Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Iodine is a chemical and its compounds are used in photography, medicine and in manufacturing. It is very rare but is also very soluble. This is why we hear of it being prevalent in seawater and concentrated in seaweed. A good Islay or other West Coast Island Malt Whisky wouldn't be the same without a whiff of seaweed (read Iodide).
When it comes to wine things become a bit diffuse. One man's iodine is another's cloves, or elastaplast, or sweaty socks (don't ask - wine appreciation requires passion not dispassionate chemical analysis). Iodine is often referred to in respect to Rhone Valley red wines - specifically Syrah-based wines. Why? Who knows?. How close is Rhone Valley to the sea? (look it up). When it comes to the influence in Island Malts it is easy. The barley is smoked and the source of the smoke is peat fires. In the Western Islands (of Scotland obviously) the peat is heavily saturated with seaweed. In the Highlands ( Scotland again, not  Papua New Guinea or USA) the peat is impregnated with heather so has a rich honey character. In New Zealand, Syrah is said to have more French characteristics than Australian. Why? Who knows. (Richard says who cares). Last night I went to a wine-tasting of Waiheke Island wines. There was a mixed-bag of wines with Viognier, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and blends making their mark. There were some big names here too (and some correspondingly big prices). The standout wine (to me and others) was Man 'O' War Dreadnought Syrah 2008 ($38). This is a sweet, rich, young and nicely wooded wine. It has some vibrant, youthful edges that will be knocked off with time ( a year?) and will come out as a masterpiece. Iodine? Yes. There is a hard, medicinal edge to the wine  that may well put some people off. I put it down to youth. Tonight I opened a 2007 version of the same wine as I wanted  to see if there were any similar characteristics. There are. Terroir rules! The 2007 is rich, very alive with a long flavour. The extra year has given it a silky texture. Lurking underneath though is - iodine. Why? Is this a Rhone characteristic? I don't know - I'll leave it to the viticulturists. What I do know though is that the vineyard where Man 'O' War Dreadnought Syrah is sourced from is at the Westernmost extremity of New Zealand being on one of the country's steepest vineyards sloping right down to the Pacific Ocean at the extreme edge of Waiheke Island. I appreciate the connection to France and the Rhone Valley with this Syrah but I prefer to think of the wonderful iodine character which gives it individuality as being more akin to those fabulous malt whiskies of Western Scotland.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


... but know what is a bargain.
Supermarkets, on-line wine suppliers, chain liquor stores and wine shops will always have specials. These could be lines they are hoping to quit, old wines that are past their use-by date, suppliers end-of-line deals, ''failed export offers' or legitimate specials that the competitive nature of the wine industry has necessitated.
It pays to select carefully. Most 'specials' highlight a former price (one that the current price is discounted down to). The various consumer protection laws specify that the former price has to be proved, for a mandatory period of time, to have been on offer. This is fine if the product is an established, long-term brand that the consumer is familiar with. The problem arises when it is a new and unfamiliar product. Now there are many new and legitimate products coming onto the wine market all the time, but, at the same time there are many new labels being created to meet the 'special' demand. These products have never properly been on the market but to meet the legal requirements have been listed or offered for sale at a fairly high price. If you are not familiar with the brand or new label it pays to do a bit of research. I've been in the wine industry for many years but I am still surprised at some of the offerings and have to do some checking before buying a 'special'.
Even the established brands in legitimate channels like supermarkets can be set up to mislead you. When a supermarket says something like ..."now 10.99, was 18.99 - save 8.00'.. it pays to have a bit of inside knowledge. Sometimes that '18.99' is a very optimistic calculation of a price that has never really seen the light of day (even though on paper it can be proved). If you know (by experience or by advice) what the 'normal' price of a particular wine is then you can work out what is a bargain or what isn't.

Which leads me to ... bargains.
I've mentioned these before but when you see Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Chardonnay (the one with the ugly orange label) at $12  - reduced from say $18 - go for it. Even better if you see Selaks Winemakers Favourite Chardonnay at $15 - down fro about $21 - buy as much as you can get your hands on.

Monday, May 17, 2010

We went to Ute Lemper's concert last night and came away well satisfied. Lynn didn't like the skat and whistling portions but loved the rest. Usually I can't stand skat, particularly if it is of the Mel Torme kind, but I found that last night Lemper did it well and it fitted in with the music.
The show, Angels over Berlin was a kind of homage to Berlin from an ex-pat and began with songs from the Weimar Republic of the 1920's to early 30's ( Lemper gave a kind of chronological narrative throughout), the rise of the Brown Shirt Nazis in the early 30's, exodus to South America then return to Berlin before war, downfall and emigration worldwide. Highlighting periods and place were the music and poetry of Brecht, Weill, Hollaender,  Brel, Piaf, Ferre and Piazzolla. Magic. Lempers voice has a tremendous range. For some reason recently, we have been watching American Idol. When Lemper really got into her songs we looked at each other and agreed that if any one of those final contenders on Idol, for just a moment, reached the heights that Lemper did at any moment, they would have delivered the performance of their lives. We are surrounded by so much second rate, overproduced rubbish, generally sung by 20 somethings (which unfortunately dominates the airwaves both radio and TV) that it was so refreshing to see a real master at work. The medley of Mack the Knife/Life is a Cabaret/All That Jazz was a centrepiece but very well supported by some stunning other stuff including Je ne quitte pas. A fine band backed her (piano, bandoneao, drums and, dare I say it, double bass).
We didn't have wine at the concert - the performance was intoxicating enough. If we had the most appropriate drink would have been a very good Sekt like Brundlmayer Brut, but most likely a damn good rich Champagne like Roederer, Pol Roger or Bollinger.

Friday, May 7, 2010


I opened a 375ml bottle of Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2006 last night. I expected it to be good and wasn't disappointed. This is seriously good wine and has been consistently so for many vintages. If there is dumbing down of it (which is to be expected under the new ownership regime and the heavy discounting of the brand) it has not yet ruined it.
The reason I bought a case of this wine and the reason I opened it last night, apart from its pedigree and my appreciation of it, was the fact that it is in a 375 ml format (half bottle). Unfortunately these are becoming very rare. Most wine companies have discontinued the practice of bottling some of their production into either magnums (2 bottle size) or half bottles. This is not because of quality considerations (although half bottles do age quicker than full bottles but magnums age more gracefully than 750 ml bottles) but due to cost considerations. A half bottle cannot be just half the price of a full bottle. The bottle can cost the same as will the cork, capsule, labels and cartons. Sensible consumers realise this and will pay the extra. The new power that retailers have now is the problem. They feel that their customers won't pay more than half the normal price of a bottle (have they asked them?) and so won't stock the smaller bottles. They have done the same to the magnums in that they have decreed that as they are more expensive there will not be the same stock turnover therefore it is better to only present the consumer with the one package size - 750 
The attraction, to me, of the 375 ml format is that if there is only one person drinking that wine then there is no waste. I know that wine will keep once opened. I regularly put an opened bottle of wine, red or white, in the fridge and know that it will be good drinking one, two or three days later. Sometimes though you know that you will not want to drink that same wine style within the next week so the only option is freezing it. This can work but does change the texture of the wine and causes tannin and sugar fall-out which can render the wine to be 'muddy'.
Congratulations to Penfolds for continuing the 375 ml offering. Long may it last.
The wine was lovely with nice blackberry fruit character and nice oak balance. In a 750 ml format (or even more in a magnum - 1.5L format) this wine will last another 10 years or so. In the 375 ml, as I have said, it develops quicker, it will still be good for a few years.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I opened a bottle of Nobilo Icon Series Pinot Noir 2005 tonight. To be honest I was not expecting too much from it. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. I hadn't tried it for quite some time. Earlier (from release up to a year or so ago) it was firm, almost hard and unyielding. The good fruit was there but buried beneath seemingly harsh tannins and acids. It has now softened up revealing a beautifully supple wine with still strong black cherry, blackberry and soft raspberry flavours. Whilst now supple it is still supported by a nice oak structure and, being Marlborough has a refreshing mineral character. This wine stood out at release as being different to the usual simple cherry offerings from Marlborough. Wine Spectator gave it 91 points out of a hundred (virtually a Gold Medal) and it is so nice now to see it reaching maturity but still with life (like me I like to think).

I was in a good position to taste this critically having opened two other New Zealand Pinot Noirs in the last few days - a nice, dependable Main Divide (from Pegasus Bay) 2006 Pinot Noir and a deplorable Te Kairanga 2008 Pinot Noir (13.95 from a supermarket so I guess even Te Kairanga themselves thought it was crap).