Friday, September 30, 2011


.... on Selaks Heritage Reserve 2010 Chardonnay as I am awaiting some information that I requested on this wine but I will start proceedings.

..... historically have been the wines put aside year to year in case the following year's vintage fails and, in time, came to represent the best that a winemaker was producing. The word on the label 'Reserve' meant something to the purchaser and consumer and prompted purchasing and drinking decisions.
Wikipedia is helpful with its description here:

"Reserve wine is a term given to a specific wine to imply that is of a higher quality than usual, or a wine that has been aged before being sold, or both. Traditionally winemakers would "reserve" some of their best wine rather than sell it immediately, coining the term.
In some countries the use of the term reserve/reserva/riserva is regulated, but in many places it is not. Sometimes, reserve wine originates from the best vineyards, or the best barrels, making it more special. Additionally, reserve wines might be made in a style suited to longer aging periods. However, in regions where the use is not regulated the mere presence of the term "reserve" on a wine label may be nothing but a marketing strategy. Indeed, in the case of one of the largest-selling premium wines, Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay, every single bottle produced is "Vintner's Reserve." To indicate a genuine reserve wine, Kendall-Jackson had to resort to "Grand Reserve," which has caused some confusion among consumers."
Now I am a wine marketer and have been 'adventurous' in my descriptions of commercial wines when writing copy for back labels and wine notes. This is called hype and I guess is expected else why would anyone buy any commercial product from toilet paper to cheap cars based solely on advertising. When it comes to the more serious offerings where serious money is outlaid however I am a bit of a stickler and refuse to 'be adventurous'.

With regard to the accused - Selaks Heritage Reserve Chardonnay 2010, this is one in a new range released by Selaks brand (brand owners Constellation New Zealand). I bought it in a supermarket 'on special' at $13.99 and it has a recommended retail price of $19.99. Unfortunately nowadays these prices whether 'reccommended' or 'on-special' are all over the place and there is no longer a reliable guide to be followed by looking at the price of a wine and by that determining its quality. You either have to have some inside knowledge or be prepared to experiment by buying and trying (unless of course the wine is being 'tasted' in-store which I thoroughly support). The back label tells me that the wine is fair bursting with fruit flavours and to underline that mentions stonefruit, citrus, white peach and nectarine with a passing mention of Chardonnay. It also has an even more fleeting mention of the wood that a quality Chardonnay should experience by either barrel fermentation or maturation or both. It tells me, before the "crisp and lingering finish" that the wine has "a touch of oak". Great. Did the winemaker accidently bump into the tank when he was wheeling around his new oak barriques or is this spin doctor speak for the fact that some oak chips, oak planks or oak beans were added to the stainless steel tanks-full of Chardonnay somewhere during the process? The wine is fresh and does show good Chardonnay fruit characters that I expect from Hawke's Bay. It does not show good (and particularly not $19.99 RRP worth of) wood usage. As for the 'Reserve' part I can only think of the TV show Extras and the 'Are you 'aving a laugh' by-line.
As I said I am reserving judgement at the moment but all I have to go on is endorsement from the marketers.

"This is our best 'Reserve' wine and, by the way, our priests have never fiddled with little children"

Friday, September 23, 2011


I was listening to Yvonne Lorkin, one of the wine commentators (critics) on Jim Mora's afternoon show on National Radio. She is a capable woman, not blessed with huge wine knowledge but enthusiastic and confident. Lorkin has managed in a few short years to get herself syndicated to a few publications where she selects wines for consumers. Now to give her credit she selects wines that are at least available and affordable, not like some ratbags who have tried to be so esoteric that to find the wines they have recommended you have to have the (unlisted) phone number of the importer.

While listening I came to the conclusion that the day of the wine writer, wine critic and wine recommender may well be over. Years ago when good wine was scarcer and when the whole bloody wine business was a minefield for the uneducated (I knew someone in the industry who used to say: "there are only two types of wine buyers - the insecure and the very insecure"), wine writers were helpful in guiding consumers to the source. Nowadays, with radically changed distribution channels that have led to the dominance of supermarket selling of wine, there is not so much consumer choice for if your local supermarket doesn't stock the wine you want or have had recommended you are stuffed. No matter how well it is written up by a wannabe writer if you can't find it easily you are hardly likely to contact the producer to find out where to get it from. Nowadays that is. Years ago when I first entered the wine industry, when a new shipment of top notch European or Australian wines were on the way (let alone landed) you had to be in the know to pre-order them from the wholesaler/importer who was in those days also the retailer. What was left over hit the shelves and was usually not worth bothering about.  Wine scribes were useful in giving the nod. The same went for the early examples of good New Zealand wine. We have all heard about the early offerings of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from McWilliams and later Montana and Nobilo but if you didn't cosy up to your wholesaler you missed out.
Nowadays there are so many good examples of New Zealand and Australian wine that, because of standardisation, bulk production, wine-swapping amongst companies and professional winemakers and viticulturists changing companies and moving about, are often, at the commercial price points, virtually the same. A wine writer talking about XYZ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc could just as well be recommending ZYX Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Often it doesn't matter.
Blah, blah, blah

Unfortunately if a wine writer today was to talk about a particularly good French, Italian, Spanish or American wine the chances are that you will never find it to buy. The supermarket chains won't be stocking it. The Wholesale/retail chains of yesteryear are not interested and, if you live in Northland, Southland or most major regions outside of Auckland or Wellington you won't be handy to the 'specialist' importer/retailer who has it.
OK. Back to the premise. To be legitimate as a wine writer, wine commentator or wine critic today it is no longer adequate to just mention wine names and companies and rate them by stars, points or grades, there is something else needed. This is information but with some excitement added. There is only so much room for the academic approach and this is very ably covered by the likes of Michael cooper and Bob Campbell (and, for the good aspect of esoteric - Geoff Kelly). Stories, experiences and fun is what we want, not endless lists of 'what I tried with dinner; who I was talking to; who wants or has paid to have their bloody name/brand/company in my publication type of stuff. Give me more of Sue Courtney's ramblings or even Keith Stewart's acerbic exposes. What I am really looking for is an A.A. Gill type writer to be based in New Zealand and stir us all up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have had a love affair with wine for nearly 40 years and am still learning about the subject.

Years ago my wines of choice were French wines and in particular those from Bordeaux. These represented all that was great, noble, traditional and aspirational in the world of wine. Admittedly, at the time (70's into the 80's) this was largely the case as the great wines of Italy and Spain were not available and USA, Australia, New Zealand and other contenders hadn't properly hit their straps. I would buy First, Second and Third Growth Bordeaux at ridiculously cheap prices to taste, put away and sell later and freely drink Fourth and Fifth Growth Bordeaux as everyday wines. These lesser (classified) wines such as Talbot, Beychevelle, Batailley, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Branaire-Ducru, Lafon-Rochet etc. were cheap as chips then but now cost an arm and a leg to buy. As prices started to go ballistic after the bloody Americans started to discover good wine (the new price growth now being stimulated by the Chinese), Bordeaux invented the 'Petit Chateaux' marketing idea whereby the previous negotiants and shippers 'Clarets' assumed grandiose names of past and fictitious Chateaux and even down to the "La Plume de Ma Tante" degree.
The top wines became more expensive as did the lesser wines and the newly introduced 'Chateaux' wines instead of filling a gap actually turned a lot of potential new Bordeaux entrant drinkers off and they went to other geographical regions for their Cabernets and Merlots.

I was guilty of the "It must be good as it is a classified French wine" thinking for many years and have fond, imprinted memories of the lovely First, Second and Third Growth Bordeaux wines that I've drunk.  I have actively supported the development of the New Zealand wine industry both as a consumer and as a driver and have experienced some great 'Bordeaux-type' varietals from Hawkes Bay and Waiheke. In the past these were relatively scarce and very vintage dependant. I am very happy now that the wines are plentiful and, with better clonal selection, site selection, viticultural and winemaking advances we can see consistently good examples coming through. They  are becoming so plentiful that those bastard supermarkets can now get their hands on them and discount the fuck out of them. Shame? Yes if it leads to the downward engineering that we have seen with our Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs but no if it encourages Kiwis to experiment and discover what is on offer.

Today I opened an Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2009. This wine's normal price is between $20 and $30 but I bought it at a supermarket a couple of months ago at way less than $20. It is great. Lovely colour and fresh plum and cherry nose. The taste is full and rich and lingering and well supported by good wood. Bloody good! Trying it while preparing dinner I thought back to the Bordeaux wines I was drinking 'everyday' in the 70's and 80's and felt that quality-wise it is above the Fourth and Fifth Growth wines (that are now in the $80 plus area) and more akin to wines like Kirwan, Giscours and Lagrange that are Third Growth Bordeaux and command prices in the hundreds now.
Fashion, snobbishness, scarcity and uniqueness all lead to higher pricing but in reality, if a glass of Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2009 was put beside a glass of Chateau Kirwan 2008 or 2009 I don't think that it would be embarrassed.