Tuesday, April 27, 2010


..... but those wimpy bastards who purport to govern us will only jig a little to avoid some obstacles in the road.
Back in 1987 our government (Labour) radically changed the Sale of Liquor Act. This change (or series of changes) totally changed the liquor drinking landscape even more than the movement away from 6 O'Clock closing in 1969. The deconstruction of import tariffs was an integral part of the introduction of GST and in the case of liquor meant that import quota was no longer necessary and the movement from % tax to ad-valorem tax changed the affordability of many liquor types, particularly fine wine. 
This was not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that when radical changes are made it is easier for other changes to coat-tail along. The coat-tail legislation that rapidly followed was : expansion of wine retail licenses; expansion of wine importers licenses; supermarkets selling wine; supermarkets selling beer; smaller format liquor licenses being created; expansion of on-premise licenses; extended operating hours; Sunday trading; home brewing and distilling allowances; lowering of drinking age; introduction of alcoholic sodas and RTD's  etc.  etc. All of the above is in no exact chronological order but I think you get the picture. Erosion of control and general slippage. 
This is not unlike the gun control laws that up until the early 80's required every firearm (except shotguns) to be licensed. Some bright-spark (probably an accountant) in the police force suggested that the onerous and costly exercise of monitoring this could be circumvented by licensing the gun owner rather than the guns themselves. This, coupled with a similar stupid decision to allow semi-automatic weapons to be brought into the country (for hunting!) has led to the gun problems we are starting to face now. Also, some idiot (a National M.P. in this case) promoted importation of Pit-Bull Terrier dogs. Look at the problems we now have with these.

Now we have some more changes to The Sale Of Liquor Act looming. What is mooted is the drinking age be raised from 18 to 20 and the price of alcohol go up by an average 10% through increases in excise tax. It also recommends pubs and clubs be required to close by 4am and off-licences by 10 pm. Big deal! This sort of pathetic change might as well be no change at all. We all know that alcohol is a huge problem in this country. If we don't have enough data to use we should look at the UK which has undertaken similar changes and now faces tremendous social problems. Over there they regularly increase excise taxing and VAT but incremental increases are easily absorbed in both the commercial structure and public consciousness. They do not limit production of cheap liquor or trading hours.

 Our suggested changes are following in the same footsteps. What we need to do is to: ban private production of alcohol (home brew beer and spirits - sorry Robert); increase drinking age to 20 for both on-premise and off-premise sales; increase excise tax on beer, wine and spirits to at least the proposed 50% (on the excise component) - hey I drink a lot of wine but am prepared to pay more for it; increase excise on RTD's and alcoholic sodas by at least 100% or ban their production outright; totally review new liquor licensing and set maximum quotas on numbers of outlets by population; seriously monitor supermarket discounting activity and set minimum levels to which they can promote beers and wines to; never allow supermarkets to sell spirits, spirit based products and fortified wines  and to seriously police the shortcuts they try to take in this area; lower the drink driving levels; cut back on opening hours (4AM is ridiculous this should be at most 1.30) and last but not least, not allow our school teachers to imbibe alcohol in any form, especially Chardonnay.

If we don't make these changes now it will become more and more difficult in the future and the social repercussions will be tremendous.

Monday, April 26, 2010


We all do it. We go away on holiday and take snapshots of places, buy souvenir items, keep road and city maps even if we are not compulsive collectors. What do we do with this stuff? I guess that most of it gets thrown away. A lot gets stuffed into boxes or at the back of bookshelves to be discovered later and reminisced on or, thrown away. The advantage of being unusually interested in wine is that when I travel I invariably bring back wines from the places I have visited. Having been in the industry for a long time has given me the advantage of selecting wines to bring home that I know will last and not buying that Est! Est! Est! or pleasant Cotes Du Rhone because it went so nice with yesterday's lunch or dinner.

Tonight, as we we were eating meat (lamb chops for her and scotch fillet for me) we opened a Shiraz. This was Leeuwin Estate Art Series Shiraz 2003 from Margaret River in West Australia. We had a very nice holiday a few years ago, flying to Perth and staying in WA for a week before taking the train to Adelaide and spending another week and a half in South Australia. We visited a lot of good wineries and bought some of their best wines to bring home. Leeuwin Estate is a very impressive winery and visitor centre and well worth a visit for anyone interested in wine, food, architecture, art and generally the good things in life. We tasted some nice wines and selected the Shiraz to bring home.

What a lovely wine. This is another of those rich red wines that you just wish you had open or on hand when someone says 'Eee, I don't drink red wine, it is too dry for me and too bitter". This wine is beautifully structured. The colour is still deep red with some purple edges. The aroma has nice French oak with a rich plum and mulberry character and a pleasant peppery edge. The palate has a sweet and soft centre with the plum and mulberry (wild black fruits) flavour quite pronounced. It finishes sweet and pleasant with fine tannins.

This was a much better experience and reminder of a lovely holiday than looking at old photographs or restaurant menus.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I feel sorry for Ram Rai who has had his company Jewel of India (fresh and frozen curries) placed into receivership recently. Why? Because he trusted those bastards (one of the the supermarket duopoly), to play fair. He gave them a good product which for many years made them a lot of money. Over time, and ownership change, the relationship changed. The supermarket chain, fiercely (why?) competing with its only rival put all the costs of discounting back to his company. Is this fair? No. Does it happen? Damn right yes. It is not only small producers like Rai and his curries (market-leading curries) that are under the gun, the biggest brands we know are also put under undue pressure. Do they complain to the Commerce Commission? No. Why not? Have you heard of the old saying 'you can win the battle but lose the war'. The 'powers that be' that have the ability to make or break brands can punish 'squealers' and make it very difficult to have normal  trading relationships if one does not agree with what they consider to be the rules.
I know of many wine companies, large and small who have been in Rai's position. When they can they wear it and hope that their brand equity will survive the assault (volume times margin being the mantra). Maybe they will come out OK. Unfortunately many cannot survive. In Wednesday's NZ Herald  Rai was quoted as saying "what they fail to understand is that each dollar discounted is coming from someone else's pocket". What he means is that if $1, $5, or even $10 is discounted off a product for the consumer, that discount is not coming from the supermarket but from the brand owner. Is this sustainable without some serious product engineering (downwards)?. I think not.
This weeks special highlights from Progressive (Foodtown, Woolworths, Countdown), Stoneleigh range  $11.99 ($10 off), Wither Hills range ( about $10 off the chardonnay) and Sacred Hill range $12.99 about $7 off but I suspect with SH they have been beaten up so much over the last couple of years they may be engineering their product to match the discounted prices.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


I entered the Twinings tea challenge a while ago. This was a pretty interesting exercise. I didn't make the final 10 (and am not really sure if my entry was received as I sent it in on the last day), but discovered an excellent blend that we are using as our everyday tea. The competition was about finding a New Zealand breakfast tea blend by using existing Twinings teas and tea blends. I was looking for a robust style but with some elegance to differentiate it from the tannic Irish Breakfast and English Breakfast blends. My resultant blend which has found favour amongst family and friends was 2 parts Irish Breakfast and 1 part each of English Breakfast, Darjeeling and Ceylon Orange Peko. Sounds simple? All good recipes essentially are but to get to this I tried dozens of combinations . I was also looking for a combination of the world's styles and this blend has teas from three continents. I also made sure that I kept that damn awful Earl Grey away from my blends (it was interesting seeing some of the judging on TV. That stupid bint Kate Hawksby was a judge and as she is an Earl Grey fan she apparently eliminated all blends that didn't have an Earl Grey flavour. The Twinings organisers had to take her aside and explain the principle of non-partisan judging).

I have written before about the advantages of blending wines to find a combination that suits. The other day I opened a 2003 Paul Jaboulet Cotes Du Rhone to go with the pumpkin and broccoli pie I had made for dinner. The wine was complex but a bit faded. After half a glass I decided not to persevere with a wine that was essentially disappointing so opened a bottle of 2007 Altovela La Mancha Tempranillo knowing that this wine is young, fresh and raw and a bit simple on its own. I added some to the Cotes Du Rhone which rejuvenated it akin to a blood transplant. The result was suddenly fuller, fresher with the complex savoury notes of the French wine mingling with the fresh vinous notes of the Spanish wine. Feeling that there was still something lacking (and now feeling a bit adventurous due no doubt to the 13.5% alcohol that both these wines have) I selected a Pinot Noir to add some elegance. I still have a couple of bottles of Canterbury House 2003 Waipara Pinot. This wine in its day was tremendous winning a Gold Medal in the 2005 Royal Easter Show but is now a bit tired. Adding a bit of this to my blend gave a silky, feminine dimension and improved the aromatics a bit (European red wines have more mushroom-like, savoury notes). This was good. After a few sips however I felt that the two 2003 vintage wines in the blend were dominating with their aged characteristics. I didn't want to compensate by using more of the 2007 Spanish wine however as I wanted that more fruity New World character. I chose to open a 2007 Selaks The Favourite Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet. This is a very good example of Hawkes Bay red wine and is big (14% alc.), tannic, fruity and will last for a long time. Adding some of this gave a turbo-boost to my blend. The European savoury and complex notes were not lost and neither was the Pinot Noir elegance. The Merlot Cabernet gave a fuller middle palate, a bit more backbone and a deeper aroma. After this experimenting I selected a nice big claret glass, filled it halfway and enjoyed the wine. Closing my eyes and imagining that it had been poured from a single bottle of good wine it could easily have been of the pedigree of top American Cabernet, 3rd growth Bordeaux, expensive NZ or Australian red blends or even a top Italian wine. I know that blending like this leeches out individual varietal and country of origin characteristics but who cares, the result was great. Roughly my blend was 3 parts Cotes Du Rhone; 2 parts La Mancha; 2 parts Waipara; and 3 parts Hawkes Bay.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Having old wine friends to visit provides a good opportunity to dig deep in the wine cellar and find some treasures. Geoff spent Easter with us and amongst other goodies we tried I took out my last bottle of 1976 Sichel Estate Piesporter Goldtropfchen Beerenauslese. This Mosel Riesling from a good year was now 33 and a half years old when opened. Knowing how well these top German wines age I had good expectations for it even though I had kept the wine for longer than I normally would. As a result we were more than pleasantly surprised. The wine had coloured up a great deal having a deep, apricot/copper colour but was still bright and shiny. It had a rich sweet marmalade and apricot nose that carried through to the taste.  The whiff of varnish didn't detract. The finish was fresh and long with no burnt or caramelised flavours. This was an example of what makes wine collecting worthwhile. The accentuated tastes and complex aromas in the wine could only come from long (and graceful) ageing in one's own cellar so the provenance is known. Some people think that this is a bit of a wank but it is no different than a musician's appreciation of a fine instrument or an antique collectors appreciation of a quality piece of furniture.. These things make life interesting. The price tag was still on the bottle - $19.50 (pre GST days) which I bought in early 1978. At that price it was expensive then, not much less than First Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy which can now cost many hundreds per bottle.


What on earth is all the hype about Pinot Gris?" asks Kingsley Wood in his monthly newsletter sent out to hundreds of customers and most of the winemakers in New Zealand. "[New Zealand Pinot Gris] wines in general are bland, lacking in any sort of distinctive varietal character and so variable in consistency the wine drinkers have no idea of what Pinot Gris is meant to taste like", he says.

I thoroughly agree. Why so many winemakers waste their time on this varietal I will never know. There is a sameness about them with only the rarest exceptions shining through.
Gibson Bridge from Marlborough is a good example. A nice block of land. Dedicated grape growing and hands on winemaking that should have gone towards producing top quality Riesling and Gewurtztraminer has been wasted on this varietal.

Richard (of RBB) at least has the right idea in trying to improve it by cooking it (see photograph below supplied by R of RBB Enterprises. What I would suggest however is to tip it into a saucepan with some lamb-mince, onions, tomatoes, garlic and herbs and make a nice spaghetti sauce.