November 12th, 2010
This clever little Italian invention lets you decant wine one glass at a time. You simply plug it into the bottle you’ve just opened, tip up the bottle to fill the glass bowl, remove the small cork and pour the contents of the bowl into your glass.
The wine you’ve just poured will be (if red) softer and more evolved, much the same as if it had rested in a decanter for a reasonable amount of time. The wine in the bottle has not been aerated. If you don’t finish the bottle you can stopper it up and it will last considerably longer than if you had poured it from a decanter back into the bottle.
It’s a cool idea and adds a little ceremony to the act of wine service. I recommend it.
Here’s a five stage illustration of how it works:
For more information or to order check out www.bressino.co.nz
October 11th, 2010
Craggy Range chief, Steve Smith with 7 vintages of Le Sol
Dinner on Vomo Island is never a humble event
Steve Smith’s plan to taste every vintage of Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah on the most luxurious tropical island I’ve ever visited or imagined seemed strangely appropriate. Le Sol is a product of the sun and Vomo Island is certainly not short of sunshine. Vomo’s executive chef, Shane Avant is a Kiwi who harnesses the freshest and best local ingredients (much of it from Vomo’s own extensive gardens) to produce a range of creative dishes that would not be out of place in a world class restaurant. If anyone could create a dish to enhance Le Sol’s intense and complex flavours it would be Shane.
The tasting was scheduled for the cool early evening although “cool” in Fijian means around 30 C. A bed of ice in a cava bowl solved the problem, allowing the wine to be tasted at a perfect temperature as the pink hues of sunset softly shimmered through drooping palm leaves.
I recall my first sip of Le Sol at Craggy’s opening ceremony – was it in 2003? It was 2001 Le Sol, the first vintage of this deliberately late harvested Gimblett Gravels Syrah that was billed then, as now, as the winery’s signature label. Sitting on my right was Australia’s first man of wine, James Halliday who exclaimed with some emotion, “this is f@@@ing good Shiraz” as his impressively bushy eyebrows raised like two small furry animals running for higher ground.
Le Sol is fucking good Shiraz. After seven vintages (excluding 2003 when Le Sol didn’t make the cut) the wine has evolved into a more elegant and perhaps more complex Syrah without losing any sense of the aweome power that impressed all who tasted the first vintage.
Here are my (brief) tasting notes (to include scores would be an indignity):
Big, dense wine with an almost chewy texture. While hard to read, the wine is after all in its infancy, it is easy to recognise the power and complexity in this big and forboding Syrah. Strong, sweet fruit is interwoven with ripe tannins . The wine coats the mouth and lingers long after it has been swallowed. I can identify an array of dark fruits, Oriental spices, vanilla, bitter chocolate and very classy oak but there is a myriad of other flavours yet to be released. This is a very serious Syrah indeed.
A finer, more elegant wine with greater fruit purity than the 2008. Taut, bright Syrah with an array of red and black fruits. Lovely sweet fruit, Syrah’s trump card, with impressive length. Hints of floral, wild herbs and cracked pepper adding extra complexity. The wine suggests a slightly cooler vintage than 2008 giving it more energy and vibrancy.
This is the only vintage of Le Sol that included a small belnd of Viognier in the style of Cote Rotie. REd fruits, floral/violets, and spice/pepper characters. Perhaps the most floral wine of the flight – Viognier influence? A sligthly lighter and less robust wine but with pleasing suppleness and purity.
One of the most Rhone-like wines thanks at least in part to a satisfying and thankfully subtle hint of brett. Intense, elegant wine with great mouth feel. Chocolate/mocha, licorice, floral/lavender, spice/pepper and forest floor/Bovril characters. Complex and attractive wine that’s just beginning to show some pleaseing bottle development. Tannins are beginning to melt and the wine has a lingering and layered finish. One of my favourites.
This was a cooler vintage with more pronounced pepper (black and white) and wild herbs. Showing good bottle development but still quite focused with reasonably firm tannins. Coffee, forest floor and some fresh earth characters. Lengthy.
Still showing a relatively youthful colour. This was a warm, dry vintage and teh grapes were picked late without pressure. “Le Sol extreme” with 15% alcohol that leaves a little heat on the finish. Rich, generously proportioned wine with Forest floor, earth, dark chocolate, savoury and leather – like getting into an old Jag on a hot day.
Mellow, broad, rich wine with good bottle development adding character and complexity. Warm, savoury Syrah that lingers in an ever-changing kaleidescope of flavours on the finish. Halliday’s comment is still valid. I’m gratified to have a few bottles of this wine in my cellar. No rush.
Check out Vomo Island on their website www.vomofiji.com it’s the ultimate Pacific hideaway.
September 20th, 2010
The results for my favourite wine competition have just been released with another victory for New Zealand.
The Tri-Nations Wine Challenge is an annual event which has been held for the past eight years in Sydney. As selector/judge for New Zealand I choose my top ten or seven wines (the number varies by class) in 13 classes (sparkling, Chardonnay etc.) and the wines are matched with similar styles from Australia (Huon Hooke is their selector/judge) and South Africa (Michael Fridjohn).
Wines are tasted blind by class. Each judge selects his top six wines in every class. The scores are added to determine top wine of class, country winner by class, top red, top white and top country overall.
New Zealand came top with 604 points against Australia’s 545 and South Africa’s 294. Australia won for the first six years while New Zealand has won the last two – hopefully this is the beginning of a new trend.
New Zealand won the following trophies:
Riesling – Mt Difficulty 2009 Target Gully Riesling, Central Otago
Sauvignon Blanc – Saint Clair 2009 Pioneer Block 2, Swamp Block, Marlborough
Pinot Noir – Craggy Range 2008 Te Muna Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Syrah/Shiraz – Vidal Reserve 2007 Reserve Syrah, Hawke’s Bay
Bordeaux blends – Villa Maria 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Hawke’s Bay
Other Red Varieties – Black Barn 2009 Tempranillo, Hawke’s Bay
New Zealand scored top red with Craggy Range 2008 Te Muna Pinot Noir and earned forst equal in the Chardonnay and Sweet Wine classes.
August 13th, 2010
Bilancia, a small but perfectly formed Hawke’s Bay winemaker, sent me a vertical selection of Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio (the wine morphed from one brand to the other in 2006 without any significant change in stylistic direction) to demonstrate how well the wine responds to a little bottle age.
A tasting of the six wines proved their point. After nearly six years in bottle the 2004 vintage still looked pretty good (thanks to screwcap closures) although I must confess that I slightly favoured the fresher primary fruit flavours of the more youthful vintages (all are reviewed in my wine notes).
The tasting did raise the interesting style distinction between Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris. The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) recently conducted some interesting research after T’Gallant, a notable Australian Pinot Gris maker, asked if they could develop a scientific method of distinguishing between the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris styles.
Peter Godden, the man in charge of the research explained that they purchased a number of French Pinot Gris and Italian Pinot Grigio samples and set to work with a focus group to define the style. If I correctly recall our lengthy conversation on the subject the two styles were broadly defines as follows:
Pinot Gris: Richer, fleshier and more flavoursome, often with some sweetness balanced by fine tannins. These wines were probably picked from riper grapes and allowed to retain a modicum of residual sugar while still reaching reasonably high alcohol levels. Skin contact extracted tannins (and flavour) helping to balance the residual sugar.
Pinot Grigio: Lighter, drier, less flavour, fresher acidity and a more delicate texture with little evidence of tannins.
The researchers drew a scale of zero to ten points with a pure Pinot Grigio representing 0 and pure Pinot Gris (if either ideal in fact exists) as 10 on the scale. They plotted each of the wines tasted somewhere on the scale. I recall asking Godden of he preferred Pinot Grigio or Pinot Gris. He answered that his ideal wine was aroung 3.5 .
They even programmed a rather clever machine to define Pinot Grigio-ness or Pinot Gris-ness by passing a light beam through an unopened bottle and analysing the result by computer. During their study they came across a winemaker who has bottled all his Pinot Gris on a single day but stored the resulting wine in two warehouses at slightly different temperatures. The machine was so finely-tuned it could determine which warehouse with unerring accuracy.
In this country almost all wine made from the Pinot Gris grape is described as “Pinot Gris” (rather than Pinot Grigio). The reason for that is simple. Pinot Gris has a higher perceived value to the consumer. Histocrically demand for Pinot Gris has exceeded supply so why discount the price by labelling a wine as Pinot Grigio?
However there are signs that supply may now have caught up to, even exceeded, demand. Expect to see a growing number of New Zealand wines labelled as Pinot Grigio – a brand extension which might delay a surplus of this popular grape variety.
June 25th, 2010
Tim and Judy Finn celebrating 30 years of winemaking
I cannot think of another New Zealand wine producer that has been making top wines across their entire range as consistently as Neudorf over three decades. Chardonnay is the star with Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc very close behind.
To celebrate this significant milestone Tim and Judy presented vertical tastings of selected wines over the last decade for their Moutere Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Here is a brief summary of my tasting notes:
Moutere Chardonnay (08, 04, 02 and 99)
Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay is in a class of its own. It’s could easily be (and has frequently been) mistaken for Puligny Montrachet, or at least very good white burgundy. My favourite was the 2002. Not as powerful as the 04 or 08 but pure burgundy from head to toe and exhibiting real power with great subtlety. A truly beautiful wine. The 99 (the only wine under cork) was the least impressive and probably approaching the end of its life although still giving great pleasure.
Moutere Pinot Gris (09, 04 and 01)
I love the purity of flavour and textural qualities in all the wines. All showed a little sweetness but it was beautifully managed by sugar-coated tannins to give a drying, though not tannic, finish. There are also hints of spice – perhaps star anise? The 04 was my marginally top wine closely followed by the 09 with the 01 only marginally behind. All are under screwcap.
Moutere Riesling (09, 05 and 02)
I recall staying with Tim and Judy a couple of years ago when Tim served the 05 Riesling with dinner. I was profoundly impressed with the wine. Tim shrugged his shoulders and said “the current vintage (07) will be exactly the same with a bit of bottle age”. I bought a case.
The 05 was my favourite. It balances sweetness against beautiful fruity acidity achieving an exquisite, mouth-watering tension. I love it. Both the 09 and 02 showed similar characteristics – the 02 was still remarkably youthful.
Moutere Pinot Noir (08, 05, 03 and 01)
If Chardonnay is Neudorf’s top wine which is second, Riesling or Pinot Noir? It’s a hard call but I pick Riesling by a narrow margin although their Pinot Noir is a world class wine. I like the edginess of the Pinot – its hints of floral and vibrant acidity. When I first tasted this flight the 05 was a clear winner but as the wines sat in the glass the 08 opened up magnificently. Potentially I think the 08 will be a better wine but right now I still put the 05 slightly ahead. The 01 and 03 were lighter/more elegant styles with 01 my preference.
Neudorf's Moutere vineyard
June 3rd, 2010
I’m in Vienna attending VieVinum, an Austrian wine fair/symposium. I was intrigued to receive an invitation from “11 Women in Wine” to dinner at the well known Eisvogel (“Ice bird”) restaurant where they promised to offer the 11 best wines they have made in the past decade.
Eisvogel is in a large, ancient fair ground. We enjoyed an aperitif in a Ferris wheel dining car – the same one that featured in the film “The Third Man” – in fact the hero, Harry Lime, dies in a dining car in the final scene. Below is a photo of the dining car near the apex of the wheel with a close-up of a couple in the next car enjoying a romantic meal for two – actually there was (appropriately) a “third man” in their dining car.
Spokesperson, Heidi Schrock, introduced the evening with a heart-felt speech about the history and objects of the group although put her foot in it slightly when she said with a final flourish, “enjoy the wine and enjoy the women”.
In fact I did very much enjoy the women all of whom seemed to be strong, passionate and as committed to the goal of producing great wine as they were to their own families. I asked the women at my table if it were possible to taste the difference between wine made by women and those with male makers. They responded by saying that modern winemaking equipment (the fork hoist was used as an example) meant that physical strength was no longer a prerequisite to becoming a winemaker. That had opened the door for women. They talked about the benefits of sharing ideas and even equipment within the group. One woman said that a thesis had recently been written proving that wine made by women did indeed differ from that made by men. She promised to get me a copy.
Women are far more nurturing than men and as wine requires a fair bit of nurturing in vineyard and winery it seems entirely feasible that they wine they produce may reflect that.
One thing is certain. Women winemakers enjoy themselves and party harder than men winemakers.
The eleven women are show in the photo. Their names are (from left to right):
Michaela Ehn, Helma Muller-Grossmann, Sylvia Heinrich, Birgit Braunstein, Heidi Schrock, Silva Prieler, Jutta Ambrositsch, Judith Beck, Petra Unger, Ilse Maier and Birgit Eichinger.
May 15th, 2010
I’ve just returned from a visit to the Barossa Valley, always a great pleasure, to research an “wine trail” piece for the Air New Zealand in-flight magazine, Kia Ora. I took a number of pics to illustrate the piece. I confess to getting more pleasure from seeing my photos in print than my words so I’ve posted a fairly pictorial piece with the “best of” from the ten wineries visited. I’ve also added a memorable wine from each.
Most memorable wine (there were many): Yalumba 2008 Bush Vine Grenache A$20 – Elegant, taut red with subtle spice and a silken texture. This is poor man’s Pinot Noir. A great buy at this price. Also loved Pewsey Vale 2004 “The Contours” Riesling and Eden Valley 2009 Viognier (Yalumba is Australia’s best Viognier maker by a long way from whoever comes second).
Most memorable wine: Rockford 1998 Basket Press Shiraz A$51
This flagship wine was sold out when I visited (latest vintage is 2007)
but I was able to taste a previously opened wine. Intense, slightly rustic red very mush in an Old World style. Strongly fruit-focused wine with plum and berry flavours.
I was given the top-of-the-line tour which included tasting very old soleras of Oloroso, Amontillado (can’t use the “sherry” word), Tawny, Liqueur Muscat, Liqueur Tokay and brandy plus the 1910 vintage tawny (pictured) and a tawny from my birth year (1947 if you must know).
Don’t quibble over the A$79 price tag – you’ll get to taste spectacular wines that you’ll never forget. Priceless!
Charlie Melton is a great guy (I’m sure everyone who meets him says the same thing). He’s smart, personable, hard-working and very focused on making great wine and managing what appears to be a thriving winery.
Most memorable wine: Charles Melton 2007 Nine Popes A$49.90 Charlie was proficient enough at French to think that Chateauneuf-du-Pape meant “castle of nine Popes” so that’s what he christened his Grenache, Shiraz, Mataro blend. He couldn’t work out why there were only seven Avignon Popes until he discovered that a more correct translation was “castle of the new Popes”. By then it was too late. It’s an intense wine with a lovely silken texture and a mix of ripe berry and savoury/spice flavours.
Grant Burge - the man behind the label
This is a picture of a man who loves what he does. It was a pleasure to meet the man behind a brand that I’ve long admired for its ability to deliver consistently high quality and value.
Most memorable wine: Carryton Park 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon A$34.95 First vintage from a brand new vineyard that’s technically in the Eden Valley. Only 600 cases were made. Burge believes that this will become a truly benchmark label.
Visitors (mostly Kiwis) enjoying lunch and a glass or threeTasteful cellar door entrance
Classy cellar door entrance
Most memorable wine: Eight Songs 2004 Shiraz A$40
Rich, opulent Shiraz with a seasoning of French (rather than American) oak. Classy wine with a backbone of firm but very ripe tannins.
Hill of Grace vineyard - Shiraz vines planted before 1860!
I took this photo on an earlier visit. It was close to sunset and a beautiful pink light tinged the vineyard shortly before I clicked the shutter. Photoshop unnecessary.
Most memorable wine: Henschke 2005 Hill of Grace Shiraz A$510 It is worth very penny.
Mamre Brook house - built in 1844, subsequently enlarged
Most memorable wine: Saltram 2005 The Journal Shiraz A$125 First release of a new flagship wine that’s aged in large vats rather than barriques. Dense sweet fruit with layers of dark berry, spice and bitter chocolate flavours. Linear and potentially very long-lived. Think of Penfolds St Henri and amplify slightly.
Winemaker Graig Isbel
Torbreck’s legendary founder, Dave Powell, was overseas when I called but I’ve enjoyed company of this wild man in the past. His latest exploit happened in a restaurant in Finland at the end of a long evening. The restaurant had a branding iron that they use to burn their logo onto various things. Powell and his distributors were in a relaxed mood and, yes, you’ve guessed it, he agreed to be branded on his bum. Silliest thing he’s ever done, he later admitted, but he’s become something of a hero in Finland.
Most memorable wine: (I didn’t taste the flagship wine RunRig on this occasion) Torbreck 2006 Les Amis A$187.50 Old vine Grenache – exquisite aromatics and a great texture. Very complex with layers of ripe berryfruit and spice flavours.
Peter Scholz - owner, viticulturist and winemaker
I warmed to this powerfully built and sharply intelligent man. Liked his wines very much. They offer great value.
The Willows 2006 Semillon A$14 My kinda’ Semillon – taut, fine-boned, edgy wine with chalky mineral and apple flavours. Unbelieveably good value.
April 17th, 2010
I’m writing this in my room at the Hilton Hotel in Singapore after a challenging day tasting 27 Bordeaux reds from the 2005 vintage followed by 24 tannic samples of Barolo, mostly from the excellent 2004 vintage.
Both tastings were part of the World Gourmet Summit, an annual orgy of fine wine and food organised by the eponymous Peter Knipp. It’s a great event attracting many of Singapore’s serious wine enthusiasts plus a number from beyond Singapore’s shores.
I can confirm that 2005 was indeed a great Bordeaux vintage. If I could fault a fairly faultless year it would be that a number of wines appeared slightly over-ripe but that’s a minor quibble.
I appear to be, rather scarily, in the Parker camp by giving a nod to the garagiste wine, Valandraud and endorsing Parkers passion for Pavie. Anyway, for what it’s worth, I bare my soul and reveal my pecking order with scores. My apologies for the formatting of wines and scores.
96 Château Valandraud
96 Château Pichon Baron
96 Château Reignac
95 Château Mouton-Rothschild
95 Château Domaine de l’A
95 Château Pavie
94 Château Cos d’Estournel
94 Château Le Bon Pasteur
94 Château Léoville Poyferré
94 Château Pichon Comtesse
94 Château Haut-Condissas
93+ Château Beychvelle
93+ Château Haut-Marbuzet
93 Château Haut-Brion
93 Château Lascombes
92 Château Talbot
92 Château La Mondotte
91 Château Pape-Clément
91 Château Canon
90 Château Angelus
90 Château Rauzan-Ségla
90 Château La Tour Carnet
88 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte
88 Château Haut-Carles
87 Château Haut-Bailly
85 Château Beauregard
84 Château Malartic-Lagravière
March 29th, 2010
A wine drinker's beer
They say it takes a lot of beer to make wine. Beer sales must certainly rise during vintage when winemakers gather with their fellow winery workers at the end of eachlong, hard day. What brand of beer do winemakers drink? In Australia Coopers Pale Ale is a clear favourite. It’s harder to pick a favourite in this country.
Keith Galbraith, owner of Galbraith’s Brewing Co., was a winemaker before he became a brewer. Keith hasn’t substituted his love of wine for a love of beer – he loves and understands both. Anyone who enjoys a pint or three of English bitter must visit Galbraith’s Alehouse (in the unlikely event they haven’t done so already) at 2 Mt Eden Road, Auckland.
Keith’s justifiably proud of his recently released Munich lager. To make it he imports malt from the Czech Republic and whole hops from Germany (Keith holds the only licence to import whole hops in this country – other breweries use hops processed into pellet form which Keith believes results in a loss of essential oils). Keith also replicates the water used by breweries in Munich.
The result is a full-flavoured lager with plenty of hop influence and a hint of malt. The flavours are delicate and intense at the same time while the lager finishes with a satisfying hint of hoppy bitterness. The cost is a reasonable $13-$14 for a 4-pack.
Keith Galbraith - a brewer who loves wine
March 25th, 2010
Aurum vineyard in Central Otago
UK wine writer Tim Atkin MW is a definite inclusion in my list of the world’s top five wine writers. He’s extremely bright, very competitive and is a tireless traveller in the world’s wine regions. He’s a great wine taster with an ability to communicate his impressions clearly and effectively.
When Tim took me to task for describing Central Otago as the world’s most southerly wine region I didn’t argue. Patagonia in southern Chile, he explained, was further south. It’s been two years since we had that conversation and I’ve made no claim of Otago’s southerly status since.
Today I downloaded the latest version of Google Earth and was messing around with the new features when it occured to me that I could easily check how much further south Patagonia was than Central Otago. It was a simple matter to find a list of Patagonian wineries and select the one, Vina Canata, that claimed to be the world’s most southerly winery. It’s located to the north of the Bio Bio Valley. Google Earth pinpointed it’s southerly latitude at 36 degrees 47 minutes. I then found Black Ridge winery in Alexandra, the most southerly district of Central Otago. Its southerly latitude is 45 degrees 16 minutes – significantly further south than Vina Canata which, according to my calculations using Google, is on about the same latitude as Auckland.
That’s it then, Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine producing region and is likely to remain that way unless someone in Chile figures out how to grow grapevines in permafrost … or someone pinpoints a flaw in my calculations.