Saturday, March 11, 2017

CONFUSED? I AM.

I bought some Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay on-line a while ago and then forgot about it. That was prescient.



Last night I dug one out of the cellar, chilled it, opened it, tasted it and gasped. Not at its outstanding quality as I'm sure the on-line seller raved about inducing me to buy a case, but at its ordinariness bordering on awfulness.

The wine is lean, woody and tart.

The leanness is from poor fruit. The woodiness is not nice vanillin oak but that varnishy, splintery and bitter character that comes from being too long exposed to cheap wood staves or planks. The tartness is not refreshing but that bitter lemon character from lemon skins.

Intrigued as to why I bought this and not having to hand the blurb that the on-line seller had used I read the back label.

Now I must say here that over the years I've written many back labels. On most occasions this has been a sincere attempt to inform the buyer about how the wine was crafted and what the winemaker considers are the primary elements of the wine's aroma and taste. On other occasions it's been a marketing exercise where the descriptions used bear little relationship to the actual wine. The 2015 Matahiwi Estate Chardonnay is definitely a case of the latter. This is what I found:

"Sourced from two vineyards in Hawkes Bay, this chardonnay has lovely nectarine and melon fruit with a spicy oak nose. Ripe citrus with a nutty creaminess and a toasty oak finish".

Well, I don't know what hallucinogenics the writer of that was on and if he/she was drinking chardonnay at the time it wasn't the 2015 Matahiwi Estate. It sounds more like a Te Mata Elston or something from the Sacred Hill stable.



My view of wine labels is that the best use of them is for the diner left at the table at a restaurant has something to read when his/her partner nips off to the toilet. I can't really think of another use. Now that smartphones are in almost everyone's pockets the abandoned diner has no shortage of things to read and listen to thereby making the back label completely redundant apart from the legal mandatories like name of producer, name of wine, alcohol and additives.



Nevertheless after I'd recovered from the blatant lie by the winemaker or the marketing person I read the other crap that was written.

"The Phoenix has long been seen as a symbol of renewal. The Matahiwi Phoenix symbolises the rebirth of winemaking in the northern Wairarapa after the period of prohibition in the early 1900's (sic). New Zealand wine pioneers recognised the region as an ideal environment for grape growing, as did Alastair Scott when he returned from London to his homeland in 1998 to establish Matahiwi Estate. Matahiwi is a place recognised by Maori as a windy and exposed area sheltered by the high mountainous Tararua ranges to the west. These wines, produced by winemaker Jane Cooper, show just how the Wairarapa has earned a reputation for producing some of the best wines in the world."

The blurb then goes on to describe the chardonnay in the bottle.

What the fuck?
I'm a marketer and used to all sorts of advertising and marketing bullshit but this is incredible.
Apart from the dodgy grammar and incorrect use of punctuation these are some of the outtakes for me:


  • What the hell is the use of the phoenix for? Apart from being a good logo/badge device for the front label why is it there? Is it because disgruntled wine drinkers burned down the first winery after tasting the wines?

  • How can a place be windy and exposed at the same time as sheltered?

  • After all that rubbish about Wairarapa producing 'some of the best wines in the world' the writer goes straight on to say that this chardonnay was 'Sourced from two vineyards in Hawkes Bay'.

So, my impressions?

Unimpressed by the wine.
Flabbergasted at the verbosity of the wine description.
Appalled at the poor editing and allowing a Hawkes Bay chardonnay to be introduced as the epitome of Wairarapa winemaking.




Friday, January 20, 2017

VILLAGE IDIOT





I've wittered on in the past about the benefits of blending wines especially if one of them is a bit below par.

Last night when I collected Her Indoors (H.I.) from the bus station we went to a local wine bar/restaurant before heading home.
I had the ever reliable Trinity Hill Chardonnay (one of the basic ones but still damned good for the price) and H.I. had a Central Otago Pinot Gris. I won't name the brand but it was bloody awful which made its price:quality = value equation way below par. This wine was made from unripe fruit a fact which the winemaker was evidently aware as he/she poured in bags of Chelsea's finest during processing. See here:  

       CHELSEA MORNING   

 The result was a sharp and thin wine with an unpleasant sweet finish. Frankly I thought that we had got over this sort of winemaking but there you go. If it had been a bag-in-the-box wine or one of those that Robert from Moera buys for $6.99 at his local supermarket I would kind of accept it, but this was priced like all the other Central Otago wines. Expensive and overpriced.

Anyway, H.I. is pretty good at tasting wines and she said "taste this" as she passed her glass over to me. This of course immediately made me suspicious as if she had a glass of Taittinger Compte, Roederer Crystal or a Montrachet of any vintage there'd be no way in hell that I'd be able to get a sip of it so I cautiously accepted the glass and came to the conclusion of which I've already bored informed you.

She then hailed the wine waiter-type guy and, from the list, ordered a decent Marlborough Riesling (Te Whare Ra I think) and proceeded to blend the two together. The result although not being brilliant certainly made the C.O. wine drinkable.

Tonight I'm enjoying a glass or two of chardonnay.
This is good for a few reasons: firstly because as I've been ill since before Christmas I haven't been drinking any alcohol; secondly as I did some good work today I feel that I've earned it: and, thirdly I've made a blending discovery.

We had family staying with us during Christmas and New year. They like good wines and brought a few treats up with them. As I wasn't drinking I didn't really take too much notice of the wines that were opened and consumed.
Today H.I. pulled out a bottle from the wine fridge. It was a Kumeu River Village chardonnay 2015.



It seemed full when lying down in the stack but had been opened and only one glass used from it.
We deduced that Chris, one of the guests had opened it, consumed a glass of it and then forgot about it. We tried it and the fruit quality is certainly there but it was a bit sharp with a poor finish. This wine has been open for more than 3 weeks. There weren't any overt oxidative characters but it was a little but 'flat'.



Recently I bought a case of Smoking Loon 2014 chardonnay on the web. It was promoted as a '98 point winning wine' which means that it should be almost perfect. The 98 points were awarded by a Californian wine competition so I guess has to be looked at sceptically. See here:



WHAT'S THE POINT?




But the wine is good. It is rich and buttery and almost 'thick' compared to the usual Hawkes Bay chardonnays I drink.
On tasting the Kumeu River wine I didn't want to chuck it just because it had been open (albeit refrigerated) for such a long time, so blended it with a bottle of the Smoking Loon that was in the fridge.
The result is stunning. It is easily the best chardonnay (blend) that I've drunk for quite some time.
I'm now thinking about buying some bottles of Kumeu River Village chardonnay 2015 to open simultaneously with every bottle of Smoking Loon I open.





Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"NEVER MIX THE GRAPE WITH THE GRAIN" ...

.... so goes the old adage.



Conventional wisdom has always said that drinking beer and moving on to wine is a mistake as the consequential hangover will be a doozy. It's never been clear as to the quantities involved that cause these dire consequences but the threat was always there.

Worse still was moving from wine to grain based spirits (although in my experience wine based spirits like Cognac can also produce unwelcome results.).

No-one knows the origin of this 'conventional wisdom' and it's been dumped amongst all those other old wives' tales like:


  • Chocolate causes acne
  • Cracking knuckles leads to arthritis
  • Shaving causes hair to grow thicker
  • Double bass playing leads to madness*
  • Feed a fever, starve a cold
etc.

The medical profession is no help in this either as they say that while there is no correlation between mixing drinks and the severity of hangover the different alcoholic percentages between beer, wine and spirits can lead to the drinker underestimating the strength of the higher alcoholic strength drink after drinking the lesser alcoholic one. Translation - it's the quantity of alcohol that causes the drunkenness and subsequent hangover, not the type of drink.




OK.

But ...... on St Patrick's Day last week I went up to the local club which I'm a member of ( it's a nice community club along the lines of a Cosi club or RSA with pretentions to being a 'Gentleman's'  club even though you can wear shorts and a T-shirt). I had a Guinness and a Kilkenny (beers) to celebrate old Pat's special day. These drinks were about 4.5% alcohol and about 330 ml each equivalent to about a glass and a half of wine at 14% alcohol. I went home and drank two glasses of chardonnay making the total equivalent less than a bottle of wine.
The next day I felt like shit.


This last Easter weekend we had 3 friends to stay who arrived separately on Friday and left separately on Tuesday. Through the 4 days we consumed copious amounts of wine from Rieussec Sauternes and Coleraine red through outstanding chardonnays and pinot noirs through to Champagne, Deutz rose and some simple pinot gris, cabernets and chardonnays. Between the five of us we drank about 20 bottles!
That was about a bottle each per night. I felt fine each morning - good enough to swim, bush walk, do gardening and enjoy (non religious) the Easter weekend.

So.

About that old wives' tale? It might just be true about the danger of mixing the grape with the grain.

I'll have to keep an eye out for hairy palms!














* Not certain that this one isn't true.




Sunday, January 24, 2016

BACK AND GLAD OF IT

In the past I've complained about the dumbing down of wine offerings by retailers in New Zealand.

This has been as a consequence of the rise of supermarket dominance of wine retailing and the decline of the wine and spirit merchant.



Sure this has been a process that has taken 30 years but it is a shame.
Big supermarkets with their volume buying power screw down suppliers, dumb down product offerings by forcing downward product engineering because of price pressure and set  difficult hurdle rates that encourage the promotion of budget and value wines.


Wine and spirit merchants have disappeared as supermarkets deal with wineries, importers and distributors direct.


Small wine shops, not being able to compete with supermarkets on price, parking and convenience resort to stocking their stores with RTD's and cheap spirits (that supermarkets by law cannot sell) and wines become an afterthought.



Well, I haven't really changed my mind on this but having lived overseas for the last 2 and a half years I can look at the local scene and favourably compare with what is going on in for example the UK.

United Kingdom has for centuries been the wine hub of the world, being exposed to all forms of wines from nearly all countries of the world.


The traditional wine and spirit merchant model was created there along with specialist wine shops, wine bars and many things 'fine-wine'.



The growth of multiple grocers (supermarkets) over time like in New Zealand has led to the demise of many of the traditional wine and spirit merchants, the high street chain retailers and hundreds of specialist wine shops. There has of course been a resurgence of small, family run wine shops but these represent a tiny percentage of the total. The multiple grocers - Sainsbury's, Waitrose, ASDA, TESCO, Marks and Spencer etc spend millions of pounds telling consumers that they have the perfect selection for them. Sadly this is like American television catering to the masses and dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator. Most of shelf space is now taken up by cheap offerings from Spain, South Africa, Argentina, South of France, Chile, Australia and, sadly, inferior bulk produced Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. So much for the wine hub of the world.



Multiple 'High Street' chains like Majestic and Oddbins are fighting a rear guard action but are seeming to struggle. They too are limiting their quality selections in favour of cheaper, value and budget brands and products from the aforementioned regions.

In the UK there are of course still some outstanding importer/distributors who still have the top wines of the world (Corney and Barrow, Harrod's, Berry Bros and Rudd, Adnams etc but unless you are a millionaire or are prepared to take out a second mortgage the offerings are generally beyond the average wine drinker.



As an average wine drinker I was very disappointed at the offerings in the supermarkets and high street stores that I visited. The Australian, New Zealand and Californian sections were particularly poorly represented. Being familiar with the stunning quality and exceptional value that can be found from these regions it is inexcusable that the retailers don't bother stocking them, preferring to dumb down their selections to match the undiscerning buying preferences of the majority of their customers. Shame on them.

This responsibility is left to the small independent wine shop owner whose enthusiasm drives him/her to find great examples but whose buying power restricts them on range and affordability.

When it comes to on-premise the situation is even more dire.
The wine bar is a sad reflection of what it once was or could be. The selections overall tend to be ordinary and the offerings by-the-glass pathetic. What are these operators thinking when they expect people to come in and buy a bottle when they may only want a glass or two. The ideal of a wine bar is in being able to try two or three different wines at a sitting, not to plough through a bottle.

Pubs are worse with plenty of beer choices with real ales and boutique breweries but they can't be stuffed when it comes to wine, generally having an indifferent white and an indistinct red as the choices and wonder why I and other say no thanks. I guess if we default to beer they are happy as there is more margin in that for them.



The most shameful are the big tourist hotels whether they be Hiltons or Travelodges. The food and beverage managers have been instructed to keep margins down and prices high so the wine by the bottle or glass will be some dire Riverlands crap from Australia or an undrinkable concoction from Argentina - all at astronomically high prices.

So.
Where is this going?
Why back to Godzone of course.
At least in good old NZ the wine offerings in supermarkets while not being very broad in terms of countries of origin, will be very comprehensive in terms of New Zealand, Australian (and emerging California) varietals and the prices, compared to the UK are brilliant.

The wine bars and pubs and restaurants and cafes in NZ generally have a good selection of wines by the bottle and by the glass (could still improve but are better than Canada, UK and Europe).


Monday, February 3, 2014

EVERYONE DOES IT



We went to Cosi Fan Tutte yesterday at the Canadian Opera Company.
The performance was outstanding with seamless performances from the excellent cast. The set decorations were striking, albeit quirky. The director is a bit odd choosing to take literal interpretations of Mozart's opera e.g. the school for lovers alternate title for the opera is taken as the setting of a School for Lovers with students taking notes on the various characters' performances and actions. He also uses Frida Kahlo's "Two Fridas" painting as an overlooking backdrop. This features a visceral depiction of exposed hearts on the characters which is a bit obvious really.

I'm not a great fan of Mozart opera, preferring the Italian ones that have a bit of edge to them but I have to admit that the music was very lyrical and pleasant. A lot of opera depends on some big numbers linked by a lot of pretty boring filler. Mozart's kind of lacks the big numbers but instead has all very pleasant filler. Nice.

Toronto Opera at the Four Seasons centre use the sur-titles way at the top of the stage. This is generally OK for Rossini or Verdi but Mozart is a bit wordier so you had to continually look up to read the translations. The New York Metropolitan has little screens on the back of each seat so all you have to do is cast a quick look down to read the translations. You can also select a language which is pretty neat. In Auckland years ago they did a trial of a transparent screen across the fron to f the stage with the translation projected above the heads of the performers. This was an excellent idea but got discontinued probably because of some miserable old scrotes who felt that it was detracting.



Another meaning for Cosi Fan Tutti is "Women are like that" ie: inconstant kind of like:

LA DONNA E MERAVIGLIOSO



"It's over now - do you want to hear a song"


Friday, November 22, 2013

I'M YOUR MAN

I’m like Jack Reacher.


Jack Reacher is a former Major in the United States Army Military Police Corps. , the 110th Special Investigations Unit, formed to handle exceptionally tough cases, especially those involving members of the US Army Special Forces.

Reacher received many military awards during his career, including the Silver Star, the Defence Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

Reacher is a drifter. He wanders throughout the US. He usually travels by hitchhiking or bus. The only possessions he carries are money, a foldable toothbrush and, after 9/11, an expired passport and an ATM debit card.

Reacher has the uncanny ability to know what time it is, at any time of the day, without referring to a clock. He often uses his internal clock as an alarm, enabling him to wake up at any time he chooses. He sometimes uses his "human metronome" ability to countdown and calculate during time-related situations.

Reacher has a fascination with mathematics.

Reacher is highly skilled at fighting, enhanced by in-depth technical and military knowledge. He has experience and skills from various martial arts, although he is not an expert in any particular style. He mentally plans his fights using physics in a scientific calculating method. He knows how to break a person's neck with one hand and kill someone with a single punch to the head or chest. Reacher places greater importance on winning than on how he will win.

Reacher wears his clothes for 2–3 days before dumping them, usually purchasing new clothing cheaply from discount stores.

Reacher is 6'5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighs between 220 and 250 pounds. He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. He has very little body fat, and his muscular physique is completely natural. He is exceptionally strong, has a high stamina, but is not a good runner.

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I don’t wear a watch and can usually guess what time it is to the nearest 5 or 10 minutes, any time of the day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

BILL HUMBERT - NINETY SIX HOURS (PART FOUR)

Humbert drove over the hill marvelling at the amount of gorse still adorning the slopes. "Chris' homemade pizza must have been good for it" he mused.
He drove through the suburbs of Moera and Petone thinking that they were much better when Ford, Todd Motors and Gear Meat co still operated there. He missed the smell of hot oil and blood.


Porirua hadn't changed much. The suburban crescents merged seamlessly into the crappy semi-industrial estates only separated by scrappy 'parks' liberally covered in dog shit. "Fuck" he thought "give me Nuova Lazio any day". He cruised around looking for Bella Vista Crescent. There wasn't a gps in the cheap courier van but Humbert knew the way city planners thought. Bella Vista - 'Beautiful View'. He looked around and up at the hills. There it was. The "beautiful view". Kenepuru Hospital and before that Porirua Lunatic Asylum where all the loonies were incarcerated. In today's enlightened times it was no longer known as this and the loonies were no longer incarcerated (they were living on the streets instead). Typical of the city planners. Bastards.
 He took a reference sighting off the hospital and back down to the snaking crescents. There it was Bella Vista Crescent with used tyre shops, garages, panel beaters, scrap metal merchants and ... a low corrugated iron shed set back from the road. There was a small sign at the roadside which said "GIW LTD" nothing more.

Humbert parked the van on the street. He knew that it was unlikely to be there or if it was to still have its wheels on when he got back to it but that wasn't his most immediate problem. GIW was.
He checked his internal clock. 9.30 hours. No, that was Shanghai. 13.30 hours. Fifty five and a half hours to go.

The approach to the shed was via a poorly maintained driveway. Rain and heavy vehicles had ground out the shoddy repair work  done with cement and bitumen. Bastards" Humbert thought "Just like the Nuova Lazio Mall car park.". Humbert stepped around the deepest puddles and quietly made his way to a side door. He stopped and listened. What was that? He had heard a soft ticking. He listened again. Yes, there it was - the sound of a large engine cooling. A 3.5 litre Ti-VCT V6. "Might come in handy" he thought as he carefully opened the door and stepped inside.

The shed was larger inside than it seemed from outside. It was set up like a warehouse but without much planning. There were cartons and bottles everywhere set out chaotically. At one end was a small industrial labelling and bottling line. The equipment looked to be about 40 years old. There was a man tinkering with part of it. He was replacing what looked like a star wheel.
"Yo" called Humbert.
The man dropped a spanner which rang out on the concrete floor.
"Who the fuck are you" the man said belligerently. Belligerence. Humbert liked belligerence.
"25 Pinetree Falling Grove ring a bell with you?" Humbert asked. He watched the man closely, saw his eyes slide to the right and downwards as he answered "No. Should it?"
"What's all this " asked Humbert, kicking and empty brown carton out of the way. He noticed the wording stencilled on the side in black ink "RBW Chardonnay 2009".
"Mind your own fuck..." the words he uttered were cut short as Humbert grabbed him by the throat with his right hand. The hand kept free for action and emergencies. His left hand held a brown paper bag containing toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor and now 4 pairs of underpants.
"Don't lie to me mister I know what you're up to." said Humbert "remember the little issue of the Hawkes Bay Syrah that had only ever seen Hawkes Bay when the bottles were delivered from Waipara?"

The man looked again at Humbert, memory awakening and he tried to get away but Humbert's grip, strengthened by a lifetime of opening bottles and holding glasses didn't lessen.
" Maybe we can work something out" he gasped "I could use a partner. How about we go 60:40?"

He'd chosen the wrong man to try and bribe. Humbert let him go and as he fell to the floor kneed him in the goolies. "That's for the Syrah" he said "and this is for the Chardonnay".


Humbert grabbed the man by the collar and hauled him up and in one fluid motion threw him across the conveyer that led to the automatic corking machine. He could see what the man had been tinkering with. The safety cage was faulty and the guard had been removed. Humbert punched the start button with his right palm and the machine whirred into life and the conveyer began to move.
The man stirred and looked about wildly but couldn't move as Humbert pinned him down with a large forearm. As his head lined up below the automatic corker Humbert looked into his eyes and said "think yourself lucky punk that this isn't a screwcap machine" as the corks, propelled by a CO2 gun fired down into the man's mouth. As the man's shoulders jammed the safety gate the conveyer stopped but the machine kept working, firing cork after cork until the man was silent.
"Job done" said Humbert as he slapped the stop button on the machine.

Humbert looked about the shed. There were hundreds of cartons of the RBW wine and as many more of the same wine relabelled as Te Awanga Chardonnay. There were also hundreds of cases of other non identifiable wines along with boxes of labels. He sorted through these noticing labels for well known and well respected Hawkes Bay Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage. "I guess he was going to relabel the RBW wine with these" he thought.

Behind a pallet of flattened cartons he noticed 5 sealed cases of wine. Morton Estate Coniglio 2010. Wow! This was serious wine, one of the best and at least $80 a bottle. Humbert wondered why this was here. He grabbed a bottle. Cork, not screwcap. "Never mind" he thought and grabbed a large knife from the tool bench. He swung it at the neck of the bottle knocking the top off in a clean 'sabrage' stroke. Pouring some out to clean away any glass splinters he then took a swig. Then another. "Creamy, lovely tropical fruit. good oak balance - lovely" he said to himself and took another big mouthful.
"This is the real McCoy, old Richard will love this" he thought and loaded the five cases (less one bottle ) into the Ford Explorer that was parked by the loading bay. As he was doing this his boot struck a bottle that was on the floor. It went spinning out into the warehouse. Humbert watched it and as it came to a stop he saw what it was. Lemonade. Schweppes lemonade. A memory stirred. Northland 1976. A vertical tasting of Chateau Margaux with vintages from 1966 through to 1974. Chateau Margaux one of the world's greatest wines and now costing up to $1000 a bottle.


The tasting was ruined though because someone poured lemonade into the wines. Schweppes lemonade. Richard. Bastard.




 Humbert looked at the wine in the Explorer. He then looked back at the wines on the warehouse floor and came to a decision. He selected 5 dozen of the RBW cleanskins and took out the corks. He poured about 50 mls out of each one and topped up with lemonade from a crateful of bottles he found. Shoving aside the guy with a mouth full of corks he loaded up the corking machine with 60 corks from a box labelled "2012 Hawkes Bay"  and sent the cleanskin bottles through to be re-corked. He next rummaged through boxes and found some newly printed labels and capsules. "Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2012" Perfect. And about $40 a bottle. He sent the re-corked bottles through. As they collected at the end of the conveyer he packed them into some 'Te Mata' cartons he had found and loaded them into the Explorer.

Humbert raised the roller door and drove out of the shed. He left the door open and splashed his way down the drive. The courier van was gone and he knew that the shed would soon be picked clean like bones in the desert. He drove in to Porirua town centre and found a local and international courier company.
Using the credit cards that he'd taken from the guy in the shed he processed the paperwork for two shipments. One of 59 bottles addressed to Trixie at a San Francisco address. He'd pick these up later.
The other 60 bottles he addressed to 25 Falling Pinetree Grove, Nuova Lazio. The old guy would like it.

Humbert drove to the airport, leaving the Ford Explorer in the long-term carpark. He used his open ticket for the next flight to LAX which was about 5 hours later. Stretching out in the departure lounge he thought about the last couple of days and was happy. Problem fixed. Job done.

It was 7pm - 1900 hours. Forty eight and a half hours under the deadline. He smiled to himself. He hated those last minute deadline scenarios.