate. Pleasingly, neither wine showed the dreaded brett that seemed to be pervading the clarets at the time.
We had a pleasant night with an old friend and a new one, both who live some distance away. But with friends, distance doesn't matter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sweet Success

After a good night's work, we needed a few wines to settle down. Winemaker men from Hawke's Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago were in attendance.
First up was the new Bollinger Special Cuvee Rose NV. Fuller, softer, broader than the regular 'blanc' Special Cuvee with sweet berry fruit aromas appearing in and out. Not quite the sweet success it was at its first showing a few weeks back.
Then on to a mystery red, which most of us failed in playing wine options. The 2002 de Vogue Chambolle-Musigny was pretty meaty, full and bretty. Or was it lady-bug excretion as with the 2004s? But it all worked in spite of these menaces. More an expression of the vintage than of de Vogue? It was somewhat atypical for de Vogue from whom I expected something more fragrant and ethereal. A sweet success? I'd say so.
Followed by two Sauternes. Would these be sweet successes? The 1986 Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey was pale, lifted by VA, but tight and youthful. A lovely dry finish put Hawke's Bay wine man in a spin, as he wished he could replicate it. This was a wine that could handle another decade easily. Then on to the 1989 Ch. d'Yquem, in a half bottle. Intriguingly darker coloured with more evolution. Broad and barley-sugar like, this was medium weighted and still very lively. It didn't climb all over the previous wine, but we imagined what a 1986 Ch. d'Yquem would be like. Both this and the Ch. Laufaurie-Peyraguey were really sweet successes.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Down the Line

It is amazing how things look as you go on. Down the line, you can make a better judgement or final call. We had Mr Marlborough Riesling in town, and after a good night out, we thought that some Cabernet-based wines would be fun, but also perverse. Our humour was not lost on him, as he said "I'm not familiar with this type of wine, but I'll give it a go..."

So on to some 25 y.o. reds. First up was 1983 Te Mata 'Coleraine'. Youthfully red and bright in fruit. Seemingly primary, how odd! But there it was, in beautiful condition, though the bottle was a bit ullaged. As we tried the other wines, this seemed greener, especially to SWMBO. But the next day, still vibrant and fresh, and only a little cool. Down the line, this was surprisingly good.

Next was a 1983 Ch. Beychevelle St Julien. In its day, it was deemed a little dilute. Not a great success, but an Englishman's wine, an elegant wine that is not in your face. On the night, beautifully clean and refined. Everything a claret at a quarter of a century should be. If there was a fault, it dried on the finish. Down the line, this was very fine indeed. A bit of a surprise and a stunner.

Then thirdly, a 1983 Ch. Talbot St Julien. Brett city here. But full and fleshy still. Those who don't mind not knowing the appellation or the variety would enjoy its game and meat flavours. It could have come from anywhere, I suppose. If such things as provenance and varietal identity matter, then the wine is a disaster. We were in the second camp. In its day, it was a wine that punched above its weight. The owners, Cordier, at the time, were hot. Down the line, it was a pity that brettanomyces ruined it.

We gave the three wines our best shot, but couldn't finish them. We called in reinforcements - the Master of the Universe, a good guy friend who is positive on everything. He liked all three wines, so he got to take them home. A good thing to cement our friendship, and keep us 'sweet', down the line!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Old and New

A late-night session with Hammer and Makka of the Marlborough Mafia showed the difference between old and new. Often, the old and traditional can look superb, and we can revel in their glory. But in truth, we have moved forward, and the new looks even better. Generally.

After a slap-up feed, we opened up three 1985 wines. Hammer and Makka were both in shorts when these wines were made! First up was a very smart 1985 Te Mata ‘Awatea’ Cabernet/Merlot. Dark, medium weighted and ripe enough. Quite pleasant, really. And good for an oldie, we thought. By consensus, this was the best of the three. Next was the first-ever Stonyridge ‘Larose’ from Waiheke Island. Yes, 1985 was their inaugural harvest. Lighter, more acidic, and greener. Hammer and I found it the least of the trio, but SWMBO and Makka liked it after the ‘Awatea’. It was at least clean. Next was the controversial one. 1985 Ch. Talbot from St Julien. The proverbial zoo, with horses, meat and leather. Brett rearing its ugly head. But sweet and with substance on the palate. Hammer and I could handle it, and it did settle down a bit. But SWMBO, the brett Nazi couldn’t go near it. So an old Kiwi winner!

We needed a treat, so down to the cellar, and out popped a 2002 Yalumba ‘Octavius’ Old Barossa Shiraz. Too tight at first, but developing gorgeous liquorice and spice flavours on a serious palate. It had to get past the VA lift, but, it got better and better. A ‘next day’ wine.

To the ridiculously new. SWMBO brought out some brand-spanking new 2008 rosé wines. 2008 La Strada was pretty and pretty light. 2008 Muddy Water was vibrant, but a spoiled beauty with something grubby there. Curiously enjoyable, though. And then a 2008 Ata Rangi ‘Summer’ Rosé. Excellent fruit, but a touch phenolic and grippy. Should mellow out the roughness in a few months. New wines, but not impressive.

So to a sweeter end. A new 2006 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spatlese. How do the Germans attain that special balance between what Hugh Johnson calls ‘fruity-acidity’, sweetness and low alcohol, to make an absolutely yummy wine? The Schaefer family do it consistently. The have with the wines of old. And they still do, with the wines of new.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

You be the Judge

When a group of wine experts get together and provide special bottles for a special dinner, who really is qualified to make a call on how the different wines show, and make a judgement on them? This was the case at the Judges’ Dinner for the personnel at the heart of the 2008 Liquorland Top 100, held at Citron, the wonderful eating establishment of Rex Morgan and Wendy Hiller, at the end of August. Many of the wines were prized possessions, or were the result of personal input by those present. Bottles of wine were circulated among the 26 or so people, everybody allowed a little taste of each wine, served in flights to accompany the food courses. It seems a little unfair that this commentary is made in these circumstances, but that’s what we do. If you were there, you too could be a judge!

Arrival – Amuse Bouche
On arrival, a glass (or two) of Cloudy Bay ‘Pelorus’ Methode Traditionelle NV was served. The perfect palate cleanser, but it was more classy than that description gives. The Cloudy Bay team have got this down to a fine art. Fresh, clean with good autolysis. On being seated, a rarely-seem in this country Mumm Cremant de Cramant NV, with more interest and complexing sulphide/autolysis notes than this 100% Chardonnay wine should have carried. Though with less atmospheres than regular Champagne, this still was an effervescent conversation piece. And then a bit of a star at the other end of the sparkling spectrum, also from the rejuvenated house of Mumm – the 1998 Mumm ‘Cuvee ‘R’ Lalou, a full, toasty bubbles with Pinot Noir power and concentration. This should develop well. The final bubbles we received was the Highfield ‘ZD’ Methode Traditionelle. Unlabelled, it was a bit of a mystery. A bit of an anti-climax after the Mumm. Eye of the Partridge, with fullish, berryish fruit, a little raw and disjointed, not as austere as it might have been.

Crab and Corn Mousseline on Bisque Nage
A subtle dish for aromatics, and a fine group they were. Absolutely delightful and one of the stars of the night, the 2005 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Riesling Kabinett was impeccably fresh, yet penetrating with flavour. A star in the Nahe and all of Germany. The Erni Loosen inputted 2006 Ch. Ste Michelle ‘Eroica’ Washington State Riesling at 12% alcohol just didn’t have the same balance and zing, though it was Germanic in expression on bouquet. Another star was the 2001 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, showing a little more toasty development, but again, that exhilarating balance of fruit, acidity and sugar. And finally, a 2001 Schlumberger Alsace Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Kitterle, wonderfully concentrated and with immense fruit depth of spices, honey and florals.

Cauliflower Scented with Toasted Cumin Soup
Two contrasting wines with the beautifully textured and piquantly flavoured soup. The 2006 Guigal Condrieu ‘La Doriane’ was larger than life with bold Viognier fruit and outlandish new oak. It all worked though, and will come together, as previous vintages have shown. The 1998 Tyrrells ‘HVD’ Semillon was far more restrained, yet took the stage with the Guigal, by way of its remarkable freshness for a wine at a decade of age, and its restrained subtleties. HVD refers to the Hunter Valley Distillery vineyard – so romantic, these Aussies with their names.

Free Range Chicken Galantine with Prawn Ravioli and Celeriac
A Burgundian theme with this more substantial course. The 2005 Ch. de Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ‘Chalumeaux’ was classic stuff, fine and elegant and a down-the-line white burgundy, without a whisker out of place. Our table never got to try the Carillon Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru. No details on vintage or vineyard, and very little feedback or discussion on it, so it couldn’t have been earth-shattering! However the 2004 Leeuwin Estate ‘Art Series’ Chardonnay did create a few ripples. Bold as a New World wine can be, but as white Burgundian as a New World wine can be, also. Rich, powerful and intense. New oak well-handled and adding to the statement. And of course a Pinot Noir. In fact, surprisingly, the only Pinot Noir, a 2005 Au Bon Climat ‘Isabelle’ Pinot Noir, an unusual wine for Jim Clendenen, being a multi vineyard blend. It was attractively sweet and ripe, the tannins well enveloped by the sweetness of fruit, but overall, not as big as seen a week before by some of the judges present.

Aged Angus Fillet with Muttonbird Butter on Marbled Roasted Root Vegetables
The main course, and a decadent one with high quality produce. The perfect accompaniment for such a dish must be the more austere, and well-structured, drier reds, and this is what was partnered with it: Two St Emilion wines, arguably the best-showing of the night as a pairing. The 2004 Ch. La Serre St Emilion Grand Cru Classe was rich, sweet, plumy and meaty and perfectly structured as an each-way claret. A wine based on its fruit quality and a pointer to where Right Bank wines can be. Alongside it the 2000 Ch. Mangot ‘Quintessence’ St Emilion Grand Cru, was bigger, richer, more concentrated and showing a great deal more new oak. A bit of a caricature really, but in its own way, it was a wine that had soul and satisfied palate and mind. One diner, sitting at our table, actually worked vintage that year at the property, so it had to be good! Unfortunately, the 1997 Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva was dry, leathery and charmless, and the 2004 Coto de Hayas ‘Fagus’ Campo de Borja had a name that was made fun of. But at least this French oak matured old-vine Grenache was tasty and sweetly ripe. Again, one of the attendees had a hand in the making of the wine. It was good for him that it looked pretty good. Wine judges can be a little cruel!

Apple and Mulled Wine Refresher
Spices and ice, this refresher was nice. So spiced wines were the order of the day. To set the scene, a 2005 Francois Villard Cote-Rotie appeared. Sulphides can be subtle and complexing or in reality too much. This was the debate on our table. The framework of the wine was, however, excellent and unable to be criticised in that way. Certainly this was a fuller example. Then came an Aussie set. The 1996 Geoff Merrill ‘Henley’ Shiraz was ‘lifted’ to another class; the fruit was ultra sweet and the richness on another dimension. Wines at that level of extraction and ripeness can always carry a certain amount of extras. More traditional was the 1998 Tatachilla ‘Foundation’ Shiraz. The combination of a very hot year, and as much as one can get out of such fruit showed here. No tricks, just as ripe and rich as possible being the key. Though a ‘cult’ label, the 1993 Mt Langi Ghiran Shiraz showed too much funk. Brettanomyces galore. We understand they have clean up, and this Grampians player is back on track.

Vintage Gouda with Pear, Walnuts and Wafers
A generous serving of cheese and some generous wines to go with it. First up, a medium sized wine, but a big claret, 1990 Ch. Gruaud-Larose St Julien. As is typical, showing plenty of herby Cabernet Sauvignon, and plenty of vitality. Just not in a really refined way. Some judges with their herbaceous meters found it most disappointing, others accepting it as good old-fashioned stuff. Certainly, the Right Bank St Emilions looked better. Then a pair of Barolos, probably the second best pairing of the wines. The 2001 Gaja ‘Sperrs’ Langhe was the modern face of Piedmont. It spoke of Gaja and lovely oaking. Class and finesse with power. Still a baby, though a big baby. And in reality a Barolo. Then a very traditional 2001 Prunotto Barolo ‘Bussia’. Ironically, Prunotto is owned by the innovative Antinori firm. Browner, more evolved, and speaking of Nebbiolo. Tar and dried roses. Fabulous stuff to compare and contrast. Then an Aussie pairing, from the then Southcorp stable at the time. A rather ungainly-looking 1997 Wynns ‘Michael’ Shiraz. Green, sappy, disjointed with fruit, oak and structure all over the place. Whoever brought it. Don’t despair. You probably didn’t make it! Then a special wine, the liqueur-like 1996 Penfolds Grange. Great year, great wine, and a great opportunity. What a most generous donor, who put this wine into the line-up.

Petit Fours
Where else to put up the 1994 Hugel Alsace Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive? Amazingly fresh and unctuous, with freshness of feel. The fruit flavours now developing a curious herb and hair-oil character. Not totally pleasant for all concerned, but a treat for everyone nevertheless.

One of the experienced attendees brought along a couple of ‘treasures’ from the cellar. Just for interest, and without any expectations. I never got to try the 1974 Corbans ‘Claret’ nor the 1973 Seppelts ‘Moyston’ Claret, but I understand they were both OK. It is remarkable how these old commercial New Zealand and Aussie reds can survive. No great distinction in either, but genuinely alive. It never pays to give up on a wine…..

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Hunter Wine Hunter

A special weekend with the main man from the Hunter Valley - The Wine Hunter. He knows wine and he likes to search out and hunt for good tastes from bottles.

In deference to The Wine Hunter, SWMBO and I thought it best to ply him with all sorts - starting with an old Hunter Valley selection. A trio of old Hunter Valley wines, including one that The Wine Hunter had a hand in making would be a good start. First up was a 1989 McWilliams Mount Pleasant 'Homestead' Semillon. Wow, surprisingly OK, with no oxidation or 'past-it' flavours, but it was a bit of a nothing wine, really. Commercial in its day, and less than that now, being weak, watery and plain, though with a touch of toast. Then onto someting older to see if Hunter Valley Semillon can last. The 1979 McWilliams Mount Pleasant 'Elizabeth' Riesling, a Semillon, was 'jiggered'. Oxidised to buggery, and corked on top of it. Blah. However this won't deter us from old Semillons, as we know they can be glorious at over two decades of age. This cost me $8.60 at the end of 1982. The Wine Hunter was responsible for the rarely seen 1986 Tyrrells 'Vat 5' Dry Red, made from Hermitage grapes from the NVC Vineyard. (NVC = New Vine Cuttings - aren't these Aussies so up front and imaginative!) Horses for courses here with brett galore, or the old Hunter 'sweaty saddles'. But dark, rich and sumptuous. Brett can allow wines to work, and this was a super example where it didn't intrude, but added real character. I think The Wine Hunter was happy with it! He brought along a 1997 Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon. It was medium weighted and everything it should have been, with savoury complexities to the varietal fruit You can't go wrong with Penfolds, even today.

On to the serious stuff. Two 1982 Right Bank wines, as The Wine Hunter was in Bordeaux a couple of months ago. The 1982 Ch. Beausejour-Duffau St Emilion was elegant, minerally and still with sweet fruit. A moderately expressed wine, and classy with it. Good with food, it came alive and seemed longer on the palate. Lovely, mature wine, quite the opposite of being 'out there', and all the better for it. The 1982 Ch. Nenin Pomerol was bigger, more plummy and weightier, as Pomerols should be when compared with the St Emilions. But brett, with a capital 'B' was there, and got worse with air time. Dried on palate and became extremely difficult to drink, especially with pleasure.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Kiwi Pinot Noir History 101. The 1985 and 1986 St Helena Pinot Noirs to taste. This was a trip down memory lane, but as time passes, the remembering should not be recalled! The 1985 was fresh, fresh, fresh and green, green and green. The 1986 showed caramelised sugar (chaptalisation) on nose and palate. I remember when it was released, and it was rich and sweet then. To taste history is great, but I know we have moved on! Even more ridiculous were the 1989 Montana Marlborough Pinot Noir - oxidised to buggery, the 1983 Montana Marlborough Pinot Noir - seemingly made with dead animals in the ferment! Plus a 1983 Montana Marlborough Pinotage - the best of these older wines. Still green, but still alive and OK, though I wouldn't drink much of it. Good on you, The Wine Hunter, as at least you were game to look at them.

Last, but not least was a 1983 von Kesselstatt Graacher Graben (or was it a Lay vineyard wine? We couldn't tell - damned torn labels) Riesling Auslese 1983. Absolutely stunning with freshness and gorgeously decadent toastiness. At its very best, now, this shows good German wine at one-quarter of a century of age and on a plateau. Broad, even for a Bernkasteler, but then, relativity is hard to find without a comparison. This, we could drink, and it was indeed drunk up!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Big Surprise

Got a call from SWMBO. She was at a favourite eatery, and the boss there, Cafe Gal, was celebrating a big (note the lower case) birthday. So I was given the duty of turning up with the liquid reinforcement. As there was a wee army of people to ply with a shot of wine, it was appropriate to arrive with a bigger bottle. So along came the Redmetal 'The Merlot' 1998 in 1.5 Litre format. This was Grant & Sue Edmonds' first release of 'The Merlot'. And from the ultra hot and ultra-dry year, especially in Hawke's Bay. After tasting a lot of 1998 Kiwi wonders, we could expect something special, as long as it was not afflicted with brett as the Sileni EV tasted earlier was.

Turning up with the aforementioned bigger bottle, the birthday girl put on a big smile. It was a big surprise. The wine became a feature, and everybody more or less ordered their main courses to match the wine. Lamb shanks and steaks abounded. Big food for what might be a mouthful. The wine was big and juicy still, with ripe plumminess and plenty of tannins that were becoming resolved. A touch of the meatiness from funky yeasts, but it was all rather drinkable. SWMBO who has an aversion to horses and wine (brettanomyces) found it more than acceptable. Big surprise. In the final analysis, the wine went down a treat. Delicious stuff and I believe another big bottle may have slipped down easily.

I think we'll need to give Cafe Gal another big bottle as a top-up pressie. Hopefully, it will be another big surprise!

Monday, July 28, 2008


A group of wine industry people reminiscing, with a video with episodes of 'The Winemakers', a TV programme made in 1985, of now iconic N.Z. winemakers, playing in the background, was the setting for looking at a number of wines from 25 years ago. 1983 was a quarter of a lifetime or more, ago. Have things changed that much since then? Has there been progress?

Back in the mid 1980s, Cabernet Sauvignon was hot. There was no other drink for the keen wine and food aficionado. I'd like to think I was one then, but I cringe thinking about how sophisticated I thought I was! It's a shame that Pinot Noir and Syrah have left Cabernet and Merlot in the dust. But something tells me that fads and fashions give way to reality, and I reckon the Bordeaux styles will come back, 'cos they are so stylish and restrained, and great over a meal.

Four Kiwi Cabernets from 1983 were a test. If you gave them a go, you'd get some of the Froggie stuff. First up was the 1983 Cooks Hawke's Bay Cabernet Sauvignon pairing - 'Premium Varietal' alongside the 'Private Bin' red stripe Fernhill label. No contest. The Premium Varietal was all bones, no flesh, and a nothing wine. Herby, thin and faded, but not vinegar. But the Private Bin was still varietal, a little cool on nose, but with real fruit sweetness. Multi-gold and multi-trophy winner in its time. The judges knew good from bad then too. 1983 Te Mata 'Awatea' Cabernet/Merlot alongside 1983 McWilliams Private Bin Cabernet Sauvignon, another super gold medal win in its day. Te Mata ripe and with integrity. But a bit one dimensional. McWilliams with the milky lactic signature and green fruit underneath. But still sweet, but acid. Top wine was Te Mata 'Awatea', picked from the start by SWMBO. Second the Cooks PB Fernhill. She's always right. And John Buck, you certainly knew what you were doing then.

As a reward, on to the clarets, this time from the Right Bank, in honour of our Merlot making friends, the wines also from 1983. Ch. Trotanoy Pomerol, with sweet fruit and tobacco-y interest. Good core and very drinkable. Surprisingly the Ch Latour-a-Pomerol a bit hard, lean and dried out. Both from the Moueix stable, who were on top of their game then. At least these were decent wines, making the Kiwis seem ordinary.

A treat to follow. Ch. Lafaurie Peyraguey Sauternes 1983. Golden, but superb barley sugar, honey, marmalade, Semillon, botrytis and a little VA lift. Full, firmish and mature, this was classic Sauternes in every way. A top year, and this showed it. Drinking well now, but you could come back to it in a decade.

In reminiscing, yes, we have improved and made progress. But in the background, hearing the likes of John Buck, Mate Brajkovich, Denis Irwin and John Hancock talk about their dreams and inspirations, passion and sound ideas remain the same. The same quality parameters still operate and that is why the likes of these originals are worth listening to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Moment of Glory

With a winemaker of repute in town, and one who loves Riesling, it was proper to open a couple of German wines with him.

The first, a 2002 Maximin Grunhaus Abtsberg Riesling Auslese, from the Ruwer, was full-on stinky from sulphides, but looked brilliant on palate. Refined, cutting, delicate and with a touch of toastiness to cut through the simple sugar sweetness. Excellent acidity too. Breathed up in glass. Its moment of glory would be still to come, maybe a decade away. Funny how Maximin Grunhaus does this - some wines absolutely pure and clean, others of theirs affected by sulphides which stink the wines out.

And an unusual choice to follow, a 1983 Burklin-Wolf Wachenheimer Bohlig Riesling Auslese. Bought from Wilson Neill long ago, at $29.65. Equivalent would need a $90.00 payment? Remember the three 'B's of the Rheinpfalz in those days - Burklin-Wolf, Bassermann-Jordan and von Buhl! Anyway, poured golden in glass, with some oxidation and little fruit interest. Some gentle cream custard aged German Riesling character on the palate, and quite low acid. Not unexpectedly flat, as this is how Rheinpfalz wines show their provenance - warmer climate and heavier soils. But amazingly in a couple of minutes, some of its glory shining with gorgeous honey and toast notes. It faded quickly. It had its moment of glory. That's life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Demand and Deliver

Well, it was a birthday, but not a significant one. There is a mild demand on one to celebrate it, and this entails a good meal and some good wine. Good company can be easy to find, especially when it is SWMBO and the Young One. So, off to a to eatery with a couple of 'treasures' from the old cellar.

Selecting the wine is not always easy, as the demand is to provide something decent. But you don't know what it's going to be like until you open it. You hope it will deliver the goods and not let the ocassion down. Out came a Drouhin 1983 Meursault1er Cru Perrierers (around $58.00+ from Wilson Neill) and a 1978 Chateau Branaire-Ducru St Julien. The white burgundy was a little ullaged, and the 1978 clarets, described by Michael Broadbent as a 'miracle vintage' at the time, as a cool year was saved by the oft-quoted 'Indian Summer', are showing their true, less-than-spectacular provenance now. So demands were not too high for them. If they delivered, it would have been a bonus.

The Meursault came out of the glass golden, and somewhat oxidised, but with big toastiness and nuttiness on attack, fading to non-descript mouthwash on the finish. Drying out, it was teetering on being shot. In fact, drinking it, it wavered between interesting and unpleasant. SWMBO was more forgiving on it. Food interaction with it was acceptable, especially the Scampi tails and Paua ravioli. The claret came out green, coarse and stinky. Gary, the English sommelier and SWMBO thought it shot. I was prepared to give it time. Bad call. It did not get any better over the course of two hours. Those 1978s have shown their true colour greenness all the more over time. And Branaire-Ducru then was not as flash as it is now. The demands were probably a bit too much for these bottles. Delivery did not happen.

The demand was on to have a couple of glasses of drinking wine. So we ordered a glass each of 2006 Escarpment Chardonnay and 2005 Papa Luna Calatayud from Spain. Larry McKenna's Chardonnay looked very white burgundian - and we had a real white burgundy to compare it to. It delivered beautifully. The Papa Luna was simple, jammy and easy. Nothing wrong, but it did not rise to the call. It didn't deliver.

It was a slightly pressured situation for the Young One, with all this talk on wine, service, flavours etc in a fine dining establishment. Some demands on him to be an adult. He responded well, with humour and personality. He delivered!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Old Spice

The occasion arose to look at a couple of old Kiwi Gewurztraminers last night. Old Spice for sure. Like the famous aftershave, a blast from the past, but would they be past it? Both from 1987. Yes, way too old in theory, but we were prepared to be surprised. First of the pair was a Villa Maria Reserve from Ihumatao. With a good track record going back to the 1970s, Villa Maria was hot in those days. Golden in colour, aged spice and ginger on the nose, but getting a bit decrepit. Not oxidised to buggery, and with depth of fruit detectable. Not enjoyable to drink. Next, the Matawhero 1987, a Denis Irwin and Hatsch Kalberer effort. The big name in Gewurz. Lighter in colour, herbs and spices, but thinner and lacking on the palate. Oxidative elements about to appear. No good as well. But they brought back memories, and we toasted Denis especially, a remarkable man.

To make up for these, we thought we better look at a Left Bank claret, to see if they looked OK, following our experience with the 1983 Ch. La Fleur Petrus Pomerol last week. So out came the cork on a 1983 Ch. Leoville Las Cases St Julien. Bottle stink and funk at first on bouquet, cleaning up to show great precision. Very good for a hot, dry vintage with a compact growing season. A class act that will keep on going. Not spicy, nor old. But it spiced up the evening, especially for our guest who loves old and great wines.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Taste of Age

If we read fine wine magazines, we do so with more than a twinge of jealousy when we hear of these fantastic vertical tastings of clarets (invariably) that cover decades of vintages, including the miracle 1961s, 1945s and from the century before. Wouldn't we give our eye teeth to participate in some of these events? But then again, would we have the experience to be able to appreciate these aged wonders. Often, the circumstances and the running of the vertical tasting provides the much needed background and atmosphere to make these old wines come alive. I sometimes wonder how would we react if given just one of these aged, historical wines in isolation?

Last Thursday, we opened a 1983 Ch. La Fleur Petrus Pomerol and a 1980 Ch. d'Yquem Sauternes, together, or should I say, in isolation, without the support of wines to make a direct and relevant comparison with. I must say, it was hard work trying to come to grips with them. The 1983 Right Bank wine was one-dimensional iron and earth, and quite austere. Lacking fruit sweetness, it had not developed with grace. I thought it might be a typical 1983 that reflected the hot, quick season, and thus had ripeness that faded quickly; a character that seems to indicate quick oxidation, once a bottle is opened. Or so it seemed. Over the next two days, it remained absolutely constant. No deterioration at all. Maybe in a vertical tasting, this 1983 might look awful. Maybe it might look brilliantly fresh? I suppose I could be swayed any and either way!

Likewise, the 1980 Ch. d'Yquem super Sauternes. Gorgeous marmalade, barley sugar, honey and nuts on the nose. Dryish on the palate, but everything Yquem should be. I think. At the time, I wished I had some other Sauternes, such as Rieussec or Lafaurie Peyraguey to give the big one a reference point. And again, some vintages either side to give an indication of the quality of the 1980 vintage (not bad, but not great), and how well it had stood the test of time. I felt a bit lost, and would have been happy to denigrate the sucker if one of the other people drinking it felt it wasn't particularly smart! But again, over the next two days, it looked more and more glorious, though it showed the ill-effects of air and oxidation on an increasingly ullaged bottle.

To appreciate the taste of age is not easy and really is something learned, only from experience it seems. It obviously pays not to make judgements too early!

Monday, July 7, 2008

No Doubts After a Decade

A bit of a treat in looking at a dozen Kiwi reds at a decade of age, the wines from the Library Cellar Man. Some critics say the wines from this extraordinarily hot vintage are on the downhill, but that's Aucklander talk. I don't think they appreciate secondary, let alone tertiary development characters!

First up a 1998 Daniel Schuster Omihi Pinot Noir, beautifully fine and mushroomy with forest floor complexities, really elegant stuff. Harmony here and good to see a Schuster in good form, as his wines do vary. Then a complete contrast with the 1998 Martinborough Vineyard Reserve Pinot Noir, a sizeable number with powerful fruit and structure, the oak noticeable. It will still keep. A 1998 regular label Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir was more integrated and classical in forest floor expression.

Suffering from cork taint and brett was the 1998 Sileni 'EV' Merlot/Franc. It was earthy and fully structured. We'll need to check another bottle soon, but I know Grant Edmonds started filtering to avoid any brett problems again. With it, his top wines became more elegant. A good thing? The 1998 Pegasus Bay 'Maestro' Merlot/Cab/Franc was cedary and tobacco-y, and a little crisp, the toasty oak standing out. Good South Island effort. Also surprising was the 1998 Mission Reserve Syrah, more like a gentle and dryish Bordeaux wine. Funny how varietal character becomes less distinct with time. However, one the the best 1998s came next - Te Mata 'Coleraine'. Rich, sweet, plums and berries, juicy and youthful, with plenty of body. This was dark in colour, showing visually its freshness and richness.

A wine of great refinement and rich, concentrated berry fruit, the 1998 Esk Valley Reserve Merlot/Malbec/Cab was one of the top wines too. I was let down by the French 'sighter', the 1998 Chateau Magdelaine St Emilion, as it was sour and lighter in fruit expression. Some of the other tasters loved it! Generally liked was the 1998 Benfield & Delamare Martinborough wine, elegant, distinctly spicy berryish. good acid and extract and with a future. Then came my top, the 1998 CJ Pask Reserve Merlot, showing the typical barrel-ferment moccha coffee oak, with lovely berry fruit depth and a structure to die for. Yum Yum. Too oaky for some, but that's OK.

Of the last two wines, the 1998 Esk Valley 'The Terraces' was sublime. Who says Malbec can't be classy? Well, this was, with seriously fine structure and rich, restrained opulence, if you know what I mean. The final wine was my least. The 1998 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah, faded and with little going for it now. One of John Hancock's earlier efforts, and we know far he has come.

Verdict: The 1998 N.Z. Bordeaux-styled reds from Hawke's Bay are doing just fine. Some are beginning to drink well, with complexity, and others with plenty of time ahead. I have no doubts this is a doozy of a vintage.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Quarter Century Plus Interest

A special visitor was the reason to open a few wines a quarter of a century old and older.

Continuing the success had with the German Auslesen from 1983 earlier in the week, we thought it would be very interesting to look at a pair of Spatlesen, served as aperitif wines. We were not disappointed, as going down to Spatlese level might not have augured well. However the 1983 Thanisch Bernkasteler Lay Spatlese was a testament to the staying power of Riesling as a variety. For a Mosel, this was absolutely fully mature and displayed the power and depth that the Middle Mosel wines of Bernkastel can possess. Honey, toast and kero on nose and palate with pronounced acidity that bordered on hardness, but thankfully not to detraction. Great wine now, and one can imagine it being a bit ugly-duckling sulphur heavy in youth, but now blossomed into a gorgeous swan. This was followed by a 1983 Felix Muller Scharzhofberger Spatlese, more golden, with those overmature cream custard aromas and 'attack', but a wine that faded to plainness and obscurity on the finish. Remnants of its former glory, and a wine that should have been consumed a decade ago. Felix ain't as good as Egon.

An interlude wine consisted of the brand new 2007 Ata Rangi 'Craighall' Chardonnay, shy at first, but developing in glass to show how serious and good this really is in minutes. The girls and guys at Ata Rangi really know how to make the best of top fruit from a great vineyard in the Martinborough Terrace.

Then on to the mandatory clarets, both Haut-Medoc. 1982 Chateau Cantemerle, soft and rich with earth and fruit cake, the Merlot stronger than the Cabernet, and heavily dosed with brettanomyces. However quite sweet and soft, though drying on the finish. Drink up. The great surprise was the 1982 Chateau La Lagune. Darker in colour, with beautifully refined dark berry fruits and shiny oak showing. Lively and refined, and a beauty. However, over dinner (another excellent Ruth Pretty meat-loaf made by SWMBO), the wine became less distinguished, softer, earthier, and dare I say it, the dreaded brett became manifest. Oh dear, a let down in the end. These wines at 25-26 years are proving to be very interesting indeed.

And to finish the night, a bottle of 2004 Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay, outstandingly serious with mealy stonefruit flavours, great concentration and style, and beautifully fresh acidity. As good as the Ata Rangi Craighall was, this was even better. A wine to show the benefits of bottle-age, but primarily the class that Neudorf has proven to possess. Hats off to Tim & Judy Finn.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Great White Hope

It's been a while since the last post. Work, house repairs and the 'flu has gotten in the way. So finally, a few interesting wines to try. Riesling is the great white hope, and to test it, we had the Hohe Domkirche Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese 1983 and Weingut Tobias Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Auslese 1983. Yes, both wines from the Mosel, at a quarter of a century of age. If Riesling ain't the great white hope, I don't think any other white variety can do it as consistently.

The wines, yes, were remarkable. The Scharzhofberger, a Wilson Neill purchase at $24.50, had all the hallmarks of a classic, almost overmature Mosel. Quite golden in appearance. Cream custard, honey, toast and a touch of complexing oxidation. Glorious on nose, but the palate showing more oxidation than preferable. However, great weight and completeness in the mouth, fading in aromatics as the wine warmed up in glass. The Piesporter, a Hancocks buy at $38.64, expensive two decades ago, was lighter in weight and intensity, and initially a little disappointing, as Piesport produces some of the weightiest Mosel wines. But pale in colour, this grew to become a fresh marvel of the Mosel. Classical aged Riesling that will hold still. SWMBO picked this as the best of the two, straight away. Amazingly, both wines had plenty of sugar, but perfectly poised with the zingy acidity. The acidity was a feature of both wines.

There's a few more of these German Rieslings a quarter of a century old, to try. Great white hope - yes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Treasures - Not! Or is it Maybe?

In a complete contrast, I thought I'd try some real old N.Z wines. What a shocker, mate! First up, a couple of Montana Marlborough Rieslings. Two bottles of the 1988 - yes 20 years old. That's Cyclone Bola year. Both gone golden, with gentle oxidative and honey notes. Still surprisingly sweet and lush. But not drinkable now. The 1989 was less oxidised, but also with less fruit. A bit acid, dryish and not much pleasure.

Looking at some 1986 Cabernet/Merlot blends, a reasonably ripe year, with big yields. Te Mata didn't fare too well that year with their famed 'Coleraine' and 'Awatea', the wines now tending weak, green and faded. What hope for the following then?

1986 Coopers Creek Cabernet Merlot - Acidic, herby and sharp, but with some tannin grip and depth. Drinkable, but not for SWMBO.
1986 Ngatarawa 'Awlyn' Cabernet/Merlot - Faded, papery, thinner and weaker, more dilute cedar and some fungal notes. Rather dried out.
1986 Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet/Merlot - 60% and 40% respectively, from Auckland and Kumeu fruit, 14 months in new 500 litre German and French oak. Lighter, fragrant cedar and green notes, the oak showing. A little dryish and lean, but OK.

Not having much joy, three more attempts at drinkability:
1986 Esk Valley Black Label Cabernet/Merlot, 60% and 40% respectively, 12 months in French oak. Light, green plain, some cedar. Commercial then, commercial now. But not worth sipping.
1986 Matawhero Cabernet/Merlot - I think of Hatsch Kalberer and Gisborne. Fabulous condition of the cork. Cedary and milky, some body and guts, a little acid, but this is in good nick! Phew!
1986 St Nesbit Cabernet/Franc and Merlot from South Auckland, aged in new oak. Tony Molloy QC was the man behind it, and it was a high flyer at the time. Expensive stuff, but he grubbed up the vines, affected by virus. Cedar and spices from the new oak, silky smooth and fine-grained tannins. Not much fruit, but a lovely oak drink.

Not an auspicious drinking night.....It shows how far we have come with viticulture.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Tribute to Robert Mondavi

With Robert Mondavi passing away recently, it was appropriate to toast the great man with his 1990 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Not inexpensive at the time at over $100 a bottle. Shared with SWMBO and friends including one who is in the employ of the big Constellation, who now own the Mondavi franchise, the wine was in good form. Big, ripe, substantial, but with plenty of brett. It must have been made from pretty darn fine fruit in its day. Good on yah, Mr Mondavi. You were and are an inspiration.

To follow it up, we had a look at a 1982 Ch. Pontet Canet Pauillac. Lotsa Cabernet fruit coming thru, tight and a litttle unyielding. Looked more meaty and complex the next day. Likewise with a 1982 Ch. Lafaurie Peyraguey Sauternes, dryish and seemingly modest on the night of opening, but with greater richness and plenty of botrytis the next day.

Gee, it's a treat to have these older wines sometimes.