Tuesday, September 10, 2019

ALL IN THE FAMILY

Thanks to the excellent Countdown 20% off sale I was able to buy some Te Mata Estate chardonnay 2017 and Te Mata Elston chardonnay 2017 that were both on special with the extra 20% discount on top making them great value for money. The 20 % extra discount is applicable for purchases of 6 or more mixed bottles of any wines so I bought a few for the cellar and put a bottle of each in the fridge.

I took advantage of the opportunity of having both the 'big brother' and the 'little brother' from the same vintage available and opened one of each at the same time.



The Estate wine is quite fragrant with really nice melon and stone-fruit characters and a little bit of nuttiness.
The taste is bright and refreshing but still with some weight to it. There is a creaminess in the mouth which becomes more obvious the longer the wine is open (I kept it in the fridge and tasted over three days).
This is a great wine and I'll be looking out for deals in the future. The double discounted price brought it down to about $16 a bottle.








'Big brother' Elston was tighter on the nose initially with a mineral character that the Estate didn't have - the Estate being more fruity. There are the same stone-fruit characters but a bit more nuttiness along with honey and fresh bread (like a Blanc de Blanc Champagne).
The taste is more oaky but finishes fresh. The acidity will drop over time and the bigger fruit will be there longer. This looks like it will round out to a sumptuous chardonnay. I'd better get some more.





Having these side by side was interesting . The colours are different with the Elston being a bit more golden.
The Estate wine is lighter on the nose and fruitier with the Elston being denser, showing more wood and malolactic character with a whiff of something else - perhaps complexity from being sealed with a cork instead of screw-cap.
There is definitely a 'family resemblance'. Well done to Te Mata for consistency and faithfullness to terroir.


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I like trying different wines from the same stable side by side. Often the lesser wine is of a more recent vintage than the bigger wine but these two are from the same 2017 vintage. With other good producers the top wine is usually a lot more expensive. With Te Mata they've kept the price of Elston down to a reasonable level given its quality.

I've got some Sacred Hill in the cellar - Rifleman's and The Wine Thief chardonnays but the Rifleman's is 2016 vintage and The Wine Thief is 2017 so the side by side comparison won't be as exact. Rifleman's also is a helluva a lot more expensive that The Wine Thief so ready comparisons are fewer and further in between.







Monday, September 9, 2019

THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE

I'm still on the hunt for half bottles of wine but I'm not really having much luck. The only offerings tend to be sweet wines which I very rarely drink or prosecco-like sparklings which are crap.
Glengarry has a Champagne Moutard at $24 for a 375ml bottle which I might give a try but I really want good chardonnay and pinot noir.

Villa Maria to give them credit do a range of the Private Bin in 375ml which is available in supermarkets but I'm looking for higher quality wines.

Years ago many brands carried 375 ml variants (and bigger formats) of their best wines but this fell away when bigger production volumes demanded greater efficiencies and reduced costs and price points. 375 mls fell out of favour with stockists who presupposed that the consumer didn't want to pay more than half price for a half bottle of wine. In a way they were right given that 750ml bottles are so often on special so the price difference between the two sizes has become greater but they have misread the possible demand through convenience of the smaller format.
The economies are easy to work out. While there is only half the cost of the wine and the excise in the bottle the cost of the bottle, the label and the carton of the 375ml might actually be higher than the cost of the 750ml bottle, the label and the carton due to smaller production runs.

I've written about this before HERE and HERE.

750ml bottles with screw-caps (the format that I buy wine in 95% of the time) are convenient and keep in the fridge opened for up to a week but often I don't want to go through a whole bottle of the same wine day after day and it'd be nice to have the choice with smaller bottles. When it is the two of us a 375ml bottle of pinot noir say provides a nice generous glass for each of us.

Thorndon New World in Wellington used to stock a neat little range of quality half bottles including Te Mata Elston chardonnay. I'll be spending a bit of time in Wellington next year so hopefully they still will be doing this.

In New Zealand and I guess in most countries around the world wine purchasing is being done in supermarkets and bigger producers with greater volume efficiencies and economies of scale dominate. These producers through selling greater volumes have bigger advertising and promotional funds to ensure that they stay on the shelves. Smaller producers are forever getting squeezed and are casualties of ranging wars.

Smaller producers though, if they want to establish points of difference could do themselves a favour by producing ranges of half bottles these being of the same quality rating as their standard bottles i.e. not some cheaper crap wine. Being small these producers won't have the huge economies of scale in production of their main lines so a sub-set of 375 ml ranges might not necessarily be too much different in pro rata pricing. They will of course be more than half the price of the 750ml wine but shouldn't be say twice the price or more.

I hope that some of these guys will wake up to the opportunity.


Sunday, September 8, 2019

EMPIRICAL KNOWLEDGE

I'm no longer working in the wine industry after a lifetime in sales, marketing and management in the international wine and spirit business.
My day to day job, in addition to my interest in wines provided me with up to date information on wine styles, trends and 'best buys' - a kind of finger on the pulse if you were.

I buy my wine nowadays from on-line sellers and when supermarkets have deep-cut specials. Generally I stick with styles, brands and wines that I have experience with and a knowledge of their history. If there is a wine that I don't know I often do a little bit of research on it before committing to buy any volume - normally a 6 or 12 bottle case.

Sometimes (rarely) I call in to a good retailer to browse the shelves and to seek out something new. In these instances I don't have immediate access to information and have to rely on a knowledgeable shop assistant. Last year when doing this I bought a selection of wines including a bottle of Nelson Pinot Noir - GREENHOUGH 2016.



The shop assistant recommended this wine after I mentioned that with New Zealand pinot noir my first preference for region is Waipara followed by Martinborough and then Central Otago with Marlborough being fourth. He recommended this Nelson wine "as having the best characteristics of the other regions". In my working career I was familiar with the wines of Nelson having travelled there a lot, bought wines in bulk and marketed some. In recent times though I've fallen out of touch with them and so had no immediate experience other than a glass or two of the excellent Neudorf pinots in wine bars or restaurants. I accepted the shop assistants recommendation and bought a bottle for I think just under $30. It sat in the cellar until we opened it and tried it yesterday.


The wine company has this to say about the wine:

Attractively aromatic. Summer berry-fruits, citrusy, floral notes and a lightly spiced, herbal fragrance. Suggestive of the outdoors. Earth, mushroom notes evolve as the wine opens in the glass. The palate is vibrant and brightly red-fruited with a light spicy savouriness and supple structure of well-bound tannins. There is a depth in the exotic guava and quince which have a secondary, preserve-like richness. A refreshing plum-skin tanginess and chalky, minerality balance these ripper flavours.
The retailer said this:
Impressively structured, the fruit washes over the palate in layers, moving from initial blackberry and dark plum, to slightly brighter strawberry and rose petal characters. All the while, the toasty oak and savouriness holds everything all together. A complex wine that offers unheard of value for money, this is Pinot Noir that any enthusiast should be looking to get their hands on.

Well, our finding was that while some of the words that both the producer and the retailer used to describe the wine fit, not all of them in combination do.
We agree on words like:

  • lightly spiced
  • Earth, mushroom notes
  •  savouriness (both used this)
Words that we totally disagreed with - actually most of them but here a few highlights:

  • Attractively aromatic
  • The palate is vibrant
  • 'ripper' flavours
  • Impressively structured
  • Complex wine
  • Unheard of value for money
The wine is light, dry and savoury (meaning that the fruit has somehow been leeched out) and there us no real substance to it. My feeling is that it could do with having a 2018 vintage cheap red added to it to give it a bit of a kick. I'm glad that I only bought one bottle.

Intrigued to see if any one else felt this way I did an internet search on Greenhough Pinot Noir 2016 
and, amongst other retailers' glowing accolades found a couple of consumer comments on the VIVINO site. https://www.vivino.com/greenhough-pinot-noir/w/1319204?year=2016

"Pinot Noir. A simple quote lightly weighted Pinot. Red fruited, fresh and delicate. A luncheon weight wine that would probably do the job of a rose only better".

"The fresh red cherries and some crushed thyme on the nose is the best thing about it. Very light in style, it soon falls apart in the mouth and doesn’t quite live up to it’s scented promise. There is another kick of peppery spice on the finish that brings it around a little and it does have good acidity. Maybe letting this one rest a little longer will do it some justice, but it’s not for long-term in the cellar".

Yes, I agree with these.

This confirms my belief that it's a case of caveat emptor out there and it doesn't often pay to listen to a retailer or to read winewriter reviews - particularly those endorsed by the retailer selling the wine or the producer promoting it. Good old reliable wine competition accolades are a better bet. The best? Trying it yourself. Empirical knowledge.






Saturday, September 7, 2019

VANITY LABELS



A lot of them do it and, in the past it made sense when customers called in to wineries to buy wine or most of the wine was sold through specialist wholesalers and retailers. The best wine was kept as a 'reserve' range and the very best, in small quantities  was labelled under a name special to the owner - themselves, their wives or husbands, their children or their pets.

When good producers had a strong following and most if not all of the wine company's stocks were sold out in a year an 'ultra premium' label, priced at two, three or four times the normal range was still able to be sold out and was often sought after.

That situation has changed. The change has been brought about over time by many factors including:

  • massive increase in worldwide wine production
  • the democratisation of global wine
  • supermarket selling of wine
  • demystification of wine regions, wine styles and wine labels
At the very top, prestige labels will always be in demand not only from well-heeled imbibers and collectors but from investors who want to buy and on-sell at auctions where a pretty penny can still be made on the rarer offerings.

At the middle and bottom though, most wine is sold on promotion, on special or at quit prices.  There is no room for expensive prestige labels. Even the excellent Villa Maria Black Label range is a slow mover. This label was initially created as a 'show pony' where the very best wine was made to garner medals and trophies in wine shows and competitions which was and is a very successful marketing strategy for the company. Initially these wines were made in tiny quantities, sometimes less than a hundred cases so there was never any problem in moving them along. They were sought after and sold quickly. As popularity grew so did the volume and that's when things stalled a bit. The high inputs required to consistently make trophy winning quality wine leads to high costs and sell prices for which there is a very limited market. The previously scarce Black Label wines became available in supermarkets, on on-line sites and on special. Villa Maria created the Gold Selection range of wines to move along volumes of the higher quality wine without compromising the price position of the Black Label range but even that range has been deep-cut discounted so a new range, the Platinum Selection has been introduced to do the job of the Gold Selection range but at a higher price. Now I'm seeing great deals on the Platinum Selection range. The other day I bought a lot at Countdown at basically  more than $8 a bottle off (over 30% saving) on the chardonnay, pinot gris and rose because they were specialled down to $20 a bottle from the previous shelf price of $25 and then subject to the 20% discount for purchases of 6 or more (mixed) bottles bringing the price down to $16. I'm happy and just hope that Villa Maria can sustain this without a drop in wine quality.

Anyway, Villa Maria is a big company and I guess know what they are doing. The ones who don't know what they are doing though are the small producers making OK sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay who grow their business in the 'premium' area approximately $ 12 to $20 in NZ and pro-rata internationally.  Sales grow and so does their ego. A 'super-premium' range is usually added and can do reasonably well as long as volumes are kept low. This can then lead to a 'rush of blood to the head' and a 'luxury' label is created - the one that carries the owner's name or partner or pet. These wines, expensively made can be the ones that sit in warehouses and, if sold through the wholesale system to retail, gather dust on shelves. For the canny buyer they can be an excellent buy when the producer, wholesaler or retailer decides to pull the plug and special off at a quit price. A bit of knowledge of its pedigree and storage history is essential though. Personally I'll trust Villa Maria's Platinum Selection or the Black Label when on special at the supermarket.




Saturday, June 1, 2019

SPIRITUS SANCTI

I had a flashback this morning. I suddenly thought of Liqueur Cream Scotch whisky.


I hadn't thought of this brand for many years but this was a Proustian 'madeleine' memory that took me back years.

In the 1970s, while at university, I worked in a Wellington wine and spirit wholesaler. It was named Murray Robert's & Company and was owned by Levin and Company - subsequently to become Wrightsons. This was an old school type of establishment  where customers would line up at the counter for shop assistants to fetch their beers and spirits for them from the tall shelves behind the counter. Wines were on wine racks at each end of the shop and customers could browse and make their selections but there were no supermarket trolleys to fill and generally, helping yourself was frowned upon.

"What's he doing down there?"

The business was located in Adelaide Road and was in a three storey building. On the bottom level was the retail store and warehouse. The first floor held offices and shop stock. The top level was a bond store. In the warehouse area was a barrel store where we used to to fill customer's wicker covered ceramic 5 gallon jars with whisky, bourbon, rum or brandy from big, duty paid barrels.
One of the whiskies was Saccone & Speed Liqueur Cream which was an agency brand of Levin and Co. The Bourbon was Early Times, the brandy Gilsons and the rum Lemon Hart. Every wholesaler had their own agency brands and believed that their won ones were best so customers coming in to our store were poo poohed if they asked for Johnny Walker, Captain Morgan, Chatelle or Jim Beam. In fact, we only had token amounts of major competing brands on our shelves and often were kept under the counter.

Liqueur Cream seemed to have a bit of a mystique to it. For a start the name suggested a scotch that was fuller, sweeter and richer than others and the label had a wonderful 'by appointment to' crest.
Saccone and Speed was a supplier to Britain's armed forces had a great tradition:

The Saccone & Speed (Gibraltar) Group of Companies can trace its roots to 1839, when James Speed started trading in Gibraltar as a wine merchant. Nearly a decade later, by 1850 Jerome Saccone had also established his own wines and spirits business. They competed with each other for the remainder of the century, and by 1908 the two rivals merged and incorporated in England as Jerome Saccone & James Speed & Co. Limited. In 1912 they changed the company name to Saccone & Speed Limited and when the Gibraltar Companies Ordinance permitted, they also incorporated Saccone & Speed Limited in Gibraltar in 1949.
From the very earliest days, the company's main commercial activities were the supply of beer, wines, spirits and tobacco principally to the Royal Navy and the large contingent of military personnel based on the Rock. The relationship with the Royal Navy led the company to open branches at naval ports and major Royal Naval bases in the Mediterranean as well as branches in Africa & the Far East. Saccone & Speed became a major supplier to the Diplomatic Corps in various countries, a role it played until the 1970's.
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In the 1980s I was brand manager for Allied Liquor Merchants whisky brands (among others) and Saccone & Speed Liqueur Cream was one of them. We imported in bulk from Scotland and bottled at or bottling facility in Christchurch. It wasn't a big brand but had a loyal following by select consumers and a history of stocking by some good traditional retailers. This was at a time when wine and sprit merchants were still in ascendancy, supermarkets didn't sell wine or beer, wine shops scarcely existed and there certainly wasn't the plethora of small local (and crappy) liquor stores in every suburb. Successive changes to the Sale of Liquor laws would soon make a change to that. I oversaw bulk ordering and production and managed the brand with a small advertising budget.

There was a small sub-distributor of Liqueur Cream based in Dunedin. It was Meenan's Wines and Spirits owned at the time by Herman Eckhoff. Although small this business dominated the Dunedin and Otago market as a result of the power that independent wholesalers had during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Saccone & Speed (S&S) had allowed Meenan's to import their own bulk Liqueur Cream whisky and to bottle it themselves but Allied Liquor Merchants (ALM) received a commission from S & S. In 1985 this was to change as S & S wanted to consolidate the business with one importer only - ALM. S & S's export director came to visit and he and I travelled to Dunedin to give Herman Eckhoff the news. I remember the director being nervous as Eckhoff had a fierce reputation. As expected the meeting went poorly and Eckhoff ordered us out - not only from his store but from Dunedin itself. It was funny and  like being run out of town by the town sheriff in an old Western.


Well, we left and subsequently took over all of the distribution but I think that S & S did a patch up deal with Meenans.

The brand ticked along for a while but then we acquired bigger brands like Teachers and Johnny Walker so Liqueur Cream was eventually phased out.


Tempora mutantur.



Saturday, May 25, 2019

CALIFORNIA RUSH

A few years ago Her Indoors and I lived in Canada for a year or two and while there developed a taste for American - Californian to be exact - chardonnay.
I've always been an advocate for New Zealand Chardonnay from the East Coast - Gisborne and Hawkes Bay and some rare exceptions of other NZ wine regions but, having worked for an international wine company and marketed lots of brands from other countries have had great experiences with outstanding chardonnay from Australia, France and of course USA.

I would taste these wines as part of my job and, using the wine allowance I had purchase the best of them. Some great chardonnays that I've enjoyed include: Taylors St Andrews, Leeuwin Estate Art Series, Hardy's Eileen Hardy, Penfolds Bin 14A, Mondavi Reserve and various Meursaults and Montrachets from Burgundy.

I didn't buy other American chardonnays in New Zealand however as, due to the cost and unfamiliarity there weren't a lot to be found on shelves. It was a treat living in Canada and seeing a fairly wide range of 'affordable' Californian chardonnays that we were able to experiment with that the taste profile has been ingrained in us.

Back in NZ the choice hasn't been as great but we buy a lot of our wines from on-line sellers like Advintage, Fine Wine Delivery Company and Blackmarket and there have, over recent years been some good offerings with deals on case loads. We've purchased various Robert Mondavi brands, Chalk Hill, Matchbook, Gnarly Head, Pacificana and others and have enjoyed them all.

Her Indoors is more of a fan than me, liking the rich and luscious characters. I guess as she likes Pinot Gris (I don't touch the muck) the flavour profile is more familiar with the unctuous tones.
Oaked Californian chardonnays are rich and full-bodied with very prominent buttery, vanillin and even caramel characters. The best will have nice stone-fruit, tropical fruit or citrus flavours beneath this.  I still cling to my love of Hawkes Bay chardonnay with lots of citrus and stone-fruit flavours and, if nicely (and expensively) oaked tend to have a French-like character. Sometimes, if the wine I've bought is a bit too lean I'll improve it by adding a dollop of an American chardonnay that Her Indoors might have opened.

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Our most recent Californian chardonnay purchase is Sebastiani North Coast 2017.
Her Indoors buys this by the glass whenever we dine at the excellent The Quay at the Basin in Whangarei and asked me to track down and buy some for her. I did and found it at Fine Wine Delivery Company and had a case delivered. We had a bottle last night and it didn't disappoint. The wine has lovely tropical and peachy fruit flavours under rich and creamy oak characters showing barrel fermentation.
This is great drinking at about $19 a bottle.
As we had a visitor staying I just had a small glass of it, leaving the rest to Her Indoors and the visitor but I did top up and improve the Giesen Hawkes Bay chardonnay I was drinking with a generous splash of it.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

TRANSITION*

Villa Maria has released a new range of wines that are well worth checking out. It's the PLATINUM SELECTION range which sits in price and quality between the current gold label CELLAR SELECTION and black label RESERVE  ranges.



At first I wondered why they were doing this as they already have a quality mid-priced range in the CELLAR SELECTION range which has some lovely and affordable wines.

The likelihood is that the gold label range will be discontinued or permanently reduced in price as supermarket loss-leaders. I gave it some thought and it occurred to me that Villa Maria, like many other New Zealand and overseas producers have a surfeit of top quality wine that, because of the expensive inputs is out of the price range of many and successive vintages sit in the warehouse unsold. Winemakers are faced with the decision of discounting their top labels or using the wine in cleanskin or lesser priced labels. I wrote about this before. See HERE and HERE


Instead of discounting the excellent Black Label range, Villa Maria has also chosen not to push too much of the top quality wine down to the Cellar Selection range which is increasingly discounted in supermarkets to the 'low teens' price and have created the 'buffer' range Platinum Selection. This was originally set at $24 a bottle (higher for the pinot noir) but I've bought the chardonnay, rose and pinot gris at less than $20 and the pinot noir at about $22. I bought the pinot gris for Her Indoors and haven't bought the sauvignon blanc because neither of us drink the stuff.

I was very impressed with the chardonnay which clearly shows some of the Keltern Vineyard character of the Black Label single-vineyard chardonnay.


It has great Hawkes Bay chardonnay character and has been handled expensively and well with good wood vanilla and spice showing followed by  nice creaminess. I like this wine.



Her Indoors reported that the pinot gris was fruity reminiscent of pears and peach and spicy with good weight. It was much richer than a lot of other pinot gris she's drunk recently.

I tried the Marlborough Rose and was gob-smacked. This is one of the country's best roses. It is fresh and delicious with some decent weight underneath. The aroma of plum and strawberry follows through to a palate of nice light red fruits. The wine is 2018 and will carry over to 2020 drinking with no problem or loss of flavour.

We haven't tried the pinot noir yet but are looking forward to it especially as it's likely to have same and similar fruit as the Black Label Marlborough pinot noir in it.






* Platinum is known as a transition metal which is quite apt for this range of Villa Maria wines being  evolution from one form, stage, or style to another.

Monday, February 18, 2019

CLEANSKINS (3)




A daft old guy I know has been banging on about cleanskin wines and how he has evidence that I've been drinking them. 

SEE  HERE

I think that it stems from feelings of guilt because that's how he buys his wines nowadays - bottles with no labels on them. I guess though that this drinking habit is marginally better than what it could deteriorate to.



I've written about Cleanskins before so you can read up here instead of wasting time on the internet (or Richard's Bass Bag):




The first 'cleanskin' I remember drinking was an accidental one. It was at Murray Roberts in the early 1970s when with the entire shipment of an outstanding wine - Brown Brothers Lexia - all the labels started to fall off due to insufficient glue. We of course gave this a bit of a helping hand so that we had lots of bottles with no labels on and of course had to drink them as they couldn't be sold.


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But let's get back to the current problem with cleanskins providers duping consumers with cheap and nasty product.

"For too long you've ignored what's been happening around you."
"I want to find whoever is responsible and to stop them will do whatever is necessary."
"I'm going to find everyone of them".
           "I suggest that you pay attention to what I say."

          "Our job is to do what's right".


........... to be continued.