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.