Saturday, December 8, 2018


I've written before how in our household we always have one or more bottles of wine open in the fridge. Modern wine, especially New Zealand, Australian and American wines are generally made in non-oxygenated styles and benefit from being opened to the point where we keep wine open for up to a week and it is still pleasant drinking.

This of course means that, red or white, they are kept in the refrigerator, not on a warm kitchen bench.

We're finding that we don't have as many visitors dropping in now, especially since we've relocated to a remote area so the opened wines are more likely to be just one or two variants, not the three or four of the past. In addition we aren't drinking as much as we used to which is I guess just another one of those things that happen as you grow older.

What I would really like is to have a comprehensive selection of half bottles of wine so that wine tasting drinking can be more enjoyable without the commitment to imbibing full bottles of the stuff.

When I first stated in the industry New Zealand and even Australian wine was not as popular and available as it is today and (I'm talking 1970s here) good stuff was very hard to find. The predominance of wine was European and most brands  and styles had offerings in 375ml bottles along with the 750ml ones.

This all changed in the 1990s with supply chain and production  efficiencies driving down costs while increasing volumes and one of the casualties was the disappearance of the 375ml quality wine. Today it's almost impossible to find a chardonnay, pinot noir or indeed any decent varietals in 375ml packaging, the only consistent offerings being sweet white wines, champagne and sparkling wines.

Producers have decided that consumers (or not enough of them) are willing to pay the premium that production of smaller size bottles demands. It's not just the cost of the volume of wine or the tax that makes up the cost (half) as the cost of the bottles, labels, packaging and bottling labour costs are nowhere near half of that of the 750ml variant and in the case of small production runs can be more expensive. Bottling lines are configured for 750ml runs and anything outside of this is a costly hassle.
Furthermore, wine retailing is stacked in favour of big chains whether supermarket or not to a factor of 80:20 and these customers just want to move as much product as quickly as possible so can't be arsed about fiddly other sized packaging. Bugger what the consumer wants.

There have been many wine column's  and wine blog posts written about how half bottles of wine are the 'next big thing' but I challenge anyone to try and find any decent half bottles that are available with continuity of supply. Doing internet searches and trawling in-line retailers offerings is a fruitless endeavour as is going to individual winery websites. I know that Thorndon New world in Wellington has a small selection of half bottles but their website won't show these. I've purchased Te Mata Elston Chardonnay there in a half bottle but Te Mata's own website makes no mention of this.

As soon as I find a supplier, at a reasonable price (and I'm prepared to pay a premium) of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot gris I'll happily buy cases of the stuff. The frustrating things is where.

i'll keep trawling and will update this post should I find any.

Please comment if you know of any.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Christmas and New Year are no longer the events for the bacchanalian bashes that we used to indulge in.

Nowadays we are certainly more circumspect and this year, as I'm being a bit more careful of what I imbibe, I will drink a little less.

This won't mean an adoption of prim sherry drinking though.

No, Her Indoors is in charge of buying the Champagne and, as we are drinking less but of better quality this will a decent vintage or two from Glengarry in Auckland.

I'm leaving this purchase to her as in Whangarei the supermarkets and wine shops hardly ever have decent vintage Champagne for sale and certainly not of the marques we prefer like Roederer, Taittinger, Charles Heidsieck or Pol Roger especially the Rose variants.

If they did it's likely that they will only have shelf stock and none securely stored out the back. This is important when buying Champagne or indeed any sparkling wine and beer as when the product is put on the shelf and exposed to light - especially fluorescent light - the life of the product is severely diminished after a couple of weeks and its freshness and flavour declines. I always ask for a bottle to be taken out of a sealed carton or, if they only have shelf stock, select one that is in an individual bottle box.

When you are spending over $100 for a bottle it's important to ensure you are getting one that's in good condition.

I have some good Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the cellar so we'll be OK there and Her Indoors can select what Pinot Gris she wants to buy (I'm forever buying the wrong ones for her as I don't drink the muck stuff).

I will look out for a decent (and fresh) advocaat and if none is available will buy a bottle of a cream liqueur like Baileys or Carolans.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


  ..... not me, I plan to age disgracefully.

Today, since Her Indoors is in Canada and I'm planning a Saturday night meal on my own, I went to the cellar (the basement under the house) to select a bottle of pinot noir and chose a Main Divide 2015.

While down there and as I'm planning to light the fire later this afternoon I thought that a half bottle of port would go down well. I've still got some half bottles of Warre's Vintage 1983 which need looking at. I uncovered the wooden boxes and the first bottle I laid hands on was a half bottle of Quinta Do Noval 20 Year Old. I was surprised as I'd forgotten that I had this not intending to keep a tawny port for so long - I bought this at least 20 years ago making the wine about 40 years old now - in a half bottle!

Fortunately as a tawny port it has 20% alcohol which is a good guarantee of longevity making me wonder that if I top up my alcohol intake will I last longer as well?

To be honest though I didn't hold out much hope for this wine so opened it early this afternoon to check.

The cork was intact but showing its age and the wine is decidedly mahogany in colour. The nose is stunning. It has a beautiful toffee and creamy caramel character and, surprisingly still smells fresh.
The taste is full and sweet like a date pudding with a bit of smoke. Long and lingering. Impressive!

I won't need to go back to the basement for a bottle of Warre's as this wine will do nicely. A glass of this after dinner will hit the spot. I'll keep it in the fridge during the week for sipping but it will probably fall apart quite quickly. If so, I'll use it in some sort of dessert -  a sponge pudding or something.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


I don't drink much beer but when I do I prefer dark beers or stouts particularly in the winter.

Today, being a cold winter day I opened a bottle of porter -ACE SMOKEY PORTER to be precise while playing Play Station (Tiger Wood's Golf 2005 - the best version of this series).
No doubt Robert will be shocked to know that an OAP like me and a burden on society - particularly as a drain on his taxable earnings - has the effrontery to sit indoors supping luxury beverages and playing silly (and expensive) games.

The porter I bought last week at a local supermarket.

It was in the dump bin where they put drastically reduced deleted items. The normal price for this beer was $9.99! For a beer! The discounted price was $5.99. I bought 4 bottles.

This beer is bloody delightful. It's made by Wigram Brewing Co. in Christchurch. It's smooth, warm (I'm drinking it at the room temperature where I store my wines at the end of the house - at this time of year it's cool) and has lovely chocolate flavours. Yummy and perfect for a cold Saturday afternoon.

I should have bought more and next week I'll visit the supermarket on the off-chance that they still have stock at this value for money price.

Thursday, May 31, 2018


"Hawkes Bay Chardonnay is on special"

In a discussion at the tennis club this morning I explained to a couple of people how I buy my wine.

I was amazed at the lack of understanding of wine quality and value that there is out there and then thought that yes, my industry experience does give me an advantage when purchasing wine.

I mix up my buying process depending, obviously, on the type of wine I wish to buy and the occasion.
For day to day wine I'm looking for the best possible deal (value) but for celebratory wine I'll look for the best quality wine I can find that I can afford (also value).

My shopping channels are:

  • Supermarket
  • On line retailers
  • On-line producers
  • Fine wine stores
In supermarkets I tend to limit my purchasing to wines that I know something about the provenance of - region, style, producer, vintage and have a list in my head that I 'shop' from. I tend to wait until a wine is on special before buying and, if it is on a very deep cut special I'll buy several or even a case.

With on-line retailers I usually stick with The Fine Wine Delivery Company and www.Blackmarketwines. I stick with wine styles, regions and producers I know but these websites provide a lot of information on the wines and sometimes I feel comfortable to experiment. I look for wines with the biggest discount and then research why this might be - failed export order (which is often an overused rort), winery going out of business (this happens), over-production (usually happens) or failing sales (very common particularly if the producer refuses to deal with or has been cut out of supermarkets).

With on-line producers I generally know what I'm looking for and will buy direct from them if I cannot find the wine or vintage I want through retail channels. There is rarely savings to be had here.

I use Fine Wine stores like Glengarry or The Fine Wine Delivery Company (yes they have a couple of tremendous retail stores as well as on-line delivery) for special purchases like a good vintage champagne for a birthday or anniversary, fino sherries that are not sold in supermarkets and special vintages of great wines. Sometimes, especially with Glengarry there are great specials to be had.

When it comes to looking for value I employ different methods with the different channels.
Note: Cleanskin wine (wines sold without a normal label and only the mandatory things like alc/vol, country of origin etc) is a minefield and very rarely offers a bargain - certainly not in value terms anyway. I prefer to know who produced the wine I'm buying. Cleanskin in its initial days (started up in Australia) did provide good deals as producers tried to turn stocks into much needed cash but has since become just another marketing tool with some pretty ordinary wine being offered for sale.

The two main ways I buy the biggest quantity of wine is on super special deals from supermarkets or from on-line retailers.


Simple, I wait for the big wine sales not just the week to week stuff.
An example is with Countdown's 20% off sales for any mixed case of 6 wines. As long as you buy 6 of any mix then a 20% discount is automatically applied at the till. Often I'll buy 2 or 3 cases worth if the deal is good enough. So, how do you get a better deal than the 20%? Simply only buy wines that have already been discounted by the producers with a say $5 off deal. Some wines can be up to $10 off. As long as you buy wines that fit the criteria of style, producer, vintage etc then you cannot go wrong. Sometimes if I don't know much about a particular wine then the old standby of Trophy, Gold Medal or 5 Star review sticker on the bottle is a safe bet.

Note: The Sale of Liquor act makes it illegal for retailers to discount alcohol by over 25%. By buying my wine at the 20% mixed 6 deal on wines that have already been reduced the total discount can be as much as 40% off. This is illegal but I get a damned good deal and will strip the shelves for particular wines. Look at this scenario. A wine has a normal shelf price of $25.95. There is an $8 off deal going as part of an occasional promotion bringing the price down to $17.95. With the additional 20% off the price comes down to $14.36 being 43% discount. Beauty!
As I said I buy most of my volume by waiting for these supermarket special sales.

On-line retailers

I buy a lot of wine by the case (12 or 6 pack cases) and have it delivered to my home. I select wines that I know well or that have great provenance with good reviews. They are always good deals but sometimes even better deals can be had. These are the 'mystery wines'. These are not like cleanskins as they have the full normal packaging but are a mystery to the purchaser as the producer's name is not stated. The on-line retailer promotes the wine as an extra special mystery deal of an outstanding wine at greatly reduced price. The purchaser will see the packaging and label once the case is delivered. Why does the producer sell his wines this way? It is because there is overproduction and something has gone wrong with sales through the normal channels. The producer needs to move stock quickly as he has a bank manager breathing down his neck but doesn't want to upset his current retail and on-premise stockists who are selling the wine at the normal price. Using the 'mystery' approach hides this. The deals I look for are for wines that are 'normally $40" and are sold as a mystery for say $15 to $20 a bottle.

So, how do I know what I'm getting. I generally limit my buying to chardonnay or pinot noir. Chardonnay only from Hawkes Bay or Gisborne and pinot noir from Waipara, Central Otago or Martinborough as first choice (before Marlborough). The wines will be described by the on-line retailer even though the name of the wine is hidden. The description might be of a celebrated producer with a trophy winning wine and some detail of how the wine tastes along with a glowing review by a good wine writer. It is here when I cut and paste a few select words from this review and do a Google search. Often the exact wine will come up in the search list so that I can check it out against other reviews and prove whether the 'usual' price as stated is correct. I have bought some absolute bargains doing this and haven't been disappointed.

I hope that this is helpful and happy hunting.