Tuesday, July 13, 2021

BACK TO BASICS

 I've been disappointed with on-line wine purchases over the last couple of years now.

In the past I've discovered some wonderful bargains of great wines that have been sold at reduced prices for legitimate reasons:

  • Failed export orders.
  • Label and packaging changes.
  • Large vintage surplus
  • Winery going out of business
  • Lost domestic distribution etc.
It pays to know something of the wine company or to do a web search on the particular wine being offered so as to find an independent wine reviewer (fewer and far between nowadays) who might have written about the wine and the vintage in question. This knowledge and or the search might provide awareness of what the 'normal' sell price of the wine is and not have to rely on the on-line sellers assessment.  A bargain of a $20 wine that used to be $30 plus isn't a bargain if every other retailer is selling it at $20.

As I said though I have been disappointed and have made some poor buys. See: THROUGH ROSE TINTED GLASSES

Some other mistakes have been:
  • Coopers Creek Lime-works Chardonnay 2019  which was a bit sour and lightweight.
  • Main Divide Chardonnay 2018 which is out of balance and overtly grapefruity.
  • Hudson Pinot Noir 2014 which is ordinary.
  • Soho Pinot Noir 2018 which is muddy, developed and lacking in fruit.
  • Holly Chardonnay 2020 which is tart and doesn't live up to the back label description.
These wines all had glowing accolades from the sellers and their 'friendly' wine critics. In the case of the Coopers Creek wine I complained to the seller. To be fair, they offered to take the wine back and refund but the logistics and cost involved in the replacement is prohibitive. I only purchased a six-bottle case so have five bottles left. They will have to be used at a party sometime. The wine isn't bad, it just bears no relation to the sellers description.

I've been careless in these purchases but have made some other purchases of outstanding wines so it kind of balances things out. These have been:
  • Mountford Chardonnay 2014
  • Villa Maria Ihumateo Chardonnay 2018
  • Rockford Sparkling Shiraz.
  • Vidal Soler Chardonnay 2018
  • Vidal Soler Chardonnay 2019.
  •  Delta Pinot Noir 2019.
  • Beach House Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay 2018.

The thing is though, the outstanding wines and the bargains are becoming harder to find. The original premise of on-line retailing being about 'discoveries' is being substituted by the fact that the channel is now just another established form of retail. 

I might just have to go back to buying my wine, bottle by bottle ( instead of by the case) from supermarkets and wine shops and only just occasionally taking a chance on a case buy from the on-line channel.








Saturday, April 17, 2021

THROUGH ROSE TINTED GLASSES

Her Indoors and I really like rose-style Champagnes and methode sparkling rose wines. Usually we have a pool challenge every Saturday afternoon before preparing Saturday dinner and the wine of choice is a sparkling rose. First choice would be Krug but who the hell can afford that on a weekly basis? When we can we splurge on  more affordable Champagne rose like Pol Roger, Billecart Salmon, Louis Roederer and Lanson but usually drink the excellent and affordable New Zealand methode Deutz.


Last week I spied an online special for Kalex Pinot Noir Rose Brut 2015.




I'd purchased  a half a case of Kailix riesling a month or so ago and it was pretty good.


According to the advertiser's blurb Kalix is getting rid of current stocks due to a label change.



Fair enough I guess especially given the severe Germanic references in the name and labEL that look like something  Heinrich Himmler would have dreamed up and creamed over.

I tend to approach these 'label change', 'failed export order' and 'winery undergoing restructure' clearance offers with a bit of suspicion. I was a wine marketer after all and know all of those old tricks. I tend to put them into the category of: 'the cheque's in the mail', and 'I promise that I won't come in your mouth'.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the riesling which, at $10 is a nice sweet and low alcohol aperitif. The sparkling rose, while a bit light on bubbles is OK and, with the boost of a splash of Marlborough pinot noir in it is a good drink. I think that Sam Kim might have had a few other wines before he tasted it and gave it 93 points and 5 stars but, fairs fair, at $20 a bottle it is, to me 'pool challenge' worthy. Unfortunately Her Indoors disagrees however and rejected it after a few sips. I respect her opinion as she has a better palate then I do.

Intrigued by this Kalex label change I did an internet search and  found their website: KALEX

There are the usual things in there - 'Our Story', 'Our Wines, ''News' etc but what really caught my attention was the company slogan or by-line - TO STRUGGLE THROUGH ADVERSITY MAKES SUCCESS SO MUCH SWEETER.

"OK"  I thought. "That sounds a bit much" and then I read through the story.

Alex Kaufman, a Polish American businessman, entrepreneur and holocaust survivor, overcame incredibly challenging situations to educate himself in post-war Germany and immigrate to the US with nothing but the clothes on his back and a quarter in his shoe. He worked his way up from washing petri dishes in a laboratory to becoming the owner of a large chemical company, and an outstandingly successful businessman.

Through his enthusiasm for great wine, Alex Kaufman already knew that the best wines are often produced in the most challenging places. Few are more daunting than the majestic Central Otago region of New Zealand, where climatic extremes, thin soils and geographic isolation offer an intimidating landscape for wine growers.

Alex fell in love with the region and, in a reflection of his own life, determined to overcome the many challenges and produce outstanding wines of the highest quality – a fitting legacy for someone whose start in life was similarly beset with adversity.

In creating Kalex Wines, Alex Kaufman has used his incredible business acumen, and his ability to find and trust in the right people, to build a company operating successfully in this challenging environment.

His passion, guidance and inspiration are the driving force behind the small, committed team at Kalex Wines, whose very focus is to deliver truly remarkable wines, which express a unique sense of place.

Our wines represent perseverance, individuality & ingenuity – the very essence of Alex Kaufman.
Right. Initially I thought that my flippant reference to Himmler was inappropriate given that Alex Kaufman is a 'holocaust survivor'.

I then became offended as this 'heart strings' marketing approach is cynical and contrived. It has nothing at all to do with Central Otago winemaking and I doubt that Alex, bless him, is of an age where he can easily select vineyard sites, plant vines, harvest grapes and meaningfully oversee wine production. I suspect that the winemaking and marketing team use him (and his money) more for the label and advertising blurbs.

But, Robert could be wrong.

I continued my internet search on Kalex Pinot Noir Rose Brut 2015 looking for reviews and found that apart from Sam, no-one else had a great deal to say about this wine. Two other notable reviewers gave 4 star reviews but this was for previous vintage wine.

I should know better but I feel cheated.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

WHO CARES?

 

WHO CARES? - PAUL MCCARTNEY


Years ago I wrote a post about Geoff Merrill's wine label 'WHO CARES?).

See: HERE

I've tried to find images of this on the web and even stories about it but there is nothing there. Merrill is a bit of a maverick and has experimented a bit in the industry.

No that's Bill Bailey

Yes, that's Merrill

OK, who cares? I hear you ask. Well, frankly I do. It annoys me when important parts of history disappear because it doesn't fit the prevailing narrative of the day. The prevailing narrative was of course the rise of the Australian wine industry through the 1990s to the point where a fair bit of arrogance and hubris led it to challenge France and other major wine producing countries. Good at the time for sure but this merely attracted big investors (USA) and massive markets (China) which, initially gave the Australians a boost but in the long run have fucked their industry.

The Americans with their big (and at the time powerful) bucks bought up the big Australian producers. They then stripped them of everything to do with making great wine and dumbed them down to making supermarket plonk - a strategy that ultimately bankrupted them.

The Chinese wooed them with tantalising images of a massive market of cultured drinkers that would return massive profits even though this was a fantasy. See: the Mondavi Opus One example in  HERE. Now China, as it did to the beer industry has turned on Australia for 'political' reasons. The Australian wine industry is fucked from having put too many eggs in the one basket. It may take them a few years to recover.

*************************

OK. So why should I care?

I'm past all that. I was a marketer of primarily New Zealand wines and, at the time was professionally invested and very interested in  the product and its packaging from container to label and external packaging. The look of a product was as important (for certain markets and price points) as the quality of the wine itself. This drove my marketing and executive decisions and,  more than a decade later is still influencing decisions made by industry leaders. See below:


With thanks to asb Creative Photography.

BOTTLE DESIGN - HOW MUCH DOES IT MATTER?

The problem is though, that now I'm outside of the industry and am a (discerning) consumer I think - "Who cares?"

I want my wine to be at least of a premium standard and to be in good condition. I also want it to be in convenient packaging. I don't really give two stuffs about what shape bottle it's in except of course, heavier and more punted bottles tend to hold better quality wine. They also cost more and a lot of the cost is in the heavier and more punted bottle.

I would buy my wine packaged in half bottles (375ml) if there was a greater selection. Unfortunately, half bottles kind of disappeared many years ago as manufacturers and suppliers, due to supply chain pressures to supermarkets, discontinued them. It wasn't because of a fall-off of consumer demand.

I've written on this before: 

HERE  

AND HERE

I'm excited about the renewed prospect of being able to buy wine in cans. Well, I will be excited once producers have confidence in the improved linings in aluminium cans that will deliver wine in good condition. Currently the offerings are pretty dismal with cheap Sauvignon Blanc type wines being canned. 

Put a decent (non Marlborough) chardonnay in a can and I'll buy it.


Many years ago, in the 1970s I used to buy a French red wine - Beaujolais - in cans. The producer, I think, was Barton and Guestier (B&G). The wine wasn't great but the convenience factor was excellent. We used to pack a few of these in our packs when going tramping in the Tararua mountain range. It was a real treat, in an alpine or bush hut to cook up a kind of stew and have a couple of cans of red. The alcohol was lowish - about 11% and the cans were about the size of a small beer can - 330ml so we weren't getting trashed. Sadly these went off the market and it took many years for the idea of wine-in-a-can to come back. There were of course technical problems in developing linings that can withstand the corrosive action of wine. If the wine has direct contact with aluminium it can produce reductive compounds which are unpleasant. 

Here is some reading on the topic.

WHY WINE IN CANS IS NOT A FAD


CAN IT BE? - FINE WINE IN ALUMINIUM


The latest and best report I've seen is by Simone Madden-Grey in the Australian and New Zealand Grapegrower and Winemaker  magazine February 2021. In her article titled 'Unsealing the potential of aluminium can technology' she covers the problems of the past and the prospects for the future with wine in cans. Sustainability and environmental concerns are at the top of her list but manufacturers and marketers will be sitting up to take notice in the cost savings of product, packaging, shipping and recycling. 


In terms of production, the energy required to produce aluminium is considerably less than that to produce either a standard or a lightweight 750ml glass bottle. When compared with primary production, recycling aluminium produces substantially less carbon emissions and requires just 5% of the energy used for primary production, which is again lower than that used to recycle glass. Aluminium may also be recycled indefinitely as reprocessing does not damage its structure. Cans are easily stacked with a higher volume to space ratio than bottles, they are lightweight, requiring less fuel for transportation and therefore less carriage cost to the producer and they offer the consumer a variety of ways to engage with wine. 


All good that but for me, the thing that interests and excites me is the prospect of having single serve top quality wine in 200ml cans or two glass serves in 375 ml cans. This will allow greater experimentation with wine styles and, possibly as a consequence cut down on my consumption.

Unfortunately I doubt that most producers will have the balls to go this way - not in my lifetime anyway. There are so many timid winemakers or those controlled by dullard corporate executives who will prefer to stick to the status quo. Why else are there so many wine companies and brands still using cork closures instead of screw cap.



Sunday, January 10, 2021

YOU LITTLE BEAUTY!


Not a term often addressed to Queen Vic - 'little' maybe, but 'beauty'?

I just noticed that it's been 4 months since I last posted. Mea Culpa. I've been posting a lot on my other blogs and have neglected this, my original blog (started in March 2008).

I've also been drinking a lot of good wines during those 4 months and hopefully can line up the synapses to remember and report on the most interesting of them.

*****************

To kick things off (and Happy New Year to all readers) yesterday we treated ourselves to a bottle of Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2016. I hardly need to remind those in the know of the provenance of this wine and that successive vintages rarely disappoint but I will remind you that my partner, Her Indoors, after a couple of years living in Toronto, developed a taste for California chardonnays. Her favourite tipples from New Zealand and Australia were very rarely available in the province-controlled liquor controlling board LCBO with the best offerings coming from France and USA.  American, and in particular California chardonnays dominated the shelves (the Canadian offerings were extremely dismal) and she developed a taste for the sweeter, higher alcohol wine styles. That hasn't been a problem since, in recent years, California chardonnays are seen more on New Zealand supermarket and wine shop shelves than ever before, albeit under a small range of brands and labels. 

I like some styles of California chardonnay and have marketed some and have visited many producing companies but haven't found the ones I've liked available in New Zealand - Frey, Kongsgaard, V Sattui, Far Niente, El Molino, Mondavi Reserve etc. I stick to my favourite Hawkes Bay labels and, quite frankly, the more American chardonnay that Her Indoors drinks the better (for me) as there is more of my favourites left over for me  to drink over the next day or so. 


Anyway, as I said, last night we opened a Sacred Hill Rifleman's 2016. There's a lot going on with this wine - it's very mineral with a lot of biscuity characters along with - believe it or not - cashew nut flavours. As an experiment I filled a bowl with salted cashews and dried apricots (the wine also has an apricot kernel flavour like good cognacs have) and we nibbled these while drinking. The food/wine match is astounding. The wine is tight - very tight and we decided that it would be better tasted a day after opening. It was also stinky - very stinky with sulphur characters (not sulphide) that didn't dissipate in the glass which is why many wine writers describe it as 'complex'. We had a glass each and put it in the fridge to try the next day -  today.

Tonight, on taking out of the fridge and trying again the wine has 'loosened' up a bit and the citrus and biscuit characters with that lovely apricot and cashew nut favours are more pronounced with the 'linear' and mineral notes more subdued. What wasn't subdued however was the sulphur or mercaptans.


What to do?

Well, and I have mentioned this before, an easy way of mitigating the off-putting sulphur characters in a wine is to use a copper coin. I found my 1891 copper penny, cleaned it up and dropped it into my glass and left it there for about 5 seconds.




The sulphur (mercaptan) is a natural byproduct of fermentation and is often exacerbated by 'complex' winemaking practices like barrel fermentation and ageing, lees stirring etc. Copper reacts with mercaptans and helps them dissipate. 

Good old Queen Vic sorted it and the resulting wine was clean, fresh and the fruit was more pronounced.

YOU LITTLE BEAUTY!

If she had been here trying a glass with us she would have been amused.







Friday, September 11, 2020

HEY, I'M DINING HERE!

This post could also have been titled: 'HEY, I'M PAYING GOOD MONEY HERE SUNSHINE!' 

I'm well over the dining out experience especially when the establishment and its staff think that they are owed something merely for existing.

When we lived in Toronto there was a swanky wanky place that we went to a couple of times before tiring of the silly staffing hierarchy. See: HERE

A couple of months back we went to a swanky wanky eatery in our street (Richard and Shelley were with us) where we were sold an over-priced and, as it turned out, an illegally labelled bottle of wine that in no way met the glowing description on the wine list. I went back the next day and had it out with the manager - a supercilious - wank and obtained a $75 credit. Poor old Richard still has nightmares over this and fills his blogs and comments on other blogs with his experience of a chilled red wine.


Last night we went to a wanky Italian restaurant with ordinary but overpriced food, an ordinary wine list and some staff who thought it better to chat with their friends rather than do any actual order taking.




Afterwards we went to The Library which is a rare and wonderful find being a late night bar and eatery with live music. It's named The Library because there are stacked bookshelves galore in the place. Old comfortable sofas with tables are hidden away in alcoves in a maze-like setting. It's reminiscent of the cafes of the 1970s that I frequented as a student and has a Prohibition era speakeasy or opium den quality about it. It is neat but ...... the joker who showed us to a table and gave us a wine list let the place down. He went away and left us there for too long. I had to stand up and wave my hands around at him and a waitress for a while before he deigned to come over.

"Can I help you" he asked.

"Well, yes" I replied "We want to order some wine"

Fearing that he would wander away again I quickly ordered a couple of glasses of (overpriced) pinot noir that I'd seen on the wine list. He went away and fetched it (very small servings). The wine was good but I've seen the bottle price in wineshops hence the 'overpriced' comment. On paying before leaving (Geoff paid) this guy - I don't know if he was the owner, the manger or simply a waiter - had an "I'm too good to be here doing this shit' manner about him.

As much as I liked this place, and the music, I doubt if I'll go back.

As I said in the opening to this post I'm over fancy restaurants and now prefer cheap and cheerful (ideally) cafes manned by people who want to be there and respect the fact that you, as the customer are paying for a pleasant time.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

LISTEN TO JESUS*

Once again I've been blending my wines.

A while ago I bought a case of Larry Mckenna's Escarpment chardonnay.




THIS GUY although it's an old photo


McKenna is one of the country's best chardonnay makers having carved out a reputation in the 1970s with Delegats and Martinborough Vineyards before making out on his own.

I bought his 2014 Escarpment chardonnay from an on-line seller along with a case of his riesling.
The wine is beautifully made with ripe but fine fruit and heavy use of good oak. The result is a tightly structured white Burgundy style with strong lees character and minerality. Serious wine. I like it but, although it still has a lot of life in it given the vintage (2014) and the colour still looks like a young wine - the reductive notes and a bit of fruit drop doesn't make it delicious.
The answer? Drop in some younger chardonnay in to refresh it.




I normally don't buy 'cleanskins' as I like to know a bit about the provenance of the wines I drink but I bought a case of this on-line because of the sellers 'blurb' and yes, it was cheap. I thought that it would be a good blender and I was right having used it a few times to freshen up tired and older wines. as I do see: HERE

The 2017 Gisborne chardonnay while a bit ordinary on its own has enough fruit and acidity to give the older wine a 'kick' and definitely rejuvenates it.



* You'll have to view the earlier post via the link

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

VASHE ZDOROVIE!

We don't dink a lot of spirits yet we've got lots of unused bottles of liqueurs, whiskies, cognac, gin etc in the cupboard - results of a quick grab at Duty Free on the way home from overseas trips.

Just lately I've taken to having a glass of vodka and tonic as a change from wine. I only ever feel like having one, admittedly a large one and it's a nice pre-dinner cocktail. As I don't like to 'mix the grape with the grain' it's also a good way of cutting down on wine consumption.

The lockdown, with bottle shops being closed though, means that I can't buy a bottle of nice vodka - I prefer NZ crafted ones like 42 Below, Broken Shed and others but I'm not a hipster.


NOT ME




I fossicked around at the back of the cupboard and found a couple of old bottles of vodka - one old and the other very old. Both had been opened.

The old one is EFFEN Cherry which is a Dutch vodka I've had for 25 years. It's really nice but was forgotten about.


It's one of the samples I was given by the producer back in the 1990s when we were evaluating it as a brand to import. We passed on the opportunity and I'm not sure if any was imported by anyone else. I've certainly never seen it on the shelves. Although it's been open a while it still has lots of flavour and the alcohol hasn't dropped much.



The very old bottle is a Russian brand named PARROT.



This bottle is over 60 old being from the 1950s or early 1960s. I found it while clearing out the underground cellars of the old Hughes and Cossar store in Khyber Pass Auckland back in the mid 1980s.
It's been opened since about 1990 - 30 years ago and, apart from the alcohol drop down to about 25 to 30% is still remarkably flavoursome and interesting.



A recent discovery of ours is the East Imperial tonic company which makes a range of different flavoured tonics and other mixers. We get it delivered by the boxful.
Her Indoors likes the grapefruit flavoured tonic with her gin but I prefer the 'Old World' style.




It's a local company and they claim to use the true ingredients which certainly show through in the flavours.
The real beauty is that they are single-serve 150ml bottles. This means that if you only want one drink you only open the little bottle without having a half bottle or more of tonic sitting around to either go off or induce you to have another drink.