Monday, August 29, 2011


I haven't had the chance to experiment with my Chardonnay doctoring over the last week (see: here) as,

1. I have drunk some top notch Chardonnay,
2. Her Indoors opened a really good Pinot Noir and,
3. She opened  a nice Riesling for me yesterday as I was languishing in a hot bath after a major stint of gardening followed by 11 holes of golf.

 I am finishing the Riesling tonight and wondering why the hell I have neglected Riesling over the last year. A few years ago I decided that Riesling was to be my Summer wine of choice. This was because,

1. I had grown tired of drinking Chardonnay all the time
2. Cheap Chardonnays weren't cutting it
3. Riesling is more refreshing in the warmer seasons and
4. New Zealand makes the consistently best Rieslings in the world (see: here).

The Riesling I am drinking is Brancott Estate Reserve Waipara Riesling 2010.
There are a few good things going on for a start with this description (sorry about the lists).

1. Brancott (the artist formerly known as Montana is a long established wine company in New Zealand with great expertise in Riesling amongst other leading varietals.
2. Reserve suggests a notch up from the commercial offering
3. Waipara is arguably the best region in New Zealand for Riesling (and Pinot Noir)
4. Riesling is one of the best grape varietals in the world and New Zealand excels in its production
5. 2010 guarantees that the wine is fresh and not a 'failed export order' that has been sitting around for a while (although of all the varietals New Zealand produces Riesling is probably the most long lived) and,
6. (not on the label) I bought the wine on special at about $11 when the 'normal' price is well over $20.

The wine is a teat. The usual citrus character of South Island Riesling is enhanced by a fleshy nectarine and luscious mouth-feel. All the good mineral edges are there and the nose is elegant and definitely floral. It is amazingly fresh and no doubt will hold this for a couple of years because of the lime/acid undertone. I think I'll buy some more to see how it develops over say 4 or 5 years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I love wine. I drink it as my alcoholic beverage of choice, collect good bottles and have made a career of it. I have visited many of the world's famous wine regions and producers and tasted a good cross section of what the world offers in wine. I understand how it is made and the different teqhniques leading to the quality differences. I am not precious about it though and refuse to be reverential about it. I have drunk for example Le Montrachet, Chateau Petrus and Krug Le Mesnil and many other wines that cost over a thousand dollars a bottle in today's currency but know that most of the cost is bound up in hype, scarcity and fashion as well as a fair bit of usury. I often blend wines together at home, freeze and thaw it and do things with it like aerating a new bottle by pouring into a jug and back into the bottle, that 'aficionados' may well scoff at. No matter. I've been in enough wineries to know that at bottom, wine is a mass produced commodity that gets pumped and poured from barrel to tank and back again through big black hoses. The consumer who pays hundreds of dollars a bottle never sees this and most likely believes all the advertising and PR hype that shows chatting peasant women hand filling bottles and carefully applying labels.

A new initiative that I have taken to is to try and replicate oak fermentation and oak maturing of Chardonnay. I like good barrel fermented Chardonnay particularly from Hawkes Bay and Gisborne. A good one that has also been aged in new oak will cost in the high twenties and thirties which, for everyday drinking is beyond me. There is some great Chardonnay fruit being grown in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay but the cost of perfecting it through barrel fermentation and ageing is usually disastrous to cash flow with no guarantee of sale at the end.

The result is a lot of unwooded styles and 'lightly oaked' styles coming out. Unwooded Chardonnay has been promoted over the last 20 years as a fresh and stimulating expression of the fruit. What crap. Chardonnay needs some wood structure to temper out the acidity. The 'lightly oaked' style generally means that the wine was put in some old barrels that no longer have any vanillan character left or some oak chips, beans or planks were dropped into the tanks at some stage. The cheap Chardonnays that result generally have good fruit expression but are lacking in silkiness, spice, creaminess and vanillin character. Vanilla is the result of phenols from the wood reacting with the wine with a flavour perception similar to the vanilla bean (that is used in ice-cream and various cuisine).The lignins in the wood contribute also to tannin influence and the various 'toastings' of barrels impart other flavours like chocolate and coffee but for this exercise I am concentrating on Vanilla.
Last night I opened a nice simple Chardonnay that I had bought via Blackmarket (the excellent internet site that deals in surplus wines direct from wineries). The wine is Overstone from Sileni in Hawkes Bay. At about $9 a bottle it represents good value but is quite simple. The Hawkes Bay Chardonnay fruit is good but needs a little bit of lift. I poured two glasses and in one I dropped  a tiny (about 6 mm) length of vanilla bean.

The vanilla bean had the immediate effect of softening the wine and imparting a little bit of flavour not unlike barrel influence and adding a bit of sweetness. The difference between the two glasses was striking with the vanilla doctored one tasting much superior to the plain one. I will continue to experiment along these lines. Meanwhile this gives me something else to look weird with at parties and restaurants. I sometimes drop a copper coin into a glass of wine that has excess sulphur. I blend together two glasses of wine if neither are satisfactory and I pour a newly opened screw-cap wine into a jug before pouring it back into the bottle - this freshens up the wine when needed. All of this gets some odd looks from wine waiters and neighbouring tables. Now I can add my vanilla bean to the mix.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I love wine and the wine industry. I have been fortunate to meet many nice industry people over the years, many whom I count as friends. Like any industry though or any society there are bound to be some arseholes. These sphincters seem to have become more numerous with the more recent developments in the industry - the massive growth of production, drive to market wines through supermarkets, the Americans going international....

In another blog Valley Girl reminisced about South African wines and how her parents used to enjoy them. At one time South African wines competed pretty well with wines from other countries and, in New Zealand before the rebirth of our industry, they were actually better. The (then) big robust reds and refreshing sparkling wines were more than a match for our skinny reds and cloying bubblies. After sanctions against South African imports were lifted there was a flood of South African wines, many of them under the old familiar labelling that were picked up quickly by consumers. It did not take long though for consumers to realise that while New Zealand and the rest of the world had moved on in terms of technology and quality improvement the South African wines had not. Initially there was clearance of older vintage wines that had been sitting in tanks and barrels awaiting an export chance and then there were the newer wines that clearly showed viticultural and winemaking faults. Average prices gradually slipped down to the point where now South African offerings in supermarkets are generally in the sub $8 segment. Is this fair? Yes, as the wines are bland, over-produced and generally ordinary. There are some very well made wines in from South Africa but like our best are expensive and rarely seen.

So what about the arseholes?

When sanctions were lifted and the familiar brands came back into New Zealand I was lucky enough to be marketing the leading brand. I say lucky because there was great enthusiasm around the exercise from the brand owners who generously invested; from the trade who were very supportive and got behind some very big promotions; and from consumers who bought up in style. The wines were ordinary apart from some very rare and special ones that we imported but the people that I dealt with were great. I saw the good side of South African people and almost to a man or woman these were the English South Africans. A few years later the South African company was taken over by a larger South African company and things rapidly changed. The people that we used to deal with were all 'disappeared' and new management showed itself. This was the Boer or Afrikaans type of South African with the worst being members of the Broederbond. The Broederbond was a religious cult type movement that had the objective of creating a common Christian nationalistic identity for all white Afrikaans speaking South Africans. Sound familiar? Yes, they were (and are) like the proponents of the 'Volk movement' or National Socialism in Germany in the 30's and 40's.

The Broederbonds introduced the idea of Volkskaptalisme or 'People's Capitalism' (so long as the 'people' weren't Black, British or Jewish. While the movement did not grow as large as they had hoped they still managed to create some of South Africa's biggest corporate giants and have a strong role today in government and commerce.

The first time I learned about the Broederbond was when I met the new management group of the merged South African wine company. This was in New Zealand. We tended to be reasonably informal in our meetings which had up until this one been relaxed and pleasant occasions. This Broederbond bunch were dressed like The Men in Black - all severe black suits, starched white collars, slick black briefcases and demeanour to match. They were stiff, rude and unfriendly.

The meetings did not go well and while we marketed their brands for a few more years the fun had gone out of it. We were relieved when they finally took them away from us. By this time the volumes had dwindled and the quality had definitely slipped so it was no big deal. I did miss the camaraderie we had with the previous management though.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


It was bitterly cold yesterday so I had the fire blazing away nicely and thought that a wee dram wouldn't go amiss. I pulled out some old bottles from the back of the cupboard and came across one that I had forgotten about. It is Glen Mist Whiskey Liqueur made by Savermo in Ireland. This was bottled in the 1940's I think. The brand later became Irish Mist which is still going. It is an Irish equivalent of Drambuie or Glayva. I have had the bottle for a long time, acquiring it with some other old bottles of whisky and liqueurs about 25 years ago. The liqueur inside is still drinking well, a rich mix of whiskey, honey and herbs. It is 70 proof. The back label says that it is made from the finest reserve whiskeys and I assume that these are Irish Malt Whiskies. There is certainly a pronounced woody character which supports this as simple grain whiskey would not have had the barrel ageing that good malts have. I checked on the internet and discovered that rare bottles of this sell for 250 pounds sterling and upwards. Unfortunately mine is open and there is only half a bottle left.

Monday, August 15, 2011


.... or also known as Baby Grange is Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz.
I was lucky enough to have been brand manager in New Zealand for Penfolds wines in the mid 1980's. I had been retailing the brand for quite a few years previous to this and knew and respected it well. I remember drinking a lot of Grange Hermitage (Penfolds top label) in the late 70's and early 80's when it was about  $10 to $15 a bottle. Today a new vintage costs over $600 and older vintages can cost more. I stopped buying and drinking Grange in quantity in the late 80's and early 90's because it had become too expensive ($80 to $100) apart from the odd top vintage and looked more to St Henri and Bin 389 which were way cheaper and had many of the same characteristics. Bin 389 which used to be about $10 to $20 has now crept up in price a lot and can be seen to be selling in the high '60's but, as the brand is now owned by Fosters is subject to crazy discounts and can be judiciously bought for much less.
On the weekend when I was fossicking in the cellar I dragged out a couple of bottles of 1998 Bin 389.
I opened one tonight to see how it was developing and was pleasantly surprised. It has heaps of life in it yet. It is rich and plummy with a lovely silky, edgy taste, a complex fruit and spice (with some menthol) nose and still has a deep dark colour. Not bad for a 13 y.o. wine that cost about $18 when I bought it.

Her Indoors is in Auckland this week so I cooked for one. I had some red cod fillets in the freezer so thought that a teriyaki fish and rice dish would do. I dusted the bite-size fish pieces in flour, lemon pepper and lemon grass and quickly pan-fried them. Once cooked (they cook quickly) I added teriyaki sauce, ginger and garlic to the pan and gave it a stir around. This was put on top of fluffy rice with a bit of mayonnaise. Delicious. I know that some purists may be shocked - red wine with fish, red wine with a spicy asian dish etc. but believe me the aged, plummy, spicy and fruity flavours of the wine went perfectly with the teriyaki fish dish.

Don't worry, be happy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


"Lentil soup for dinner tonight my love" called Her Indoors. I mumbled something inaudible thinking that of all the things we might have on a Saturday night, lentils was not on the list. Whenever I hear of lentils I think of Neil from The Young Ones

As it turned out the lentil soup was delicious. It was so delicious that I asked Her Indoors to give it another name so that next time she makes it I might be a bit more enthusiastic. Her lentil soup consists of a base of lentils obviously, soaked overnight with canned tomato, home-made chicken stock, fresh ginger, garlic and red chillies. It was served with crusty oven baked bread rolls and lashings of butter (well, Logicol).

We opened a wine from the cellar. Looking for a good red I found a bottle of Rosemount Show Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 that I thought had been long gone. I was not expecting a lot from the wine given that it was 17 years old and Coonawarra wines are not renowned for long ageing but I was pleasantly surprised. On opening the nose was all chocolate and coffee but with a bit of breathing the fruit developed into a nice cassis nose and the initial greenness while not totally disappearing ( a Coonawarra trait) the palate rounded out to reveal rich sweet fruit. This wine was good when I first bought it but I never expected it to last so long. What a treat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Constellation has changed the label of Monkey Bay.
The original label took the market by storm with its clean background with a striking green image and the curve-cut with strong black background. This was all done to dramatically stand out on shelf and table and proved to be a phenomenal success. Ok, I am close to it and it is a favourite but ... it worked.

The brand team at Constellation changed the label because (I quote from an e-mail I received):

" Essentially because we were getting  lots of comments that the old label made the wine look a bit cheap and gimmicky"

I wonder what aspect of 'critter-branding', 'commercial propositions' and 'cheap and cheerful' they don't understand.
They changed the label to this:

Now I understand branding and the need to refresh labels, logos and images  but they should all be positive and forward steps not regressive. The new label while clean and tidy has lost the strong image and replaced it with a weak sketch. The loss of curve in the label and dumping of the strong black background has weakened impact. 

But I could be wrong.