Wednesday, June 30, 2010


A couple of years ago when we were in Verona we went to a nice restaurant that had been recommended by friends.  This had all the good elements of an Italian dining experience - entering through a bar/delicatessen and being seated in a roomy yet still intimate two level dining area. We had a nice table in the elevated corner of the room which gave us a nice view across the restaurant. Unfortunately a table load of Germans (or Austrians) were seated close by. This consisted of a large hausfrau, a diminutive husband and two rather rotund children.  They were eating what looked like pig's feet in pasta but I may be wrong. The kids whined and the parents didn't communicate with each other so conversation mostly consisted of various 'don't do that's" and "no's" ( in German of course).
 They had been seated some time before we were and had some sort of house wine on the table with two small and ordinary looking glasses from which they occasionally and unenthusiastically took sips. When we choose restaurants we normally look at the wine list first before looking at the food list so as to decide if it is worth staying or not. We did this and were very pleased to see a good list made up of great wines from the various wine regions and chose a very good Barolo from Piedmont (we gave the wines from Lazio a miss not being fans of Orvieto). The waiter seemed very pleased at our choice (it was expensive) and whisked away the small glasses that had been on the table and returned with some magnificent large ones that could easily have held half a bottle each. Our Teutonic friend at the next table glanced up (they were sitting on the lower level) and bristled his whiskers at the sight of our glassware. I nudged Lynn to watch him as the wine was brought to the table uncorked, checked and served with a flourish. After we had ordered or meal and the waiter had gone we tried our wine and agreed that it was extremely good and sat back to enjoy it. The ehemann was alternately looking at us and then looking at his glass. This happened several times before he discussed something about his glass with his wife. We knew what this was and sure enough he summoned over the waiter to complain. He was pointing to our glasses and then to their glasses and complaining in a loud voice (in German). The waiter, answering in Italian, appeared to not understand him. This was unlikely as it was Northern Italy after all and the Austrian border is not far away. What is more likely however is that the waiter didn't like Austrians and Germans as that area had been occupied by Austria for a long time in the 19th century and obviously by the Germans in WWII. Ill feeling takes a long time to disappear. Eventually the waiter brought along someone else (the manager?) to translate and a sale of a single glass of (I assume) expensive wine was negotiated. This was brought in a similarly large glass as ours. The hausfrau did not look at all pleased, firstly as the wine may have been over their holiday budget and secondly hubby had just ordered one for himself. She still had her small glass of house wine. Ehemann sat back in his chair, swirling his wine and preening. If anyone remembers Mr Bean in a restaurant or other social setting it was just like that. Bean turning simple things like ordering food into a competition with someone next to him. Priceless.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


An uninformed friend of mine said that New Zealand wine is famous for its Germanic characteristics.

 Well, it is true that this country makes the best Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers outside of Germany and France (Alsace which is arguably more German than French) and used to make outstanding Muller Thurgau's (better than the crappy German examples of this grape varietal). New Zealand wine however is best known for the French varietals that we have adopted and adapted to suit our very advantageous climate. Sauvignon Blanc is the leading grape, followed by Chardonnay, then Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. French all.

Although the majority of New Zealand's plantings are of French origin, continual improvement, investment and of course a generally better grape growing climate has produced a New Zealand style that is quite different to the French. Our wines are fruitier and show less minerality. The winemaking practices are better, producing cleaner wines that have less sulphur, rot, fungal spoilage and other winemaking problems.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


A hard working commercial cleaner who we will call Eric to protect his privacy enjoyed D.I.Y. in many forms. Arriving home after a long day Robert..... dang! Sorry. Arriving home he would brew up his Coopers home brew in the discarded school toilet bowls he acquired from the rubbish skips at his work. Stout and dark ales seemed to work the best with the darker colours disguising most imperfections. Eric enjoyed his home brew and was proud of his handiwork. He usually couldn't wait for the brew to be complete before he indulged in a bottle or two. He was proud of the fact that the bottles could be recapped when half full as the still fermenting yeasts would keep the brew 'fresh'. He should have been more observant of the instructions.
Eric liked other forms of D.I.Y. - building sheds, fences, bathrooms, kayaks and blogs. After a couple of bevvies his workmanship tended to become a bit skewiff. Beams would sag, paint blotch and joins not match up as well as they should. This was true of all of his hobbies except for blogging. For some reason the alcohol improved his spelling, grammar, creativity and humour - for a while before he would fall asleep in mid-sentence.
The home brew that R...Eric made needs ten days for the secondary fermentation to complete before the ale is left to 'age'. Eric however liked the fizzy taste and yeastiness and would drink his before the fermentation cycle was complete. This meant that the process continued inside Eric after he had imbibed. Now this might not have been too bad a thing if Eric had limited himself to small amounts. Working yeast in fact can be beneficial to digestion and is a good scourer for the bowel. Eric though, being of the working classes, enjoyed his ales in quantity - indeed it was because a can of Coopers ready-mix could produce 30 litres of the stuff that attracted him in the first place. Volume and frequency caused an unnatural build-up of fermenting brew inside Eric and unfortunately one evening he simply exploded.

Monday, June 14, 2010


A big bold Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant wine. The ripe fruit has rich blackberry and blackcurrant flavours. The structure is all fine-grained tannins underpinned with very good oak. The finish is long and elegant. Swirling this wine in your mouth opens up spicy and earthy notes. Don’t spill it on your white shirt or tablecloth as you’ll never get out the purplish stains.

A Second or even First-Growth Bordeaux? Sure tasted like one. No. This is a good old kiwi wine (not a cheap one at $65). It is Sacred Hill Helmsman 2007 Cabernet Merlot from Hawkes Bay (appropriately named).
'Bordeaux' varietals, particularly from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke island are showing great promise and people are sitting up to take notice. The film Bottle Shock is doing a circuit on SKY TV at present. This is the one that shows Californian wines challenging (and winning against) some high flying French wines including top Bordeaux wines. Last year a comparative tasting of First Growth Bordeaux wines and Hawkes Bay wines showed the  Hawkes Bay wines showing up extremely well against their aristocratic cousins and at least a tenth of the price. Four of the top six wines were NZ including the number one wine. An older version of this wine, the 2005 Helmsman came in at number three.

So what am I saying? I'll say it now as the wine is after all 14% alc/vol and might not make much sense after I've finished the bottle (Her Indoors is away) -  Don't underestimate the best red wines from New Zealand (also don't overestimate a lot of the others including a lot of ordinary Pinot Noir). The good news is that the best New Zealand red wines even if they are going to set you back between $40 and $100 are one fifth, one tenth and even one twentieth of what you might pay for an American or French equivalent.

Monday, June 7, 2010


When commenting on TwistedScottishBastard's blog I mentioned a whisky bottle kept behind glass for emergencies. I looked up images on the internet and sure enough found this one. Not whisky but alcohol nevertheless.

I also found this swine-flu one.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


In my previous post I talked about new wines needing some time to develop which can be accelerated by opening them a day in advance. Tonight we are drinking an older wine that, whilst it will still be good in a day's time given its power, is ideal drinking right now only a few minutes after opening.
Its a miserable old day up here today with driving rain and high winds bringing a drop in temperature that is positively wintry. Yesterday it was fabulous. No wind, plenty of sunshine and the bay like glass. I walked, golfed, gardened and swam - enjoying the day as I knew it wouldn't last having consulted the augers who predicted a stormy weekend. Murphy could have also told me that as it is a holiday weekend after all. In light of the aforementioned miserable conditions I lit both fires at either end of the house and we planned a roast dinner. Roast loin of lamb with roast potatoes and a cheese-topped broccoli/cauliflower/zuccini dish. While it is cooking Lynn opened a Roederer NV Champagne which was delicious. A long favourite of ours, Roederer is always a treat. In our changed circumstances we don't drink Champagne as frequently as we used to but always enjoy it. Looking for something more substantial to go with our meal I chose an Eileen Hardy 1998 Shiraz. This has never disappointed and always needs long cellar age for it to reach its potential. At 12 years old the 1998 is still a 'baby' but because we are looking for something big and rich to go with the meal I chose this. This is a stunning wine - rich and velvety from a combination of very, very good fruit and long cool cellaring with complex spice, fruit and oak aromas. The finish is surprisingly soft given its obvious power with the tannins complementing the wine rather than overpowering it. I decanted it on opening (using my trusty silver funnel) and there was a bit of residue left in the bottle that made the exercise worthwhile but the advantage of decanting once again was to freshen up the wine, giving it a bit of oxygenation and eliminating any off bottle odours. I'm sipping this wine now and looking forward to having a big glass or two with the roast dinner within the hour.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Herman Hupfield songwriter

I'm sure that I've mentioned it before but most wines improve with having been open a while (called breathing). The exceptions are very old wines that will deteriorate quickly on exposure to more oxygen and  crappy wines that just won't get any better (Richard please take note - that stuff you drink, even if you left it for days in the compost heap it just will not improve - better to leave it in the compost heap). Modern wines are increasingly being made anaerobically (minimal exposure to oxygen) and as a result are much fresher, have a tighter structure and need decanting or opening a while before drinking. A quick way to improve the aroma, taste and general 'mouth-feel' of these wines is to pour into a jug and then back into the bottle. This oxygenates the wine and drives off some of the off-odours trapped between wine and cork or cap. It can also unfortunately 'bottle-shock' the wine which dumbs down the flavours. The best approach is to open the bottle a day ahead, pour some out and leave the remainder in the fridge until you drink it. My most recent positive experience of this is the Montana Reserve 2008 Pinot Noir that I opened last night and decided that it was simple, overtly cherry-flavoured and lacking in depth. Trying it tonight 24 hours later it had opened up and was showing warmth, fullness and better fruit complexity. The oxygenation definitely improved this wine.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


My previous post got me thinking about whisky and, as the weather is becoming a bit wintry I thought that it is time to check out some of the Malts that we have in the cellar. We don't drink a lot of whisky but have always kept a nice little selection of them for special occasions and for enthusiastic visitors. As I hadn't imbibed for a while a refresher was necessary. Instead of drinking wine last night I had a little whisky tasting. The portions were all small, poured into small whisky, sherry and port glasses livened up with a splash of soda water.

The whiskies I tried were:

Bowmore 12 year old. Islay. Strong and iodine-flavoured. Some sweet heather notes off-set the seaweed. Finishes hot and short.

Glendronach 12 year old. Highlands - Speyside. Rich sherry nose. Quite a sweet and rich flavour which carries through to the finish.

Glenmorangie 12 year old. Highlands - Northern. A spicy, oaky medium style that finishes long.

Highland Park 12 year old. Highlands - Orkney. Smoky aroma with touch of sherry. Rich and smooth taste with one of the best finishes  - long and luscious.

Aberlour 10 year old. Highlands- Speyside. This is a rich and smooth malt with a distinctive spicy aroma. It has a nice clean and lingering finish.

Laphroaig 15 year old. Islay. Seaweedy (iodine) nose with a slick almost oily texture. Very rich with a hot finish.

Glenlivit 12 year old.Highlands - Speyside. Beautiful floral nose. A light and elegant body with nice fruity flavour finishing long.

The Macallan 12 year old. Highlands - Speyside. Beautiful honey and sherry aroma. Fruity and powerful flavour. Long and hot finish.

Tamdhu 15 year old. Highlands - Speyside. Elegant sherry and smoky nose. Medium bodied and equally elegant flavour that finishes soft and mellow.

Cragganmore 12 year old. Highlands - Speyside.. Beautiful heathery aroma with sweet herb characters. Elegant palate and a very long lingering finish.

Tomatin 12 year old. Highlands - Speyside. Fresh, bright nose with a smooth palate. Nice balance of wood, alcohol and fruity flavours.

I didn't try any of the nice aged blended whiskies we have and the older malts as eleven was enough. Even with a splash of soda in the mix the alcohol tends to dull the palate (and the brain).

It needs to be said that I didn't drink all of the pours. I tipped out what was left in the glasses after evaluating them. It was still enough to give a buzz though, not unlike drinking a bottle of wine. I went to bed happy. Also, probably obviously, Lynn was away so I was able to conduct this 'tasting' without feeling that I was a total dipsomaniac.

My favourite whisky is Tamdhu and I have a really great appreciation of The Macallan and Highland Park. The best whisky of the night though was Cragganmore.

A great restauranteur and great 'Mine Host' in the South Island, Frank Pipe, is also a rabid rugby follower. After any game, whether international or provincial and whatever the result Frank would loudly exclaim "Rugby's the winner". Well, last night Malt Whisky was the winner.