Thursday, January 17, 2013


There was a time, not too long ago, when buying cheaper and lesser rated Bordeaux wine, it was expected that there would be faults.

The classic 'French stink' was de rigeur and in wine tasting competitions a Merlot or Cabernet based wine could be identified as being French and not American, Australian or from New Zealand because of this.

The French used to say that it was terroir (the unique character of place, tradition and climate) that gave the wine individuality. In reality it was due to poor winery hygiene, outdated winemaking practices and the use of old and unclean equipment. Brettanymyces, high volatile acidity, bad sulphides etc. gave the characteristic stink.

Today, thanks to education, an international wine market and sharing of ideas between the 'old world' of wine and the 'new world' of wine the dirty old wines are a thing of the past, especially in Bordeaux (for anything put in a bottle with a proper label) although other 'country' French wines can still be suspect.

I was pleasantly surprised this Christmas in buying via the web a mixed case of Bordeaux wines from 2009 and 2010 vintage. The wines are clean, full-bodied and showing true varietal characteristics - some Cabernet dominant and some Merlot dominant. The flavours are outstanding for the price (about $12 a bottle) and the wines are robust enough to stand cellaring for a couple of years.

I'm a great supporter of New Zealand wines and love what's happening in Hawkes Bay and Waiheke with the 'Bordeaux varietal' wines but due to production economies of scale and a low volume market these are hellishly expensive to get a good, well-balanced wine from well-ripened grapes. Certainly there is nothing to be had at the sub-$20 level to match these French wines.

The poor old French have had a bad rap over the last few years with the growth of 'new world' wines but its nice too see that someone is taking steps to bring in some quality and good value offerings. Long may it last.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


First the rappers polluted the luxury Champagne market. Now it seems Riesling is in the gun.

Look at this rubbish. I guess the German wine market is desperate for new business.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I had to laugh reading Bill Ralston's column in the latest Listener. He relates how a neighbour dismisses Pinot Gris as 'cougar juice' for older ladies on the prowl.

Pinot Gris doesn't do it for me. It's Her Indoors favourite tipple and I enjoyed telling her of the 'older ladies on the prowl' jibe.

Years ago I did drink Pinot Gris. This was back in the days when white wine offerings from both Australia and New Zealand were a bit ordinary. Chardonnay was hardly planted, Riesling was scarce, Sauvignon Blanc hadn't been 'invented' and most whites were from hybrid or cloned varietals.

I drank some interesting Alsace Pinot Gris known as Tokay (when good Riesling or Gewurztraminer couldn't be found) and even Hungarian Pinot Gris known as Szurkeberat. I tended to steer clear of German variants known as Rulander as there was always good German Riesling to be had.

Pinot Gris is an ancient varietal first recognized in Burgundy would you believe although they had the good sense to chuck it in favour of Chardonnay years ago. It made its way North and East sponsored by that old nancy boy and fraudster Charles IV. He drank a bit (but who wouldn't if your wife's name was Blanche) and took Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir to the even colder climes. Pinot Noir wasn't successful but Pinot Gris took off like a weed.

In the 1980's when we started to see some better Pinot Gris in New Zealand I used to buy Dry River's version from Martinborough. It was rich and spicy and drank and kept well. In later days I have found this too viscous and cloying and don't drink it even when offered a glass.

There is a surfeit (to me) of Pinot Gris in New Zealand, mostly bland innocuous stuff. There doesn't seem to be any consistent styles with some producers varying the alcohol and sugar levels each year (although the same could be said of Riesling).

There are some better ones emerging now that have a better acid and mineral structure sort of like a good Riesling ......... but, why not just buy and drink Riesling, New Zealand's best and most underrated white wine.

 Lean, sinuous, flinty, rich refreshing and satisfying. Better with a bit of age........ sort of like a cougar.