Saturday, December 20, 2008


Richard (of RBB) is anticipating receiving lots of gifts of Nestle Scorched Almonds for Christmas (Oh the big spenders in Nuova Lazio!)
Here is a suggestion of a wine match for them.

Artisan Riverstone Merlot 2000
Amazingly intense fruit with good solid tannins and firm acidity. Ripe black fruit characters, chocolate and coffee come together with cedar and cigar box. The finish is long and lingering

This was a review from Tiz Wine.

The reason for this suggestion is because of a USA study that suggested that red wine, almonds, coffee, and certain fruits and nuts rich in a nutrient called boron may help stave off prostate cancer. While researchers are not sure exactly how boron lowers risk for prostate cancer, the new study showed that men who consumed the greatest amount of boron were 64% less likely to develop prostate cancer, when compared with men who consumed the least amount of boron in the study.

He could of course, if staving off prostate cancer is more important than the wine and food matching, go to a Caltex service station and fill up on petrol with boron in it.

The more Merlot he drinks with the almonds may make him less susceptible to prostate troubles but will increase his prostrate potential.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Years ago when I was test driving a car (the Rover 620ti I still drive) the car salesman described the car as 'slippery' meaning that it was deceptively fast being conservative looking but with a real kick beneath the bonnet.
Last night I drank a 'slippery' wine - St Clair Vicar's Choice 2007 Pinot Noir. This was on sale at Countdown for about $12 (very good price for Pinot Noir) so I bought it to go with my BBQ meal. As 'Her Indoors' was out I sipped away at this while putting up some Christmas lights on the deck and listening to old Rolling Stones albums (Mick Taylor's guitar and Bobby Keys sax on 'Can't you hear me knocking' is still as good as ever). Even before my food was ready I had drunk three quarters of the bottle without realising it and finished the rest with the meal (felt a bit seedy at the gym this morning). The wine is fairly simple in a good way, being non-complicated. The fruit is juicy and delicious and the wine just slips down. This is a Pinot Noir or a red wine for people who claim to not like either. I'm going to buy some more before the Wine Sale ends.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


A lot of wine is drunk during the Christmas period as is a lot of other forms of alcohol. Pre-Christmas parties wouldn't be what they are without the accounts women drinking too much sparkling wine and the music teachers too much Chardonnay. The problem is though, that in New Zealand when the weather gets warmer (indeed hot as it has been on the last two weekends), wine is not really the best drink of choice.
Who wants to drink a lovely big Chardonnay, rich Viognier, any form of red etc. when most of the parties are out of doors afternoon or early evening scenarios. Best choice is very chilled sparkling wine or lower alcohol Rieslings. Even current vintage Roses are getting a bit tired 9 months after vintage. There will be plenty of Christmas (before and after) wine sales though so I recommend taking advantage of these, buying in quantity the best keeping wines at best deals and storing them away for the following year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


OK we know that the standard of news reporting has slipped badly in recent years but the following just shows how stupid some copy writers are: In a Newstalk ZB news report on the Air NZ National Wine Competition results it was reported that "Chair of judges, Steve Smith, says the two winning wines made a big impression on the 26-strong judging panel, who tasted the wines blindfolded." Blindfolded! Didn't this news writer think about what he/she was saying? Do they just merrily type away without engaging their brains. Tasting wines blindfolded might well result in the chaos depicted in the attached B.Johnson cartoon

Friday, November 14, 2008


Gary and I play snooker on Thursdays and generally have a couple of glasses of wine afterwards at the local wine bars.
I've written before about the poor service at one of the locals and why we made a shift. We had been going for some time to Diablo's but it closed down and after a long period of being renovated opened as a Greek bar and restaurant. The new owners have spent a lot of money changing things (why they do this I can never work out. They think that a different set up, name and paint job will attract and retain customers. What they need to concentrate on is soul and service).
Anyway, when the new one opened we gave it a try in I think the first week of opening. They were very disorganised, not knowing the wine selection nor the prices and taking a long time to serve. We put up with that giving them the benefit of the doubt attributing it to teething troubles. Every odd week now for several months we have gone there and things have hardly improved. It is always empty. The staff still don't know the wine offerings or the prices. The wines available by the glass are not listed in the expensive printed wine menu. The management usually cluster together having conversations or arguments leaving the invariably new staff member to try and man the bar. Last week it was all too hard trying to order a glass of wine so I just has a beer. This week I said to Gary enough is enough and that we should go somewhere else. He convinced me to give it one more try which we did. We successfully ordered the first glass of wine each although it took a while getting it paid for. When I went back into the bar to order another two glasses of wine the inexperienced yet capable young woman behind the bar had gone and an inexperienced and incapable new young woman was behind the bar. I ordered , for sake of simplicity the same wine I had had previously - the Matua Judd Estate Chardonnay 07 (good wine). The bar person went to the beer spigot and said "which beer?". I pointed out that it wasn't beer I wanted, that I wanted a glass of wine and pointed to the bottle in the fridge telling her that it was the top bottle on the left. When she responded again "which beer?" I decided that it was never going to get better especially when she said "sorry it's my first night working here". All this was in earshot of 3 management once again huddled in conversation.
OK, I felt sorry for the girl, probably a student, but I was a customer buying $12 glasses of wine. The guys running this place spend a fortune on decor but employ cheap labour and don't bother training them. Their conversations are probably along the lines of "I wonder why we don't get many customers?"
We left and got a glass of wine across the road (at the other place that takes ages to serve customers).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Anyone having read older posts I have written will know that I decry supermarkets and the way that they destroy brand equity through deep-cut discounting. They also do not provide enough choice for the wine enthusiast. That said though I still buy wine from supermarkets (more so now that I am self-employed and am watching the pennies). Today I picked up some bargains - Deutz Cuvee at 19.99 (14 bucks off), Mission Reserve Viognier at 19.99 (five bucks off plus a free memory stick), Penfolds Bin 28 24.99 (10 bucks off) and Rosemount Blue Mountain Shiraz Cab 29.99 (36 bucks off). That was not a typo. Fosters implosion is turning up bargains like this.Even discounted in Australia Blue Mountain should be well over 40 dollars (AUD).
There have been a lot of Rosemount, Wolf Blass and Penfolds specials recently as a result of Fosters (the parent company) losing their way in the wine world. I suggest to look out for the bargains and buy up large (please don't read this until I get back to Foodtown and buy some more).
I've been buying good Riesling and Chardonnay when the good brands come on deep-cut special. I don't buy Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris but there are particularly good deals on the good brands of these occasionally. What never turns up though is good Pinot Noir on special. In fact, supermarkets don't stock good Pinot Noir. Why is this? A few years ago Pinot Noir was scarce and suppliers would not sell it to supermarkets. When they did they didn't promote it. Supermarkets resorted to stocking cheap and crappy Pinot Noir from Australia and lesser regions. Now that good NZ Pinot Noir is plentiful things haven't changed. I refuse to believe that suppliers are holding out given that most of them are awash with the stuff. It just may be that the supermarket buyers are not chasing hard enough. Believe it or not it often happens where the supermarket buyer has personal preferences and dislikes that get in the way of sensible stocking and ranging. A few years ago a buyer for one of the major groups would not range Shiraz because he thought that it was not popular. At the time Rosemount Diamond label Shiraz was the biggest premium Shiraz brand sold in USA, was huge in Australia and in NZ was starting to dominate the (non supermarket) shelves. It took a long time for him to be convinced but once so the Shiraz he stocked took off.
Meanwhile I buy my Pinot Noir from specialist wine retailers and via the web. It annoys me though to think of the piles of unsold stuff sitting in warehouses somewhere.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


On looking at the bizarre choices that voters made last night it seems to me that most of the powerful city seats went to labour (Wellington Central, Christchurch Central, Manurewa, Dunedin South, Dunedin North etc). In fact out of the 27 or so major city seats Labour won 15 of them to Nationals 8. The 'country' seats all went to National except for Palmerston North which went to Labour.
OK. Good on the country, this is ground-swell and grass-roots opinion, but is it well informed opinion or populist knee-jerking?
If electoral seats were wine-styles then the Labour ones would be classic Chardonnay,steely Riesling, powerful Syrah, elegant Pinot Noir and edgy Sauvignon Blanc. National ones would be flabby Pinot Gris, boring Muller Thurgau, insipid Chasselas, overpriced Viognier, unproven Arneis and early maturing Rose. Oh, and as they did win some important city seats I'll give them Cabernet Merlot blends albeit with green herbaceous edges.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There was a time when it was quite clear to everyone what the key wine types and styles were to drink and an unofficial but helpful ranking put Chardonnay and Riesling at the top of the white wine rankings and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Syrah at the top of the red wine rankings.
It was not to say that other varietals were not worth drinking but was a nod to the consumer of which varietals when made at their best resulted in sublime tasting experiences.
Nowadays wine drinkers are confronted with a myriad of wine types and styles without any ranking guides official or unofficial.
That bloody awful Pinot Gris claims pricing and position with its more serious cousins and Viognier and Arneis are climbing the ladder pretending to be on the top tier. The classic blending material of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc are now sometimes seen on their own and Chenin Blanc, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, various Muscats, Tempranillo, Pinotage, Zinfandel, and others are all clamouring for attention.

OK. So call me a wine snob but I think it is important that distinctions are kept.
Sure, some tasty little wines are made from the non-aristocratic varietals but they will very rarely be great.
Keep them in their place I say.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I work in the wine industry and really enjoy it. I've been lucky to have experienced many of the world's greatest wines and met a lot of the famous personalities behind them.
When I and my peers drink wines , almost invariably we evaluate them. This isn't always a serious consideration, but even with the simplest quaffing wines we (either to ourselves or others)categorize them as good bad or indifferent. We think about whether the wine has good fruit or fruit spoiled by rot, rain or poor vintage; whether the wood if used was too much, not enough or of poor quality; whether the winery conditions were too clean, just right or plain dirty; whether the wine is too young, too old or about right etc. Generally these are instant observations and then, depending on the social situation we can just get on with enjoying the wine.
On the weekend I was in wellington with Richard and we went to a wine bar and ordered a glass each of a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay. After a sip or two I observed that the wine was good, a bit young and woody and had a salty/savoury character (most likely a combination of lees and oak).
Richard, looking in his glass and tasting again said "I was enjoying that but now all I can taste is salt".
Richard is a musician both as profession and hobby and evaluates music in the same way - seeing the nuances that the lay person doesn't. It hopefully doesn't cause him to miss out on the pleasures of music although he rarely listens to rock or Pop (but he does have hill-billy music in his car). Maybe what his knowledge allows him is to explore new and esoteric territory of greatness that the layman never discovers. This can be true of wines too where with knowledge we might become jaded re the everyday wines but have the key to unlock the mysteries of the world's great wines.

Friday, October 3, 2008


I consult to an up and coming wine company. At the moment the company and brand is hardly known but will be one of the country's foremost Ultra Premium brand in a few years.
At the current stage of development wine writer endorsement is very important as, without wide distribution already, it is necessary to have good accolades to attract new distribution. Good accolades will also encourage consumers to purchase a brand they have not before heard of.
Wine accolades can come from winning medals in wine shows (GOLD is obviously best), having nice things said about the brand in a wine column (although this becomes the next day's fish 'n' chip paper) or, increasingly important, gaining a high points rating from one of the top wine magazines.
The British magazines like Decanter rate wines but don't go mad over it. They expect their readers to be knowledgeable about wines already and put more emphasis on describing the wines. The Americans are points mad. They rate wines out of a hundred so anything getting close to that is pretty good. The problem is though, how can a wine taster differentiate between giving a wine 97 points and 96 - or even 96 vs 90?
To explain this all wine tasting competitions run on a points system. In the traditional one it is a 20 point system. There are 3 points allocated to colour/clarity; 7 points allocated to nose/aroma and 10 points allocated to taste/overall impression. For a wine to gain a Bronze Medal it has to get between 15.5 and 17 points out of 20. For Silver it has to be between 17 and 18.5 Points. A Gold has to be over 18.5 Points. So. You think you are a wine judge? Have a glass of wine in front of you. A pretty reasonable one that you like to drink. Evaluate it. Look at the colour. Like it? What will you give it? 2.5 out of 3. OK. Smell it. Nice? What will you give it? 5.5 out of 7 - high but you like the smell. Now taste it. Like it? OK you give it 8 out of ten as you think its pretty good. Add up the scores. Total is 16 points. This glass of wine you like barely qualified for a Bronze medal and you would probably pass it over on a wine shop shelf if it had a Bronze sticker on it. To get a Gold a wine would have to get something like a perfect score on colour and aroma (3 plus 7) and then 9 out of ten on taste to add up to 19. It becomes very tricky in separating out the Golds from the Silvers and the 1.6 point spread between a Bronze Medal and Gold shows how difficult it is. A Gold medal can mean the difference between selling thousands of cases of wine vs a handful if the same wine were to get a Bronze.
The 100 point system is kind of like multiplying the 20 by five. A Gold at 18.5 plus then is like a 92.5 plus out of 100. It is American. It is wanky. How the hell can a judge decide between 92 and 93? effectively Silver or Gold. Wine tasting is not an exact science it is all about impression (albeit reasonably well informed impressions in some cases.)
Back to the company I consult to.
We had a major breakthrough recently with The Wine advocate, an American wine publication that bar none is the most influential in the world of wine. Love it or hate it if a wine gets 90 Points plus it is on the map and selling like anything.
We got 3 of our wines at 90 plus - one at 90, one at 92 and one at 93. Big news and sales for us. Interestingly enough the Australian equivalent Gourmet traveller Wine gave the same three wines 95,95 and 96 Points.
I don't much believe in this kind of points scoring but definitely take them and use them when they come in as much as I would use a Gold Medal.
I have a wonderful cartoon framed at home. It shows a wine consumer trying wine at a winery Cellar Door. The consumer spits out a wine saying that it is disgusting. The winery representative behind the counter says that it received 95 Points from The Wine Advisor. The consumer says that he will buy 2 cases.
Go figure.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


You've heard of the expression "I'll have a medicinal whisky". I bet you've never heard "I'll have a medicinal wine".
When we have colds, sore throats etc we often resort to hot toddy's with whisky, rum or brandy in them but rarely have wine. Why is that? Is it the fact that we think spirits are better as they are stronger? Or is it because we cannot taste wine very well when we are under the weather. The fact is though that there are many more instances of medicinal wines than spirits (and yes I know about the origins of famous liqueurs like Chartreuse, D.O.M. Benedictine etc)

Wines have been used for health reasons since ancient times.

Some of these uses involved drinking large amounts to ease pain although it was often temporary and usually involved waking up to find someone had sawn an arm or leg off. A positive side effect of being drunk during amputations was that blood pressure was lowered which helped in the process.

The Ancient Greeks used wine to carry medicinal herbs and spices as curatives and restoratives. Bitterness in more modern medicines was disguised by wine.
In the early days of the Australian and New Zealand wine industry wines were promoted as containing health promoting additives and named Tonic wines. It was no coincidence that wine pioneers were also doctors e.g. Doctor Penfold. Wine was used as an antiseptic and it was common practice to wash wounds in wine before putting bandages on.

Nowadays there are many endorsements for wine as it is recognised as being beneficial to health as an anti-oxidant, a digestive aid and even prescribed as a sexual stimulant!

Recent research says moderate consumption of wine - around half a bottle a day - leads to a longer, healthier life than that enjoyed both by non-drinkers and by over-indulgers.
So, where is this leading to? I have a cold (a man's cold which is always the worst kind)and a sore throat. I am having a medicinal glass of wine (Taylors 2007 Merlot which is rich and juicy but has a softness that soothes my raw throat - yum).

Saturday, September 20, 2008


We went to the opening of Jenufa tonight, Janacek's dark opera.
It was chock-a-bloc full of God, religion, sin, guilt, redemption(Robert would have been in his element) and the inevitable consequences when these things take over people's minds and life.
The opera started out a bit lame for half of the first act but then took off with some great performances. The sets were perfectly suited for both theme and practicality and the music was in balance with the singing and was not intrusive. I guess a lot of this was to do with the unfamiliarity (to me)of Janacek's music with no classic pop tunes coming out (I do think they could have slipped in Styx's 'Jennifer' or Donovan's 'Jennifer Jupiter' though to liven things up a bit).
re Janacek's music it is a little known fact that there are never Double Basses playing in his music. Apparently he couldn't stand them. The low vibrating noises gave him throbbing headaches so he banned them.
What has this got to do with wine you may ask? Well, not a lot but Steva, the cad in the opera was a bit of a drunkard and often had a bottle in his hand.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I'm just taking a break from doing some tiring work and my mind wandered to winemakers names and winemaking terms (it has been a bit of a joke in winemaking circles when the winemaker is named Brett as 'brett' -brettanomyces in its varying guises is a compound that can impart complexity to wines but often is a detraction from pleasant fruity flavours and seen as a fault - Who says winemakers don't have a sense of humour then?)

Anyway I got to thinking of other names and came up with these:

MALolactic fermentation
ETHYL acetate

There must (pun intended) be lots more.
Send them in and win a prize.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


I drank some Californian Cabernet Sauvignon the other day. It was a massive Christmas pudding type of wine. The label said that it had 15.5% alc/vol. The reality was closer to 17%. The wine cost USD250 per bottle. Robert Parker gave it 96 points. Overall effect was like drinking a pan galactic gargle blaster I imagine.

Yesterday I opened a Kim Crawford SP 2007 Tietjen vineyard Gisborne Viognier. The label says 15.5% alc/vol. I suspect the reality is higher. Not quite the PGGB effect but the alcohol was annoyingly evident rendering the wine virtually undrinkable.

High alcohol red wines taste porty. High alcohol white wines take on a beer character. Neither are very attractive so why do they do it?
At wine shows and early on in their comparative tasting life the high alcohol can make the wine stand out and give it more 'body'. With some age though the alcohol remains undiluted while the other components have melded leaving a hot character.

If I want to drink a very high alcohol wine I prefer to sip a glass of sherry or port.
I don't want to be sucker punched by an innocent looking table wine.

Thor Iverson in his Oenolog blog discusses high alcohol wines for those interested.

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Here in New Zealand we have made a phenomenal movement from crappy jug and quart bottle beer, watered down spirits and very ordinary second class wine to drinking and appreciating some of the best boutique beers in the world (and the two major brewers have been pressured into getting their acts together and giving us much better options),having greater appreciation of the best imported spirits (and starting to produce some damn good local ones)and producing and drinking in greater quantities some of the cleanest and freshest wines in the world.
re Wine that is good. We have greatly increased our wine consumption and awarness and nowadays a BBQ is more likely to have a predominance of wine rather than beer (even though if a lot of it is cheap and cheerful NZ and Oz wine).
But, in our wine growth we have become a wee bit arrogant, thinking that all NZ is good, all other countries wines bad. Why is this? Well, winewriter and media enthusiasm counts for a lot but also, the decline of the traditional wine merchant structure in New Zealand and the rise of the simple format- offering supermarket and surviving liquor chains is another reason. (Forget nearly all of the myriad of small operators who used to be select wine shops but are now RTD and cheap beer and spirit suppliers to our children). Thank God for the handful of serious specialist wineshop operators around the country who, whilst stocking and actively supporting the best of Australian and New Zealand wines are brave enough to offer us some of the best wines from the rest of the world. They are replicating, in a small way, the role of the traditional wine and spirit merchants of years gone by. Now any fool can research and import the world's celebrated wines. They will unfortunately be prohibitively expensive. The serious wine operator goes a bit further in his/her reserach and finds us the world's best affordable wines (and believe me there are plenty of those).
In this Post I will talk about a Spanish wine, a Rioja (North East Spain). The Rioja region is comprised of the hilly Western Rioja Alta and the flatter Eastern Rioja Baja with the Northern Alavesa. Each component of the region has different degrees of heat and cold, wind, rainfall and soil conditions. The normal Rioja is a blend of different varietals (Garnacha, Tempranillo, Mazuella and Graziano)from more than one of the regions components. There are some producers however who concentrate on one region and almost one varietal with a view to making unique terroir-driven wines.
Contino Reserva Rioja is a good example of one of these. This individual estate wine is 80% Tempranillo from a 45 hectare vineyard in the Northern Alavesa region. The grapes are fermented in stainless steel (as in New World) and matured in French and Amereican Oak (also like New world wines). The result is rich, intensely fruity and beautifully balanced wine. A treat and one of life's true pleasures. I wish we could see more of these types of wine available in the supermarkets and bigger chains who spend a fortune trying to convince us that they cater to all of our needs.


If we eventually discover the end of the Universe, I wonder what wine they will be drinking there?
The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Universe said that the best drink ever invented was the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. As I have never tried a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster I can't compare with the best drinks I have ever had and as the drink was a kind of cocktail it doesn't count as wine.
The oldest recorded wine style is Commandaria, a sweet fortified wine from Cyprus. These 'nectar-o-the-gods' style wines have featured over the last couple of thousand years so it is not impossible that something similar could be found at the end of the universe.
The trouble with sweet fortified wines is that they are easy to drink but can end up giving you a powerful hangover not unlike that provided by the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, described by Douglas Adams as having an effect similar to having one's brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Richard, a friend of mine has said that a Wine Guy should write about Chardonnay. He obviously has a poor memory because in an earlier Post I wrote that the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted was a Montrachet and likened it to a Maserati Quattroporte - beautiful, stylish but very very expensive.
Richard, who almost single handedly keeps the Australian Chardonnay industry going, discovered Chardonnay when some wag told him there was a 'hardon' in every bottle. He took it literally and is still looking for it.
Chardonnay is rightly described as being one of the classic varietals, in the first division of wine (other team mates are Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc). Some fools have recently disparaged Chardonnay and coined the term ABC - Anything but Chardonnay. I think this must have been some Pinot Gris growers somehere. Chardonnay has so many different forms that one should never become tired of it, all one has to do is look at another style or country of origin.
I am in Australia at present and have attended a Wine Event where there were many styles of Chardonnay being shown - most of them very good. The stand-out was a very expensive 2005 Grand Cru Chablis from the Les Clos vineyard which has always been a favourite of mine. Good Chablis has a flintiness or minerality about it that gives it an interesting middle palate. The second most favoured Chardonnay amongst many from Australia, France and New Zealand was 2007 Man O' War Valhalla Chardonnay from Waiheke Island. This also had minerality which gave it an extra dimension - fruit, minerality and Oak in perfect proportion - Yum!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


When we are interested in something and it becomes a big part of our lives we can forget that others, who don't share this interest or degree of enthusiasm, are bored when we 'go on' about it.
I have an excellent LyncBob cartoon in which a classic wine bore is holding court over some guests in his lounge.
He pontificates " ...of course I've drunk up most of my '29's...I'm still waiting on the '28's...but aren't we all. Heck, I'll probably finish the '53's before I get to the '28's. '61? Don't even talk to me about '61"

When you look closely at the guests sitting in lounge chairs it can be seen that they are all dead - died of boredom.

Which reminds me...the best wine I have ever drunk was a 1953 Ch√Ęteau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande, a Grande Cru class Pauillac. The wine was from a magnum and was drunk in 1976 making it 23 years of age at the time (only 1 year younger than I was).
This was not the 'best' wine (on ratings) I have ever drunk having been fortunate to have experienced many first growth Bordeaux, top Burgundies and other wines in my lifetime, but this wine was my best because it was drunk at the perfect moment to drink it.
What does this mean?
It means that in my lifetime of drinking wine I have felt that I have been lucky to have drunk only a dozen or so wines at their optimum age - maybe less. Aging wine is a hit or miss affair even with the best cellaring and record keeping. It is one of life's great pleasures to experience a wine at this stage of its development. It is also very hard to describe what it is like given that taste is different from person to person. The best I can say is that with the Pichon it had the texture of milk but still with fresh berry characters - everything had come together in harmony. There were no rough edges, no hard tannins, no drying -out of fruit. It was delicious and I still remember it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


The New Zealand wine industry is based on varietals sourced from elsewhere. That is no surprise as we do not have native grapes in New Zealand.
We built our industry on importing these varietals, planting and growing them and then trying to produce similar wines as those made in the countries the varietals were sourced from. Usually the result was a poor imitation.
Over time, our viticulturists and winemakers learnt to; select best sites; match best varietals to those sites; and to make the best possible wine from the resultant excellent fruit regardless of what the 'parent' company produced.
From this new attitude we got New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that, to the chagrin of the wine world is acknowledged as the best performing and most acceptable style.
Add to that New Zealand Pinot Noir with freshness, lovely cherry characters and complexity without the associated crappy characters that the 'old world' can produce, plus New Zealand Chardonnay with true Chardonnay varietal character and freshness and zing (as long as the winemakers don't over-oak the wine)we have some world leaders in style even though we are not traditional in approach.
Now, after several false starts we have an emerging New Zealand classic - the Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Merlot/ blend which will get the world noticing us once they get over the snobbishness that is associated with this style of wine.
Years ago, New Zealand (and Australia tried to replicate claret - that great Bordeaux wine that has done more for interest in wine (and priciness of top wines) than any other style. Early attempts were to concentrate on the 'backbone' of claret - Cabernet Sauvignon. This hard-skinned varietal can, when growing conditions are right and site selection is ideal, make intensely coloured and flavoured wine with big tannic structure. When growing conditions are not right (too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry etc) and/or site selection is wrong (too shady, too exposed, too far North, too far South etc)then the result can be porty high alcohol soup on the one hand or green, vegetal crap on the other. Early New Zealand attempts were generally the latter. More recent experimentation has led to site selection (generally geographic as well as vineyard orientation) and a recognoition that great claret does not rely on Cabernet Sauvignon alone. Other varietals principally Cabernet Franc and Merlot with supporting Malbec, Petit Verdot and others add texture, flavour, elegance, colour, aroma and other contributing characteristics in varying degrees.
The modern New Zealand clatet style wine now best comes from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island. There are obviously variations in quality from these regions but the best have careful site section in mind coupled with the ability to blend the correct proportions (variable by vintage year).
Now here's the interesting thing. Whether it is due to the ordinary, herbacious offerings from New Zealand in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's, or to the comparatively big, gutsy, high alcohol offerings from Australia we have seen recently, there is a popular misconception that New Zealand 'claret-style' wines are light, thin and inferior to other countries similar styles particularly those from France and Australia.
Add to this the fact that we struggle when trying to explain this style of wine and generally refer to them as 'Bordeaux blends' because 'claret' as a descriptor has been bastardised over the years with the crappiest and cheapest Australian and New Zealand red wine blends being named 'claret' and it can be sen that we are not getting anywhere.
Bordeaux claret can be sublime in good years and indifferent and overpriced in others but when we (in the wine industry) describe our Cabernet Merlot blends we call them 'Bordeaux Blends'.
We need another meaningful descriptor, one that sums up the power and elegance that can be achieved with these red varietals in New Zealand and as I am convinced that this wine style, especially from Waiheke or Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay will be the greatest wine coming from New Zealand it is important to name it propery without a "Thank ee Guvner" approach to the French.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Ah Spring. Daffodils, little lambs, longer daylight hours, new release wines and...Sauvignon Blanc/Asparagus pee!

Not everyone can smell this for some reason but those who can will never forget the unnusual smell that your pee has after eating fresh asparagus.
Drinking fresh Sauvignon Blanc has a similar effect and, as new release Sauvignon Blancs coincide with asparagus season there is usually some food and wine matching going on that exacerbates the effect.

What we are smelling is mercaptan (or thiol) which is is a compound that contains the functional group composed of a sulphur atom and a hydrogen atom. Thiols give Sauvignon Blanc that pungent 'cat's pee' character that we all love (or hate).
Mix this with the mercaptan character that comes from eating asparagus and wallop - you certainly know when someone has been..

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


What's wine labelling all about?
Ideally it should tell you what you are buying (varietal, origin, wine-style etc).
What it has become is a confusing mess of differentiation, marketing messages and general hype that, in the rush to make any particular brand stand out, often has the reverse efect and makes all brands seem the same.
I am in the middle of yet another round of re-branding and creating new labels for a range of very good wines that have yet to become noticed. You've heard the expression 'one man's meat is another man's poison' well wine labels are like that - some people think a concept is great and others think it's crap. The designers like to throw in wild and off-the-wall images and get all pissy when the brand owners think it better to go safe and traditional. Marketers like me can see a bit of both sides of the argument and if it is a cheaper brand then support the off-the-wall idea ( I did create Monkey Bay after all) but if it is an expensive brand I put myself in the shoes of the prospective buyer paying $80 to $100 dollars a bottle in a restaurant and consider what they might like to see (safe, traditional, sophisticated etc).
I remember in the mid 90's Geoff Merril, an Australian winemaker of some note who had made his reputation mnaking wine for big wine companies and went out on his own. He made great wines, Gold Medal-winning and when it came to labelling he obviously became frustrated with all the variables.
He created a label named "Who Cares" that was stuck on the front of the bottle at a sloppy angle as if it was just slapped on. The back label said something along the lines of..."We made this bloody good wine and then the designers were arguing over what label should go on it. We decided who cares about the label ..just enjoy the wine"
The wines under this label were very good. The concept was great but the great unwashed just didn't get it and it was a failure. Merril subsequently adopted a safe, traditional label from then on.

Friday, July 18, 2008


If wine was like clothes, what sort of clothes would match each wine type?
Gwann,gwann gwann - I bet you've been wondering.
Chardonnay would be a great late Summer/Autumn wardrobe, versatile depending on the days temperature from nice shorts and designer t-shirts to quality chino's, open neck shirts and casual jackets. (Note that we are talking men's clothes here).
Sauvignon Blanc would be a lot less formal and with less class - probably jandals and beach shorts for men and revealing bikinis for women (some with a bit of style and elegance, most blowsy showing a lot of bum-crack).
Gewurtztraminer would be elegant casual woolen trousers with rather stiff collared shirts and soft leather jackets.
Syrah would be corduroy trousers, designer work shirts and sleeveless jerkins.
Cabernet Sauvignon Nad Merlot would be tailored slacks through to elegant suits with good cotton shirts and silk ties.
Pinot Noir would run from designer jeans and shirts at one end to moleskin/chino's and widerness jackets at the other.
Pinot Gris (the modern day Muller Thurgau)would be ugly short pants (even liederhosen)worn stupidly short and maybe in leather. Probably of the type favoured by double bass players.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


J had been feeling a little jaded recently. Ever since he had 'come out' he was always being invited to places to speak, perform or generally just to feel people up.
There was always plenty of plonk to drink and on the last couple of evenings he had overindulged and now was nursing a lingering hangover.
The last-minute wedding invitation that came was not very welcome but, especially in his new role, it would be rude not to go. So here he was, sitting quietly in a corner getting his feet massaged and rehydrating himself with water from the fountain, when the prat of a host came rushing up, in a panic, saying that the party was doomed as all the wine had run out. "Bugger", thought J, "just when I was thinking of slipping out to go to bed."
"OK", he said to the host and to the thirsty throng close by. "Bring the biggest wine jars you have over here to the fountain and fill them up".
A murmur went through the party-goers as they pressed forward to get a look at what was going on. J was always good for a bit of entertainment recently so something amazing might happen.
When the jars were filled with water J stood up and looked around at everyone, and,catching their eyes he said "Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes, don't look around the eyes, look into my eyes" and then snapped his fingers before saying "the jars are full of the most wonderful wine you've ever tasted" (better than the cheap Italian crap that the host put on he thought)
He then snapped his fingers again and the thirsty party animals began drinking the 'wine'which they all found to be very good and intoxicating and promptly forgot about him.
"good" J thought,"now I can slip away and get a good nights sleep. And at least they won't wake up with a hangover either"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I was supermarket shopping yesterday and went down the wine aisles to look for bargains. I have long gotten over my scruples re how grocery giants rip the heart out of the wine industry and destroy brand equity all in the name of market share gains against their competitor (singular).
I now look for those ridiculously cheap 'wine sale' specials ($10 off usual shelf price) and pick up my favourite drinks at these prices. (bought some more fantastic Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Chardonnay at $12 bottle, down from $22) Supermarkets work on shelf-turnover statistics for all products. Regardless of what they say in that very expensive TV advertising (that you pay for)they are not really interested in bringing you the best product at the best price, they are interested in selling that retail space to the highest bidder - they are real estate agents, not retailers.
When brands/products don't meet the 'hurdle rates' they dump them. Watch out for this - it can mean a bargain although can be disastrous for the poor hard-working manufacturer. Sometimes products/brands are dumped for 'political' reasons where the brand owner refused to cow-tow to the Supermarket chain owners demands or because they say withdrew another popular brand from sale to the grocery sector due to the aforementioned brand equity erosion and the supermarket chain elects to punish them.(I recently bought cases of a multi-trophy winning Reserve Chardonnay at $17 a bottle down from $33 bottle). Anyway, back to my supermarket aisle perambulations. I like Pinot Noir - yummy. Lynn likes Pinot Gris - yuk. Looking at the relevant two bays I see the striking new labels of Whitecliffs. This is one of the 'second' labels of Sacred Hill from Hawkes Bay and Marlborough and purports to be NZ wine. The clean, fresh imagery entices and one immediately thinks that it is NZ wine .. but, wait there's more. Current labelling regulations say you can put country of origin on either front or back label. In the case of Whitecliffs they have buried the fact that the country of origin is not New Zealand.. on the back label in (legally compliant) but small lettering amongst a whole lot of other verbiage.
The Pinot Gris (boldly displayed amongst the NZ Pinot Gris wines from other NZ producers stands out. Look at the back label (through spectacles in a good light) and you will see that this pinot Gris is a product of Italy and New Zealand (probablty read 90% Italy and 10% NZ just to get NZ on the label).
The Pinot Noir also stands out and probably more so because $15 Pinot Noir is rare if you think you are buying NZ Pinot Noir. Look on the back label and you find 'Product of France and New Zealand'. How does the italian and French wine reach Whitecliffs (Sacred Hill)? In great big liqui-tainers, bought at the best possible price at any given time on the spot market.
Now, is this honest marketing? Or should it be buyer choose.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


In the wine world a cleanskin was the name given to a bottled but as yet unlabelled wine.
Wineries often would do this to give wines bottle age without initially investing in labels and printed cartons with a view to labelling closer to release date. There were other advantages too like being able to include competition medals and accolades on the label if it won something subsequent to bottling, or, if the winery has surplus stock, selling off the unlabelled wine to another wine company to put their own label on it (note: this happens to a high degree in the industry with wineries selling off grapes, cloudy wine, finished wine and bottled wine to their competitors).
In Australia a couple of years ago, small producers had difficulty moving their wine because their brands were relatively unknown so they sold their wines to retailers (both real anfd virtual) who on-sold as 'cleanskins' with the merest of detail on a plain white label. Recently in New Zealand, The Mill began selling 'cleanskins' and Foodtown/Woolworths (both owned by Progressive Enterprises)got in on the act. Foodtown Newmarket have now devoted entire bays to shelve them thus showing that they have created a new category.
Now, are 'cleanskins' good or bad? What the consumer can get is a well made wine at a bargain price. What the consumer can also get is a crap wine at a cheapish price. How can you tell the difference? Buy and try a bottle before investing in too many bottles is one way. I noticed yesterday that there was a Bob Campbell endorsement for the bottle of Gisborne Reserve Chardonnay 2007 I bought. OK, I trust Bob but with essentially unlabelled product how can I trust that supermarket not to just put another unlabelled 2007 Gisborne Chardonnay in that winebay when this one runs out. Will they remove Bob's endorsement sticker?
What the consumer of course doesn't know is how much this 'cleanskin' should cost. I suspect that the supermarkets love the idea because they can just pick a number, any number to sell it at (having bought it for next to nothing from a cash-strapped wine producer)thus making greater margins than normal. The distressing thing about this is that they still charge wine companies huge amounts of money for shelf space for the branded products whilst undermining the sales of these with the unbranded products.
Where will it end? Who knows. Will consumers buy unbranded food items? They certainly are attracted to the no-frills products now. The problem is in the long term who can you trust if there is no brand owner to keep honest in quality/price ratios.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008


She was a bit grumpy most of her life and would have made a good partner for the grumpy old man.
Most photographs of her show her looking rather grim.
This one (albeit at a much younger age) shows her smiling. It must have been the Chardonnay.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


We saw Shine A Light last night, Scorcese's film of the Rolling Stones being mostly the 2006 concert in New York interspersed with current and archive interview footage. It was very good as you would expect from Scorcese who previously has filmed the Band final concert (The Last Waltz) and a Dylan documentary. The filming was extraordinary especially given (relatively) limited budget and, as explained at the beginning of the film, the difficulty of filming a live concert without getting in the way of the performers. The result was a feeling of having been there (aided by it being on the large I-Max screen). Bring on more of these I say.
The classiest act though was Buddy Guy performing Muddy Waters' 'Champagne and Reefer'.

Friday, May 30, 2008


There's some guy who posts to this site and others connected to it called the Grumpy Old Guy. I have my suspicions who it might be and he may reveal himself later (Tony?)
Anyway, some of his gripes do hit home. One of mine is the variability of servings you get in wine bars and restaurants when ordering by the glass. I fully understand the financials involved in running a business and how important it is to correctly work out cost of goods and overheads when working out selling costs but some operators forget about the most important ingredient- consumer satisfaction. Basically this is the equity in a business, the certainty of someone coming back again to buy your stuff. The poor operators use tiny glasses with minimal pours. As a consumer I feel cheated. Better operators use bigger glasses but often instruct their staff to pour out 100ml pours which come up to about a third of the glass. Most people feel cheated. The best operators use a sensible sized glass that they fill to about a half (don't measure it like in a chemistry experiment) and everyone from wine knowledeable person to casual drinker feels well done by. Unfortunately these guys are rare (although probably the most successful).
Just a footnote though: Ethnic restaurants (Chinese, Thai,Indian, some Italian,etc) usually use small glasses but tend to fill them right up to the brim. While not looking very good and a wine knowledgable person cannot swirl and sniff, you can get a hell-of-a-lot more wine by the glass this way and sometimes (not always) it's not bad wine.


Well, you need a post title to get attention don't you. This accurately describes La Boheme though which Lynn and I went to last night. It was pretty good with some great performances. Rodolfo (Jesus Garcia) has a wonderful voice but it seemed a bit light against the music (Auckland Philharmonia )- probably all those double basses droning away in the back.
For me the show was spoilt by the sets. I don't mind modern settings in opera as long as they fit the music and story. In this case in Act 1 the poet and painter are supposed to be freezing in their apartment in winter and Rodolfo burns one of his manuscripts to keep warm. The set though looked like a student flat that while scruffy, had warm looking light and Rodolfo had written his script on an Apple laptop - so the poignancy was lost. Maybe I'm being picky but sometimes designers can just be too clever for themselves.
Overall it was a great evening - we love opera in New Zealand because the quality can be right up there but everything is done in a nice realaxed provincial style. Some people dress up in evening gear and look ridiculous but most just dress tidily (with a little bit of glitz) Nice.
Where's the wine in this? Well they drank wine (and vodka) pretty freely on stage.
Aotea Centre have given their wine contract to Pernod Ricard (aka Montana)so a nice cross section of Montana, Corbans, Stoneleigh, Lindauer and Deutz are available. We had Montana Reserve Chardonnay 2006 and this time didn't spill it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Could it be Chardonnay?
Actually who gives a toss. I only used Lewis' name so I could put the Christine Keeler photo in my Post, you know, the one with her sitting naked in a reversed chair. I have always liked this.
It is Morley's most famous photo but strangely one he dislikes. He said that he thought Keeler was not very attractive.

Monday, May 26, 2008


"You go to the supermarket and stop by some shelves offering French and German wine. You buy a bottle of French wine. After going through the checkout you are asked what made you choose that bottle of wine. You say something like "It was the right price", or "I liked the label". Did you notice the French music playing as you took it off the shelf? You probably did. Did it affect your choice of wine? No, you say, it didn't.
That's funny because on the days we play French music nearly 80% of people buying wine from those shelves choose French wine, and on the days we play German music the opposite happens"

This study was done by Adrian North and colleagues from the University of Leicester. They played traditional French (accordion music) or traditional German (a Bierkeller brass band - oompah music) music at customers and watched the sales of wine from their experimental wine shelves, which contained French and German wine matched for price and flavour. On French music days 77% of the wine sold was French, on German music days 73% was German - in other words, if you took some wine off their shelves you were 3 or 4 times more likely to choose a wine that matched the music than wine that didn't match the music.

Pretty scary eh.
I wonder what that deep C Bass music from the other side of the universe is doing to wine selection. Probably explains why so many people buy that bloody awful Pinot Gris.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I feel guilty.
I went supermarket shopping today and they had a wine sale on. I bought a lot of wine at ridiculously low prices.
Why do I feel guilty? Because I know that these guys are brand-fuckers, destroying the brand equity by heavily discounting to between $6 and $12 a bottle (below their cost in some cases).
Whose equity were they smashing this time? - Selaks, Nobilo, Shingle Peak, Taylors, Mortons, Seifried, Ngatarawa, Wolf Blass, Villa Maria to name a few and because some of these were 'clearance' lines with discounts like "now $17, was $31" I took advantage like a good little robot shopper.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Years ago, when I first joined the wine and spirit industry I went out on the delivery round with a chap named Liam. He was showing me where the regular customers lived and we would both carry in the booze (in those days there was a 9 litre minimum limit when purchasing any alcohol from a wholesaler (todays Liquorland-type retail)so the cheapest way for someone to buy a bottle of gin or scotch was to buy a dozen quart bottles of beer to go with it.
When we reached Mrs McGillacuddy's (name changed because I can't remember her real name), Liam said he would stay in the truck and check the dockets.
I didn't think anything unnusual about this as I was young and naive so went up to the door and knocked. An old woman, very skinny and heavily made-up answered the door wearing some kind of lacy dressing gown. I mumbled that I had her order here and told her the price. She asked me to bring the carton in and put it in the back room which I did. I then reminded her of the money and she said of course dearie and opened her dressing gown wide. She wore nothing underneath except a garter around the top of a skinny thigh and proceeded to pull money from it. I was desperately trying not to look but couldn't help seeing a flash of grey pubic hair. I fumbled with the change, giving her too much, and ran out of there.
Liam was sitting in the truck convulsed with laughter. Bastard.

Friday, May 16, 2008


When we were kids we had all sorts of fantasies both healthy and unhealthy.
One of mine, and I'm sure of many others was to be invisible.
The advantages were numerous and included robbing banks, avoiding boring people and sneaking into the girls' changing rooms at the swimming baths.
Well, it seems that I have now achieved this feat - Invisibility that is.
All I had to do was to grow older. Now that I'm in my mid-50's I can go totally unnoticed in many public places especially clothing stores and trendy bars.
Last night Gary and I played our weekly game of snooker having restored the custom after an absence of several months. Usually, after an hour of snooker we go across the road to the Diablo wine bar for a couple of glasses of wine. Unfortunately the Diablo has closed down (they really must have needed our regular custom) and a new greek taverna is being built. At a loss for where to go we went to the Grange (formerly the Living Room) a place we didn't frequent because the service was always too slow (lots of staff but a ridiculous computerised till system that took ages to process a simple order - great for inventory management I assume but probably cost them business).
The usual long wait happenned in trying to order 2 glasses of wine at the bar (same till system in place)with four barmen processing 2 orders for tap beer. We waited and waited until I waved a $50 note high in the air and finally attracted some sevice. The wines we ordered were not available ("sorry but we are in the process of changing our wine list" - well why bloody have the unavailable ones still in the list then! Anyway that excuse in the industry usually means that they haven't paid their bill to their regular supplier and are looking for another one)so we had to don miners helmets again to try and read the complicated wine list in near darkness.
Having consumed our first glass and deciding on our customary second one we debated leaving to go somewhere else (the noise level was too high (Juice TV from 2 screens up loud - interestingly the third flatscreen tv was playing a video of Jancis Robinson MW talking about wine but the sound was off which made for unnusual viewing watching La Tache being poured to the sound of Panic at the Disco) but as I had sent a text to Lynn to meet us there we were forced to stay.
I went up to the bar to buy our pre-decided on wines and once again there were four barmen behind the bar. One was wiping glasses and three (yes 3) were serving a pretty blonde girl. I waited next to the blonde girl and even though I was taller (and wider at certain angles)I realised that I was invisible to them. As I was also invisible to the blonde girl in question I was able to sneak appreciative glances at her.
After a while I tried the waving dollars (2 x $20 bills) but to no effect such was the appeal of the blonde who was ordering two of the cheap house wine so I said Fuck this and started to walk off. One of the 4 turned out to be the duty manager who called me back and told his staff to serve me. It ended up that he and two others served me (ending up doubling the order) and he offered me free meatballs which I declined.
I watched the way the bar was run while we had our second glass and noticed in addition to the 4 barmen, at least as many other staff wandering around the place (serving food etc but often standing around) and wondered how they made any money and how long the new lot would last.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


2nd Fiddle suggested the food and wine combination of NZ Wine and Fish and Chips.
Well, we have this most Fridays (hangover from a Catholic upbringing).
The best wine I have had with Fish 'n' Chips was Krug Vintage Champagne.
When I ran a specialist wine company one of the Champagne agencies we had was Krug.
One Friday evening when the overseas principal was in town, as we had way surpassed our sales budgets he wanted to reward our sales team with dinner.
As it was a superb Spring day, and as I didn't want the wine(s) to be dominated by food I suggested Fish and Chips (it was Friday after all).
We (about 7 of us)went to Mission Bay in Auckland and ordered (very good) fish 'n' chips at a great fish and chip shop that had tables to sit at and drank Krug non vintage and Krug vintage (lots of bottles).
This was in about 1991 and at the time Krug was the most expensive Champagne (still is) at about 80 bucks NV and 120 bucks vintage.
Nowadays the prices are about 260 bucks NV and nearly 400 bucks vintage


I was accosted on the street the other day by someone raising money for Myanmar.
I said that we give to Women's Refuge, Mental Health Foundation, Red Cross, our local Hospice, Salavation Army, Selwyn Village, Food Bank and other worthy causes and didn't think that contributing the equivalent of a couple of bowls of rice that will inevitably sit in storage somewhere growing weevils awaiting the bastard rulers of Myanmar to get their act together would make any difference! Blank stare was the response.
The result though, as it always is, was guilt.
At home, when I looked in the fridge to finish off that bottle of Pinot Noir that was there, I poured half a glass and put it in the back of the cupboard for Myanmar - just in case.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Robert, at long last there is a drink for you - BALANCE Purified water with pictures of Jesus and his Mum and stuff.
Great marketing this and should sell like crazy to all those religious nuts out there. For every christian shocked by it there will be a blasphemer like Richard who will buy it and put Chardonnay in it - which made me think - where is the Jesus wine.
Maybe I should create one.
Unfortunately bad taste has preceeded me as I discovered there were many of them already (see pics)