Friday, December 30, 2011


This is the time of year we provide a little gift to the friends around us. The Quarriers were close neighbours, but they moved away to build their dream home a couple of years ago. And each time we visit, they seem happier and more composed, living their ideal life. They’ve been keen on local history and their knowledge of the characters and goings-on of the district makes fascinating story-telling. It was over another engrossing session with The Quarriers that SWMBO and I shared a couple of bottles, with several platters of antipasto. I don’t know if it was the relaxed nature of the evening or not, but the wines looked composed and relaxed too.

The Quarriers had visited Europe a few months earlier, so it was appropriate to have a 2005 S.A. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett. We had this before, and it was satisfactory then. Here, it struck a balance of delicacy with distinctive depth. Subtlety of florals, apples, honeysuckle based on slight sweetness, gentle acidity just hinting at richness with a faint toastiness just emerging. The 9.5% alc. totally harmonious.

We followed the white with a 2008 Mount Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir. The 2008s have always been easy drinkers, the crop tending on the large size. The wines have been pleasant for sure, but mostly they lacked the extra ‘X’ factor. This marred my thinking on this wine in the early days, not expecting too much out of it. It’s shyness of youth has continued to blossom, and I’ve never seen it look better. Still dark in colour, the primacy and vibrancy of fruit is sensational. Dark berry fruits with oak shine and spices along with violetty florals. The palate rich and supple, and the tannins composed. Delicious.

Both bottles slipped down a treat, and we learned a little more from The Quarriers that night…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shamefully Neglected Chardonnay

I must admit I’m ashamed of myself. 25 years ago, our winegrowers and winemakers could not be expected to make Chardonnay to last a quarter of a century of age. If one were honest, few burgundian vineyards and winemakers have it in them to do the same now. But here we were, cleaning out more remnants, this time New Zealand Chardonnays from 1987. At the time, these were much vaunted labels from some of the most exciting producers at the time. Of the five wines tried, four of the labels still exist, and that says something for stickability if the aspirations for achieving are there from the start. However, shameful on me, they should have been opened and enjoyed 20 years ago. The wines would have been fully mature, and I and my fellow drinkers would have seen them for what the industry could achieve at that time.

This was the time that Kumeu River, Morton ‘Black Label’, Babich ‘Irongate’ and Villa Maria ‘Barrique Fermented’ reigned supreme. All of the following showed orange colours with browning, though varying in depth. Also, oxidation was prevalent, again to varying degrees.

First up was the 1987 Coopers Creek ‘Swamp Road’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. 13.0% alc. on the babel. This was also one of the hot wines with a history of winning gold medals. Fruit came from the real ‘Swamp Road’ then, and not from other sites away from the Gimblett Gravels bottled as ‘Swamp Reserve’ as it is now. This was lighter orange-brown, with a not particularly attractive earthy, rather unclean, funky nose. A little more air saw positive toasty oak and char characters emerge. Unfortunately, all vinous flavour had dried up and faded, leaving powerful oxidation and extremely high acidity. The ‘Swamp Reserve’ Chardies are all class nowadays, and this is due to Simon Nunns tightening up the style.

Next was the 1987 Ngatarawa ‘Alwyn’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. Alwyn had founded Ngatarawa a few years earlier after coming back from UC Davis, and championed the variety. In many ways, he was the Hawke’s Bay ‘godfather’ with the academic background and credibility. This was a highly collectable label then, and the current release carry on the tradition. Light orange brown, with intense oxidation, but with a clarity and cleanliness. Bruised apples. Fully burnished with oxidation on palate, the wine still has a gentleness and harmony, like the man who made it. I love drinking Alwyn’s current releases as much as I did then.

The best wine of the line-up was the 1987 Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay. This was the first effort from Larry McKenna at this most exciting vineyard in a most exciting area. I was buoyed by reports that the 1988 MV Chardonnay recently tasted still was drinkable, and I remember Larry very pleased with that one at the time. Lighter golden brown, this was over-developed for sure, but fruit and oak, nuts and oxidation were showing with elegance. Again, blowsy on the palate, but very definably complex tropical fruits nutty notes, including merged oxidation, good acidity, and actually pleasantly drinkable. Well done Larry, your legacy at MV is carried on by Paul Mason.

Almuth Lorenz was an enigmatic and inspirational woman of great enthusiasm. She took a party of wine lovers, including the Real Mr Parker to her native Germany to meet stars such as Ernie Loosen. Almuth has disappeared from view now. This 1987 Merlen Marlborough Chardonnay was full-on at the time. It was notable for its dark colour and fulsome tropical fruit and oak flavours. Deep brown with mahogany now, this was lifted and had oxidation along with full, soft apricot notes. Very broad, but surprisingly lively from the acidity, the apricot notes spelt botrytis to me. The underlying oxidation really a bit too much. They say botrytis brings on premature development. It did, but there a point where not much else happens except falling off a cliff to oxidation death. This hasn’t quite got there yet.

The final wine was the 2007 Te Whare Ra ‘Duke of Marlborough’ Chardonnay, made by Allan and Joyce Hogan, boutique pioneers in the region. His Chardonnay was touted to be as exciting as his Rieslings, sweet wines and Bordeaux-style reds. So I bought some. The darkest of the set, and quite grubby and green. I suppose I saw it as Marlborough regionality combined with complexity. Some balanced textures, but the flavours are now too dirty to leave the wine in the mouth. Jason & Anna Floweday do a great job at TWR nowadays. But I probably wouldn’t leave their Chardonnay 25 years…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Surprising Sticky End

Would it be a treasure trove of goodies or a set of disappointments that would be in store for us with the little cache of sweet wines that we dug out from the back of the cellar? Most of the wines were acquired by SWMBO over a decade ago, and in shifting houses they got put in the corner, forgotten. It was with a little trepidation that we broached them; for surely, they had come to a ‘sticky end’ by being left too long.

Firstly a 1994 Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough LH Riesling, at 11.0% alc, made with some botrytised fruit. Deep golden, this showed tell-tale signs of oxidation, but carried excellent refreshing acidity and decent amounts of honey and citrus fruit. If only it wasn’t oxidised this would still be an excellent drink. Then a paler coloured 1995 Okahu Estate Northland ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay Desserté. 10.5% alc. and also botyrtised, we assume. On nose rather flat, dull and heavy with honied notes. Again on palate quite dull, redeemed by sheer viscosity and unctuous textures. In remarkable condition, but too flabby to drink any more than a few sips.

The next two wines were more extreme. A 1997 Lintz Estate Martinborough Optima Noble Selection, with 12.0% and 280 g/L rs. Chris Lintz was never afraid to push things, some say too far, hence his fall from grace. This German variety can reach ultra-high brix levels and with full botrytis, this was an OTT wine even on release. However a conglomerate cork tells the story now. Dark mahogany coloured, the nose was marked by a nasty mix of TCA and VA, along with the burnt caramel and toffee aromas and flavours. A tonne of acidity could not carry the overdone flavours, even if the cork taint was not present. A little surprise was the 1981 Tokaji Wine Trust Co. Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, at 14.0% alc. Dark orange and mahogany coloured, this was dry and dense with sherryfied aromas and flavours. Flor characters, as it should have, but wonderfully lively and vibrant and very fine featured. Very drinkable, and its only failing would be a slight lack of oomph to make it strong enough to handle time in the glass to evolve. As it was, it starting to dry and become austere in front of our eyes.

The finale was an NV Limeburners Bay Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Vin Doux Naturel’ Dessert Wine, made in Hobsonville, carrying 17.5% alc. Now defunct, this winery was one of the champions of this style, of which there was a raft of pretenders and contenders. Looking at this bottle which surely would have fruit at least from the mid 1990s, it showed the viticultural standards of the day with its leafiness. Some porty, caramel, chocolate notes too, along with a spoilage note of little furry animals? That’s why it ended up as a fortified dark red wine, rather than a varietal table red….

The wines were indeed a little surprise in a good way. Expecting the worse, they had redeeming features, let down by negative elements that were exacerbated by time. These stickies did come to a sticky end…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New and Old at the Cat Club

I’ve been catching up with the Cat Club people for around two decades, meeting at least annually to taste wines with them. They are the most down-to-earth, up-front and unassuming people in the world who love living on the edge of the city, and with nature nearby, the relish simplicity. And that’s how they like their wines – without any pretension. SWMBO and I were invited to be guests at their Christmas function, and it was a fun affair with honest humour and hearty food. A moist, tender and flavoursome ham took my fancy…

We shared our wines with the people around us, and quite a few really made an impression. I haven’t had a taste of the South African NV Pongracz Methode Cap Classique for a number of years now, but it’s always been a classy Champers look-alike, offering exceptional value. Sometimes it is a bit aldehydic, but this evening it was spot on, balancing freshness with complexing autolysis. Another bubbly also showed a touch of class, a 2001 Hartz Barn ‘Black Bead’ Barossa Sparkling Shiraz, still unyielding, but based on ripe fruit without any oak excesses. I suspect it could have handled a little more bottle-age, but it was delicious for its restraint.

Possibly my wine of the night was a 2011 Hunters Marlborough Rosé, most likely made from Pinot Noir, and seemingly off-dry and an amazing purity and depth of fruit flavours. Thirst-quenching, but simultaneously rich with exotic red floral notes. And another impressive wine was the 2008 Vynfields Reserve Martinborough Pinot Noir, wonderfully concentrated, but becoming smooth and silky in texture as the tannins are just beginning to soften. The ripeness of fruit without being overcooked was ideal. Still needing a lot more time was the 2005 Te Mata Awatea Cabernet/Merlot served from magnum. A great year in The Bay for sure, and this was powerfully and tightly concentrated. Initially shy, it blossomed to show dark plums, liquorice and Asian spices with great length.

Our contribution to the evening included some N.Z. Cabernet/Merlot blends a quarter of a century in age. We were not expecting too much out of these 1986 wines, as they never achieved the ripeness they get nowadays. But they were surprisingly drinkable and in reasonably good condition. The 1986 Venture Vineyards Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was a 50/50 blend from the ‘Sunvale’ estate, the wine aged 9 months in French puncheons. I think they were growers for Corbans, who made the wine. Past its best by a long shot, but still clean, and mellowed out to blandness, with nothing such as stalkiness sticking out. Unfortunately the 1986 Coopers Creek Cabernet/Merlot was not entirely clean. I’ve seen this before a few years ago, and a bit of grubbiness showed then too. The wine has a robustness and liveliness from proper extraction and good acidity. I think the fruit was from the Auckland area.

I really thought the 1986 Matawhero Gisborne Cabernet/Merlot was exceptional last time I saw it. It had developed seamless milk chocolate characters, and this bottle had too, but not with the richness of the earlier bottle. This was a tad drier. Made by the ever-thoughtful Hatsch Kalberer. The 1986 Ngatarawa ‘Glazebrook’ CabernetMelot was drinkable, but just had an unbalancing sourness to the fruit expression. A hint of leaf, quite acceptable, and good acid, and not dried out by any means. Alwyn Corban was a leader then and is still a force in Hawke’s Bay today.

The highlight was a wine that was out of balance – overly oaked at the time no doubt, and still the case today. 25 years ago, it would have been even easier to be seduced by new oak. 1986 Villa Maria Reserve Cabernet/Merlot, im a 60/40 ratio, fruit all from Auckland. Aged 14 months in 100% new 500 Litre barrels. The sweet and spicy oak still prevalent today, but looking more obvious because the fruit had faded away. A little leafy hint and still some acidity. Tannins present and again a little obvious, adding to the dryness. But still quite drinkable and actually enjoyable!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Singular Spice

The family doesn’t get together often with members spread over the country and busy lifestyles, bur a quick dinner before Stormin’ Norm hopped on a plane was one get-together. Jubes had a lovely meal all prepared, and a number of good bottles were dispatched.

One wine was particularly noteworthy, a 2005 Ata Rangi Celebre. A blend of 35% Syrah, 35% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon was just coming into its own. The Syrah component stood out, making it a singular spice experience. Savoury spices, meat, a hint of pepper and a taste of the exotic. Not too much tannin, but still with good freshness and acidity, and no sign of green, showing the quality of the vintage. A touch of the secondaries, ideal for interest. Celebre has never been about great finesse or having the quality to take on the world as a Bordeaux-Rhone style, but rather about drinkability. That’s what maker Clive Paton designed it to be, and sure enough, this is what it was. Deliciously drinkable.

Moroccan-inspired and marinated with a gentlespicy mix, the lamb, cooked on the BBQ, served on cous cous with pumpkin and lots of herbed yoghurt was the dinner, simple and not quite rustic. Just like the wine.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bubble, Bubble, Toil & Trouble

Every year ‘The Shaker’ opens a couple of dozen Champers and after making good notes on the wine, he holds a party so as not to waste them. The invited guests are an eclectic lot, as SWMBO and I are invited. We look the serious types, as we make a note or two, but there are others who know what they are on about. There are some who just like a drink, and before you know it, the bottles are empty! I grade the Champagnes into star-quality, based on the briefest impressions, because if I don’t work quickly, the bottles can be drained. In fact, this year I turned up right on the dot, so as to not waste any time. Here are my impressions, from 3 star, working up to 5 star, not in the order tasted, but alphabetically:

3 Star
Boizel ‘Blanc de Noirs’ – full, dry, yellow fruits soft and fleshy
Cattier – light, clean simple and fresh
Drappier ‘Carte Blanche’ – up-front, open and easy to understand, some good weight
Gardet ‘Brut Tradition’ – lighter expression, correct and clean
Lanvin – crisp, dry and acidic, a bit new, without the development yet
Moet & Chandon Vintage 2002 – soft, gentle, honied, a bit matty
Piper Heidsieck – slight sulphide notes, easy, light and clean
Pommery – a little sulphidic on nose, but with fruitiness – Pinot Meunier showing
Pommery ‘Springtime’ Rosé – up-front, sweetish and light

4 Star
Bollinger ‘Special Cuvee’ – rich, complex, tight a new shipment
Gardet ‘Brut 1er Cru’ – intense, yeasty autolysis and some complexity
Gardet ‘Brut Selected Reserve’ – nutty, aldehydic, but with intensity and length
Moet & Chandon ‘Brut Imperial’ – delicate, balanced with it all, in a mild-mannered way, but satisfying
Mumm ‘Cordon Rouge’ – lively, clean fresh, simply sweetish and easy
Mumm Rosé – tight with lovely berryish nose, and fresh fruited palate
Louis Roederer ‘Brut Premier’ – tightly bound, crisp and firm, good concentration but not the usual richness, still fresh
Perrier-Jouet ‘Grand Brut’ – soft, floral, fluffy and delisciously accessible
Taittinger ‘Folies de la Marquetterie’- lovely acidity, finesse and length in a slender style
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin ‘Yellow Label’ – medium weight, with fruit and autolysis, everything as it should be, just not starring, but more than satisfactory
Jean-Marc Vigreux-Freres – tight, clean good autolysis in a firm style

5 Star
Ayala ‘Brut Majeur’ – tight and concentrated, serious underneath, but fine
Boizel ‘Brut Reserve’ – rich and fruity, in great proportion with developing complexities
Bollinger Rosé – big boned, with fruit richness and complexing yeast, yet with style
Charles Heidsieck ‘Brut Reserve’ –toasty, rich, soft and mouthfilling
Dom Pergnon 2002 – stunning elegance, finesse, freshness, beautiful acidity and floral aromatics
Jacquesson Cuvee 733 – punchy and tight with funky complexities and interest
Pol Roger ‘Brut Reserve’ – very fresh, clean, delicacy personified, yet real character and depth
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin ‘La Grande Dame’ 1998 – powerful and densely constructed with lovely acidity and great complexity

The list and ratings seem right in place for me, and my usual perspective. There are always some surprises, due to how I’m seeing things that day. But also each house can vary, according to how fresh or old the shipment is. Some of the smaller houses vary year to year, and surprisingly the bigger houses can too. C’est la vie! Thanks to ‘The Shaker’.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dirty Thirties

After the big day serving drinks and selling bottles, we eventually retired to the A-Prentices to relax. It was all pretty mellow stuff, and SWMBO, the Patroller, the Argentine Angel, and Bexy didn’t seem too bothered to open any more bottles, but rather be content to sip on some that were already opened.

Ah, but what the heck, we gave in to our inquisitiveness and thought we ought to broached a couple of old bottles that didn’t seem to appeal originally. The discussion with Bex was that many of us seem the drink the newer wines, as viticulture and winemaking is improving all the time, and the oldies just don’t cut the mustard. The wine of the past weren’t made with the same understanding of basic hygiene and desire for ripeness. Many oldies just seem to grubby and dirty, with the dreaded ‘B’ word showing up a lot. So we didn’t hold up much hope for the following:

So first up a 1977 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. 34 years old.. Fading garnet with brick. On the nose quite herbaceous and stalky, but also blackcurranty. And a bit earthy and gamey in a secondary way, and not really dirty at all. Phew! The palate was the let-down. Light-bodied, rather thin, drying out and firm in residue. A more commercial wine from a pretty inauspicious year really. So it didn’t do too badly….

We held out even less hope for the Chilean 1974 Concha y Toro Cabernet Sauvignon. The Argentine Angel especially didn’t expect too much. After all, the Chileans gave the co-ordinates for the General Belgrano navy cruiser to the Brits, resulting in its sinking. Well, dark garnet with blood and tawny hues, this actually smelt sweet and ripe and that odd, resinous rauli wood they matured wine in then. Soft, integrated, but without too much backbone, as you’d expect, and clean. As it sat in the glass, I could sense decay creeping in. But, a surprise. Not bad for a 37 year old cheapie bought over three decades ago…

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Greys and Blacks

An annual gathering at the A-Prentices was the occasion, before the regional festival, and my, has the gathering grown. Bottles galore lined up, with a host of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and other varieties and styles. I arrived late, so just managed to work my way through a selection of Pinot Gris and Cabernet Sauvignons before retiring.

A well-awarded 2010 Mud House ‘Home Block’ Waipara Pinot Gris was all correct, and prim and proper, and a delicious starter. Off-dry, with weight and some unctuous textures. Then an explosively fruity 2011 Starborough Marlborough Pinot Gris, just simply an exotic mouthfilling wine that has interest and freshness. A step up in power with flavour restraint was the 2011 Starborough Awatere Pinot Gris, a single-vineyard expression. This bottling has drive and will no doubt develop with bottle age, judging by its constitution and purity.

Then onto the seriously blackcurranty stuff. An intriguingly labelled wine “1” was first broached. Not many clues as to what it was, except the capsule had “Stony Corner” and the back label 2005 red wine of New Zealand. A relabelled Newton-Forrest tier! And sure enough, that iron-core of black fruit with sweet and spicy notes. Quite delicious. A tougher proposition was the 2003 Kennedy Point Waiheke Island Cabernet Sauvignon. Dry, firm, dusty tannins. The classic question: will the fruit last as long as the tannins? My feeling was the extraction will remain dominant. Our friend Beckers had brought along two vintages of the iconic Margaret River Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 was indeed an example of its greatness. Ripe, superbly structured, and with a sweetness of varietal fruit with just that little more, a nuance of eucalypt to prove its provenance. The 2005 was more an expression of the variety than place. Firm, archetype blackcurrants, and great concentration with length too. A tad on the austere side, but that’s Cabernet Sauvignon.

Things with Shiraz brought up the end of the evening for me. The 1998 Glovers ‘Springrove’ Shiraz from Nelson was a big number in size and grip, unfortunately tainted by brettanomyces. However, an ancient 1986 Ata Rangi ‘Celebre’ was a revelation. Though herbaceous on the nose, this was sweet and lush to drink, and still with the structure to go somewhere. The finale was a 1.5 Litre 2008 Ata Rangi ‘Celebre’. Fresh, juicy, spicy, wonderful proportion and a joy to drink. Sometimes a magnum bottle is not quite big enough.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Testing Time

Every year, I have been running a wine options game for special clients, the ‘Beepers’ who are ‘Simply Gruesome’. It’s always organised with panache, and SWMBO and I just come in and conduct it, asking the questions, and we have a lot of laughs doing it. We’ve noticed the standard of tasting ability and wine recognition has steadily risen over time, and it’s definitely not the clues I give them, but I reckon its their abilities and accumulated knowledge. When Len Evans designed the wine options game, I’m sure he had ‘fun and learning’ in mind.

This year’s wines were a selection I enjoyed picking and serving. I get asked what’s my favourite, and I must honestly reply they all seem good to me for what they are! The first served was the 2010 Eradus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. The good 2010s from Marlborough are drinking so well right now, this showing some beany development, but the richness, weight and harmony is something to behold, if you are limiting yourself to current vintage wine. It’s partly the vineyard, partly the winemaking and partly the year, but it all worked. The players did well with this in identifying it. Also well picked by the players was the 2009 Albert Mann Alsace Grand Cru Gewurztraminer ‘Steingrubler’. We had this in July and loved its hedonistic richness. But tonight it was a little closed up and herbal-muscatty. Still with depth and oily textures, this could be one that will age well. Then the wine that fooled and disturbed people. A 2002 Tyrrells ‘Vat 1’ Hunter Valley Semillon. I was told by an eminent Hunter wine judge that you must work at understanding this style. I’m still working at it, and the light must be coming through. Very refined and tight, with gorgeous intricacies of waxy herbal fruit and ethereal tasty oak-like complexities. Bright and fresh with plenty of acid, I can see this going another decade or two! An Aussie in the audience loved it, but she had had prior experience of such things, but it bamboozled the rest of the group.

The ‘Last Man Standing’ game is always fun. In a short time you can whittle 60 participants down to one winner with some well thought-out questions. It took just four questions to get a ‘best taster’ with the 2010 Heart of Gold Gisborne Gruner Veltliner. The wine has come on remarkably in a year, indicating that it can benefit with some bottle age. A year ago, it was on the lighter side, but now the full pepperiness and direct character came through well. Gisborne seems to be successful are a growing region too.

Then onto the reds, starting with a 2008 Penfolds ‘Bin 407’ Cabernet Sauvignon. A very good year for Penny’s as many ‘even number’ vintages tend to be. Ripe, sweet and rounded with density, but also strong blackcurranty flavours. Sure, a meal in itself, but satisfying and it brought a smile to most people’s faces, including ours. It was reasonably identified by most people. The 2009 Charles Wiffen Marlborough Pinot Noir was also easily recognised as a Kiwi Pinot Noir, but hard to pick where it came from. Most said Martinborough or Central Otago. A bit of praise I suppose for Marlborough which tends to get overlooked. Succulent and plummy, without being like a Merlot or Syrah, and very Pinot Noir. A crowd pleaser for sure. The final wine was again fairly difficult to pick. Unless you’re a keen wine aficionado, you wouldn’t fork out for a $100.00 2006 Prunotto Barolo. It was a bit of a star for me. Classical tar and faded roses, with vital acidity and firm tannins. The lovely savoury flavours juxtaposed with sweetness. Looking faded, but capable of a decade plus ahead. And Prunotto is a modern traditionalist, so imagine the real old-fashioned stuff! This pushed the limits a bit for most tasters, but they could see the difference. Old World structure, and food compatibility.

The whole event ran smoothly but took more time than expected. Though we were testing the ‘Simply Gruesome Beepers’, we were tested on the time too. We all passed!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Solid as a Brick

We were in a bit of a party mode and Brickers invited us around to his place for a few wines and a bowl of soup. Brickers is a real card and can draw well as well as tell stories. But just as impressive is how he brings out wines to attract one’s attention.

One of the other invited guests opened their wine first, a 2004 Dagueneau Pouilly Fume ‘Pur Sang’. The wild man of the Loire made the best Sauvignons in the world, consistently – solid as a brick! Pale as ever with the most amazing liveliness and acidity allied to minerals, herbs and stonefruits, I saw some oxidation which seemed to integrate with the wine in the glass. It would be easy to underestimate how this could change for the better, but alas, it went down a treat as it was, so I’ll never know…

A rock solid, blue-chip vintage for Burgundy is 2009. Brickers supplied two. The 2009 Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er ‘Cazetiers’ was remarkable soft, supple and sweet. Not like the Faiveleys of old which were all tannin and extract. This had great dark berry fruits with knife-edge char, toast, game and funky brett. If you could handle the horses, it was a revelation. Otherwise, it will only get worse. Next was a much cleaner 2009 Bouchard Pere Volnay 1er ‘Clos des Chenes’. Clean and clinical, without too much personality really. Hard to fault, I would have preferred drinking the previous wine for character alone.

Serious wines were then on the drinks list. The 2009 Clos des Papes Chateauneuf-du-Pape was dark in colour and dark in fruit; raspberries with game, and plump sweetness backed by a serious backbone. Layers of funky interest lurked below the fruit, and I felt this could turn any way and in any time. Rounding off the party was a 2007 Pio Cesare Barolo. The similarity of Nebbiolo to Pinot Noir was not lost on the guests. Of course darker and more severe in fruit, with sour berry and brick and earth too. This was a lighter, elegant but truly traditional in flavour profile, yet modern in accessibility, the tannins supple and sweet and sour in fruit.

We raise a toast to you Brickers, for such generosity! You’re solid as a brick, mate!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Family Fare

With members of the family all together, a visit to the Martinborough vignoble was in order. Accompanying SWMBO and myself were Jubes, Mags, Wilco Johnny, Lithe Lisa, Flautist Aaaron and Dave-Man, making a lively party keen to taste wine. The aim was to visit producers run by families, to make the day a family affair.

After a heady drive over the Rimutakas and a settling coffee with muffins, we converged on The Cabbage Tree Vineyard where owner and winemaker David Bull showed us his hands-on artisanal operation. It’s just him and his wife Winifred here. The group liked the riper, subtle, stonefruity and weighty 2008 Cabbage Tree Semillon. I was more taken by the 2008 Cabbage Tree Chardonnay with its bold palate and prominent oaking. Fitting right in the Martinborough mould of ripe, savoury fruit and substance with structure, the 2008 Cabbage Tree Pinot Noir was also well-received. Cool, herb-like flavours marked the bouquet of the 2008 Cabbage Tree Merlot, this redeemed by the milk-chocolate flavours and richness on the palate. This first visit was an excellent and very personal introduction to the delights of wine growing.

The next call was to the BioGro certified Vynfields and a session with the elegant owner Kaye McAulay. The classy setting of the two storey villa was the perfect backdrop. We were the first public to taste their NV Vynfields ‘Bliss’ Sparkling Riesling. Though with 20 g/L rs, this seemed drier, but the same lovely lime and honeysuckle flavours were on show. A 2010 Vynfields Dry Riesling was just that. Dry, minerals and limes and a firm line. The 2009 Vynfields ‘Mad Rooster’ polarised the group, some enjoying the savoury spicy confected flavours, the others finding it too rustic. There was no doubt about the stylishness of the 2010 Vynfields Pinot Noir, with its excellent fruit depth and fine, proportioned lines. Talk of organics and biodynamics made us all feel a little more moral and righteous, and we enjoyed our time on the higher ground.

Wine-fuelled hunger drove us to see Marvellous Marvin at the meal-time diner. That refreshed us adequately to continue our vinous journey to meet up with that petit-powerhouse Helen Masters, winemaker at Ata Rangi. This is truly a family concern, with hubby Ben in the background and Clive and Ali, sibling owners all on hand. The new season releases were tasted. A 2011 Ata Rangi Summer Rosé was a benchmark for the style with its bright red fruits and thirst-quenchability. The 2009 Ata Rangi ‘Craighall Chardonnay was as rich and textured, and as complex as the last time I saw it. The new 2010 Ata Rangi ‘Crimson’ Pinot Noir shows its cooler fruit-ripening build up, and was racy and zesty in a fresh and lively way. Much more complete was the 2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir. While it shows the vintage too, it is on another plane, or should I say planet? Rounding off the tasting was the 2011 Ata Rangi ‘Kahu’ sticky. Minerals and marmalade, tight and ageworthy, yet already deliciously luscious and decadent.

Our final port of call was the giant of the region, Te Kairanga. Also family-owned, in this case by the Foleys, GM Andrew Shackleton gave us a tour of the impressively functional engine room. Then off to a tasting. The 2010 Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc showed very good gooseberryness with some weight and body. A range of Chardonnays was my pick. The 2009 Te Kairanga Chardonnay citrussy and oaky, quite up-front and clear-cut was surpassed by the 2009 Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Chardonnay showing more barrel-ferment creaminess and nutty oxidative complexities, which in turn was surpassed by the 2008 Te Kairanga ‘Casarina’ Chardonnay, more complete still. The same progression was seen in the Pinot Noirs, the 2009 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir fruity and linear, quite correct, then a more rich and sweeter 2007 Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir, showing some mushroom interest. Even more savoury and gamey was the 2007 Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir.

By then it was time to head back home, over the hill, to proceed with the evening activities. They say a family that plays together, stays together. Very true indeed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Touring On-Premise

Had a little job at one of our top flight eateries, talking to some of the new staff about the New Zealand wine scene. They were a young, but enthusiastic bunch, and well-trained in their craft, but still relatively uninitiated in wine. The cool, maritime influenced climate, concept of regionality and terroir were discussed in the briefest time, as were the ideas of winemaker signature, plus wine and food synergy. The bottom line was that nothing can be better than to visit the regions and be on the land.

The concept put forward by The Peeler was to taste a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir each from Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago. It was a selection The Peeler put together, and it turned out pretty interesting going on this vinous tour, with these on-premise people. SWMBO turned up in support and helped hold it all together.

First up was the Hawke’s Bay group, and the 2011 Te Mata ‘Woodthorpe’ Sauvignon Blanc was crisp, clean, relatively subdued, but with clear-cut varietal gooseberry flavours. Its stablemate, the 2010 Te Mata ‘Elston’ Chardonnay was a stunner. A combination of concentration with stylish elegance. Grapefruit galore with perfect mealiness and nuttiness, creamy barrel-ferment and crisp, racy acidity, just carrying the flavours for ages. There’s about as much Pinot Noir as there is Cabernet Sauvignon in The Bay, but it figures less than 8% of the region’s plantings, so it was Merlot. The 2009 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot was another outstanding wine. Still dark purple and tightly bound, there was no mistaking the ripeness and richness of the plummy fruit and fine tannin grip. A great showing from these three from the region.

Then onto Martinborough. An interesting older wine came in the form of the 2010 Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc, some bean character, but lush and full, still full of sweet fruit and a with a touch of decadence. The 2009 Ata Rangi ‘Petrie Chardonnay also showed some bottle –development character. Savoury fruits, but tight and with linear power. Then a 2009 Porter’s Pinot Noir, quite restrained, but with the expected structure and slightly gamey complexity to the fruit. This had a touch of herbs too, which was both a positive for interest and a negative for indicating a cooler note. The region only makes up less than 3% of the country’s total plantings but the reputation is much bigger. I’ve seen better examples than these, but they weren’t exactly bad!

Marlborough accounts for more than half our plantings, and on that count is our most important region. An even older wine was the 2009 Auntsfield ‘Long Cow’ Sauvignon Blanc. More bean-like, but with considerable fruit sweetness and weight, making it nearly unctuous. An easy wine to underestimate would be the 2010 Mahi Chardonnay. Elegant, citrus and mineral with flinty lees complexities. There’s plenty built in here and I reckon it’ll keep well. Then the surprise find of the day, a 2009 Charles Wiffen Pinot Noir. Chock-full of ripe raspberry fruit, sweet, lush juicy and extremely vinous, with ideal tannin and acid balance. They say Marlborough will be the Pinot Noir engine room, making good quantities of good value, good quality examples. The other regions won’t be able to compare on these three counts taken together.

Then to the far south, Central Otago. As Chardonnay accounts for 4.5% of the plantings and not considered to be ‘there’ yet, we had a 2008 Mt Edward Riesling. This found favour with everyone. Slightly sweet, with citrus and florals and a generous, but not overbearing fruitiness. A touch of honey, but no toastiness yet. The perfect anytime sipper. The 2010 Rippon Sauvignon was one of those raw, complex, wooded styles. Not liked in general, but I thought it a bold wine and good effort. Nettles, spices and nectarines on a substantial palate. The final wine was a 2009 Wanaka Road Pinot Noir, a second label for Mt Edward. Light, supple and friendly, it didn’t have the typical fruit-bomb black cherry fruitiness, but rather, soft red fruits and a more gentle nature.

I think the on-premise folk found it useful. It was a good recap for me, in any event.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sporting Chance

It was very sporting of Peteski and Janski and family to host a dinner on the night of a significant football game. SWMBO and I had Radiohead in our company, and with the likes of AC Electric Man and The Relish on hand, there was plenty of conversation. Wine discussion came up against general chit-chat and gossip and of course the big game, but in the end, every topic was a winner on the night.

With the nibbles and starters, we had the whites. A 2009 Telmo Rodriguez ‘Gaba do Xil’ Valdeorras Godello wonderfully refreshing and zingy from the elevated acidity, nice tropical fruit notes, and a genuinely pleasant sipper, surprising a few drinkers. A relatively simple wine, but exactly as it should have been. A great contrast was the 1998 Marc Bredif Vouvray, easily more golden coloured and the most satisfying fresh waxy, but subtly secondary nose, and richly textured, slightly honied, but refreshing palate. A little reduction fitted in with the interest and development flavours. The Relish had enjoyed a range of these earlier and wasn’t quite as happy as I was on this. A treat for me though. The third was a 2009 Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay. I had been impressed with this earlier in the year, but on the field, it was still a newbie, with potential, but not showing as much as it could. Good ripe citrus and mealy fruit with nutty oak overlay, but no nuance yet. It’ll be better in another 18 months.

Marking half-time, AC Electric Man brought out his 2005 Craggy Range ‘The Quarry’ and it was a tight, brooding and firm beast. It gradually revealed its pedigree. Dark, concentrated ripe black fruits, massive, but fine-grained. A star in the waiting really, but it improved through the night.

Hearty chicken dishes appeared on the table, vegetables and salad, and it was onto the next phase of play with the wines. 1986 was a high-cropping vintage for Hawke’s Bay reds, but it was fascinating to see the 1986 Te Mata ‘Awatea’ alongside the 1986 Te Mata ‘Coleraine’. Both were faded garnet in colour and medium-light weighted, the tannins forming a residual line and thread through the palates. The former showed herby, sappy, blackcurrant leaf aromas and flavours, the coolness and low ripening exacerbated by acidity, the latter moderately ripened red fruits, but with sweetness and a harmonious mouthfeel. This is consistent behaviour for these labels, even when they were single vineyard wines as with these 1986s, and after, when they became blends of sites and made to a style.

Two other Bordeaux-themed reds followed. The 1980 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon was also in the cooler, elegant spectrum, but sweeter and richer again over the two New Zealand oldies. Juicy minty notes and a core of fruit made this a good wine. And the extraction of fruit provided the structure where the tannins here were now becoming fully resolved. This wasn’t the case with the 1982 Ch. Rahoul Graves. A solid, chunky wine with earthy heart and a hard edged palate, AC Electric Man enjoyed this, but SWMBO and I saw robustness and coarseness. In its favour, it was still very alive and vital, with no brettanomyces. So it had a good outing and could be counted as a player.

The final tipple was a 2005 Waimea Estates Noble Riesling. Dark golden mahogany and incredibly sweet and concentrated. Huge botrytis ‘flytox’ characters with burnished, broad caramelised and candied fruits. A sip was all that was needed. Over the top and good with it.
It was good to give these wines a sporting chance to show, and they performed as they should have, if not better than expected, making the night a winning one.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Departure Lounge

Marking a departure, we set up in our lounge and set out to have a few drinks with the Young New Trader and AC Electric Man. It was a pleasant time reminiscing over good times and discussing plans for the future. We settled in and the bottles began to flow is we laughed and joked and solved the problems of the world.

We set off with a trio of 2010 Sileni Estates Hawke’s Bay Chardonnays, the ‘Cellar Selection’ quite light and simple but with a really attractive sweetness that made it very drinkable. Up a step was ‘The Lodge’, rich, citrussy, mealy and beautifully textured from the barrel-fermentation. This is drinking so well now, and is surprisingly elegant for all its richness packed in. However the ‘Exceptional Vintage’ was something else with its extra depth, concentration and weight. This wine spoke ‘potential’, because at this stage it was restrained in flavour.

The next step was to journey to Australia, and explore two classic styles. A 2009 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon had richness, softness and breadth, with a core of blackcurranty fruit. The palate was mouthfilling and sweet, and fully textured with soft tannins. This was a solid, but fleshy number. We went 30 years back in time to a 1979 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, a multi-gold medal winner in its time. Lighter, with herb and stalky notes and considerable acidity. Intriguingly this morphed into dark berry fruits and smoke, chocolate and toast in the glass, and then back to the cooler herbaceous side, then to the complex expression again. The good thing was that it was spotlessly clean with no animal or grubby characters. Then a relatively youthful 2001 Lowe Hunter Valley Semillon. Bright light golden, this flowed with waxy, toasty herbal aromas and a soft textured shy-flavoured lanolin-herb and floral palate that suggested it could handle another decade of bottle-age. This was much tidier than the previous bottle a few months ago.

The destination next in line was Europe. The 2006 Telmo Rodriguez ‘Altos de Lanzaga’ Rioja was extremely fine, tight and New Worldy with slick dark red berry aromas and flavours, ultra-smooth and fine tannins, and a healthy dose of cleansing acidity. It could have come from nearly anywhere bar a savoury sweetness that hinted of its origins. We were surprised by how grunty and fleshy the 2006 Ch. Leoville-Poyferre St Julien was. SWMBO was distracted by the detracting brett, but the rest of us were quite accepting of its influence. Ripe enough, with lots of bacony-charry oak that went gamey, then fruity. Another multi wave, multi-layered wine of significant presence.

After a round of pizzas to soak up the savoury whites and hearty reds, we needed palate refresheners, so it had to be Mosel Riesling! The 2009 von Kesselstatt Kaseler Nies’chen Riesling Kabinett was a beautifully nuance wine with nuances of yellow flowers, and substance. An eye opener because this site usually provides delicacy, cut and steel. Sealed in cork, this may have matured a little more quickly than in screwcap. It overshadowed the 2009 Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, which was tight and a little reductive. That’s what can happen with scewcaps. However, the legendary slate showed through, and we believed this will come right in time.

The night was drawing to a close, so a forage in the cellar found a rare 1975 Cooks Vintage Port. Cabernet Sauvignon-based with a swag of gold medals behind it, this was more the sweeter Portuguese-family style rather than the dry British-family based style. Faded rose colour, with a very fine, elegant, ethereal-fruity nose, the palate balanced sweetness of fruit and sugar with drying tannin grip. The most faint secondary character was beginning to show. Was this still young, or was it just a simpler wine? A tough point to debate, but the essential conclusion was that it was very drinkable. So it was drunk!

It was time to close the departure lounge. The AC Electric Man hopped into a taxi and departed home. The Young New Trader lounged downstairs to retire. We headed upstairs and departed to the land of nod.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Edgy Drinking

This was not a session where we drank to the edge, but rather, a couple of edgy wines, edgy for various reasons. SWMBO and I regularly keep in touch with Lazza, but haven’t shared a few good bottles of late. It was the perfect opportunity to try out a few wines.

Opening the score was a 2005 Dirler Alsace Riesling ‘Belzbrunnen’, a rarely seen label here, but always worth the search. The Beret had obtained it in a recent visit to the family biodynamic domaine. This was the second bottle I have tried recently, this one broader and shyer than the first, with some toasty development and a touch of gentle oxidation. Quite soft and mellow.

So onto two Pinot Noirs from the same vintage. A 2008 Fromm ‘Clayvin Vineyard’ Pinot Noir, already showing plenty, and surprisingly so, as this label can be reticent, though not as quiet as the sister ‘Fromm Vineyard’ wine. Ripe dark plums, red fruits and dark red florals, with a plumpness and soft, roundness. Delicious stuff indeed. The 2008 Drouhin Griottes-Chambertin GC showed the cooler vintage with elevated acidity and fruit flavours with riper violet and dark cherry and some herb-stalk hints. It was the reduction that polarised us. Combined with the spicy oak, Lazza and SWMBO loved it. I was a little less impressed, but it grew on me. Certainly on the edge of ripeness, the 2008 burgundies need care in choosing.

Dinner was needed, and hearty duck, beef and venison made it onto our plates. Here we had a peppery, spicy, fleshy 2007 Heart of Gold Gisborne Syrah/Tempranillo. Its soft approachability and resolving tannins made it an easy pleasure. What a novel blend for N.Z. Followed by a tight 2009 Terrace Edge Waipara Syrah. This didn’t show much initially, but as usual, by the bottom of the bottle, it began to show aromatics and spiciness. There are some warm spots to grow Syrah down south, and Terrace Edge may be one of them.

Not needed, but opened anyway were two sweeter wines. The 2005 S.A. Prum Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese was everything good about Mosel wine. Poised with intense floral, slatey fruit, luscious sugar, creamy texture and cutting, refreshing acidity, all complexed with some toasty-kero. The bottle was drained with SWMBO as its champion. We did not disagree. Lazza gave a big plug for the 2004 Ch. Climens Barsac as well. Nougat was the overriding impression, and definitely more rich and fulsome than other Barsacs from this vintage. I love the 2004 Sauternes for the elegant proportions.

We all had a glass too much in the final analysis, but we were nowhere near the edge.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Going to Some Lengths

I had to travel across the length of the island to reach The Beret and Glam Pam, but it had been on the cards for a number of vintages. Joining us for the evening was The Master, and after a session involving tasting over two dozen wines where The Beret had spent an inordinate amount of time, we settled in for some well-anticipated food.

The call to dinner was NV Nicolas Feuillate Champagne ‘Reserve Particuliere’. It hit the spot, with its good size, good fruit depth and all the right amount of autolysis and fruit in combination. I tend to overlook the label, in favour of the more prestigious, and I shouldn’t.

The main food course was beef, and The Beret pulled out a number of reds he’d brought all the way back from France. Some people go to any length to ensure a good drink! First was a 2004 Rene Monnier Beaune 1er ‘Cent Vignes’. A light vintage, but pretty and delightful, still fruity and fresh to a degree, and with good tannin structure underpinning it all. Nice clean fruit, and all in balance too. A bit more serious was the 2003 A-F Gros Savigny-les-Beaune 1er ‘Clos des Guettes’. This showed the drought harvest with its bright dark red plum fruit aromas and flavours. It is said that the 2003s show the New World ripeness, and this did to its benefit, as Savigny-les-Beaune can be a bit rustic and earthy. Roll-on global warming? And to ensure a balance, there was the 2002 Ch. Sociando Mallet Haut-Medoc. Definite blackcurrant Cabernet Sauvignon at first, but then the growing appearance of horses and farmyard from brettanomyces. Underneath it was a big wine, and fresh and lively, but this was getting dry and grippy with it.

A treat was a rarely seen 2005 Stentz Alsace Gewurztraminer ‘Cuvee de la Premier Neige’, named after the first snow, and thus a late-harvest wine. Full, golden, luscious honey, Turkish Delight and spices on a rounded unctuously texture beautiful palate. Pretty close to decadence.

The Beret pulled another vinous treat to seal the night. 1985 Calem Vintage Port. Garnet and fading in colour with a lighter bouquet, marked by VA, but seamless and lighter, but really delicious drinking, with just enough spirit cut, resolved tannins and good acidity. It’s nicer to go to port, as it shows you’ve travelled the long way through a good dinner. I could go to some length to drink this again!

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Sweet Show

It was payback time. Gordy and Perfect P have been extremely kind to SWMBO and me over the last couple of years and no matter how much we have tried to repay the hospitality, we always seem indebted to them. So this time, we were to take them to a show. Not just any show, but a special one that would WOW them. And they accepted our invitation.

Before we headed out, we thought we’d try a new 2011 Brancott Estate ‘B’ Marlborough Noble Sauvignon Blanc. Initially I thought it would be a modestly sweet wine, as the spec. sheet said 23.2 g/L residual sugar. I thought it would be a lovely, mildly sweet intro to the night’s proceedings. On opening and sipping, it was a gloriously full-blown luscious and hedonistic number, showing only a vestige of varietal character and massive, but beautiful botrytis marmalade notes, We didn’t finish the bottle as I thought it prudent to preserve ourselves for what lay ahead…..

The show was indeed a WOW, and everything we had said it would be to our guests. We left feeling sweet so decided to cap the show with a glass and nibble. Along the waterfront to a Hip Hotel, where a 2006 No. 1 Family Estate ‘Cuvee Virginie’ Methode Taditionnelle appeared. This combines richness, intensity and size with finesse and layers of bready, yeasty complexity and seems to be coming more and more seamless. Great with the sashimi served.

We walked down the road and saw a Humming Place that beckoned. A number of tapas plates were ordered, and the wine to have was 2010 Te Whare Ra ‘Toru’, a Marlborough blend of Gewurz, Riesling and Pinot Gris. The perfumes stood out for me, with good acid zip, and a sweetness that went with anything remotely hot or spicy. What a nice combination of varieties.

Even though we were near replete, I led the group to a place my Ancestors would be happy with. Asian of course! And there we had a selection of Chinese desserts. Weirdly sweet, and challenging. Our wine choice was equally odd and provocative, a 2008 Telmo Rodriguez ‘MR’ Malaga, a mountain bush vine Moscatel wine at 13.5% alc. Lovely clarity of fruit, but touched with a savoury note for interest, and sweet, but not obviously overly so. It had its own character and stood up against the different desserts.

Then off home. But Gordy had a sweet surprise for us. Served blind, of course. Deep golden, mature orange in colour. Full, aged, harmonious, decadent waxy Semillon, botrytis and oak, and a trace of oxidation. Soft, lush, weighty and fully integrated, maybe a little too low in acid. Molten barley sugar with a little burning and just turning a little funky. It turned out to be a 2003 Ch. Rieussec Sauternes. I thought it placed in the 1990s and very developed. These 2003s are coming along quickly.

What a sweet wine showing the night turned out to be. And we still owe Gordy and Perfect P!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Comfortable and Cruising

It’s been a little stressful for our little dinner group lately. Natural disasters, new work, some health niggles and pressures that seem to pop up out of nowhere, and we just have had to put off getting together. The situation has mellowed out for all and we are all comfortable and cruising now. We finally managed to meet up at Brucie and the Bassinet Babe’s for dinner. The Eventress was looking in fine form and The New Man must now be called The Settled Man. (Somehow ‘The Old Man’ doesn’t work!), and with SWMBO and yours truly, we were at it again opening wines and sharing gossip.

An NV Moet & Chandon ‘Brut Imperial’ started the proceedings, still fresh and quite delicate. Looked like a new shipment, as the brand seems to be ticking over quickly now. Another half year in bottle would see it show more depth, but we had no problem finishing what was a good starter.

A great cheeseboard came out and a 2009 von Kesselstatt Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett slowly built up in richness to go especially well with an ash-rolled chevre served with home-made quince paste. I was surprised by the delicacy of the wine, as it has seemed a little bolder, as this site is prone to be, in the past. Then a blast from the past, a 2002 Stonecroft Hawke’s Bay Gewurztraminer. Fully developed and getting golden, the varietal perfumes and spices had given way to burnished characters and an unctuous palate just starting to show signs of drying and bitterness. Remarkable really, and if it was the ‘Old Vine’ version, it may have surprised us even more.

Blind tasting red wines was the next phase, before the roasted lamb and vegetables. We nailed the 2008 Mt Difficulty ‘Long Gully’ Pinot Noir. Probably my wine of the night. Velvety smooth, with the perfect degree of richness, leaving the wine with a sense of finesse. Beautifully ripened red berry and cherry fruits with freshness and bright acidity. Seamless drinking, with restraint. Our host pulled out the stops with a 1996 Gaja ‘Sito Moresco’ Langhe, a blend of Nebbiolo, Merlot and Cabernet in near equal proportions. Powerfully constructed but flawed by considerable brettanomyces. This could have been a sensation. SWMBO corrected guessed Italian too.

The next was a 2004 Craggy Range ‘Le Sol’ Syrah, served not blind. Beautifully rich and not over-bearing in any way. Clearly varietal and without over-ripeness, this was lively, fresh, vibrant with a hedonistic sweetness and quite delicious. Probably the wine of the night for most of the team. Another blast from the past was presented next, blind again. The 1995 Pegasus Bay ‘Maestro’ Waipara Cabernet/Franc/Merlot. Garnet edged, past mature in colour. And distinctly herbal, stalky and acidic. But the aspirations behind the wine were evident. Fine and significant extraction, and a decent dose of spicy new oak was still a feature. I thought it older.

With the sticky pudding and ice cream came a 2009 Schubert ‘Dulce’ sweet wine, made from Muller-Thurgau from vines outside the cellar door in Martinborough and carrying 6.5% alc. A wow wine with its extreme richness, fresh cutting acidity, amazing spice and honey flavours overlaid with marmalade essence. My second wine of the night! And proof that Muller-Thurgau has its uses...

The effect of wine began taking its toll. We were getting too comfortable and cruisy. Time to head home until the next dinner where the catch up, gossip and wine opening and drinking will no doubt continue.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Moments of Magic from Montana

There was a time in our wine industry that biggest was best. And in the 20-30 years ago period it was Montana Wines that was the giant. It has morphed into Brancott Estates nowadays and its pretty much still the biggest, but it isn’t necessarily seen as the best today if world-class, earth-shaking quality and style are the criteria. While today’s Montana still dominates the overall sales, back in the 1980s it also dominated in terms of innovation. New varieties, new production techniques, and the wines relatively affordable if not downright good value. Brancott does the latter part well still, today. And don’t forget, it was Montana that made a serious go of Marlborough, something that we can be proud of today.

Easy to reach in the drink-up racking was a selection of Montana Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons. They needed to be opened, and I wasn’t hopeful of too much magic in the bottles. Most of them I’ve tried before, with disappointing results, but a kinder frame of mind might have been a good approach.

First up, three bottles of 1988 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling. I’ve waded my way through a few bottles of this, wondering why I had so much to start with. It was the year of Cyclone Bola, which might explain a lot? All in the Montana proprietary claret-styled, slim-line bottle with the Montana crest embossed. Corks came out a treat and all in good nick, soaked less than half-way. On the label 12.0% alc., with 12 g/L rs, a TA of 7.5 g/L and pH of 3.4. Not much has changed, the formula still works for them today. Bottle #1 light golden, showing delicate, rich honied notes and a trace of oxidation. Palate similar, with lovely sugar/acid balance and though a thread of oxidation throughout, quite drinkable. Bottle#2 deep golden colour, dense on nose with deep oxidation and madeira like. Honied but blowsy and past it. Bottle#3. Palest yet, fine, tight, crisp and acidic with less fruit. “There are only good bottles” was the saying that came to mind.

Then two older bottles. The 1983 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling, a multi-gold winner in its day, a wine that Serena Sutcliffe praised when she judged the Air N.Z, Wine Awards way, way back. An ullaged bottle, with deep golden colour, some oxidation, dried out a tad, but honey and cream notes, with good acid, and a touch of burnished flavours. A core of quality could be detected. Magic! Then a 1981 Montana Marlborough Rhine Riesling, also ullaged, but in fine condition. More lean and thread, tight and delicately toasty. Not as rich or as concentrated as the 1983, but a delight, despite the line of oxidation.

There’s not much Cabernet Sauvignon in Marlborough now, but in the 1980s there was plenty. Montana’s Marlborough Cabernet Sauvignon was always knife-edge, but ripeness was not being achieved consistently anywhere else, so the Montana wines were relatively acceptable. The vineyard was the Fairhall site and the wines ranged from 11.5 to 12.0% alc. with about 6.1-6.3 g/L TA, and aged in U.S. and French puncheons. The 1990 was dark mahogany-garnet with a solid, deep nose of blackcurrants, green herbs, minted chocolate, all quite in harmony. But weak on palate, somewhat stalky but smooth. The 1987 was lighter coloured, garnet and brick, lean, slightly grubby and corky. Leaf, acid, mustiness, and thinness pervaded this non-beauty. If it wasn’t corked, it wouldn’t be much better. Then a 1986, a little deeper in colour and with a gutsy, grubby nose of herbs, leaf and toasty oak. Mellowed out on palate, the acidity came through, but this was drinkable just.

Then onto an experimental 1982 Montana Wairau Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 11.5% alc. and aged 10 months in U.S. oak puncheons. It was an allocated wine at the time. Deep mahogany and garnet hued, this had an air of complexity and interest. Earthy-dirty, but currant, leafy, herb and stalk, all intermixed with oak toast. Same interest on palate, the acidity elevated, and savoury green. A little ugly in some respects, but this is Kiwi Cabernet, from Marlborough, 29 years old. Some forgiveness is required.

I found some good moments with these Montana wines in the final analysis. Not quite magical, but plenty to interest me and nostalgic as well…

No Hope Whites

Clearing out yet another row of unwanted wines from a wine rack that we care not to look at, because the thought of opening the wines there have very little appeal. They are in essence ‘no hope whites’, but the demand for storage space for new wines that SWMBO has acquired meant that taking the corks out and tasting them was a must. We take the view that if the producer put the wine to bottles, they should at least be tasted, no matter where or when…

The younger wines first. A 1995 Te Horo ‘Aurora’ Sauvignon Blanc, at 11.5%. From Marlborough fruit, the year that it rained and rained, and made by the ever-so-enthusiastic Alastair Pain in the Kapiti Coast. Light golden straw colour, this had a reasonably vinous nose that was identifiably varietal, soft and not asparagus-like at all. However, thin and very acidic, and faded to not much on palate. Surprisingly in condition after all it had against it! This was paired, time frame wise, with a 1996 Villa Maria Private Bin Gisborne Chardonnay, at 13.0%, and “aged in French and American barriques”. Deep golden, but still together on the nose. Over-ripe melon fruits with some oxidation. And as expected blowsy and overblown now, the ripe fruit going heavy, and quite toasty from the oak. It was holding up, but on its last legs. SWMBO bought this after it was highly rated by various authorities, and it has done well.

Then onto the serious stuff (not!) A 1985 Montana ‘Wohnsiedler’ Muller-Thurgau, at 10.5% alc, proudly showing two NWC gold medals for 1983 and 1984. Orange coloured, very oxidised, and quite a thin, nothing wine. Even when it is passed its best, Muller-Thurgau can show its weakness! And the a 1987 Montana Marlborough Valley Chardonnay at 12.0% alc., fruit from the Woodbourne Estate, aged 12 months in French Nevers oak. TA of 8.2 g/L and it shows. Sophisticated for the giant Montana in its day, but now full-golden coloured, green nectarine fruit on bouquet, but aged and oxidised, but very oaky and spicy. The palate extremely acidic, and the toastiness from the oak sticking out.

Sure they were 'no hope whites’, but there was something to learn from them. To the winemakers responsible, my apologies for not opening them and drinking them at their proper times.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Falling Flat

It was a chance for us to catch up with the 'Atta Girls' both of them lively and fun. The conversation was indeed bouncy and filled with seriousness and laughter. A couple of bottles brought out had all the credentials for adding to the vitality of it all.

Firstly, Germany with a difference for us. We usually have plenty of Mosel wines, so for a change a 2008 Schloss Johannisberg Riesling Kabinett from the Rheingau. All very adequate, being soft, gentle with a modest richness, but somewhat out of kilter with the acidity. The end result a little sour and flat. This was disappointing, especially as SWMBO and I had visited the castle, and sat overlooking the Rhine from the restaurant, sipping a near 30 year old Spatlese. Maybe there's a reason why we stick with tried and true?

Next was the 2006 Montille Volnay 1er 'Carelle sous la Chapelle'. We've had this a few times now, the last bottle stunning with The Chairman. Alas, it was quiet and dull. It may have been the temperature? But as it warmed up, just not enough there. We waited and waited, to no avail. It filled up a little, but there was nothing special about it, and indeed somewhat flat.

It came to a trio of Aussie reds from Yalumba to lift our vinous spirits. The 2008 Yalumba 'Hand Picked' Barossa Shiraz/Viognier, just lifted, floral, exotic and spicy. Beautifully so, and with style. Then a 2005 Yalumba 'The Menzies' Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon. When opened, it had a forward, earthy, near dirty nose, but it had become very varietal, but laced with sumptuous cedar spices and lush, sweet fruit. However, it was the moumental 2006 Yalumba 'The Signature' Cabernet/Shiraz. Layered and eveloving in glass to show great fruit depth and richness, along with an amazing array of spices.

These did the job and saved the day (or night). If we drunk it all, we would've needed to fall flat to recover!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Bash For Two Birthdays

We ambled down to one of our favourite eateries to meet up with O&E. There were two birthdays to celebrate and a few good bottles needed to be shared. O&E looked fab, and they were in good form. For openers, a 2002 Veuve Clicquot Champagne Rosé. Pretty to look at, but very substantial to drink. This surprised us all how dense and nearly unctuous this was in texture and weight. And as it warmed up, the autolysis amalgam just grew stronger. It was a very cold night, so the power and the body of the wine was a positive. It could have been a good food Champagne too.

Then with the entrée course, a 2007 Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio Sudtirol. A bit of a classic, as was the tier for this famous producer. Hinting at complex flintiness on the nose, it was clean and clear-cut, but with good textures and the subtle nuances mandatory for interest. And of course, it went with all the entrees from oysters to salmon and quail. The mains of pork belly, duck and beef had a 2002 Ch. Pichon-Lalande Pauillac to do the job. And it did, working with each dish without any conflict. The wine itself is tight and tidy, showing its vintage provenance. Archetype blackcurrant leaf notes, but with perfect elegant proportion. Fine drying tannins, and just enough fruit sweetness to let you know it could keep for another decade if need be. It will never be a blockbuster or show winner, but always a shy charmer.

We had a platter of cheese presented, and that was the cue for the 1996 Ch, Guiraud Sauternes and 1997 Ch, d’Yquem Sauternes to come out to the table. The former darker burnished gold, with forward caramel and lozenge aromas and flavours. Some phenolic dryness especially on the back palate suggested it will decline soon. Nevertheless a brassy Sauternes that still had good richness. The latter wine was a step up and backwards, as could be expected. Light golden in colour, this had a flashy, deep lanolin and waxy-marmalade and honey-packed nose lifted with VA and a hearty dose of new oak. The palate certainly fruity with youthful characters, the wine yet to become really complex and of interest. Yet the sheer class, richness and potential was all there. It’s a ripe, full and solid Yquem, and better because of its youth. I reckon it’ll be one of the better releases. But it sure delivered plenty for the two birthday people.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bit of a Bash

Out to the Chinese eatery, as a bit of a birthday bash, with Towering Mike, Krystal Kirsty, Stellar Star, the Young One, Jolly Jol and SWMBO. A bit impromptu, but such occasions can be the best.

The wines were just perfect for it. A rare, up-and-coming 2009 Fairbourne Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. You couldn't get anything more Loire-like. Made by Russell Hooper and Sarah Inkersell who may take the Savvy world by storm one day - and probably sooner than later! Then a 2009 von Kesselstatt Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Kabinett, rich and plump, quite exotic as Middle Mosel can ever be. Slight reduction that gave gave to subtle richness. A beauty. Then an outstanding 2006 Felton Road 'Block 5' Central Otago Pinot Noir. Forest floor, with utter sweetness underneath. As it saw air time, the most spectacular structure came evident, showing this could age another 8-10 years.

The food was spot on, and the company, especially Stellar Star was exemplary and funny. You couldn't ask for a better birthday present.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Outside The Norm

A visit to our largest vignoble last week gave SWMBO and I the chance to taste hundreds of wines. Most were current release wines, but many were unfinished current vintage numbers that were still sitting in tank or barrel. It was a welcome change at dinner to have something a little different, somewhat out of the norm from what our business day was offering.

The following were tasted over three meals, but I’ll note them in style. The Rascal and Savvy Sarah love the 2010 Te Whare Ra ‘Toru’ at their favourite Asian eatery. This Gewurz, Riesling and Pinot Gris blend hits all the spots with the food. Mildly perfumed, with acid zip, and good textural integrity, and just enough sweetness to meet a little heat and spice. Chalk one up for blending, and two bottles over the meal for us!

The Riesling Man did options on a couple of whites. Of course, we were predisposed into thinking he’d serve aromatic whites, arguably his first love. A 2009 F.X. Pichler Sauvignon Blanc Smaragd Loibner Steinertal threw us off-track away from success straight away. Spices and weight, rounded textures, almost Alsace-like, then finally the herb nuances opening up at the end. 13.0% alc. on the label. And a very petite white burgundian styled 2007 Domaine Gavenet Cotes du Jura Chardonnay ‘Grusse en Billat’. This revealed its variety slowly but surely, and its provenance, just east of Burgundy could be deduced.

It’s much easier when wines are served open. The Great Grape Grower had us around for a curry, and he served the 2009 Fevre Chablis 1er ‘Vaulorent’. Not as ‘out there’ as the 2008 tasted around this time last year, but significant extract and oaking made this a special number. It’s worth the asking price over the other premier crus.

We had a couple of Aussie Hunter Valley reds just to give something different to the Riesling Man. A 2004 Brokenwood ‘Graveyard’ Shiraz at 12.5% was your modern, elegant interpretation. Trying to be aromatic and perfumed peppery, the oak spicing was dominant, and racy acidity was the focus on the palate. Very New Worldy, and reminded me little of the Hunter Valley. However the 2003 Wyndham ‘Black Cluster’ Shiraz 2003 was a different proposition. Funky, inky, gamey, earthy, but without anything truly sulphidic or nasty as the old vintages of yore had in spades. Something very interesting here, and very Hunter, probably a caricatured stereotype of the variety and the region.

Since we had been drinking young things with the Great Grape Grower and his entourage, we brought out the oldies. A comparison of 1987 Wynns ‘Black Label’ Coonawarra Cabernet with the 1987 Wynns ‘John Riddoch’ Coonawarra Cabernet – commercial release vs the super-premium. The 1985 and 1986 John Riddoch tasted with The Chairman last month were fab. Here the Black Label was gentle, smooth, still showing blackcurrant fruit with mint, cedar and dust. A slip-down drink. The John Riddoch was hard, harsh and acidic, with pushed-to-far oak, and disjointed components. This is how some of these have gone with age. The 1993 is an example. Hamo thought it slightly corked, and I could see that too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Expect the Unexpected

We were graced with the presence of Gordy and Perfect P. The time with them could be expected to be a good one. They are a vibrant couple, with lots on the go, and we could expect them to look after themselves to some degree. And so it was. What we didn’t expect was for Perfect P to cook us a meal at home! Gordy being in charge of the wines had a couple of ‘Options’ lined up for us. It was to be expected. We had a a couple of ‘Options’ line up for them. That too was expected. But how the wines turned out was unexpected.
To set the scene, we opened a 2006 No. 1 Family Estate ‘Cuvee Virginie’ Methode from the famous Daniel Le Brun. It is a tribute label to Daniel’s daughter, and it really is sophisticated. Last time SWMBO and I tried it, it was backward, and seemed to need time in bottle. However, on opening it was harmonious and together and very now. A very pleasant surprise. Lovely autolysis, and waves of flavour.
Then to the mystery whites. Served blind, a 2005 Keller Westhofen Kirchspiel Riesling Trocken from the Rheinhessen was a tough one to figure. It smelt very German, but the dryness, highish alcohol and body suggested Alsace. A beautiful drop, with gorgeous ‘custard and cream’ from bottle-development, and great interest in flavour. If you were critical, it seemed forward too. The acidity was soft and lowish. Both SWMBO and I chose Alsace as our answer, with the proviso it seemed from over the border (at least in our minds). From the Rheinhessen and sitting at 13.0% alc. All that was unexpected, but in retrospect, it all made sense.
Our contribution to the blind game was a 2005 Nicolas Joly ‘Clos de la Coulee de Serrant’ Savennieres. A classic from this biodynamicist. Golden and terribly oxidised on nose, this partly redeemed itself with body and sweetness and richness in this dry wine. We were all disappointed. We’d been told that Joly recommends decanting 24 hours in advance, so it was interesting to follow. Unexpectedly, it began to lose its oxidative nose. Pineapples were seen by SWMBO. Gordy could see ultra-late picking. He could have guessed Rhone white. With 15.0% alc., one could see why you’d go down this track. But, Gordy said Chenin Blanc – and correctly. As time went on, the wine got cleaner and richer, but also sturdier and hotter. You could not expect to understand how this wine would behave…and I don’t think we can yet…
On to the reds, as Perfect P was cooking up the venison racks. Gordy’s red seemed so Bordeaux-like, with lovely dark berried-plummy fruit on the nose, but the richness on palate that ensued was so unexpected. Game, leather, juiciness and great tannic structure marked what was the wine of the night. It was 1999 Antinori ‘Solaia’. Yes, Bordeaux in Tuscany. SWMBO queried brett, but no, it was complexity, and the wine got sweeter, yet more structured with drinking. Cabernet Sauvignon CAN work in Tuscany, we all reckoned.
Then a 2001 Rostaing Cote-Rotie ‘La Landonne’. Much more elegant and considerably more acidic. The freshness and raciness spoke of Cote-Rotie rather than Hermitage or Cornas for sure. Lovely gentle savoury fruit development, then a huge whack of bacony oak and luncheon meat complexity that Perfect P could see. We’ve seen this label with an unhealthy amount of the horses in the past, and the cleanliness was a little unexpected.
To tie up the evening, no guessing games, unexpectedly so, but at that time of night, much easier and better. 2004 Ch. Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes. Sheer elegance with richness. I love these 2004s, even though they are not the best rated. This is really harmonious and soft textured. Rieussec seems more flashy and Suduiraut has lovely tension, but this is sensuous. Expected.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


It was a bit of a reunion with the old crew from a wine show a few years ago. A lot has happened since then, and when we all got together, out came all the news and what was on our minds. The Chairman and the Jelly Bean Girl were in transit, so it was a welcome stop-over as far as SWMBO and I were concerned. The Sabre Girl and Hutch we had met up with recently, and they had plenty of family news too. Pouring of wine helps the process, and a general pairing of them helped make the reunion a vinously interesting one.

As is the norm, bubbles really set the scene well. A 2003 Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage Champagne was delightfully rich, up-front and nearly bold. The dosage was particularly evident, and made the wine lush in a vintage that could have resulted in flabbiness. Then came the 2002 Pol Roger Champagne Rose, possessing that elegance that marks the house style. Succulent and with a luscious finesse, the soft red fruit characters totally harmonious.

Moving on to whites, two absolutely divergent styles. The 2004 Jaboulet Saint-Peray ‘Sauvageres’ was a wonderful surprise. Real freshness for this 100% Marsanne, with lovely white stonefruits and delicate spice from the oak. Initially pleasing was the 2007 Paulinshof Brauneberger Kammer Riesling Spatlese ‘feine herb’. Lovely rich honeyed nose, but oddly lean and lacking substance on palate, despite the 12.0% alc. The wine seemed forward, and even more so as we drank it.

A bit of a lead-in with a lighter red was the 2006 Montille Volnay 1er ‘Carelle sous Chapelle’. We’ve loved this before, for its elegance, but tonight much more substantial, with dense fruit, structure and a bit more oak than I remembered. This ended up being wine of the night…

The main course was served with a quartet of wines. Actually two pairs, each pair being a 1986 and 1985 together. Wynns ‘John Riddoch’ Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, and Ch. Montrose St Estephe represented in both vintages. In some ways, the vintages should have been of the same ilk. 1986 more ageworthy, and 1985 more classic. And that’s how they turned out. The Aussie pair stole the limelight. The 1986 dense and dark, with firmness and boldness. Real concentration and time to go. That super-ripe fruit and powerful oak in balance. The 1985 was more gentle, more layered, and flowed across the palate with nuance. Most of the group plugged the 1986, the Chairman and I went for the 1985. The clarets were more secondary in character, both showing some horseyness. Drier too, and without the fruit sweetness. The 1986 rather locked up, and austere, being rather hard, but with concentration. Maybe this could go another two decades? The 1985 softer and broader, more evolved, but also more bretty. These French numbers just weren’t that enjoyable!

The night was ending, so came the 2004 Ch. Rieussec Sauternes. I love the elegance of this vintage, Semillon oiliness and waxy textures, just enough ripeness and kindly botrytis. So drinkable. The Riuessec very modern and shiny, and with style and impeccable cleanliness. This ‘New World’ style seems to be more prevalent with the Rothschild ownership. Whatever the reason, it was still a hit at the end of the evening.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Dozen 2009s

It'd been a while since I'd caught up with The Rascal, but there he was, at the tasting billed as a Dozen 2009 wines, a vintage generally deemed to be a top one in Europe. Cheeky as ever, but with insight and the ability to sum up a person's character in just a few words. The twinkle in his eye leaves you in little doubt why he has that moniker from me...

And the wines? A 2009 von Hovel Oberemmeler Hutte Riesling Kabinett of great delicacy typical of the Saar. Subtlety is the key word here, and an easy wine to miss in a line-up, followed by 2009 Geltz-Zilliken 'Rausch' Riesling Kabinett, with lovely purity, steel, and a hint of decadence by way of its honied notes. Gorgeous. The third German wine a 2009 H. Thanisch-Erben Berncasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese was marked by reduction, but carried far more typical Middle Mosel weight. Given a decade plus, these reductive wines can come together amazingly.

French whites began with a 2009 Ch. Gaudrelle 'Turonien' Vouvray Sec, crisp, clean, white florals and stonefruits, a little leanish for me, butagain with delectable delicacy for others. Chardonnay next with a 2009 Corsin Macon-Villages, again a lighter style, but showing complex oak barrel nuances and remarkably sweet fruit. A step up was the 2008 - yes, an error - 2008 Corsin Saint Veran 'Vieilles Vignes'. More depth, more concentration and interest, and better with an extra year of bottle age. Worth the extra asking price of $6.00 over the previous wine.

The top 2009 Bordeaux wines are yet to be released, but two cheapies gave an indication of what's to come. A lovely primary fruited, spotlessly clean, supple wine with real Merlot tobacco was the 2009 'Comtes de Tastes' Bordeaux. It makes some of our Merlot wines 2-3 times the price look wrong! More what I expected was the 2009 Ch. Fongaban Cotes de Castillon, darker and with more extract, but a little rustic, as can be the case.

A bracket of Rhone wines finished off the 2009 line-up. Firstly the 2009 Fondreche 'Mas O'sud Cotes du Ventoux, plump, ripe, lush and an easy approach with a juicy burst through the palate. The 2009 Vendemio 'Regain' Cotes du Ventoux was lifted with a little VA, which reduced the real fruit expression, but more structure was the key. A wine to take a wee gamble on. Far more gutsy and traditional with the taste of garrigue that is often written about was the Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone Villages 'Vieille Vignes'. Blacker fruits and earth too. Much more to look at in the glass. Then finishing with a 2009 Ch. Saint Cosme Gigongas, the classiest of all the reds, with fine-grained tannin structure and a stylishness to the near opulent fruit.

The Rascal never puts the pressure on you to buy anything, and that's his charm. SWMBO and I will order a few of these wee gems soon...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Getting Together

It has taken a year for Brit Biker, Tigger, Teacher Ma'am and Niggle and us to get together. Much has happened in that time, and the catch up was full of news and progress. We face changes and continue to move forward. Brit Biker had prepared a good lamb rack for dinner, and the wines flowed around it.

For starters, a wine from the Czech Republic, from the Suche region, a 2009 Michlovsky Palava Sauvignon Pozdni Sber. As far as I can tell, Milos Miklovsky bottles wine showing terroir, this from the Palava area, a 'late harvest' wine coming in at 13.5%. It wasn't Sauvignon as we know it, but very delicate and faint in varietal character, but it had vinosity and balanced freshness. The perfect aperitif, actually, and it surprised us all. Then onto a 2009 Spade Oak Viognier, sealed with a 'Vino-lok'. Rich, dense, still firm. But very varietal and exotic, with a bit of oak showing too. This is going to develop pretty well.

Then the lamb was served. Judged to perfection, even pink inside. Moist and succulent with subtle, but distinctive flavour. Normally you'd think Bordeaux varietal, but no, it was a 2006 Montille Volnay 1er 'Carelle la Chapelle'. Elegant, but so clear-cut, with intensity and a core, yet so gentle. It got together with the lamb amazingly. The best 2006s from the Cote de Beaune can be superb. This was followed by a 2004 E&E 'Black Pepper' Barossa Sparkling Shiraz. Saturated purple red in colour, the nose was dumb and brooding. But rich, sweet and juicy on the palate, the ripe spicy fruit enriched by the residual sugar, but then kept in check by the growing feel of tannin grip. Strangely in balance, and quite sumptuous.

The cheese board came out. Very ripe double brie was the centre piece, with a cheve emerging as a beauty too. Two old Kiwis from a high yield year. The 1986 Coopers Creek Cabernet/Merlot was still dark and dense, robust and solid, with acid and greenness, but still full of vitality, without the spoilage I had seen before. It was hard to drink, but it was surprisingly alive after 25 years. Workable with the cheeses. The 1986 Stonyridge 'Larose' was uber-mellow and faded. There was nothing left of its personality and vinosity. Very smooth, sufficiently ripe, hints of berry fruit, just disappearing to nothingness, as we looked and sipped.

A sweet treat to finish was the 2009 Clearview 'Sea Red'. A sort of ruby port-lookalike. Fruity and sweet, but quite elegant. Sometimes this label has awkward bits hanging out of it, but this vintage was very much getting together, becoming a lovely mellow finish. It helped to make our getting together a success.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Subtle Forces

After all the years and all the bottles, it never ceases to amaze me how subtle forces play on your perception and appreciation of wines, even those you have tasted many times. Dinner with Grunter and the Wandering winemaker was particularly mellow, as the other halves were a delight and fun. It made for a softly, sweet and easy evening. And the wines seemed that way too.

Nautilus Cuvee Marlborough Lot 602 is a bit of a mini Bollinger as far as I'm concerned. SWMBO has ensured a supply for all occasions. Tonight the dosage appeared much higher and the yeasty autolysis far more subdued. Delicios nevertheless, but more a Louis Roederer of old! And the under-the-radar 2009 Te Mata 'Zara' Viognier. In a world where explosive, high octane examples rule, 'Zara' tends to get left in the wake. And unfairly so. Over a lovely dinner it shone with its more delicate richness, lovely oily texture and hidden power that emerged in the glass. We would not have drunk so much of a show-stopper for sure, and we made it the wine of the night. And then a 2006 Hyperion Cabernet Sauvignon from Romania! First whiff - full of brett. Danger signal. But strangely it came and went, sort of like the topics of conversation. A touch dried out. But then great with cheese. The ripeness was good, the oak a little rustic, but it was 'fine' to drink.

To be aware of these subtle forces is important. We can see their effect, but also it is great to go with the flow. It makes life easy and enjoyable if you do.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Not a Dead Cert

It's been a while since the last post, as work has been demanding. Part of it was a visit to Grunter's region to keep things humming, and I wasn't sure if we could stay. Nothing's a dead cert, since you can't impose, even on the best friends.

To make it sweeter, I brought along a 1983 Vieux Chateau Certan from Pomerol. Expecting the worst, but out came the cork in fine fashion. Long too. And only one-third soaked, and still firm. Dark hearted red with mahogany-tawny edges. A little autumnal on nose,and a bit resiny. Purists would see a little brett? But on palate sweet and vigorous. Good acidity. Loads of Merlot fruit cake and Cabernet berries. Complex, and still with time to go - another decade.

I wondered if it was going to be a goodie. The 1982 was even sweeter and lush. My fears were that it was a dead cert to be on its last legs or spoiled by the dreaded 'B'. No way. It was a restorative to believing and being positive.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Seafood Extravaganza

We were off over the hill to meet up with our gourmet friends for a celebration of seafood. One keen kitchen confidential with our hosts doing the service matters allowed 10 guests, of which SWMBO and I to sit down and enjoy the creativity. The menu was provided in advance and all of the attendees brought along wines that might match the seven courses served up. When the food was dished out, we made our choices from the pooled wines. Some worked, some didn’t. But that’s the usual case when the wines are not tasted while the food was designed and prepared…

The Trio of oysters was delicious. Bluff oysters, of course, done natural, Rockefeller and as a shot. Unfortunately, most of us had finished our Champers beforehand. The NV Veuve Clicquot ‘Yellow Label’ medium weight with soft Pinot Noir fruit and moderate yeasty autolysis. A fresh landing, no doubt. And the NV Lanson ‘Black Label’, much weightier and more autolysis and aldehydic. Most preferred the former, but I went the latter.

Seared tuna rolled in Dijon mustard and herbs with lemon mayo and micro salad. A wow dish, with fantastic textures and rich surroundings. A 2006 La Viarte Colli Orientalide Friuli Pinot Grigo looked as if it was going to be too old or underwhelming, but it worked a treat, becoming sweeter, and enhancing the juiciness of the tuna. The big surprise was the 1998 Saints Hawke’s Bay Pinotage, beautifully smooth, cedary-spicy and light enough to match the tuna, and stand up to the mustard. The 2008 Hawkshead Bannockburn Pinot Noir was bold and too fruity for the fish, but a delight in its own right, in fact most excellent and very Bannockburn.

Saltiness was the problem in the Salt and pepper squid served with anchovy aioli for the wines to match. Both the wines were fully mature and without the ‘cut’ for the squid, and the saltiness was too much for the wines fragility. The 2007 Koura Bay ‘Sharkstooth’ Pinot Gris quite pear-like and rounded, the 2003 Pond Paddock Te Muna Chardonnay getting a little vegetal, but still intact on palate, though rather delicate.

My pick of the courses was the Crayfish ravioli, served in a bisque sauce. Sweet and fresh textured flesh with intense reduction. The Hidalgo ‘La Gitana’ Manzanilla Sherry meeting the bisque head on and powering through, but in the end the flavour was a little too light. A good amontillado would be even better. Unfortunately the 1998 Schlumberger Alsace Pinot Gris ‘Les Princes Abbes’ was too flabby and mature, the golden colour and apricotty flavours indicating botrytis?

Crispy skin John Dory fish, sautéed, on fennel and salsa verde. Mine just slightly undercooked, and it continued to progress to perfection. Subtle and sweet, with the herby influence. With three wines, there should have been a stunning match, but no. On their own, the wines were great. A 2008 Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett was gentle, crisp and faintly exotic in its sweetness, but too sweet for the fish. A 2004 Tyrrell’s ‘Belford’ Hunter Valley Semillon, only 11.0% alc, but lovely herb and waxy textured, and great finesse and depth. But rather austere for the dish. And the blockbuster, seriously concentrated, mealy, nutty, toasty and citrusy 2007 Villa Maria ‘SV – Keltern’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. Just too powerful and oaky for the John Dory.

Duo of dessert time! A Lemon and thyme brulee, beautifully combining both citrus and aromatic herb, plus a Valrhona 70% cocoa chocolate mousse. A seldom seen 1999 Cofield Rutherglen Late Harvest Muscadelle at 9.2% alc did the job perfectly with the brulee. Stylish Muscadelle, rather than brash Muscat being the key to the match. A 2006 Kilroy was here! McLaren Vale Sparkling Shiraz had the right flavours for the chocolate, but was too dry. A lovely example of modern, balanced, non-excessive bubbly Shiraz, however.

We were getting close to being finished off, and the Cheese course did the job. A wonderful triple cream brie, and a Kapati Kikorangi blue, set beside a stunningly rich, spicy, integrating 1998 Rosemount ‘Balmoral’ McLaren Vale Syrah, misnamed, as it was definitely Shiraz. This was strong enough to wade through the creamy layers of the brie and stand tall with the flavour peak of the blue. Also a success was the Lauriston Show Liqueur Muscat, but this headed off to its own world of raisiny decadence. Perfect blend of fresh and old material, more on palate than on nose, just increasing in richness and intensity with every sip.

An amazing night of a range of seafood, and a great deal of fun trying to match the course with the range of wines. Must do it again!

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mass of Wine Amassed

After a particularly high powered tasting with The Real Mr Parker, it was time to settle down to a bite to eat. Each of the guests brought out their bottles to consume over the meal. There were too many wines to catch up with, but most of us had a go. I recall a number of them. Here they are in style order:

I never knew that the Rothschild Family had gotten into Champagne, but they have, and poured first was the NV Barons de Rothschild Champagne, in a plain and simply presented bottle, but with all the Pinot Noir and autolysis whistles showing. A full-bodied style that was meaty and food friendly. The other dry white was a 2006 Guigal 'La Doriane' Condrieu, perfectly plateaued now, with incomparable apricotty exoticness, orange blossom and superbly integrated oak. It's amazing how this starts off as a heavily oaked wine then just absorbs all that wood in a few years. These Guigals know a thing or two!

New World reds made a strong showing. There's been a lot of press about 1998 Martinborough Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir beating a DRC 'La Tache' recently. $150 vs $2,000. The Real Mr Parker decided to open his last bottle. Damn - corked! And badly too. The power of the wine could be made out, just! A 1997 Mission 'Jewelstone' Syrah was shy with its spice and pepper. Inoffensive, but without getting anywhere. They do a better job nowadays. And a 1997 Rockford 'Basket Press' Barossa Shiraz. Loads of ripeness, loads of black spicy fruits and lots of sweet oak. But just flat and dull overall. Wanting to be impressive, but never making it because of too much make up.

Then onto a Rhone bracket. Worthwhile comparing the 1997 Jaboulet 'Thalabert' Crozes-Hermitage with the 1997 Jaboulet Cornas. The former light, slightly weedy and plain, but with a finesse. The latter richer, firmer, gutsier and lush in a rough way. The surprise was the 1989 Ch. de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Rich, softly textured, dense with spicy red fruits and complex earth/game, but no brettanomyces! We couldn't believe our luck!

A Bordeaux set brought in a sense of style. A pairing of Chx. Montrose, the second growth from St Estephe. The 1984 was leanish and greenish and modest. Drinkable, but the acidity was elevated. Fruit weight barely there, but a fine-featured wine in the end. Better was the 1983, with fine, tight, classic blackcurrants and cassis showing fair ripeness. Some body, restrained tannin, but good acidity, all there to keep it alive and chugging along for another decade. It wasn't the star it is today. Then onto a 1983 Ch. Raymond-Lafon Sauternes. A great year for most Sauternes, the d'Yquem had last year quite sublime. This was beginning to dry and show the faintest signs of going decrepit. However, oily, rich, lemony lift, botrytis barley sugar and a touch of VA. Should have drunk this a decade ago?

Finishing it all was a little 375 ml Campbells Rutherglen Liqueur Muscat, elegant, harmonious, more fresh material than old, but nicely done. Some warmth and spirit, but really decadent and easy. This was an ideal finisher that gave us a sugar hit!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Good Jobs

It had been a while since we all got together. We had a date lined up, but it got shaken to pieces with events down south. The news was that the blokies had all gotten jobs, good ones too, and were gainfully employed. No longer did The Eventress need to support The New Man, nor did the Bassinet Babe need to look after Brucie, and SWMBO with me! Celebrations all round!

So we kicked off with a fabulous NV Nautilus Cuvee Marlborough Methode. Lot 602 is the Champagne Bollinger look-alike, and it did a great job at opening the proceedings. Search for it, if you can. It's worth it. Then two older Rieslings. A 2005 Craggy Range Te Muna Riesling, rare as hen's teeth, was showing lovely toasty notes, just marred by a hint of reduction. But soft, North Island broad, and beautifully harmonious on palate. Perfect hint of sweetness. Wonder why they haven't kept this label going? This was paired with a 1999 Felton Road Dr Riesling. 11.0% alc. Much more linear, like going down a railway track. Great toasty notes with pronounced acidity, and lush creaming soda and custardy textures as in Mosel with age. I would have liked a whisker more sugar.

Heavy duty whites followed. They always do a good job with food. A 2001 Lowe Family Hunter Valley Semillon was full and waxy-toasty on nose. A portent of what might be on the palate? But alas no, there was nothing home except a nice rounded mouthfeel and vinous weight. Will check out the other bottle soon. The shining star, possibly of the night, was the 2006 Sacred Hill 'Riflemans' Chardonnay. It grew in the glass and showed its class with great complex mealy smoky richness. Wow, blam, pow! A thumpingly great guns wine.

As the antipasto platters dwindled, and the venison meatballs came out, we moved to two new-release Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noirs. Now Tim & Judy Finn, with winemaker John have done more than a good job on these 2009s. The 2009 Moutere was tight, backward, and had great weight, depth and power - just waiting to open out. A Richebourg of a wine! Then the 2009 Home Vineyard Moutere. Opulent, decadent, but with sheer class and style. My La Tache of Nelson Pinot Noir. A brilliant pair.

Then the obligatory oldies. Brucie brought along and served blind a 1990 Villa Maria Reserve HB Cab/Merlot. SWMBO figured it out straight away. Except for the year. She thought it 10 years younger, because while it had the secondary earth, dark berry and cedar, it was fresh and lively from the acidity. Very fine-grained, and drinking really well. What a good job the VM team did on those 1990s. At first the critics said 1989 was the better, hotter, riper year. But I reckon the ripening was slower with a better build up for 1990. These have lasted better than the 1989s. With all the talk of old times, out came the 1975 Ch. de Camensac Haut Medoc. I'd been hanging on to this one, not sure of what to expect. These 1975s were fearsomely tannic and hard in their youth. And a lowly fifth growth to boot. The 1975 Ch. Margaux we had recently gave some good hope. And how good was this? Super! Medium weighted, all in good proportion, full maturity, yet fresh and sweet with life ahead. It didn't have all the complex layers, but it wasn't dirty, grubby or spoiled in any way. Fulsome, round and a pleasure. We played 1970s music to celebrate, and SWMBO trotted around on her platform shoes that made her 6 inches taller (that's 15 cm for young folk).

Capping off the night with the baked, spiced apples was a 2001 Rolly Gassmann Alsace Gewurztraminer 'Brandhurst' Vendanges Tardive. Lovely spices, perfumes and hair oil armas, flavours and textures. Drinking beautifully with richness, kept in check by the 12.5% alc. But exotic and a bit of a standout. We sent our guests packing (voluntarily, of course), satisfied with doing a reasonably good job of the night!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Intensive Analysis

What was to be a light-hearted catch-up with one of The Chairman's old friends turned out to be a night of intensive wine analysis. I suppose we all tend to get complacent about our abilities to taste and guess the origins and qualities of the wines we come across, but it's a big wide world out there, and there are amazing people with enormous reserves of knowledge and experience. Intensive Ian was one such man. Marvellous Marie, SWMBO and I were awe-struck by his palate. Even The Chairman has the greatest respect.

Starters came in the form of a 2002 Moet Vintage Rose, beautifully expressive of red florals and red fruits, soft, plumpish and a touch on the sweetish side, but I called it luscious. What a gorgeous starter indeed. The 2004 Kientzler Alsace Riesling 'Cuvee Francois Alphonse' was a controversial one. Some of us thought oxidised at first, but not Ian. He was adamant it was a 'corker', and as it warmed up, it became more 'waxy' and clean. Great richness, with tightness and wonderfully textured, rather than phenolic. For me I was in the 'hate-it' camp, but could understand its quality. Intensive Ian brought out a 2010 Eden Road 'The Long Road' Canberra Riesling to show the similarity in textures. I like this - clean, fresh, floral, limes and minerals. Bone dry, but nowhere the weight and complexing interest of the Kientzler Alsace.

Star wine of the night was the 2008 Christian Moreau Chablis 1er 'Vaillons'. A complete wine with flinty richness, if that's an oxymoron, but it was just that. Classical racy Chablis, but with everything there. Intensive Ian was also impressed, but also nonchalant, as he has this type of wine on hand all the time! This was followed immediately by the 2003 Ch. Pichon Baron Pauillac. Very modern, full and plummy with sweet roasted red plums and berries, plus earth and game. There was underlying tannin, but initially the fruit had it all over the grip. Air time brought out the drying brettanomyces. Truly a product of the hot, drought vintage. I'd drink this in the next 6-8 years.

The final wines were the pairing of 1985 and 1986 Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac fifth growths, brought out from intensive Ian's cellar. The 1985 was Ian's pick at the time of buying. Now extremely horsey and spoilt by brettanomyces, hard and dry, but strangely vinous and I could imagine acceptable for some. There was a breadth and density here. The 1986 was much cleaner, lively, fresher with bright black berry fruits and a hint of resiny oak. Younger seeming than its 25+ years, but I always saw the 1986s more concentrated, acidic and classy over the 1985s which were more accessible and user-friendly.

The evening progressed to serious wine analysis and guessing to seriously funny banter. It turned out light-hearted and lotsa fun in the final analysis.