Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Rambling's
wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand
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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 www.wineoftheweek.com which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.
You'll find links to other wine blogs on my Vinous Links page.
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Archive: April 1st to April 15th 2007
Apr 15th: A Degustation at Mudbrick
Apr 14th: Testing the Vintage
Apr 13th: New Winemaker for Wither Hills
Apr 12th: A Trio of Champagnes
Apr 10th: West Coast Wine
Apr 9th: A safe bet where wine is not a priority
Apr 5th: Champagne, Newsletter and Easter
Apr 3rd: Do you Zork?
Apr 2nd: Wine of the Week
Apr 1st: New Zealand's first Sauvignon Blanc - debunking the myth
A Degustation at Mudbrick
The new chef at Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island has been doing wonderful things with the food. Kevin Morgan is his name and he's back in New Zealand after a two year stint on super yacht Athena and before that in some of the UK's top kitchens that of including science chef, Heston Blumenthal (The Fat Duck).
Morgan's busy revitalising the menu at Mudbrick and diners are already benefiting from his exciting additions. I tried some of them at a five hour, 12-course (counting the bread) degustation lunch last Friday. Kevin Morgan's food matched to Mudbrick winemaker Martin Pickering's wines and the atmosphere of Nick and Robin Jones's Mudbrick Winery set the scene for a very memorable meal.
I hadn't been to the Mudbrick Restaurant for soooo long, it's hard to remember when I last ate there. On my last two visits to Mudbrick, I only went to the winery at Shepherds Point (which we visited on route to the restaurant this time), one time because an accountants conference was in session and the other time because there was a wedding. There are lots of weddings at Mudbrick. The setting is so beautiful with the potager gardens, the topiary, the lavender, the brickwork, the grapevines and of course the stunning views to the north and west over the Hauraki Gulf sea with Auckland City in the distance. But when groups take over, that means regular Joe Customer misses out. So Mudbrick has remedied this by opening the Potager Garden Bistro at the eastern end of the tasting room, which can be hired out for small groups, or used as a restaurant when the main room has a group. It's also an intimate night time dinner venue and opens from Thursday to Sunday during the summer.
On this visit our small group of eight dined in the main restaurant. It was a cold and blustery day, so the multitudes of French doors and the overhead louvres were kept firmly shut. But on a good day they open, taking the dining room outdoors.
Every course has something from the Mudbrick garden on the plate, whether it be a simply a sprig of lavender for garnish or a rich, herb infused oil for food taste enhancement as well as decoration.
Highlights of the meal included
Ox Heart Tomato Terrine with a Chevre Mousse, matched to the dry, flinty Mudbrick Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006. Chevre and Sauvignon Blanc, Tomato and Sauvignon Blanc - it's a no-brainer really and it worked deliciously well. Ox Heart Tomatoes are a type of tomato, I learnt, after wondering where the ox heart was when the plate of food arrived. The green is a basil oil garnish - which was yummo.
Hot and Sour Scampi Soup matched to Mudbrick Marlborough Riesling 2006, although the 'hot and sour' broth was also delicious with the sauvignon blanc. The scampi was melt in the mouth tender, like crayfish, only more expensive.
Confit of Salmon with Colcannon Potatoes and Brussel Bacon Salad matched to Mudbrick Reserve Waiheke Chardonnay 2006. The Chardonnay really was the highlight here, a gorgeous wine with ripe peach and tropical fruit, a honeyed, mealy yeast lees influence and a long savoury, spicy oak finish. Perfectly, balanced, harmonious, creamy and long. The salmon was cooked to perfection, melt in the mouth, the way I like it.
Boar Cutlet with Forest Mushroom and Kikorangi Ravioli served with two of Mudbrick's gold medal winning Waiheke reds, the Reserve Merlot Cabernets 2005 and the Shepherds Point More 2004. But I have to say I enjoyed this dish more with the Mudbrick Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006, that had been served earlier with a Sweet Pea and Porcini Cappuccino. A versatile Pinot Noir, because it was delicious with the salmon too, and now the wild boar - and especially seductive when combined with the thin slice of truffle that the topped the tower of food.
Three deserts followed, including a divine Poached Fig and Munster Cheese but at the end it was all a bit of a rush when someone realised the time and we needed to leave soon to get the 5.35pm ferry back to Auckland. Needless to say by the time I got home it was after 7pm and dark. Fortunately I had texted my husband. The message said, "Dont want dinner - make your own".
The degustation menu at Mudbrick is evolving, and will evolve with the seasons and the availability of the best fresh food. It costs $95 per person, or with matching wines, just $145. This seems like very good value to me. I highly recommend it.
On the Web: www.mudbrick.co.nz
Testing the Vintage
I love visiting wineries in the midst of harvest. If the timing is right there will be freshly harvested grapes to eat, freshly crushed grape juice to drink, fermenting wine to taste and novo vino - new wine that has finished fermenting. And the timing was exactly right when I visited the Mudbrick Winery on Waiheke Island yesterday. It was a feast for the vinous senses.
A bin of freshly harvested Cabernet Franc grapes set the scene, with a single bunch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes plucked off a vine next to the winery, for comparison. The Cab Franc seemed more acidic when compared to the richer, riper, juicier Cab Sauv. Different bunch shapes too, the Cab Sauv quite small and tight, the Cab Franc quite elongated and the berries looser in comparison.
Mudbrick winemaker, Martin Pickering, dipped into vats, turned taps on tanks and climbed up stacks of barrels to treat us to tipples.
First a taste of vividly coloured Syrah juice that had not started its ferment, then an even more vividly coloured, spicy Petit Verdot that was near finished - just wow! Pity it's going to be blended away, though it will certainly excite the blend it ends up in.
The whites showed the quality of the 2007 vintage - but of course the grapes were picked before any rain. The first glass of chardonnay tasted bright and deliciously fruity with pineapple and melon fighting for supremacy. The second glass had richness, power and the funky aromatics of wild yeast and though quite savoury, it tasted sweeter - it still had some residual sugar as it hadn't quite finished fermenting. The two chardonnay samples showed fantastic potential and when the components are blended, the wild ferment portion will make up a third. But most delicious of all was the Viognier - full-bodied and textural, aromatic, spicy, with a citrus-like phenolic structure. It is a tank fermented wine because it is first crop fruit and less than a barrel's capacity was harvested.
Three barrel samples of 2006 wines followed. These wines had been blended, so were representative samples but they won't be bottled for at least a couple of months yet.
The Mudbrick Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 will be one to watch out for with its juicy blackberry and currant fruit, its earthy richness, its well structured tannins and its hint of mint. A classic in the making.
Mudbrick Shepherds Point Merlot 2006 has sweet oak and juicy ripe fruit and though the tannins are soft, they are big at this stage. There's a savoury undercurrent, a cigar box finish and a spicy kick at the end.
Mudbrick Reserve Syrah 2006 is beautifully fragrant, floral and cherryish with a creamy texture, spice and pepper, hints of rose spice, vanillin oak, a touch of earth and herbs on the finish. It's more of a medium-bodied style.
New Winemaker for Wither Hills
Congratulations to Ben Glover who will be taking over the role of Chief Winemaker at Wither Hills on May 1st, when Wither Hills comes under full control of its owner. When I interviewed Ben in 2002, I concluded that his future looked exciting. Now, with his position secured at the helm of one of NZ's most recognisable wine brands - a supermarket leader and one of NZ wine's biggest success stories after Cloudy Bay, Ben really does have some exciting times ahead of him. The world is his Sauvignon Blanc.
So Brent Marris has gone. It was going to happen sooner or later anyway, but with the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc fiasco last December, it sounds so sinister. Will we ever know if this is when Brent originally planned to leave after he sold Wither Hills to Lion Nathan in 2002, or whether this departure date was encouraged by his employer? But more to the point, do we care?
Sounds like Brent Marris is still on good terms with Lion Nathan - at least at the moment. His new label ,'The Ned', will continue to be made at the Wither Hills winery and will continue to be distributed by Lion. I've no idea where Lion have been distributing it to so far, as I've never seen it.
Meanwhile, in the Independent Financial Review, Lion Nathan's chief executive Rob Murray has flatly denied that the company is about to sell some of its wine assets. "It will be a cold day in hell," he says. So where did that rumour start? Probably because of Lion's under-performance in the wine part of their business after paying too much for wineries, like Wither Hills (and Australia's Petaluma) in the first place.
"There' no doubt in my mind we paid top dollar for our wine businesses at the absolute peak of the wine cycle, says Murray, adding that it would be foolish to compound that by selling at the bottom end.
Although Lion has just ended its relationship with Moet and Chandon. Go figure.
A Trio of Champagnes
Champagne was the star at the last night's Wine Spirit tasting with Philip Bothwell, the fine wine man from Pernod Ricard in Auckland, presenting the bubbly wines. Sounds like a cushy job that Phil has, because last year his work took him to Champagne to experience the magical region first hand. He also got to sleep in a quarter of a million dollar bed in one of the rooms at the Perrier-Jouet's 18th century 'Belle Epoque' mansion in Epernay. Back home in the land of the Long White Cloud and much cheaper beds, Phil still gets to regularly enjoy the titillating taste of Champagne, for part of his job is to present his company's fine wines to consumers and the trade.
First up was a bubbles from the afore-mentioned - one of my favourite producers - Perrier-Jouet. I love the Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque and though we didn't quite get to the level of this wine in the famous hand painted flower bottle, the non vintage Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut Champagne ($84.50) was a gorgeous substitute. Light gold in colour with a richness to the hue, the aromas are toasty, lightly floral and honeyed and the flavours rounded, harmonious and full-bodied with classic 'yeast autolysis' characters. Delicately foamy and creamy with a honeyed richness, it seems fairly dry but perfectly balanced and totally moreish. The perfect aperitif. I could have aperitifed all night. But the next wine was poured.
Champagne Mumm Cordon Rouge ($63) has one of the most recognisable Champagne labels, the red stripe instantly identifying this Grande Marque that is also the Champagne of Formula One. Light gold coloured with straw gold highlights, it has a delicately yeasty aroma and a full foamy texture with lemon and nougat flavours and more obvious pinot characters that hint of strawberry and herbs. Dry and crisp with a classy finesse, this blend of 30% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier is more of a first course bubbles.
Deutz is a very familiar name to kiwi wine drinkers because the Deutz Champagne House was one of the first to invest in Marlborough, producing Deutz Marlborough Cuvée. Tonight we were drinking Champagne Deutz Brut Classic Non Vintage ($70). Light gold in colour with strong 'yeast autolysis' characters to the rich, bready aroma, this is a mouthfilling style with an upfront attack of bubbles and firm acidity underlying the rich creamy, almost caramel-like flavours with hints of stonefruit and a marmite yeastiness to the crisp, dry, lasting finish. Made from equal proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the latter adding a floral, rose petal-like richness, this full-bodied Champagne could stand up to an appropriate main. Or it could be the main course all by itself. Easy to say, 'simply delicious'.
Just goes to show you dont need an 'occasion' to enjoy Champagne.
West Coast Wine
It is a magnificent setting for a vineyard with towering Mt Taranaki on one side and sweeping views of the Tasman Sea on the other. So why is Okurukuru Vineyard the only commercial grape growing venture on the Taranaki coast? If fact why is it the only coastal vineyard on the whole of the west coastline of New Zealand?
It could be because of the weather, in particular the prevailing westerlies and the stormy squalls that build up in the Tasman Sea and drop their fury when they reach land. When a vineyard is perched right on the coast, like this vineyard, there is no protection from these elements. But being exposed to the elements doesn't seem to worry the people who have established the Okurukuru winery, cafe and function centre just a few kilometres south of New Plymouth.
You can't deny the beauty of the setting and for a cafe and function centre, it's perfect on the right day. But for the exposed grapevines, I'm not so sure. Wind protection nets are positioned every six rows, yet the vines showed their wear and tear with tattered, brown edged leaves, as well as spurts of new growth - in April!
We didn't taste any wines, as when we called in on Easter Sunday there was a 'closed' sign on the gate. Well, it was quite late in the afternoon, so we headed back to New Plymouth via Centennial Drive to watch the Tasman Sea swallow up the sun. I imagined how magnificent the setting sun would look from the cafe deck, a glass of Okurukuru Taranaki Rose 2006 in hand. It is the first wine from the vineyard, but at $33 a bottle (according to the website) it would have to be exceptional. Just 100 tonnes of grapes were harvested that year, so it is rare drop.
A number of other wines are also produced under the Okurukuru and Sugar Loaf labels, but all with 'imported' grapes, like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from Marlborough.
On the Web: www.thevineyard.co.nz - with good pictures of the coastal setting.
A safe bet where wine is not a priority
Just returned from a weekend away, not a wine weekend, although I did try to visit a winery and wine was consumed in the evenings. We were part of a group who had travelled to New Plymouth for Easter and we were all based at the same hotel for three nights, which meant the social events took place in the hotel bar and surrounds. Unfortunately this hotel, like so many of this ilk, doesnt really care about wine. Few selections by the glass, no vintages and notable spelling mistakes, like Mocluta Shiraz (should be Moculta) and Saint Clair Vickers Choice Pinot Noir (should be Vicar's).
What do you want to drink?" asked Neil.
"Oh whatever, surprise me." I hadnt seen the wine list but he knows what I like. I was confident he would bring back something good.
He came back with a handle of froth covered black beer for himself and a glass of what tasted like strawberry and cranberry juice, for me. Looking at its light transparent colour I guessed Pinot Noir, but it was sweetish and lollyish and a struggle to finish so I was surprised when he told me it was the Shingle Peak Marlborough Pinot Noir (vintage unknown). It was young but it couldn't have been the 2005, could it? Tasted last year, I noted that although light, it was smoky, spicy and savoury with plenty of charm. It wasn't sweet like this. But it was too young for the 2004. Perhaps it was the 2006, but is it released yet?
The hotel price was $7.50 a glass. A bottle cost $29.95. I was disappointed.
"Let's try the Shiraz," I suggested, so this time Neil said to the barperson that his wife was being particular and could he have a small taste first.
"It's not bad," he grinned when he arrived back with two glasses, one for him and one for me. I had a sip and agreed.
"Real wine," as Jane Skilton MW would say.
It was inky black red with spice, pepper, mint, vanillin oak, plums and berries. It tasted juicy, flavoursome and soft with just a touch of sweetness, but I expect that with cheap Shiraz - and this was cheap at the hotel price of $6.50 a glass or $23.95 a bottle. The wine list said Tatachilla Breakers Creek Shiraz but the next night, when we ordered a bottle to accompany our dinner, I saw it was actually labelled Breakneck Creek Shiraz 2004 and on the back it said it was produced by MW Cellars, Nagambie, Victoria, Australia. Tatachilla wasn't mentioned on the label (although Google shows that it was in previous vintages).
It had a synthetic cork and 14.5% alcohol by volume. I would happily recommend this wine to anyone who wants an easy going, medium-bodied, soft, spicy red. A safe bet in a hotel where wine is not a priority.
Champagne, Newsletter and Easter
Last night's tasting at the Winespirit was fun. It was the 8th birthday party and appropriate wines were opened, including a very gorgeous Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaique, which was my Wine of the Night. There was something in the aroma and on the finish that reminded me of Macintoshes malt caramels or toffee caramels - and the foamy texture just seduced the mouth. Bubbles like this one are a real treat. All of the reviews from the night's revelry have been posted to the Wednesday Tasting page.
In the news there is the discovery of the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, not here in NZ but in the Cook Islands, which is not too far away at all, but a little too close for comfort.
I've finally finished the newsletter which I started three weeks ago. Just in time for Easter.
If you are out and about this long weekend, keep in mind that wineries will be closed on Good Friday but they have been allowed to open on Easter Sunday since 2004, but only to sell their own products, and only if they want to. So if you plan on visiting any wineries on Easter Sunday, it may pay to phone ahead to see if the one you want to visit is open.
Interestingly, Sunday is not a 'public holiday' under the Holidays Act, so is any one tries to charge you a 'public holiday' surcharge, they are breaking the law. On Monday, though expect to be hit with 15% or 20% extra if you are dining out.
Have a Happy Easter. Drink safely. Drive safely.
Do you Zork?
Zorks are one of the new alternative closures. They're bright, they're colourful, they're plastic and they pop. Spencer Hill's Gold, reviewed March 18th, is closed with a bright yellow Zork. But how do you open it?
Well, the folks at Don Sebastiani & Sons in Sonoma California, are into making wine videos as well as wine and in the Zork video they'll show you how to peel it, pop it, stop it and take it for a spin. Click on the image below when it appears.
Wine of the Week
This week's Wine of the Week is a stunning new red wine from Hawkes Bay. It's the Alluviale Gimblett Road Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc 2005 ($27). Click here to read the story.
New Zealand's first Sauvignon Blanc - debunking the myth
I have a friend whose favourite phrase was "misinformation spreads faster and is believed by more people than the truth". So let's debunk one of those myths, one of those misinformation's that, believe it or not, after some pretty solid efforts to get the facts out there, is still spreading. It's like a virus that wont go away and the latest reinfection was in the UK's Independent newspaper last week. Despite what the article said, New Zealand's first Sauvignon Blanc was not planted by Montana in 1973.
There is no doubt that 1973 was indeed an important year. It was the year that Montana Wines first planted grapes in Marlborough. They didn't plant Sauvignon Blanc. They planted Muller Thurgau and Cabernet Sauvignon, the popular varietals of the day. But in 1973, Sauvignon Blanc was already thriving in a vineyard in Auckland. It had been planted in 1969 by Ross Spence who, with his brother Bill, started Matua Valley Wines.
Ross Spence is one of the wine industry's innovators and his dad recognised this. A son of one of West Auckland's 'Dally' winemakers, he thought it would be a good idea for his eldest son to have formal training. So he sent Ross off to California to study viticulture and winemaking. Ross discovered some exciting wines while he was there; varietals he had never tasted in New Zealand. So when he returned home he made a trip to the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station, about an hours drive south of Auckland, to see what government viticulturist Frank Berrysmith had in the vine collection. Ross found many of the varietals he was interested in, including Sauvignon Blanc, which had come into New Zealand in the 1950's. He took cuttings and bulked them up in his Auckland vineyard. By 1969 he had 250 Sauvignon Blanc vines to plant.
In 1974 Ross produced New Zealand's first commercial Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was exciting. It was acclaimed as one of the first wines to rival European quality. But the crop levels were not viable. A new clone called UCD1 had been imported into New Zealand in 1970 and after much searching, Ross found the single vine growing in a trial block in Kumeu, not far from Matua Valley. He identified it by leaf structure using an ampelography book for guidance. He took a cutting. He bulked it up. The vines cropped well and the fruit was clean. The wine it made was scintillating. It would be the clone that would take New Zealand by storm.
Montana didn't produce their first commercial Sauvignon Blanc until 1980 but it's important to note that the cuttings for their vineyard came from Matua Valley. Corbans Wines and Hunters also obtained cuttings about the same time.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is the country's great wine success story, but the palate and perseverance of Ross Spence must be acknowledged. If he hadnt tasted this wine in California and pursued it when he returned to New Zealand, who knows where our wine industry would be today. If he hadn't taken his wine to a wine conference in Western Australia in 1984, when he gave it to David Hohnen to taste, would there have ever been a Cloudy Bay?
So it's wonderful news to hear that Ross Spence, who has a QSO for services to the wine industry and last year was made a Fellow of New Zealand Winegrowers, has just been inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame.
So please, if you are talking about New Zealand and want to mention the first sauvignon blanc - it was made by Ross Spence, at Matua Valley Wines, in Auckland. Ross has retired from Matua Valley now, but he has a little vineyard in Kumeu and he's planted some unusual varieties. What will the wines be like? We will have to wait and see.
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copyright Sue Courtney 2007