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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings.  One day I'll update it to proper blogger software but right now I haven't the time to research which blogging software is best, nor do I have the time to teach myself how to use it.  I'll stick to archaic html to record my daily events.  It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.

You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.

If you want to make a comment, drop an email to and, if appropriate, I'll post it in the appropriate place.

Archive: January 18th to January 31st 2007
Jan 31st: Pinot Noir 2007
Jan 30th: Mills Reef Elspeth reds from the 2005 vintage
Jan 29th: Concert under the Stars
Jan 28th: Wynns Michael Coonawara Hermitage Shiraz 1991
Jan 27th: Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne Hermitage 1991
Jan 26th: Gewurztraminer Redux
Jan 25th: Two Hands Sophie's Garden Padthaway Shiraz
Jan 24th: Ten Gewurztraminers
Jan 22nd: Margrain Chenin Blanc
Jan 21st: Gorgeous Syrah - Mills Reefs Reserve
Jan 20th: Comet McNaught and celestial wine
Jan 19th: Brian Bicknell pays a visit
Jan 18th: Summary of the First Glass Wednesday tasting
Other Entries

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 31st 2007

Pinot Noir 2007, the third celebration of New Zealand pinot noir is taking place in Wellington. It's the biggest New Zealand wine event to focus on a single varietal, with 100 pinot noir producers from up and down the country taking part. It attracts a large guest contingent of international media, some of whom are speakers as well. They not only go to the conference, meet the winemakers and taste some of the country's best pinot noirs, they also get to visit most of the some of the main wine regions of this beautiful country that I live in. They get the chance to fall in love with it too. I like the way bubbly, breezy Lesley Sbrocco put it when interviewed by Paul Henry on free to air television.

"We are here to witness what is happening in New Zealand and to share that with our readers across the world," she said.

At the beginning of the interview Lesley was asked whether it was a bit luxurious for one grape variety to have its own celebration.

"It's pinot noir. It's the diva of grape varieties so of course it has to have it own celebration," she gleamed. Click here to view the interview.

Another television interview was with Anthony Dias Blue from the US and Jonathan Butt from the UK. They hit on some of the reasons why pinot noir is so likeable throughout the world.

"Sideways is part of it," say Dias Blue. "It got people trying the wine. It is a very likeable wine. When people started tasting it they said I like this better than cabernet".

Both of them said it appeals to females "Not taxing, lovely flavours, not too heavy," said Jonathan - and specifically of NZ pinot noir "… sweeter fruit, more ripeness though the wines, it is hitting all the cues that the customer wants."   Click here to view the interview.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 30th 2007

Continuing on from yesterday's entry, the new release Mills Reef Elspeth reds from the 2005 vintage were stunning, as to be expected considering the track record of the Elspeth label. All the grapes for these wines come from the company's Mere Road vineyard in Hawkes Bay where intense viticulture is practised. The vines are planted only a metre apart. 2005 was a smaller yielding vintage than normal, the result of a poor fruit set due to a cold snap during the flowering period. But with hot weather during February and March, the grapes achieved full ripeness. The best grapes were harvested for the Elspeth label and given special treatment in the winery.

There are six red wines in the 2005 vintage release, five single varietal wines made from merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and syrah with the other wine labelled 'cabernet merlot'. These are young wines, wines made to be cellared, although some of the wines are downright seductive now and cellaring, as discussed in the Wine of the Week where I review three 1998 vintage Elspeth reds, takes restraint.

All of the 2005 Elspeth wines show deep red/purple colours with good depth and concentration, as expected with wines of such a youthful age. I had laid my claims on one of the few seats in the room, well away from the windows, and the lighting was not the best to look at the intricacies of the colour, however. So I'll concentrate on aroma and flavour.

Mills Reef Elspeth Merlot 2005
Deep, dark, earthy, savoury and smoky with dark plummy fruit and berries, a hint of citrus, fine grained tannins and firm French oak backing, it's a little tight at this stage but the potential is there and the long, sultry aftertaste confirms this.

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Merlot 2005
Quite fragrant, a little floral, a touch of cabernet franc, perhaps, and creamy oak scents emerge too. Abundant creamy oak in the palate together with cassis and 'just ripe' blackberries with slightly grainy tannins, firm acidity, an earthy depth and cigar box and spice on the finish - which is long, sweet and fruity.

Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2005
The deepest colour of all the wines, the crimson edges were gem-like, even in the poor light. Dark and smoky, the violet character of the Malbec grape leaps out of the glass with spicy cedar and fragrant herbs. A nuggetty wine with stewed plums and berry fruits, spice and cigar-like French oak, the meaty tannins are ripe and smooth and the savoury aftertaste has nuances of chocolate over juicy summer berries with rose petals and tar. Great length. Excellent already and could become a superstar.

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Franc 2005
The French oak on the nose is more pronounced than in any of the others and there's a floral, berry nuance too. Very smooth in the palate, smooth and creamy with smoky oak and sweet cherry-like fruit integrating beautifully. In fact it does momentary imitations of an Aussie wine with the fruit sweetness, vanillin oak, hints of spice and a cherry chocolate finish, but then the Bordeaux-like character returns with a fleeting glimpse of preserving acidity to place it firmly in a cooler climate. Despite its initial smoothness, grainy tannins and cigar box notes linger.

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
Fragrant with delicately smoky oak and cassis - great varietal character on the nose. It's very tight in palate with grainy tannins, rich concentrated fruit, cedary oak and lots of tobacco. A sleeper - and it needs to stay asleep for a while longer.

Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2005
An absolutely captivating aroma, but it tastes so tight, tight, tight - it must be given more time. It's a wine of focus, length and varietal character with its spicy backbone and hints of chocolate and cherry, a gorgeously silky texture and a floral lift to the finish. The oak is subtle rather than dominating - it’s the chorus in the background letting the shiraz fruit and spice play the starring roles. It's going to be a star.

I was keen to compare the 2005 Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah and the 2005 Mills Reef Reserve Syrah which I blogged on January 21st. Now I now had the opportunity to taste them side by side. The 'Reserve' lacks the complexity of the Elspeth - and that's because it is made to drink now, rather than in a few years time. But I love the soft, varietal, smoky character of the 'Reserve'. It delivers taste and value.   Not sure of the price - need to check, but the Elspeth wines have traditionally been fully priced at $39.95 a bottle.  Can't see any reason for a price rise this year.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 29th 2007

The band played and played and played. First of all Eagles songs, then Neil Diamond songs, and lastly Bee Gees songs. The occasion was the Concert Under the Stars at Mills Reef winery in Tauranga. concert.jpg (78672 bytes)The sky was clear and when night fell the stars came out, as promised. It had been a hot day and it was a warm night. And as the wine pumped through the veins, pulsating in time to the music, people got up and danced. Especially when the Bee Gees set came on. That's dance music if ever there was any. I wanted to dance too. But I couldn't. My arthritic knees (thanks to a skiing accident) wouldn't allow me too. Well they hadn't for a while. But last Wednesday I had the first injection of a new drug and on Thursday, for the first time in months, I was able to get out of bed in the morning and actually walk properly instead of imitating walking with a painful, thwarted shuffle. It was like my joints had been lubricated with WD40. It was now Sunday, four days later, and the effect of the drug on the joints was still working. I got up. I started moving my upper body in time to the music. My feet started moving and my knees didn't scream in protest. I could dance, I could dance. I would feel it in the morning, for sure. But next morning the wonder drug was still working. Still I wonder what side effects it will have. Time will tell.

In conjunction with the concert, Mills Reef had invited about 200 guests - wine retailers, restaurateurs and wine media - and their partners - to taste the new release Elspeth wines and then verticals of the Elspeth merlot, cabernet merlot and syrah before a buffet dinner and the concert. It's hard to refuse an invitation like this when partners are invited.

So it's now late Monday night, we've driven back from Tauranga in not too bad traffic on this Auckland Anniversary holiday, But the sun is streaming into my west facing office, making it impossible to work, so more on the wines tomorrow.  One will be my Wine of the Week.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 28th 2007

Continuing our mini Syrah Symposium, we opened a Wynns Michael Hermitage Limited Release Shiraz 1991 from the Coonawarra area in South Australia to have with dinner last night.  It has Hermitage on the label because it was labelled before the laws changed. Here's my tasting note.

michael1991.jpg (44859 bytes)"Deep dark red, almost opaque in the core and translucent on the edges without any brick at all, a meaty red, the colour of freshly drawn blood.

Fragrant and spicy on the nose, I smell cedar and chocolate with a hint of cherry liqueur.

The fruit is ripe and sweet and the oak is still incredibly opulent while the shiraz spice really packs a punch. Layers of creamy sweet oak and ripe cherry and plum fruit float on the grainy texture accentuated by the still firm tannins and the acidity of the wine, which adds a fragrant lift to the finish. And amongst the chocolate, red liquorice, sweet fruit and oak and bountiful spices, there are hints of rose petals which add an x-factor to this gorgeous succulent drop. A savoury, tarry undercurrent emerges, reminding me of the characters I am finding in some of the young New Zealand syrahs while the ever present hot peppery seasoning makes a strong 'I am Shiraz' statement on the meaty finish. So gorgeous, it's a meal in its own."

And so youthful too, thinking back to the Sizeranne we had the night before to make a mental comparison - nowhere near as mellow as that Northern Rhône drop.

The wine had an alcohol content of 13.5% and was matured for 18 months in new American oak hogsheads. The back label said the wine would reward patience, with a cellaring potential of 10-15 years. Well, we've just hit the 16 years and there is still a long life ahead of this wine - so long as it has a good cork.

The cork was in our bottle was tight and there was absolutely no leakage, but the bottom third of the cork was saturated and broke as it was being extracted. Neil ended up decanting the wine, which was a good thing as there was quite a bit of sediment, something that was absent in last night's Sizeranne.

We matched this wine to fillet steak seasoned with Sumac, a whole piece of steak seared in the pan and finished in the oven, served with boiled Jersey Bennie potatoes (and butter!) and a red wine reduction sauce, which I thought was simply fantastic, especially with the rare meat.  The sauce was made from the left overs of the West Brook Pinot Noir from almost three weeks before.  When I tasted it, it had become quite liquoricey, just on the edge of no return, but not quite. There was about 1.5 cups of wine and to that I added a couple of tablespoons of sugar, a fat slice of a large red onion, a whole garlic clove, a few sprigs of assorted thyme from the garden, some dried rosemary and about 10 whole black peppercorns. I reduced it to about 1/4 cup and it was rich and concentrated and just wow!

Next up NZ Syrah - you never know it could be the Wine of the Week, speaking of which, will be posted late on Monday due to it being Auckland Anniversary Day - I'm going to sleep in.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 27th 2007

There's a Syrah Symposium taking place in Hawkes Bay as I type this entry but I'm not there.  The Hawkes Bay Winemakers sent me an invitation, but I would have had to pay my own way ($375 for the ticket and transport and accommodation on top of that) because the 'media focus' was international. And they've bought in some big names too.  It is a little disappointing not to be attending, as I love NZ Syrah and am one of its best supporters.  I believe it has fabulous potential in New Zealand to produce wines - that in time - will rival those from the Northern Rhone. So I'll be looking to read something about the symposium on the Internet other than regurgitated press releases.

sizeranne.jpg (28614 bytes)Meanwhile I decided we should have our own little Syrah Symposium.  But only a single bottle of wine would be opened and  it would be from the Northern Rhone. It would be the Chapoutier Monier de La Sizeranne Hermitage 1991.

1991 was a great vintage in New Zealand and Australia, but according to the Berry Bros & Rudd's French Vintage Chart, the Rhone only scored 7 out of 10 in 1991 and the wines are now  'ready'.  We would see.

In the glass the wine imitated a garnet, an orange-tinged deep red garnet or to be more precise an orange-red spessartine garnet on the edges with flashes of deeper black-red almandine garnet in the much denser, deeper core.

The aroma was rich and vinous, savoury and spicy, becoming more and more fragrant with a potpourri of dried rose petals and cinnamon and cedar shavings with time in the glass. It seemed a little hard when first put in the mouth but it became rich and chocolatey with a deep sense of spice - subtle star anise, hints of ground coriander, nutmeg and pepper. Cedary and savoury with a meaty richness and a tarry undercurrent, the initial, surprisingly firm, tannins dissolved into the stewed plum fruit that still had some acidity present, a sign that this wine could have hung in there for quite a while longer. It's a mouth filling wine with a full-bodied texture and as well as a touch of bitter chocolate, hints of black liquorice and summer pudding, little gem-like bursts of juiciness add a vinous sweetness to the long, long mellow finish. Good thing the finish was long and the aftertaste lingered as long as it did, as I wanted this wine to last as long as possible.  It was so delicious that restraint was needed. Uh, oh, what is restraint?

sizerannecork.jpg (17010 bytes)Despite the potential longevity of the wine, as indicated by the taste, texture, flavour and balance, the cork indicated that the wine was dangerously close to becoming a disaster.   There was a flaw along one side of the cork along which the wine had travelled. But fortunately we had found the bottle in time.

Wanting something spicy to accompany the wine, we chose Boerewors sausages, a South African-origin sausage with a smoky spicy flavour - and it was a very good match. I also loved it simply accompanied with an Edam-style cheddar that was spread with a friend's homemade red guava and chilli jelly.

Chapoutier Monier de La Sizeranne Hermitage is a prestige wine in the Chapoutier range and cost NZ$80 on release.  Now it's been consumed, it's worthless.   But the memory of the taste will linger. It was worth it.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 26th 2007

We had a redux of the ten 2006 vintage gewurztraminers (see January 24th) last night, giving the wines an hour in the fridge before tasting them. They needed it. It was so incredibly humid on this typical Auckland summer's day and we were hot and sticky ourselves. After jumping into a hot car after work, I needed a cold shower when I got home.

So what would the wines be like with a little chilling? Actually there was not much change in our overall preference, the Spy Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006, the Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006 and the Margrain Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2006 still that notch about the others. But the Margrain Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2006 had turned into a five-star superstar with that chilled edge to the wine. Chilling had turned the sweetness into nectar, and in fact you could probably have this as a desert wine, but with our meal - which Neil cooked (thank you Neil) - it was delicious as well. He had stuffed chicken breasts with dried apricots which had been plumped up in a little water and topped them with segments of fresh peach and roasted them in the oven for half an hour. I had made a yoghurt and cumin dip for something else the other day, and put some of this on the side - the spiciness of the cumin complimenting the spiciness in most of the wines. The dip also made a tasty dressing for a simple salad of lettuce, tomato and grated carrot.

The Saints Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2006 jumped into 4th place and a 4 star rating when chilled. This was very good the other day, but was a touch hot, like it had had a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and a little grainy in texture. With chilling the hot sensation disappeared, the texture was smooth and the rich, round, intense flavours of lychees, Turkish Delight and floral were exactly what I expect from good NZ gewurztraminer.

Montana Reserve East Coast Gewurztraminer 2006 was now firmly in 5th place.

What I found with some of the other gewurztraminers, though, was that a slightly sweaty character emerged with chilling, especially with the Morton Estate Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006 - it was like I'd just finished a session of aerobics in the rose garden. The Saint Clair Godfrey's Creek Reserve Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006 had developed a slightly sweaty character too.

The other three wines remained the also rans.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 25th 2007

Another stunning line-up of wines was poured at the First Glass Wednesday Tasting on Wednesday night. The general focus tends to be NZ whites and NZ and Australian reds, but there are always wines from elsewhere thrown in to make balanced tasting. Tonight was no exception with seven NZ wines - 4 whites, a pink and two reds - plus four Aussie reds and an Italian Chianti. In my tastings at home, my focus is New Zealand first and foremost so if I didn't go to these tastings, I would never taste many of the wines that hail from elsewhere. Especially some of the Australian reds - and tonight in particular, one of the most amazing and delicious Aussie shirazes I've tasted for some time.

It was the Two Hands Sophie's Garden Padthaway Shiraz 2005, a wine with a dense blackberry colour, and by this I mean like a fully ripened blackberry, a lustrous deep black-red in the core and vivid red, like blackberry juice, on the edges. It has a sweetish nose of mint biscuits, plums and chocolate, it smells so yum, yum, yum and the taste lives up to every expectation. It's silky smooth in texture with fine grained tannins, sweet spices and succulent, intensely flavoured, perfectly ripened plum and blackberry fruit and chocolatey oak that melt on the tongue and send orgasmic messages to every single taste bud. A wine of power and seduction, in two words, 'totally sensational'.

It had 16 months in French oak, 23% new, and carries 15.2% alcohol by volume, according to the label. It is sealed with a cork and costs around $56 a bottle at full price. But what a wine. Want something special - I totally recommend this.

The guys responsible for this wine, the 'Two Hands', are Michael Twelftree and Richard Mintz and since forming the company in 2000, they've seduced the palates of some of the most influential wine critics around. Find out more from

I've no idea who the importer is (though I guess I could look it up), and I'm not likely to spend over $50 on a bottle of wine just to 'taste' it. So by going to the First Glass $15 tastings, I've experienced one of the most delicious wines on the planet. What's more, the wines are tasted blind, which I love doing. I have no idea what is coming up in the tasting, I have no expectation - or lack of expectation - from having seen the label first and it's a good training for trying to pick grape variety, vintage and region before the details are revealed.

Full tasting notes of all the wines will be on the Wednesday Tasting Page on Friday evening.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 24th 2007

Neil put 10 gewurztraminers from the 2006 vintage in front of me last night. I was looking forward to the tasting, after all 2006 had been a good vintage in many places, especially in Marlborough. I had judged gewurztraminer at the New Zealand International Wine Show last September and the classes I judged were quite exciting. So the bar had been raised. But in this tasting, most of the wines failed to reach it. Just three stand out wines, the others very much 'also rans'. Three out of ten ain't bad for gewurztraminer, I guess. I just expected more. The problem with gewurztraminer, it is hard to hide faults.
The wines were tasted at room temperature and a couple would have been better, perhaps better balanced, with a little chilling, I feel. So the wines will go into the fridge for a retasting later today or tomorrow.
The top three wines were also tasted with food - chicken in a coconut, chilli and lime curry sauce topped with fresh tomato and Thai basil. All three wines were pretty good with the spicy sauce, which was really the point of the match.
It was really no surprise when the labels of the top two wines were revealed because the two producers concerned are really at the top of their field when it comes to good, all round, tasty gewurztraminer. The wines were:

Sues Top Three Gewurztraminers Jan 2007Spy Valley Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006
Subtle spice and pink smoker lollies on the nose, not overly pungent. It's gewurz through and through in the palate, very musky, full of rose essence and lychees with the spicy character of the grape coming through. It has great power and focus with a honey sweet flourish to the spritzy, orange zest finish. There's an overall delicacy to the wine which I really like. 13.5% alc.  $19.95.  5 stars.

Lawson's Dry Hills Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006
It smells a little of ginger ale and rose water with a fruit sweetness pushing through. It's warm and spicy with a lovely smooth, oily texture, ginger and white pepper spices and lots of floral connotations. Nicely balanced, warm and long, powerful and moreish. Concentrated throughout, it couldn't be anything else than gewurztraminer. 14.7% alc. $21.95. 5 stars.

In a very close third place was Margrain Martinborough Gewurztraminer 2006. It's a little deeper in colour than the others, the sweet, spicy fragrance is not overly pungent and it tastes rich and full-bodied with a zesty, gingery, tongue-tickling sensation to the lightly viscous texture, a lovely seam of coriander spice and orange water to the flavour and a fantastically long finish. It's sweeter than all of the others too but it is a beautifully balanced sweetness, a sweetness with the luscious factor. I would have given this the full five stars but felt the slightly grainy texture just let it down. However when tasted with anise-flavoured marshmallow (imported from France by La Cigale in Parnell), this was definitely a five-star wine. 13.5% alc. $38. 4.5 stars.

Also tasted
Saint Clair Godfrey's Creek Reserve Marlborough Gewurztraminer 2006 (3.4 - 4 stars)
Morton Estate White Label Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006 (3.5 stars)
Saints Gisborne Vineyard Selection Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2006 (3.5 stars)
Montana East Coast Reserve Gewurztraminer 2006 (3.5 stars)
Lincoln Heritage Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2006 (3 stars)
Matua Valley Judd Estate Gisborne Gewurztraminer 2006 (2.5 stars)
Mills Reef Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2006 (2.5 stars)

All of the wines were sealed with a screwcap.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 22nd 2007

When it comes to the staple white wine drinking diet in New Zealand, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc are top of the list. I love sauvignon blanc, the country's most planted grape variety and most popular export wine, but many of my friends don't like the pungent, aggressively fruity flavours. So it is not the first choice wine to take to someone else's place. I usually take chardonnay or riesling. Pinot gris is good - when you find a good one - but too many of them are far too neutral and some unoaked chardonnays taste better than pinot gris. So from time to time it's good to try something else. Viognier is starting to turn into a star, but what about the forgotten chenin blanc?

It's hard to find because there are hardly any single varietal wines from chenin blanc made in NZ any more. I can only think of Collards in Auckland, Millton in Gisborne, Esk Valley in Hawkes Bay, Margrain in Martinborough and Forrest Estate in Marlborough. That's why I opened the Margrain Chenin Blanc 2006 from Martinborough, last night. I opened it to try something different. And I wasn't disappointed. But don't serve it too cold because it will accentuate the acidity. If you are going to chill it, take it out of the fridge 15 minutes at least before serving it and you will be in for a real treat. You can click on this week's Wine of the Week to read more about it.

honeyandcheese.jpg (12512 bytes)But what is even more of a treat is a chenin blanc with age. I remember visiting the Esk Valley winery in Hawkes Bay about sixteen months ago. Lunch was served and to accompany the lunch were some bottles of Esk Valley's stellar red wine, The Terraces. But the wine we finished off with was one of the most memorable. It was the Esk Valley Chenin Blanc 1997, and although it hadn't been made as a sweet wine, it had become, rich and honeyed and luscious with the beautifully balanced acidity keeping it fresh and giving it an edge of verve. It was served with a hard, piquant, parmesan-like cheese which you sliced off and topped with warm runny honey and walnuts. It was sublime.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 21st 2007

Now here's a gorgeous little Syrah - one of a whole swag of gorgeous medium-boded syrahs that are emerging from the 2005 vintage. It's the just released Mills Reef Reserve Syrah 2005 from grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels sub region of Hawkes Bay.  Deep ruby crimson with a gemmy glow, it's fragrantly oaky, juicy, fruity and spicy with cherry plums, pepper, earth, sweet leather, sultry silky tannins and a warming glow to the earthy savoury, smoked meats finish. A touch of jaffa adds allure to the lingering aftertaste. Lovely, lovely wine. 13.5% alcohol. Screwcap closure.  The new release of Mills Reef 'reserve' wines are line priced at $22.95 a bottle, but they usually sell for under $20.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 20th 2007

celeste.jpgComet McNaught is in our skies at the moment. It's visible just after the sun sets and looks rather spectacular as it dives down towards the horizon. We've had good views of it here, from the backyard, although the lights of the city tend to dilute the brightness somewhat. Neil's in Taupo for the A1 Grand Prix and he said from their elevated campsite that overlooks the lake, Comet McNaught was just spectacular. Click here for photos.

So what wine do you sit out under the stars with to watch this comet? I think a red wine, a warming wine, as the night still has a little chill. I'm thinking a celestial wine, like Torres Celeste 2003 from the Ribera del Duero region in Spain. Look at the label and you can see the night sky.

What's more, the wine tastes good too. It's deep dark red with a savoury, meaty, winey aroma infused with vanillin oak, and full-bodied, spicy flavours with good acidity, fine-grained firm-textured meaty tannins, a iron-like earthiness and dark, succulent fruit with a touch of allspice on the juicy, savoury finish. A very impressive wine. A stellar wine. A wine to sip on as comets pass by.  It costs about $33 in NZ.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 19th 2007

brianbicknell.jpg (73220 bytes)Brian Bicknell came to see me the other day.
"Who?", I hear some people ask.
Brian Bicknell, the former winemaker for Seresin Estate. He left Seresin at the end of July last year to concentrate on his own label, Mahi.
But since then some exciting developments have happened. Brian has bought Cellier Le Brun.
Cellier Le Brun is the winery and brand established by Frenchman Daniel Le Brun and his kiwi wife Adele, in 1980. They quickly became known as NZ's specialist bubbly producers but in 1996 they sold out to Resene paints and started their own company, Number One Family Estate.
Cellier Le Brun went on to the market mid 2005, after Resene boss, Tony Nightingale, passed away.
Brian, who had started his Mahi label in 2001 but didn't spend too much time promoting it while working at Seresin, had been toying with the idea of buying a winery instead of using a contract facility to make his wine. But he couldn't afford Cellier Le Brun as a going concern. It was reported to be over $10 million for the 40 hectares of vineyards and buildings.
But fate came his way when the assets were divided. Most of the vineyards would be sold separately, and when the Overseas Investment Office approves it, that land will be owned by Cloudy Bay.
So Brian and his wife Nicola were able to purchase the remainder of the assets which included the winery and adjacent café, the brand names, stocks of bubbles maturing on lees, an assortment of vehicles and two hectares of pinot noir and chardonnay vineyard around the winery.
Le Brun bubbles will continue to be made, and Brian has the bubble making experience from his early days at Selaks in Auckland and of course at Seresin. Mahi will be the brand name for the premium range of still wines. The Terrace Road brand, if it continues, will be for a more commercial style.
I've not yet tasted the current release Mahi and Le Brun wines but I will report on them when I get the opportunity, hopefully in the next couple of weeks.

Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
January 18th 2007

Last night it was off to 'Winespirit' for the weekly Wednesday tastings that I attend and scribe the tastings notes for. It really is First Glass Wines and Spirits, but since the credit card company have called them 'winespirit' on my statement, that's what I going to call them too.

I feared I was going to be a 'weakest link' in the Wednesday Challenge, a blind tasting of three wines. You are named a 'weakest link' if you get all three wines wrong.  The first wine was revealed to be Renato Pinot Gris 2005 from Nelson, but I picked it as a Riesling because of the powerful thread of limey acidity running through the wine and the strong acid finish.  On reflection, however, it was probably too rich and weighty for Riesling. The second wine, Gem Chardonnay 2005 from Gisborne, had me thinking I was drinking an Australian tipple, probably because of the strong pineapple fruit character that was coming through.   Fortunately I was saved from embarrassment by correctly picking Waipara Springs Premo Pinot Noir 2005, as NZ Pinot Noir, rather than Chilean Pinot Noir or Auckland Pinotage. That was the last of the Wednesday Challenges, as there people are back from their holidays and it's a traffic jam at the tasting station.

There were 11 wines in the formal part of the tasting, which like last week, had option style questions on every wine. First up the Eradus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006, a vivacious punchy savvie full of gorgeous tropical fruit and herbaceous flavours made from Awatere fruit.   I think that Matt Thomson is the winemaker.

This was followed by Richmond Grove Watervale Limited Release Riesling 2005, a distinctive Clare Valley, dry, limey, fresh style, which I blogged on Jan 3rd, and Leeuwin Estate Prelude Chardonnay 2003, a classy Western Australian white with ethereal aromatics and subtle Burgundian traits.  It was such a contrast to the bold, oaky, Morton Estate Black Label Chardonnay 2002 from Hawkes Bay.

Mt Rosa Central Otago Pinot Gris 2006 was a winner for me, as I was one of the few who picked Pinot Gris rather than Gewurztraminer, because even though it smelt like a bowl of roses, it tasted far too neutral for the spicy grape.  And as the only one of those still in the running to pick the region correctly in the options, I won a bottle of wine.

First red was the rather delicious Fairmont Estate Block One Pinot Noir 2005 from the Wairarapa region at the bottom of the North Island, then the outstanding Carchelo 2005, made by Bodegas Agapito Rico from Monastrell and Syrah grapes grown in the Jumilia region of Spain.  This new world styled Spanish red is so clean and tasty with beautiful fruit purity. And at $14 on the night, it's an absolute steal too.

Mission Reserve Hawkes Bay Syrah 2005 fooled me at first into thinking it was an Aussie shiraz with it softness and subtle cherry and mint flavours, but it was overall lighter bodied and the distinctive rose petal and tar characters of New Zealand syrah came through. It's a very good wine and a vintage contrast to the lavish Bridge Pa 'Louis' Hawkes Bay Syrah 2004 with its robust tannins, sweet oak and powerful savoury finish.

Two Aussies finished the evening, the powerful, porty and slightly bretty Morambro Creek Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 followed by the super succulent Elderton Barossa Shiraz 2003.

Complete notes will be posted to my Wednesday tastings page when prices (all specialled on the night) are finalised on Friday.

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copyright Sue Courtney 2007