Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Austria is best known for producing Adolf Hitler and, whilst they vehemently denied it after WW2, a good deal of Nazi ideology. Austria also produces wine which can be superb. As they did in WW2 where they virtually ruined both their country and their reputation, in 1985 Austrian winemakers ruined their wine industry through greed and arrogance. Greedy grapegrowers (and complicit winemakers) bolstered the must weight of their grape juice by adding Di-ethylene glycol. DEG is better known as anti-freeze or, if you are in Russia, cheap vodka. This added to alcohol levels and sweetness and was a way of demanding higher prices for wine from a poor vintage. It can also send people blind and could, in large quantities, kill someone. I was marketing a leading Austrian brand in 1985 and had some very interesting midnight telephone calls with the producers who at first denied involvement in the scandal. When I faxed through the DSIR lab test results they changed their tune and blamed their suppliers. I got full credit for the stock (about 25,000 bottles) which we had destroyed and no longer imported that brand. Arrogance is an Austrian trait. One of our current guests works for a college where foreign students come for a term or two. She looks after their welfare and recently on the arrival of a young Austrian lad suggested to him that he might like to join some of the other students on a ski trip to the South Island. Adolph junior said "Why should I want to do something like that? We have the best ski country in the world in Austria". I bet his grandfather still wears brown shirts.

Anyway, why Austria? Amongst the eclectic selection of wines that we have enjoyed over the last week was an Austrian red wine. It was 2001 Umathum St Laurent. St Laurent is an Austrian red grape that has French provenance and is most likely related to Pinot Noir. Apparently it is notoriously difficult to grow and ripen as is Pinot Noir. 2001 was a 'difficult' vintage in Austria. When an Austrian says that a vintage is 'difficult' it is probably like them saying that Hitler was 'naughty'. The wine was light - a  bit more like a Cabernet Franc than Pinot Noir - but still had a nice fruitiness to it. The alcohol was 12.5% which in today's terms was light reflecting the poor vintage (and the fact that they no longer add DEG). I'd file this wine away in the "interesting' file.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


We do drink at Christmas. Who doesn't? The trick is to drink elegantly and well. It is easy to quaff down buckets of the stuff given that normal eating patterns are all over the place and, given the quantity of food consumed it probably doesn't matter much but I feel, come boxing day when you are feeling a bit jaded it is better to have fond memories of something nice. Last night when we were having a BBQ I didn't feel like a wine thinking instead of traditional Christmas Eve drinks. The trouble with 'traditional' in our NZ culture is too much connection with UK and European traditional drinks which are all winter seasonal. The classic eggnog might be nice but is more suited to a bitterly cold winter's evening than a mild summer's one.

 I opted for a White Russian. I watched The Big Lebowski recently, that classic Cohen Brothers film. The Dude (Lebowski) only ever drank White Russians. This is a mix of vodka, milk and kahlua or Tia Maria with lots of ice. I was keen to try this so mixed up a good one. It fitted the Christmas Eve setting perfectly.
Today I will lay out a selection of sparkling (Deutz Methode and Champagne (Roederer)), white (Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris) and red (Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Merlot). If all goes well and everyone is not too full I will open a 1977 port (Taylors, Warres or Grahams) to go with the plum pudding.
It will be a big day.

And one for TSB.....

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Captain Beefheart - Mirror Man

I read The Curmudgeon's latest post on the loss of Captain Beefheart. Here

 He talked about a party in Wellington when the neighbours complained about the loud music. The music playing (very loudly) was Mirror Man. I don't expect you to listen to the entire clip here but fast forward it to get a feel of the jammy repetitiveness of the song which has an almost hypnotic effect particularly after a few wines or other substances. I remember this particular party (I was there) as previously we had consumed the best bottle of wine that I have ever drunk. It was a magnum of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comptesse Lalande 1953.

This was in 1976 so the wine was 23 years old but, being in a magnum size had aged gracefully. There are few times in my life that I have tried a wine at its optimum stage. This was one. It was still rich and flavoursome but the texture was as smooth as milk. Having Beefheart playing (Safe as Milk being another of my favourites) was appropriate.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I said that wine prices would come down due to oversupply, slow sales and supermarket competition and discounting but didn't expect the depths that some brands would be prepared to go to. I picked up some Deutz at $19.99 a bottle (down from $30 plus last week. This wasn't really a surprise at it has happened before and may go lower but just in case it doesn't bottom out at $17.95 I bought a case.
Today I stripped the Countdown shelves of Sacred Hill Reserve range (the ugly orange label). 'Normal 'price at Countdown is $22 something. On deep-cut special it usually comes down to $13.95. This week it is $9.99 a bottle. I bought Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah and Cabernet Merlot. Also in the range is Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. This is a seriously good buy (direct from the winery it is $18 a bottle and then you have to pay freight) and the wine is still showing character. As I've said before though, too much of this discounting will mean that the wine will be engineered downwards to be a paler, cheaper imitation. Never mind. Buy and drink up now and enjoy. Robert. Get out that fiddle!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


No doubt you have heard that stupid expression - 'ABC' meaning 'Anything But Chardonnay'. This was coined (probably by bloody Pinot Gris growers) around the time that Australia and USA was flooding the world with cheap, flabby and uninteresting wines labelled as Chardonnay. I have some friends who will not touch Chardonnay finding it too woody, too flabby, too sweet, too dry, too  acidic, too 'grapefruity' - too something or other. This is very telling. To me it says that Chardonnay producers have lost the plot. Once you could purchase Chardonnay and pretty much know what you were going to get (vintage variations dependant) based on price, pedigree, country of origin and region. Today it is a minefield. There has been too much production for brands that have to meet critical price points. Shortcuts have to be taken giving us lighter, paler imitations of the real thing which culminates in that marketing 'Edsel' the unwooded Chardonnay. What a bloody travesty that is. Good Chardonnay needs judicious use of wood depending on the structure of the chosen fruit for barrel fermentation and or barrel ageing. In my financially strained circumstances I have had to purchase cheaper offerings of late. I try to buy the top quality product that has been reduced in price but sometimes get gypped. I have written before about the inevitability of producers 'engineering' product downwards if there is too much discounting. Some of my favourite brands are showing just that with 2009 and 2010 offerings being lesser than their 2008 and 2007 ancestors.

What a pleasant surprise it was being able to buy some Clearview Beachhead 2009 Chardonnay at half price due to a 'clearance' sale. This is seriously good Hawkes Bay Chardonnay from one of the best Hawkes Bay producers. Sure, it is not as stunning as his top 'Reserve' range but it most likely has a hell of a lot of the 'Reserve' wine in it given the difficulty of selling $40 wines nowadays. This Chardonnay is not an unwooded style. It is barrel fermented but, not being the top Reserve wine, is fruit-driven in style with lovely tropical Chardonnay flavours. The wood fermenting and ageing gives it a buttered toast character that is very pleasant. Chardonnay without good use of oak tends to be coarse and flabby. This is not. It is mealy and interestingly chewy. I think I'll buy some more.