Tuesday, September 25, 2012


That's the rating I got from Norton's website safety review.

The Second one down OK?

I searched for something to do with wine on the web (Google) and bugger me if one of my posts wasn't 3rd from the top.

The title had a little green 'OK' tick by it which I clicked on and it took me to a Norton website rating page.

My blog has a 3.4 out of 5 rating and is described as :

Suspicious or annoying

What a bloody cheek! I was hoping to be at least obnoxious or  'best avoided' .

Apparently this blog has:

0 Computer threats


0  Identity threats

Well how whimpy is that?

I checked on my other blog The Curmudgeon and that hasn't been tested yet so there is hope.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Champagne is a wonderful drink and, if it wasn't for accidents and quirks of nature, it wouldn't exist at all.

There are many studies on how Champagne is made including one by a guy who is funded to count the bubbles in Champagne!

A French guy counting bubbles!!!

The best Champagne Houses give him their product to test and he does! He opens it and, with a heck of a lot of complicated, unpronounceable and expensive equipment counts the bubbles and the intensity of the bead (the stream of bubbles going up and out of the wine.)

The bead

He does come up with (some pretty obvious) things that the Champenoise like and adjust their production accordingly e.g: any imperfections in a glass stimulate the bead; a too clean glass has no bead; and the more sugar added before secondary fermentation results in a larger (more coarse) bubble and imperfect bead.

I could have told them that. They could send me free bottles and I'll open them but you know what? I'll drink the bloody stuff.
 Yes, you've guessed it. This French boffin counts the bubbles and then pours out the wine without drinking any.


 He proudly states "I must have tipped more Champagne down the sink than anyone else in the world" (excluding The Temperance league surely). What a bloody waste.

Anyway. Champagne. How is it made?

Oops. Before I answer that perhaps we should ask" why is it made?"

Well here's a pretty good reason.

or this

Champagne needs to be made from unripe grapes that have been fermented into making an unpalatable, tart, bone-dry wine. Why? Because it is addition of extra sugar and yeast that stimulates the secondary fermentation, in the bottle, that gives the bubbles. If the grapes are too ripe and the resultant 'first wine' balanced then it is a waste of time doing the secondary fermentation. Why? Ask a winemaker or that geek in France who keeps tipping out good Champagne.

Well then. The quirks of nature. Anyone who has visited the cool/cold Champagne region north of Paris will have noticed the chalky/limestone soils and vast caves under the ground

Caves under Epernay in Champagne

 (not to be confused with the vast bomb craters and trench systems left over from WW1).

WW1 bomb crater

Many centuries ago a grape grower fell through the top layer of soil and through the chalk ceiling of a cave system. He fell down to the bottom of the cave but fortunately carried down a tonne or two of soil with him which broke his fall. The soil still had grape vines growing in it and they resumed what they were doing. Growing. The grape grower made his way out of the caves and, at harvest time revisited to check on his grapes. To his surprise the grapes had grown, possibly as a result of the white chalk ceilings and photosynthesis which is the process of sunlight being captured by plants and channelled down through the root systems.


In effect the grapes growing above ground were bringing sunlight down through their root systems which was diffused by the white chalk and gently shone on the underground grapes.

As you would expect the grapes were small and not ripe. They had however reached their cycle of maturity and had to be harvested. Our canny grape-grower, not wanting to waste anything did just that and after many attempts successfully fermented them into a wine. Which was disgusting. He added sugar to some in bottles and it was still disgusting. Again, not wanting to waste any he corked the bottles and left them at the back of his cellar.

After some time the wine re-fermented and and exploded. R.I.P. the grape grower.

The grape-growers family, investigating his demise found out what he had done and decided to repeat the experiment but to do so in a safer way.They used bigger, stronger bottles and wired down the corks.


Champagne took the world by storm.

The carefully guarded secrets of its manufacture soon leaked out. This was not surprising as the neighbour to the North, Germany, had a habit of invading France from time to time and annexing territories like Alsace.

"Mmmmm. I feel like a Gewurtztraminer"

While they didn't successfully take over Champagne, the Germans' various sojourns in nearby Alsace enabled them to snoop around a bit. They discovered the caves, the unripe grapes and the secondary fermentation and took the knowledge back to the fatherland.

Now unripe grapes was a given for the krauts Germans as its cold up there and their grapes were normally lacking in sugar levels. Secondary fermentation was also easy to master as the Germans were quite used to coming second in most things including world wars. The third and most important factor though proved to be more difficult. The caves. Germany has caves but they are all underwater as they exist along the Mosel and Rhine rivers which seep into them. They do have some cave-like fissures in other places but the ground is not chalk, it is granite and cannot be easily dug out. Frustrated, the Germans resorted to using their above-ground unripe grapes. While these were lacking in sugar they weren't lacking in sugar enough. When sugar and yeast was added to the 'first wine' in the bottle to stimulate secondary fermentation the result was a sweetish wine with big bubbles. It was and is called Sekt which is German for sickly.

Around the world, other countries began to experiment n making 'Champagne'. There were no successes. Sure, a lot of sparkling wine was made from Spain to South Africa but none had the magic combination of the three successful elements: unripe grapes grown underground and secondary fermented in bottle.

Champagne had it to itself.

Have you ever looked at a bottle of French Champagne? It will say 'mis en bouteille dans nos caves'.
This is French for '.. made in caves and fermented in this bottle'
The Spanish, unable to replicate the taste and style of Champagne had the cheek to call their concoction 'Cava'. But that's the Spanish for you.

There are caves around the world, don't get me wrong but for various reasons these all proved to be unsuccessful as grape-growing ventures: In China the caves were full of clay warriors; in Spain they were full of dinosaur bones, the sale of which is far more lucrative than making wine; In most parts of Western Europe the caves were used as crypts and were full of religious bones so were a no go area; in Russia - well who knows what goes on over there, certainly not the government.

After several centuries, winemaking came to the newly discovered countries that make up the 'New World' including Australia and New Zealand. These countries make excellent wine, based on variations of the 'Old World' classical grapes.

When it came to making Champagne however, Australia tried but it was too hot on the surface. When they went below surface and investigated cave systems they struck gold - metaphorically speaking. Although. They did actually strike gold. And uranium. And opals. And coal. And iron. And ....etc. They struck pay-dirt in other words and making sparkling wine wasn't featured. Anyway, as far as the Aussies were concerned anything alcoholic with bubbles in it should be a beer shouldn't it (crack a tube, Straya, Straya we luv ya!)

Over to New Zealand.

New Zealand had and has the ideal climate, geography, heat-summations etc. that make up 'terroir' to stick it up, take to, challenge France as a wine making country. The long skinny country we have provides hot to cool wine growing areas that can successfully grow all sorts of varietals that are suited to either warm or cool climates.

But what about Champagne you ask?

Well, New Zealand fortunately is full of holes. There are wonderful limestone (chalk) caves in many parts of the country ideally suited to grape growing and Champagne production. As an added bonus they don't fill up with (unnecessary) water like the German ones do and are not full of dinosaur bones and Christian relics like the European ones.

The production began. And it was good. So good in fact that the frogs French seved injunctions on New Zealand 'Champagne' winemakers prohibiting them from selling the wine labelled as 'Champagne'.

Not to worry. An alternative name, acceptable to the frogs French was Methode Champenoise. Loosely translated this means made in the method of mushrooms. This was OK as everyone knows that the best mushrooms are grown in the dark and this suggested the cave-growing method. All was good.

New Zealand now has a very successful Methode Champenoise industry that is giving Champagne a run for its money. We just need to lift production to be noticed.

The new appelation regions of Waipu, Awakino, Waitomo,  Collingwood, Karamea amongst others are already producing and attracting world-wide attention.

Tourists enjoy combining vineyard visits with black-water caving experiences which is an added money-spinner and a valuable maketing bonus.

Oh, and I should mention. In an environment-friendly world, New Zealand has invested heavily in wine-making sustainability. A serendipidous advantage to making Methode Champenoise in New Zealand caves is that they all have glow worms which means that no electricity is needed for lighting. The savings are tremendous and the carbon footprint greatly reduced.

Glow Worm lighting, Waitomo vineyard

Sunday, September 16, 2012


It is not widely known but Cabernet Sauvignon (pronounced cab er nay soo vee non, or in Kiwi, cab sav) has been grown in New Zealand for many years.

Not always successfully.

Grapes, in order to reach their full potential need terroir suitable to them. Terroir (not to be confused with terror for which there is a war against) is a summation of the effects of soil, climate, geography and viticulture that give the grapes their characteristics.

Cabernet Sauvignon, optimally should be a red grape making a red wine.
Terroir can help in this.

In the early growing days in New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon was grown in and around Auckland. This was because all of the New Zealand wineries and vineyards were based there, owned and operated by Dalmatians.

Not these


Dalmatians had migrated to New Zealand after the Great Exodus in 1865 caused by the Temperance League of Women usurping power in Croatia and driving the winemakers out. Initially converting their farming skills to extracting kauri gum from Northland swamps, they settled in and around Auckland and grew grapes to make wine.
Success came with production of many robust hybrid varietals that with the judicious (and injudicious) addition of water, sugar and alcohol gave passing resemblances to ports and sherries. Experiments with classical varietals though, especially Cabernet Sauvignon were doomed to failure.
The terroir, particularly in the soil make-up wasn't suitable and the white and brown clays imparted no suitable colour to the grapes so Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in Auckland looked like this:

and the resultant Cabernet Sauvignon wine looked like this:

The winemakers knew that there was a problem and needed to find a solution.

By now the old chaps were getting long in the tooth and, having been away from their female counterparts for the best part of three quarters of a century (remember the Great Exodus of 1865) and knew that fresh blood was needed.

Fortunately by now the power of the League of Temperance Women had diminished. Without wine or any forms of alcohol being consumed population levels had fallen dangerously low. The dilemma of this was that with the male population of Croatia and surrounding countries having left for greener pastures and the female population having aged so much, alcohol was definitely needed as an inducement for procreation. This led to the Great Exodus 2 where many of the women belatedly followed in the footsteps of the men from the Great Exodus looking for 'companionship'.

A generation later the new breed of winemakers was ready to follow their fathers' dreams of making the perfect New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon.

They knew that Cabernet Sauvignon was a red grape. They wanted to grow red grapes and make red wine. All results to date were disappointing with white grapes making a muddy looking white wine.
Serendipitously, most of the vineyards not only grew grapes but also grew vegetables to supply the local markets. Beetroot was the answer.

In the 1960's judicious (and injudicious) additions of beetroot juice to fermenting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes resulted in the long sought after red wine. The wine was full bodied, bright red (care had to be taken with spillage on table cloths and white shirts) and, when properly filtered, looked like a good Bordeaux wine.

The only trouble was that it tasted like beetroot.
(an interesting but unrelated fact is that modern Pinot Noir grown in Central Otago smells and tastes like beetroot!)

Something still had to be done.
Terroir was the answer.
Red soil = red grapes surely?
The young winemakers dug around all over Auckland in search of the red soil.
Most was white/brown clay but the more adventurous found pockets in:

The crater of Mount Eden.
The slopes of Rangitoto
The suburb of Ponsonby (although this later proved to be as a result of the old brickworks there).

Vineyards were established and grapes grown with promising results (not the Ponsonby ones) but the logistics of grape harvesting from inside the craters and off the slopes of volcanoes proved to be impossibly difficult.

The experiments were abandoned in the early 1970's.

Once again serendipity came to the rescue.

The late 1960's and early 1970's saw the birth of supermarkets in New Zealand. At first welcomed these fledgling enterprises were seen as progressive. How little they knew. In years to come they would develop into a big and cruel cartel that would rip the heart out of the wine industry.
Anyway, at this time the rise of supermarkets (really mid size grocers) put great demand on the supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. The winemaking/vegetable growing Dalmatians couldn't keep up so bought land and planted in Hawkes Bay.
Some of them experimented in grape growing there and, when ripping the land to plant vines discovered red soil, particularly around the Gimblett Gravels area.

Oh Joy!

Cabernet Sauvignon was planted and the result was:


All was good but - 'plus ca change, plus ce'est la meme chose' (almost).

Many of the Dalmatian wine companies were gobbled up by the first wave of greedy corporates in the 1970's and 80's.

Driven by the need for volume growth the new companies went further afield to plant grapes. There were some failures (we all remember the Great Hukunui Harslevelu Disaster of 1976 and the Gisborne Grenache Glut of 1978) but there were successes too.

One of the new breeds planted grapes in Marlborough, initially to supply that new-fangled creation the wine cask.

This invention (like Pavlova to be disputed between Australia and New Zealand but anecdotal evidence points to a wine cask (not plastic as it hadn't been invented then) with a tap on it being used in parties and celebratory occasions in Gore in 1913) was to revolutionise the wine industry and introduce wine drinking to generations of new drinkers (many unfortunately who have been literally born into this form of wine packaging and who haven't moved on even today).

Experimentation in growing red varietals to fill the lesser (but still significant 37%) red portion of the wine cask market were doomed to failure. The result as I'm sure you won't be surprised at was this:

and this:

Now this:

wasn't really a problem as even as early as the late 1970's the corporate wine producers had realised that consumers drinking wine from cardboard and plastic wine 'casks' weren't very discerning and would drink any old shit as long as it had alcohol in it and they thought that they were being sophisticated but,

it wasn't red.

What to do?

Add beetroot?

No. Beetroot had become fashionable as a salad vegetable and, since the rise in popularity of the hamburger, was a staple ingredient - and had become expensive.

Only one thing to do re the red wine for casks, go back up North to plant in the red soil (or for the lesser scrupulous corporates) in any soil coloured red whether it was from old brickworks, iron foundries or meatworks.

Fine for the wine cask drinkers but - there was a lot of planting of Cabernet sauvignon going on in Marlborough. 

Remember this?:

But, remember serendipity? Or, at least the canniness of the Dalmatian winemakers?

At least one of them had hedged bets and planted vegetables amongst the vines.

No, not beetroot, but garlic, peas, potatoes and, for our history - asparagus.


according to Wikipedia is:

Asparagus officinalis is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial[1] plant species in the genus Asparagus. It was once classified in the lilyfamily, like its Allium cousins, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceaeand asparagus in the AsparagaceaeAsparagus officinalis is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia,[2][3][4] and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop.Asparagus officinalis is a spring vegetable, a flowering perennial[1] plant species in the genus Asparagus. It was once classified in the lilyfamily, like its Allium cousins, onions and garlic, but the Liliaceae have been split and the onion-like plants are now in the family Amaryllidaceaeand asparagus in the AsparagaceaeAsparagus officinalis is native to most of Europe, northern Africa and western Asia,[2][3][4] and is widely cultivated as a vegetable crop. 

Anyway it grew wild and was in danger of taking over the Cabernet Sauvignon plantings (not that anyone cared). 
But then there was the Terrible Marlborough Thunderstorm of 1978 when sheet lightening gave way to vicious thunderbolts that struck the earth with never-seen-before ferocity. 

Somehow, when the lightning struck the vineyards fusion occurred. At harvest time the grapes looked different.

Remember this?

Well now they had :

These grapes looked strange, smelled strange and tasted strange.
Vineyard workers, supplementing their paltry wages ate the grapes and reported that their pee smelled funny.
(Agricultural Workers Union representatives and various Ministry officials checking on this and reported that the 'strange urine smell' was in fact preferable to the normal urine smell that pervaded the workers and public lavatories and took no action)

Remember serendipity?

Well some of the vineyard owners were Dalmatians.

Not these

 and, ever practical people they harvested and made wine out of these strange new grapes.

Once made into wine the result looked like this:

It poured like white wine and looked like white wine but smelled like cats pee and tasted like 
gooseberries and what was worse, when consumed and peed out it smelled like the result of asparagus over-indulgence.


What to do?

So much had been harvested and made into wine it had to be sold.

"Send it to the Pom's" one wit said and it caught on.

It was sent to the UK the country where warm beer, old Champagne and cider was considered acceptable and, who would have thought, they loved it and wanted more.

Pisshead wine critics like Oz Clarke raved about it and major retailers couldn't get enough of it.

More Cabernet Sauvignon X Asparagus was grown, vinified and bottled.

It had to be shipped and marketed. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which camp you were in) the Hawkes Bay producers who had finally cracked the Cabernet Sauvignon problem and were producing a fairly decent style which in years to come would usurp USA and Australian examples and challenge Bordeaux, didn't like this Southern  'pale imitation' and lobbied the emerging NZ Wine Institute to put pressure on them.

After a bloody stoush (The Great Winemakers Battle of 1983) the Marlborough producers admitted that their Cabernet Sauvignon was in fact a white wine and agreed to change the name under which it is marketed.

The result?


which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.

God knows why.

It smells like cat's piss, tatstes like gooseberries and makes your pee smell funny.