Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I go through phases of the type of wine I drink. Over the last year my drink of choice has been Chardonnay. We in New Zealand are pretty lucky with our Chardonnay choices with many companies making pretty reasonable ones and there not being too many bad ones about. Sure, some are indifferent but the price points are often a warning to keep away from them (you won't get a decent Chardonnay below $10 unless it is hugely discounted). Of the rest some decent drinking can be found in the $12 plus area covering unwooded, lightly wooded through to properly barrel aged variants. As regards Chardonnays from other countries some careful selection is needed. We don't see a lot of good Chardonnay from France here. What is coming in is very expensive (avoid the cheaper ones). Australian Chardonnays are simple and blowsy at the cheap end and big and over-wooded at the top end. Careful selection in the middle can turn up some nicely balanced wines but these all have a 'tropical' character that is not as satisfying as a good 'stone-fruit' New Zealand style. Californian Chardonnays are at the extreme end of the Australian style and good South American and South African Chardonnays are seldom seen.
My drink of choice over the Summer will be Riesling again as it has been over the last couple of years. Good Riesling is refreshing and satisfying in a way that few other wines can be outside of Champagne or good Methode Champenoise. Riesling is versatile with dry, medium-dry and medium styles all being of high quality. There is a range of alcohol options also so a lunch-time or afternoon choice can be a wine with less than 10% alcohol by volume. There are some very good German wines available that cover a range of styles and most are at the lower alcohol end. Australian Rieslings, particularly those from the Clare Valley are good albeit very dry and austere, but once again New Zealand Rieslings offer the best value for money and price:quality ratio. The best New Zealand Rieslings are from the South Island (although Martinborough can produce some stunners). There are plenty of good Marlborough ones but I prefer the Waipara style. The best ones like Fiddlers Green are rich and luscious but with a refreshing and elegant edge to them. Try them if you haven't already. You will be amazed.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I watched Nigella Lawson making cocktails, soups and desserts earlier this evening.
Actually, I can't remember much about the dishes as I was just watching Nigella Lawson.
She is an incredibly beautiful woman. Her beauty though is not just 'skin-deep' and of course critics would say that she is now larger than life because of her appreciation of good food and wine. No, Nigella has a wonderful hedonistic appreciation of the good things in life and doesn't give a hoot about any critic's view of this. When drizzling a Stilton and cream topping onto a rich roasted vegetable soup she said " I know that this is very 80's but who cares" (or something like that). I like that.
As I prepared dinner (spaghetti Bolognaise for me and roasted potatoes, mini-sausages and peas for my visiting sister who thinks that spaghetti is way too exotic), I opened a bottle of Stonehaven Reserve Shiraz 2001 (Padthaway). Now this is a classic Australian wine but it was showing a bit of age. Still classy but getting a bit blowsy (aren't we all). In the best Nigella tradition I opened a bottle of 2007 Tempranillo (Altovela from La Mancha) and mixed it up with the Stonehaven. The result - sensuous and sinewy older Shiraz with robust and vibrant Tempranillo. Lawson would have approved.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I would like the New Zealand wine industry to 'stick to the knitting' and do what it does best - make the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, some of the most exciting Chardonnays and keep improving on the Pinot Noir offerings. We are still underdone in producing and marketing these varietals as well as the 'waiting in the wings' Riesling, Gewurztraminer and the Bordeaux blends.
Often too much resource is wasted on that godawful Pinot Gris and every now and then wine writers get all excited about emerging varietals like Viognier. Arneis is like this but perhaps has the advantage of being essentially an interesting enough varietal to justify experimentation and to be on offer from boutique producers.

The grape is Italian in origin from Piedmont in the north of Italy where it makes elegant white wines that have an almond and peach character. While it is made for white wine consumption it is mostly used as blending material with the more famous Nebbiolo red grape. Arneis generally tastes of pears, peaches and apples with a floral aroma and a slightly herbal edge. It often has the aforementioned almond character.

There are a few producers in the upper North Island growing Arneis and some interesting results have been seen.
Last night I opened a 2007 Kim Crawford 'Doug's Arneis' from Gisborne.
The wine was dry but had a fullness about it which came from the small amounts of Riesling and Gewurztraminer that have been added.
It had a beautiful pale green colour. There definitely was an almond character amidst the lovely floral aroma. The flavour was astounding - rich pears and peaches but with some nice citrus edges. With no oak ageing the wine was nevertheless full and powerful and almost chewy. It is well worth seeking out.

Now I hope that we don't get too excited about the prospects for Arneis and plant too much of it as has happened with Pinot Gris. I hope that it doesn't become a 'shelf-warmer' like Viognier, but I do hope that a few boutique producers continue to make some. I know that Kim Crawford is not a boutique producer. The brand is owned by Constellation NZ and produces hundreds of thousands of cases (mainly Sauvignon Blanc which is spot on), but the Kim Crawford viticulturists have traditionally kept in touch with very good growers like Doug and Delwyn Bell and manage to secure very small parcels of incredibly good fruit to add mystery and quality to their brand's offerings.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


New Zealand must be the worst country in the world for retail sophistication.
Most differentiation between similar retail traders is on price. It is all price off, cheaper, on special etc. Just look at the stupid platform that stores like Bunnings operate on - "if you can find it cheaper elsewhere we will match the price". What crap. This ultimately means poor service because of reducing staff numbers or minimal wages paid (look at The Warehouse's current labour problem). It also means poor quality product as the cheapest produced items make up the bulk of the stock. Too frequent sales cycles is another problem. Kathmandu and Briscoes have given away franchise integrity by having 40% off sales. How can consumers believe that what they are buying is quality when this is the case and with the frequency no-one in their right mind would buy anything outside of a 'sale' period.
The wine industry has followed the same dreary path - lead by supermarkets. Now supermarkets set up the 'Wine Sale' concept a few years ago and found that there was a massive spike in sales. The frequency of the sales has increased to a point now when one of the chains is generally having a sale every couple of weeks. Once again anyone wanting to buy volumes of wine would be crazy to buy outside of the special cycles. The long-term result of this special ling though will be inferior product as wine companies will be forced to engineer the quality of the wine downwards to cut costs.

Now, for what I really want to say.
A week or so ago the National Wine competition results were published with details of the medal and trophy winning wines made available. A few years back these results were eagerly awaited by retailer and consumers. The retailer so as to secure the top wines and make good profit and to help leverage sales of other wines. Consumers to scramble to buy scarce and sought after product. Many years ago prices of trophy wines would inflate as some profiteering took place.
This year, as soon as the Gold Medal and Trophy wines were named several retailers (not supermarkets to blame this time) immediately advertised that the wines were on special at vastly reduced prices! How dumb is that? If we want to have a quality industry and to encourage winemakers to strive for the best this practice is self defeating.
Basically it is due to laziness and very pedestrian thinking. Retailers (of any sort) need to differentiate on all sorts of other things before price. Giving away margin is the simplest thing to do but ultimately the most costly as not only is the product being sold for less than it could or should be but brand franchise, store franchise and consumer loyalty are all put at risk.