Wednesday, March 20, 2013

DRC - R.I.P.

Well it's dead to me anyway.

Don't get me wrong. If you offered me a glass of Domaine Romanee Conti you'd be in danger of losing your arm.

I love Burgundy and have done for many years but it's just got so expensive I can't afford to buy good ones anymore. I drink a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir, in fact it is almost the only red wine I drink nowadays but it's not the same as the sinuous, silky and lengthy Burgundies I've drunk.

Burgundies have always been expensive. This is because it is a relatively small delimited area with some producers making only a few hundred cases of wine, not the thousands and hundreds of thousands made by producers in larger areas.

There was a point where Burgundy, while still affordable, wasn't representing good value for money. This was in the late '70's when after a few generations of intensive fertilisation and 'over-farming' the crops were too large and the soil was being stretched. This was remedied a couple of decades later but just when quality came up to match and in some cases exceed the price, disaster happened.

It wasn't the Americans this time. They'd 'discovered' Bordeaux wines in the 1980's and first pushed the price of the top wines through the roof, only later to be followed by the Chinese.

No, it was the Chinese with Hong Kong buyers playing paying monopoly money for  good Burgundy. Often it wasn't for the intrinsic quality of the wine but for its stataus and rarity.

This week there was news of Henry Tang (Hong Kong billionaire who wanted to be Hong Kong Chief Executive)'s Burgundy collection fetching over USD 6 million at auction. Now, even though a few of the lots have been under suspicion as being possible fakes, this will undoubtedly set new record prices for Burgundy in Hong Kong and mainland China.

Probably in the future the only chance I'll have of drinking or even tasting Domaine Romanee Conti again is to sell up the house and all of our possessions and spend the proceeds on DRC and other top burgundies while living rough on Queen Street.

Friday, March 15, 2013


I haven't done this for a while (lucky readers) but this evening opened a bottle of wine and put on some music that just matched perfectly so I thought I'd share it.

The wine: Selaks Winemakers Favourite Chardonnay 2011.

The music: Patti Smith Group Radio Ethiopia.

Hello.................hello....................... hello...........................

Anybody there?

OK, who cares if you are or not. I'm enjoying both.

Radio Ethiopia was a 1976 collaboration between these two:

Ivan Kral and Patti Smith

It was the follow-up album to the outstanding 1975 Horses which radically changed my choice of pop/rock music from British R&B and US West Coast to something edgier.

Smith's reading sort of matched my own with her references to poets and writers like Rimbaud, Proust  and Verlaine ( I didn't connect with the American beat poets though like Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg - I thought they were tossers).

Outstanding tracks from this album (to me) are 'Aint it strange', 'Poppies' and 'Pissing in a river'
........ which brings me to the wine ( as I've consumed half of the bottle so ...excuse me for a moment ..................

Selaks Winemakers Favourite 2011 Chardonnay:

is an edgy, well structured and thoroughly thought-out wine. It has great commercial appeal as proven by the fact that supermarkets are brave enough to stock it and promote it even though it is of high quality (they still beat the supplier down on price and promotional support though which is similar to Radio Ethiopia. Stupid critics of the time tried to pan the album as a "sell-ot to commercialism"these idiots were subsequently proven wrong).

This is a classic Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with peach and tropical fruit flavours (from both grapes and yeasts used) and that Hawkes Bay 'edginess' (sorry, I can't explain what that is - listen to Patti Smith and you'll see what I mean). The clever use of oak and retained acidity really stretches the wine out and leaves you feeling refreshed and wanting more.

Patti Smith Group's Radio Ethiopa's signature tune 'Radio Ethiopia' has been criticised as being overdone, overlong and self indulgent with a cacophony of guitars and drums. That may well be but one man's poison etc.

Selaks Winemakers Favourite 2011 Chardonnay's winemaker Brett Fullerton is certainly not overdone, overlong and self indulgent . He is one of this country's best winemakers and is quiet, unassuming and dedicated. He is one of life's heroes having experienced more than his share of tribulations but has just got on with it and rewarded us with great wines.

The connection? Both Smith and Fullerton are craftsmen and artists. You don't produce outstanding art without a proper grounding in the basics of the craft (like Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Colin McCahon or Ralph Hotere). Do the apprenticeship and results follow. For me. I look forward to Smith's new releases and, as she has matured and changed, she still delivers. I have followed Fullerton's art and craft as well and enjoy what he delivers.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


I heard today that Henri Krug has died. He will be missed as one of the champions of that wonderful Champagne brand Krug. With his brother Remy he nurtured and improved it to be what it is today - a statement of the best that Champagne can offer.

I was lucky enough to market Krug in New Zealand a few years back and launch a couple of Henri's line extensions, the Krug Rose and Clos de Mesnil. Needless to say I consumed enough Krug Grande Cuvee NV, Krug vintage, Krug Rose and Clos de Mesnil to last a lifetime.

I was also lucky to visit Krug cellars in Champagne and to see first hand the winemaking process. I still remember the smell of the Chardonnay undergoing barrel ferment in small oak barrels. It was raspberries. A beautiful scent of raspberries (and other fruits) that I can still recall.

I really love Krug as a Champagne -style but sadly cannot afford to buy it now. The Grande Cuvee NV is about $300 a bottle and Clos de Mesnil a whopping $1500 a bottle.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


The German wine industry came back strongly over the last 10 years following a 'perfect storm' which seriously eroded their market share around the world.

First the scandals that destroyed the Austrian wine industry (Di-ethylene glycol used to increase must-weight) had connections with some German producers.

Second European air pollution, Chernobyl fall-out and the polluted Rhine and other rivers seriously compromised quality and acceptance of German wines.

Thirdly the world moved on from Liebfraumilch and the previously powerful brands like Blue Nun, Black Tower, Deinhards Green Label took a dive. To be fair the same thing happened to hybrid and Muller Thurgau brands in New Zealand like White Cloud and the 'Rieslings' and 'Moselles' from Australia but New Zealand, Australia, USA, South Africa and other countries had switched to and successfully marketed other varieties (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris etc) so the impact wasn't as great.

From the 90's on though, German Rieslings have come back with quality and seriousness making them not only truly great buys on quality but great buys on value (comparative to price movements of top wines from other countries. A German Riesling cannot beat the quality:value ratio of a New Zealand Riesling.)

Now Germany is producing top Pinot Noir and setting their sights to challenge France, USA and New Zealand.

"First der frogs und zen der kiwis "

In a recent comparative tasting in the UK with British trade professionals doing the tasting seven German Pinot Noirs made the top 10 (out of over 300 wines from all the serious Pinot Noir producing countries. The top 2 positions were from Oregon and the number 8 position went to New Zealand's Felton Road Block 5 2009. Now tastings like this can always be a bit dodgy and are 'on the day' depending on what wines were submitted to make the comparison but 7 out of 10 is significant.

We are warned!

Sunday, March 10, 2013


We probably all taste things the same, apart from effects of medication, injury, illness or complicating external factors but our interpretation of what we are tasting varies.

I love chardonnay. By far it is my favourite wine varietal and has been for most of my adult life. This doesn't mean that I don't drink and appreciate other varietals and wine styles - I have made my entire career in wine after all - but chardonnay is my favourite followed by pinot noir ( and that usually happens).

I love Marlborough. My father was born there to an old-established family which had owned significant chunks of the region for generations. Some of my fondest memories are of helping out on family farms during my school holidays. I love and am proud of the development of Marlborough as a wine region and feel that in my small way I have helped in this. Marlborough has done more for New Zealand as a significant wine producing country than any other region. Bar none. No argument.

But, I hate Marlborough chardonnay. This isn't a new thing, I have always disliked it as an aberration.

Chardonnay, although growing best in cool climates still needs warmer growing conditions than sauvignon blanc. Chardonnay grows best on clay or limestone soils whereas sauvignon blanc prefers stony soils. Cooler conditions and stony soils give more minerality and herbacioussness to the grapes. Both together provide a perfect storm more suited to sauvignon blanc than chardonnay. Chardonnay grown in clay or limestone in cooler conditions gives a chablis style wine. Chardonnay grown in warmer conditions on gravel or stony soils gives a lean and finely structured wine. If you have a vineyard in a cooler area with stony, gravel soils - plant sauvignon blanc.

Horses for courses

Marlborough provides plenty of sunshine, adequate heat summation, dry growing and harvesting periods and a clean and relatively disease free environment.
It also has a very dominant maritime influence and very cool night-time temperatures making frost a risk.
This happens to be ideal conditions for sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, riesling and even that godawful pinot gris but it is not ideal for chardonnay.

For me, the best New Zealand growing area for chardonnay is in the North Island. Apart from the occasional lovely Martinborough ones the most southerly region to produce excellent chardonnay is Hawkes Bay. Gisborne, further north used to tout itself as 'the chardonnay capital of New Zealand' but recent unfavourable climactic conditions and resultant corporate jitters means that much of what was once great has disappeared and resurfaced in Hawkes Bay.
Further north Auckland, a now extremely small viticultural area can produce excellent chardonnay (Kumeu and Waiheke Island) and Mangawai in Northland shows promise.

So why do I hate Marlborough chardonnay?
It is too acid.
It has a grapefruit-skin character that tends to make it bitter.
It is generally overworked as winemakers try to compensate for the inherent deficiencies with clever winemaking techniques and use of oak.

Now, Marlborough chardonnay producers, don't get upset. As I said in the beginning, tasting is personal. It could well be that when I taste Marlborough chardonnay there is something in my bodily system that reacts unfavourably to it. I do know that as I take a mild form of statin for cholesterol reduction, my doctor has advised against consuming grapefruit juice. This could in some way accentuate the grapefruit/bitter characteristics of the wine.