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Welcome to Sue Courtney's web log (blog) of vinous ramblings. It's my on line journal and an adjunct to my website www.wineoftheweek.com which is for more formal tasting notes and articles.
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Archive: August 2009
Aug 31st: Under $25 wines and Akarua Pinot
Aug 28th: Impressions from Day Three of WINE
Aug 24th: Impressions from Day Two of WINE
Aug 23rd: Impressions from Day One of WINE and Dry River new releases
Aug 22nd: Wine Show Time again
Aug 20th: Dry River and New Zealand's most iconic Pinot Gris
Aug 19th: A new wine from Northland and a moderately aged Hawkes Bay red
Aug 18th: Wine Bloggers do matter
Aug 17th: Catching up on Wednesday tastings
Aug 14th: To Sir with Wine
Aug 13th: Better to drink wine than make wine - tonight it's Camshorn
Aug 11th: A full-bodied Porters Pinot takes care of my steak
Aug 9th: Going on a Witch Hunt - and the winner is ....
Aug 5th: Beating a path to Mt Tambourine
Aug 3rd: Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 3
Aug 2nd: Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 2
Aug 1st: Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 1
Under $25 Wines and Akarua Pinot
Now don't get excited, Akarua Pinot does not cost under $25 - not in NZ anyway - well not the Pinot Noir although the Akarua Pinot Gris is right on the $25 mark according to the Akarua website. I'm talking about Pinot Noir, in particular this week's Wine of the Week - the exquisite Akarua Cadence Pinot Noir 2007 ($45) from the Bannockburn region in Central Otago - it's outstanding wine and another Central Otago stunner from the fabulous 2007 season. I've also reviewed the second tier wine - Akarua The Gullies Pinot Noir 2007 ($35) - a little lighter and a little fruitier. They used to say the Gullies fruit came from the vines that grew in the gullies of the slightly undulating terrain of the Bannockburn vineyard. A good story but I'm not entirely sure if that is still the case. Perfect wines for my Cheat's Coq au Vin. Click here to read my WOTW review.
The Under $25 wines were in the Wednesday tasting when some of the Wines from Cuisine Magazine's Under $25 red wine tasting hit the spotlight (supermarket wines excluded). Not sure what the full list was because as I write this blog entry, the list is not yet on the Cuisine website.
The 'Cat Amongst the Pigeons' wines from the Greenock region in the Barossa showed why they were No. 1 and No. 4 respectively - juicy, succulent and easy to drink - I liked the 2007 Alley Cat Grenache Shiraz blend with that little point of difference - it was, perhaps, what made it stand out over the others, why it was crowned No. 1.
Also rather tasty was the value-packed Umani Ronchi Montepulciano DAbruzzo 2007 from Italy while two under $25 Martinborough Pinot Noirs stood their ground.
A nice little starter too in the Saint Clair Block 7 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - I just wanted to try it with food. The wine has now been discounted so it fitted in with the under $25 theme of the night.
Click here for Wednesday reviews.
Cuisine also staged their Restaurant of the Year Awards and it was disappointing not to see more wine restaurants featured. The judges couldn't agree on an absolute best in the winery section, so it was Craggy Range Terroir in Hawkes Bay and last year's winner, Pegasus Bay in Waipara, that shared the top honour of 2009 Best Winery Restaurant of the Year. Logan Brown in Wellington was acclaimed the overall Restaurant of the Year.
Impressions from Day Three of WINE
My eye was firmly on every passers by wrist as I asked him or her what the time was. Some, like me, were timeless. Others pulled out a mobile device instead. I knew I had to be upstairs at a certain time to be part of the judging panel for the Sommelier of the Year service exam. The title of Sommelier of the Year went to Simon McAuley of Cape Kidnappers, by the way. Congratulations Simon.
Even though time was on my mind, it took some time to drag myself away from the Macvine stand. Macvine imports the glorious Rolly Gassman wines that I raved about on Sunday. They also have a number of Australian brands, including Yering Station, whose Yarra Valley Shiraz Viogniers - both the 2006 'standard' and the 2005 'Reserve', really impressed. Both cool climate expressions with intensity of fruit and a spicy depth. Then it was the turn of Moss Wood from the Margaret River. I could have smelt the Moss Wood River Margaret River Chardonnay 2007 all day - such an evocative aroma of smoke, peach, fig and savoury barrel ferment scents and with the hint of tarragon coming through in the palate I imagined drinking this with a crayfish tail and a tarragon-infused beurre blanc.
Moss Wood Amy's 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec, was very smart too with the florals of the Malbec and Petit Verdot so charismatic.
Macvine have take over the Cornerstone agency and they had for tasting the Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Malbec 2006 that stood its ground in a tasting of Hawkes Bay reds and classed growth Bordeaux. Quite smoky bacon-like aromas and bright-fruited, cherryish flavours - it seems very youthful even at 3 years of age. There's a liquorice complexity and tannins pulsate through the juicy finish. Knowing how the Cornerstone wines develop I'd like to see this develop.
In comparison, Cornerstone Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Malbec 2005 was deeper and more intense with secondary characters starting to show their presence. A richer, deeper and more thinking wine than the 2006.
Next stop was the Esk Valley stand where the bottles were showing off their new designer labels. What was originally the 'black label' is now 'Vineyard Selection'. I like the makeover on this (the bottle on the right). It makes these wines that sell in the mid-$20's quite trendy. But do I like the makeover of the former 'Reserves' (bottle on left), now called the 'Winemakers Range'? For a wine that sells around $60, I'd like something a little more distinctive than the Vineyard Selection and perhaps a little more classical as well. But as for the wine inside the bottled labelled Esk Valley Winemakers Gimblett Gravels Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2007 - this wine gets my nod as New Zealand Red Wine of the Show (from the wines I tasted, of course). Very smooth and harmonious with an exquisite texture and tannin structure and massive concentration. 5 stars plus.
On another stand I spotted the much-hyped Alluviale 2007 a blend of Merlot (60%) and Cabernet Franc from Hawkes Bay - it's a juicy concentrated red with a spicy disposition and lots of creamy oak.
Down the back at the Procure stand it was The Crater Rim Dr Kohls Waipara Riesling 2008 that pretty much stole the scene. Intense fruit purity, driving acidity and exquisitely balanced sweetness - it's a low alcohol (7%), high sugar and high acid style. Just loved, loved, loved it.
Further along was Pisa Range Black Poplar Pinot Noir 2007 characterised by silky sensual tannins, depth of fruit and overall intensity - a beautiful wine and possibly the best from this Central Otago producer yet.
One to surprise was Monowai Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir 2007 - intense, aromatic, deep and savoury with chocolate, berries and a chocolate and mocha note at the end.
Beside that was Two Rivers Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008 - a more medium-bodied style but with silkiness and finesse.
And to complete a regional pinot foray, the Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir 2006 from the Waitaki Valley showed how these wines can develop with a little age. A deep and evolving wine last year but now the bud has opened and the blossom reveals even more than was there before - and the fragrance, by the way, is sublime.
Johanneshof 'Trocken/Dry' Gewurztraminer 2008 is a brand new release from this Marlborough winery and the first they have made in a really dry style. It penetrates with its delivery of spicy flavour. A must to try if you love Gewurz but find the traditional Johanneshof style too sweet. Now the Johanneshof Gewurztraminer 2009 is that typical rich, thick unctuous and delicious style with a spiciness that characterises and permeates the finish. Both very classy wines.
A refreshing alternative wine was Bubbles for Beth in the Forrest The Doctors' range. The first serious red bubbles I've tasted from New Zealand, it's made from 80% Syrah and 20% Malbec. Despite the initial onslaught of fizzy foam, it's a pretty nice drop with bright fruit, peppery spice, an earthy depth and a dry finish.
Back in the hall after the Sommelier of the Year, there was not much time left for tasting but I found my way to the Johner stand where I tried Johner Reserve Pinot Noir 2007 from the Wairarapa - rich, concentrated and savoury with mocha, black cherry and spice - bright all the way through and flavours that are persistent and long.
Impressions from Day Two of WINE
I have an agenda when I go to trade shows and like last year, one agenda is to seek out new producers. The list was not long but the people were interesting.
I won't go into too much detail but these were the highlights
A spot of blood in my tasting book is there to remind me of the hook that's hidden in the trout fishing 'fly' of the TRE Fat Front Chardonnay 2007 from Tukipo River Estate, which is in inland central Hawkes Bay. A Burgundian styled wine, I liked the dryness and the savoury saltiness that came through in this wine.
Hawkes Ridge Tempranillo 2008 is only the second producer's tempranillo I have tasted from New Zealand. Trinity Hill, of course, sets the benchmark here. Light in colour with red fruit aromas and cherryish flavours with hints of tobacco.
Tukipo River Estate and Hawkes Ridge share winemaking facilities and Tukipo's Roland Norman makes the wines. Check out www.tukipoterraces.co.nz.
Pete's Shed Tempranillo 2008 became No. 3. A brand of Yealand's Estate for experimental wines, this is grown in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough. It's even lighter in colour, not much deeper than most RosÚs and with its pretty floral and red berry perfume and slightly sweetish (or seemingly so) flavours, it could offer a fresh style slightly chilled for summer. But then the American oak kicks in and you realise there is actually depth and persistence.
Walnut Block and the dashing young Nigel Sowman (pictured) - 5th generation Marlburian and second generation winegrower, had a very tasty Pinot Noir 2007 and Sauvignon Blanc 2008 in the Walnut Block range.
Turanga Creek is in Whitford in South Auckland and they also source fruit from vineyards they lease in Clevedon. I tried their 2008 Pinot Gris in early February and didn't really like it . Six months later it has developed into a much more appealing wine. It even won a gold medal in China.
Bijou Wines was the stand next door and this little jewel is based in the Wairarapa. Now I did like their Pinot Gris when I tasted it a few months ago and tasting again that reflection had not changed. Bijou Estate Double Bridges Pinot Gris 2008 has intensity and richness with a grainy texture like that of just-ripe pear. There's sweetness to the finish and a touch of oak adds complexity. Karl Johner makes the wines for Alexandra, the owner.
The stand was shared by Omata Estate from Northland. I tasted these wines some years ago when I visited the winery. Linton McGill is now looking after the wine operation and thankfully he's replaced the former garish label and considerably reduced the prices. Omata Estate Syrah 2006 ($25) reminds me of the silver medal winning 2004 in its youth. I liked the depth of colour, the big biscuity vanillin oak and the fruit intensity. It seems to be drinking very well.
Maori Point from the Tarras region in Central Otago is further north than Bendigo. Carol Bunn makes the wines. They had a 2006 Pinot Noir on show that is evolving nicely. A more savoury Burgundian style, whereas the 2008 is straight up and down what you think of as Central Otago.
Bayview Estate is in Marlborough, not where you would expect it but at Waitaria Bay in the Marlborough Sounds - way way off the beaten Marlborough track. They've evidently built up a unique wine and cruise business with the local tourist operators - and having driven that road once - just because it was there - I really think that taking a cruise to Bayview is the best way to go. Look up 5742 Kenepuru Road on Google Maps and you'll see what I mean. I really loved the Bayview Estate Gewurztraminer 2008 ($20) - concentrated, spicy, quite varietal and just off dry. www.bayviewfarms.co.nz.
Impressions from Day One of WINE and Dry River new releases
It used to be called WINENZ but this year they are allowing distributors to bring wines from their international portfolios along so the name of New Zealand's premier wine trade show has been changed to WINE. As usual I highlighted the new names in the exhibitor catalogue and drew rings about the international wines I wanted to taste.
For some reason Maison Vauron decided not to bring their Alsace whites along - "Because there are other Alsace wines here," said Jean Christophe - very disappointing, so Macvine stole the scene in that respect.
Macvine had wines from Gustave Lorentz and Rolly Gassman on show. Perhaps the oldest Riesling in the room was the Gustave Lorentz Altenburg de Bergheim Grand Cru 1999 - rich, weighty and oily with some hints of kero, coconut and lime. But the Alsace wines that were the stars were from Rolly Gassman.
Rolly Gassman Reserve Pinot Gris 2000 was mind-blowing - for all those Pinot Gris knockers you should try something like this, while Rolly Gassman Kappelweg de Rorschwihr Vendage Tardives Alsace France Gewurztraminer 2000 - intense, perfect oiliness to the texture, floral and spice - Just OMG delicious.
MacVine also showed a range of Rieslings from Kerpen - I didn't make notes but all were of the impeccable standard I have come to expect from this producer. I did learn the easy way to ask for the wines, however.
BBRS = Bernkasteler Bratenhofchen Riesling Spatlese
WSRS = Wehlener Sonnenhur Riesling Spatlese
GDRA = Graacher Domprobst Riesling Auslese
While some people were atttracted to Scenic Cellars for other than the wines (see photo right), I spent some time propping up the stand while tasting interesting whites from Italy - including Arneis, from Austria - including the sensational Sepp Moser Breiter Rain 2006 - the same vintage that I've raved about before - the new vintage arrives next week, and from Spain - including a fascinating Macabeo from the La Mancha region. I learnt that Macabeo is the same as Rioja's Viura - same grape variety but different synonyms are used in different parts of Spain. I preferred the Artero Macabeo White Wine 2008 - a little unoaked Chardonnay-like on the nose and full of grapefruit juice and zest in palate with vinous complexity and a touch of honey suckle on the finish. Something different for around $14 a bottle.
A seminar called Pinot Envy took a good chunk out of my tasting time. A Pinot Blanc, 3 Pinot Gris and 3 Pinot Noir - notes to come later in the week. Then a quick whirl around some of the local wines on show before heading off to the Dry River Release tasting held in a different part of town.
Dry River Wines (www.dryriver.co.nz) are revered by collectors of New Zealand wines. They are known for their longevity, but what do they taste like on release? Well, most of the wines in the 2009 spring release tasted like they need some time - especially the tight-knit 2009's. I arrived late, about 15 minutes before the close of play, but that did mean I had the luxury of a table to myself which meant I could ponder over each wine in my glass and it was patently obvious the potential was there. The beauty of buying these wines is to be able to open them up two, three, five or even 10 years down the track and have a smug glow of satisfaction after tasting them on release and seeing how beautifully they have evolved.
Dry River Chardonnay 2008 is tight and restrained with a nutty leesy influence noticeable at this early stage of its life with underlying toastiness. A little understated to start but in fact quite a big wine and brimming with fruit sweetness with time in the glass.
Dry River Viognier 2009 comes across as quite creamy, leesy and beesy (as in the honey bee) - lovely texture - just the right amount of oiliness - and concentrated in its richness - a powerful wine with florals, spice, apricot and a warm bready finish. Best drinking in 3-4 years time.
Dry River Craighall Riesling 2009 is dry, dry, dry. Honeyed and floral on the nose, despite its dry disposition - bright, fruity and honeyed to the taste - so youthful with penetrating acidity, an exotic tropical fruit intrigue and amazing amazing length. I am looking through this wine to the future. It shows just so much potential.
Dry River Lovat Gewurztraminer 2009 is shy on the nose with a savoury overtone to the delicate spicy scent - then later, hints of florals too. Still very tight with upfront sweetness to the taste and then seemingly finishing dry. A delicate spiciness throughout.
Dry River Lovat Syrah 2007 is a big beast of a wine - reflective of the 2007 vintage, which was outstanding for red wines throughout New Zealand. Deep in its saturated crimson purple colour, woodsmoke, games meats, flannel, leather and florals on the nose and a full-bodied, rich, savoury palate with smoky French oak, black fruits, nugget, tar and rose pepper spices. Intriguing aromatics with oak quite dominant at this stage. I could drink it with decanting although cellaring would be recommended.
Wine Show Time again
The first of the new season's wine shows - and by new season I mean where the 'current vintage' has clocked over to 2009 - was judged this week in Hawkes Bay in conjunction with the Romeo Bragato Conference. The Bragato Wine Awards is to honour the growers and their vineyards, thus wines entered have to be (at least 85%) from vineyards owned, operated or managed by the entrant. It still lets the big boys in to some extent but Joe Bloggs can enter a wine off his tiny vineyard even if he hasn't got enough to sell commercially. The results list wine, grower, vineyard name and winery name but really, for the consumer, it is the bottle of wine that counts. This year 452 medals were awarded from the 788 entries with 36 gold, 126 silver and 290 bronze medals. Results are available from www.wineshow.co.nz. Pinot Noir was the most successful category with eleven gold medals plus six golds for Chardonnay and five for Pinot Gris. I've hung out for the trophy announcement but it is not available yet.
Stop Press: - Now early Sunday morning and news of the Trophy winners has reached me.
Villa Maria Reserve Gisborne Chardonnay 2007, grown by Tony Green of McDiarmid Vineyard, took home the prestigious Bragato Trophy for Champion Wine of Show, along with the Bill Irwin Trophy and Champion Chardonnay.
The other top award - the Richard Smart Trophy and Reserve Champion Wine was claimed by Evan and Kay Moore of Aravin Vineyard in Central Otago, for their Aravin Pinot Noir 2007, which was also awarded the Mike Wolter Memorial Trophy and Champion Pinot Noir.
Chairman of Judges, Larry McKenna, said another highlight was the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels Viognier 2008, which was named Champion Other White Wine.
Other Champions on the night were -
Haythornthwaite Gewurztraminer Susan 2009 - Dessert Wine
Vic Williams Selection Classic Riesling 2008 - Riesling
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer 2008 - Gewurztraminer
Ohau Gravels Wairarapa Pinot Gris 2009 - Pinot Gris
Saint Clair Pioneer Block 18 Snap Block Sauvignon Blanc 2009 - Sauvignon Blanc
Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Merlot 2007 - Classical Red
Esk Valley Reserve Syrah 2007 - Syrah
Craggy Range 'Te Kahu' 2007 - Other Red
Two more shows on the horizon - the Liquorland Top 100 judging commences on the 25th August and the New Zealand International Wine Show judging starts on the 7th September. These shows will give even more of a reflection on what the judges think of the new seasons wines. We'll know about the NZIWS result on September 14th, but it will be early October before the Liquorland crew reveal their winners. Personally I am expecting a better all round performance from the 2009 Sauvignon Blancs than in 2008 but how many will be entered? Words around the traps is that bottling is later this year because some wineries still have their 2008 wines to sell.
I'm off to 'WINE' tomorrow, the rebranded 'Wine NZ' because distributors are now allowed to bring along wines from their international portfolios. In particular I'm looking forward to trying some glorious German Rieslings, some decadent Alsace Gewurztraminers and hopefully a new vintage of Sepp Moser's outstanding Breiter Rain Gruner Veltliner from Austria. This amongst attending a couple of seminars and checking out new releases and new exhibitors amongst the locals. Thank goodness it is a 3 day event.
Now loaded - tasting notes from Last Wednesday's tasting - a bit of everything really. I was really impressed with the Lochiel Chardonnay 2008 from Mangawhai in Northland - just north of the south side of the Northland border actually - it was a good year for them up there. The other wine that took my fancy for something quite different was Primo Sangiovese Merlot 2008 from Daunia IGT in Italy. Fruity, savoury and medium bodied in style, I could imagine this hitting the spot, in lieu of a Pinot Noir, with many of my friends who prefer more 'gentle' red wines. Click here for all the reviews.
Dry River and New Zealand's most iconic Pinot Gris
A Sydneysider who has managed to get on the hard to get on mailing list of Dry River Wines asked a question to the kiwis who frequent the Auswine forum what to buy for his very first order. It's an important decision because as well as the cost of the wines (he wants to buy a dozen), he also has $120 in freight charges to pay.
There are five wines in the new release
2008 Chardonnay $52
2009 Lovat Gewurztraminer $39
2009 Craighall Riesling $44
2007 Lovat Shiraz $$64
2009 Viognier $42
Lots of advice from the local contingent and my advice would to be to buy at least 2 bottles of each - and extra one of each of the Gewurztraminer and the Riesling - not only because these are my favourites but because that's what he indicated he liked too.
Dry River has both a spring and an autumn release and it is in the autumn when the Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris come out. Sometimes there's also a Late Harvest Riesling and perhaps, like last autumn, a more age-worthy Gewurztraminer. But it looks like prospective Pinot Noir buyers will need to get in early, as there's an en primeur offer out for the 2008 Pinot Noir already.
The prices sound expensive but my experience with Dry River is that these are wines that are made to age.
Back in 2004 I was fortunate enough to attend two vertical tasting of Dry River wines and tasted back several vintages.
The first set was verticals of Gewurztraminer and Syrah - the link for this is www.wineoftheweek.com/tastings/0403dryriver.html
Then one a few months later was Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir - and the link for this is www.wineoftheweek.com/tastings/0407dryriver.html
Dry River's Pinot Gris is exceptional and comes from some of the oldest Pinot Gris vines in the country, planted 1979, but it is a wine that needs time and I was reminded of this when I foolishly put a bottle of the 2008 in a blind tasting of twelve wines, mostly Pinot Gris, last week. While I basically recalled some of the wines that were in the tasting, I did not know the order of serving. But there was one wine in there that was earthy, phenolic and tight. I remembered Dr Neil McCallum talking about and later explaining in one of his musings, that, to make wines that will age well, it is necessary to get the quantity and quality of phenolics (structure) right. But I was confused when the wine tasted so incredibly juicy.
Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2008 is light gold in colour and is slightly neutral and earthy smelling when first opened but summarising at the end of the tasting I gave it 2 ticks out of 3 for its emerging floral scent. The next day, however, it had an evocative perfume of spice biscuits, lemon honey and quince jam. Initially straight up and down Pinot Gris fruit flavours of apple and pear with that earthiness detected on the nose, it brightens up with a hint of pineapple sage and comes totally alive as it surges with zesty spices and fills out with a stonefruit fleshiness. A wine that seems more and more juicy with every mouthful and of all the wines, this was the best food match too - delicious with the herb crusted chicken schnitzel that we had for dinner.
If you have this wine in your cellar, I'd recommend holding for at least two more years - unless you want to drink over three nights (like I did). Of course, you could decant. As expected, it evolved into a super Pinot Gris, the only disappointment was that the cork broke on extracting.
A new wine from Northland and a moderately aged Hawkes Bay red
Catching up on my Wine of the Week postings for those of my readers who don't click over there, this week it's the new offerings from the fairly new Butterfish Bay Wines in Northland. This is a vineyard on an island that hosts the main highway for a few hundred metres. There is a bridge at the eastern end and a causeway at the western end (click for map and zoom in for vineyard plantings).
There's a blog entry on Paewhenua Island from October 2007 - that's when the grapes were taken by Karikari Estate. Now the vineyard owners have launched the Butterfish Bay brand and two wines from the 2009 vintage were tasted - a Viognier and a Pinot Gris - and they are looking very good already. I picked the Butterfish Bay Pinot Gris 2009 as this week's Wine of the week - it's makes a tasty beverage tipple but is food friendly too. We enjoyed it with a crumb and herb coated flattened chicken breast on the weekend and last night, three days after opening (the wine was still good, BTW), tried it again with a chilli spiced chicken baked in the oven and served with honey glazed vegetables - an excellent match for both.
Click here to read the review.
Last week it was the turn of Ngatawara Glazebrook Merlot Cabernet 2004 - a very good blended red from a very good season in Hawkes Bay. A deep, penetrating wine - a wine to savour slowly while it vinously caresses you. The food match was simple - rare fillet steak.
Click here to read the review.
Wine Bloggers do matter
A very interesting article was released yesterday in Wine Business Monthly, an online wine magazine that is worth following - I've done so for years. The article is titled "Do Wine Blogs Impact Your Brand? New Study Highlights Wine Blogger Activity" and starts ....
'Should wineries pay attention to what wine bloggers are writing? Do they really have an impact on a wine brand? According to a new study just completed by Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, it appears that the answer is yes -- especially for wineries with less well-known brands or located in new and upcoming wine regions.... '
Click here for the full article
It still surprises me how many wineries regard mainstream print journalists as more superior. But let's face it - the Internet and the World Wide Web are no longer new media. They arrived a long time ago and are here to stay. People are reading the blogs. People are using search engines to find information on what they want. And since I started 11 and a half years ago, it's now so easy for anyone to do.
PS. The blogs that participated in the study were taken from those listed in the 'Complete List of Wine Blogs' on www.vinography.com. I am listed under 'Blogs in English' as Sue Courtney's Blog - look at the heading above - that is what it is.
Catching up on Wednesday tastings
A catch up on the Wednesday tastings since returning from Australia reveals some rather iconic wines were tasted. That - and delicious, affordable wines as well.
It was quite a way to travel to a Wednesday tasting, but I made it with time to spare. The plane from Brisbane arrived early and at just $18 from the airport to Albany on the bus, it would have been stupid to expect Neil to take time off work to pick me up. I didn't have to pay a bill for my parking then battle 'school's out' traffic either.
Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Spain was the theme and I have to say Spain offers pretty affordable medium bodied reds for drinking. I tasted the Sea Level Awatere Sauvignon Blanc 2009 again - and that hard edge has now gone. Look for this featuring in medal lists next month when the show circuit starts up again. Buy of the night (and yes we bought some) was a ring-in, the Morris of Rutherglen Premium Liqueur Tokay. It's not being imported into NZ any more and at $30 a bottle, needless to say it quickly sold out.
On the 5th August, Te Mata Estate with Chief Winemaker Peter Cowley was the main theme. A range of Te Mata beauties, including Coleraine 2006 and the bottle my tasting sample was poured out of, was rather texturally sublime. A harmonious wine that has improved magnificently in the bottle over the past year. Of course this was the best vintage ever, until the 2007 came along.
There was a promotion on wine glasses that night - and we were shown how we could drink a bottle of wine if limited to one glass a day. Peter Cowley demonstrates (not the drinking, stupid, the glass!)
A ring in to the tasting was a black wine from the Madiran - Chapelle Lenclos Madiran 2002.
Peter Cowley was given it blind and then asked to see if he could identify it. The tannins were obviously a clue, as he correctly picked the grape, Tannat, and the area. Wow, we were impressed. Incidentally these deep rich wines are promoted as being healthier than any others are, and this one had a 'five heart' healthy rating.
Last Wednesday it Church Road Wines with Phil Bothwell. Phil (pictured) has a new title of National Brand Ambassador for Pernod Ricard New Zealand. Tonight the brand he was ambassadoring was the rather successful Church Road of Hawkes Bay.
Church Road Syrah 2007, which was Champion Wine of the Show at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards last year, had changed considerably since I last tasted it. Now it's a big creamy mouthful of chocolate and mocha, berries and spice. Violets abound on the finish and oak is harmonising nicely.
A ring-in to the tasting was Cottage Block Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007, the Champion Wine of the Show at the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards earlier this year. It was tasted alongside Church Road Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007. Church Road was savoury, Cottage Block a little sweeter - both very good but Cottage Block got my vote on the night.
The Marzemino I raved about at the beginning of July after the Hot Red Hawkes Bay Road Show was put on for tasting - this was the only wine served blind. I loved it, just loved it - and could see shades of both Malbec and Pinotage in there.
But the wine of the night for many people, including me, was Church Road Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2007. That was followed by Church Road's icon, TOM, named after former winemaker Tom McDonald. The 2002 has lost much of it primary fruit. It is the silky seamless texture that makes this wine so memorable.
To Sir with Wine
An historic day for New Zealand and for the wine industry in particular with George Fistonich, founder of Villa Maria Estate, among the 72 Knights and Dames bestowed with their titles today. And so now the New Zealand wine industry has its first 'Sir'.
It was 2005 when Sir George was awarded the title of Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, which he earned for services to the wine industry. It was the second highest level of chivalry at the time. But he wasn't a 'Sir' as the Sir and Dame titles were abolished in 2000. Now they have been reinstated and at last we can call him 'Sir'.
Sir George founded Villa Maria Estate in 1961. With his passion, strong determination and a striving for quality, Villa Maria, which is still family owned, is now one of New Zealand's most internationally recognised wine brands, selling in over 30 countries.
But it hasn't been an easy ride. When the company was founded the favoured tipples were fortified sherries, ports and liqueurs, and of course beer. Villa Maria decided to dabble with dry red and white wines right from the outset and as classic grape varieties from Europe, like chardonnay, merlot, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc, became available, the quality improved dramatically. But such was the state of the wine industry in the mid-1980's with the government paying winemakers to pull out grapevines, Villa Maria was forced into receivership. However loyal staff and growers urged the public to support the company. Villa Maria recovered.
At a speech today at Villa Maria, just before the soon to become Sir George and Lady Fistonich left for the airport, long time employee and marketing manager Ian Clark reminded the staff that were gathered of a number of Sir George's and Villa Maria's achievements.
- First to have grapes grown under contract
- First to pay for grapes on a quality and not quantity basis
- First to produce Reserve wines
- First company to promote wine and food education with the formation of the "Living with Wine Club" and the close association with Tonys Restaurant chain
- First to obtain a vineyard restaurant licence, the forerunner to wine tourism in New Zealand
- First to employ female sales representatives in the liquor industry
- First to promote publicly owned vineyard companies Seddon in 1992 followed by Terra Vitae in 1998
- First major winery in the world to embrace screwcap technology.
Today Villa Maria produces a huge selection of wines covering all prices and styles from the super affordable, supermarket focussed 'Vintage Selection' range to the opulently rich 'Single Vineyard' wines. In between are the 'Private Bin', the 'Cellar Selection' and the excellent 'Reserve' ranges.
Villa Maria is New Zealand's most awarded winemaker, often picking up several trophies per competition on the show circuit. Villa Maria has never been afraid to compete and the quality just keeps on improving and improving. And it's not only Villa Maria - It's Esk Valley, Vidals, Thornbury and Riverstone too.
Congratulations, Sir George. If anyone deserves it, you do.
Better to drink wine than make wine - tonight it's Camshorn
According to a newspaper article today, Daniel Schuster Wines is just one of three New Zealand wineries in the last three months to go into receivership. It states that at least 30 vineyards in Marlborough are on the market - and there are plenty more in greater New Zealand, I'm sure. That's why I'm a wine drinker not a wine maker.
Rams offspring and Camshorn
Back to reality - Neil came home from the weekend shopping with two lamb shanks. They were the 'gourmet' kind, which means the butcher has spent a few extra seconds stripping off the sinewy bits to ensure the meat, when cooked, will fall off the bone. Neil paid a couple of extra dollars each for the butcher's effort. I would have bought the cheap ones, I'm sure.
Many of my lamb shank dishes end up being quite heavy - mostly because of the ingredients I use; often red wine is incorporated, which makes the sauce quite rich. Could I make a 'lighter' style of lamb shank meal? Now that the tree is offering a crop of new season's tangelos, what about lamb shanks with white wine and citrus?
Searching the Internet, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Orange Braised Lamb Shanks looked ideal. I've enjoyed his television cooking programs, his down to earth nature and his sometimes left field bent. You can find his recipe at this BBC TV link.
I made modifications, of course, as one does and being side tracked during the cooking process, the first batch of vegetables went into the compost bin.
In my method the seasoned shanks are browned in a little oil and popped into a earthenware casserole dish, then in the drippings the harder vegetables (diced carrot, diced parsnip and chopped onions) are sauteed with garlic. Chopped tomatoes, sage leaves, sprigs of thyme, bay leaves, the juice and zest of two tangelos are added, together with about 1/2 cup of Riesling. This is poured over the meat with about 1/2 cup water to bring to a level so during cooking the liquid won't evaporate and burn.
The casserole was covered and the meat cooked slowly for almost two hours. Then it was left to cool and refrigerated overnight for reheating the next day. When cooked, the sauce is removed to a saucepan, fat skimmed off the top and then it is brought to the boil and lightly thickened with a little cornflour mixed with cold water.
We accompanied this with sloppy mashed potatoes (achieved by adding too much milk) and greens.
The meat had fallen off the bones and there was a lightness to the whole dish with the refreshing citrus adding brightness. You can add a little more citrus juice at the end, if you wish
With gamey flavours from the lamb, earthy flavours from the vegetables and herbs and refreshing acidity from the Riesling and the citrus, versatile Pinot Noir seemed like it could be a fitting accompaniment. But a Pinot Noir that was not too heavy, nor too light.
Camshorn Waipara Pinot Noir 2007 fits the bill perfectly. It's bright in colour and moderately dense in appearance with crimson / purple hues. Smoky and savoury on the nose with a hint of flower musk to the spicy perfume. Smooth and gentle in the palate - deep, savoury, earthy - a bed of moss on the forest floor (yes - ready for sex) and fruits of the forest - wild strawberry and cherry with an anise-infused mulled spiciness and poached tamarillo on the smoky finish. Lifted, bright and clean - the acidity adds citrus to the finish - this made it so good with the lambs shanks braised in citrus - it also brought out more gaminess and richness in the wine.
This is becoming one of the top Pinot Noir labels in the Pernod Ricard stable, not only its quality, but also it's RRP because at $36.95 a bottle it makes it one of the more expensive. The wine has 13% alcohol and a screwcap closure. Tasted on its own, I rate it high silver - 18/20, or 4.5 stars. With the food particularly lamb, considering Camshorn was once a sheep farm, it's perfect.
A full-bodied Porters Pinot takes care of my steak
There are light Pinot Noirs and there are rich, full-bodied Pinot Noirs. As mentioned in an entry a couple of weeks ago, the lighter styles need lighter food otherwise the delicate flavours of the wine can be masked by the rich food flavours. But there are those robust styles that stand up magnificently to powerful, flavoursome, meaty main course.
Point in case- Porters Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005 - this is a dense, rich wine now four years old but still youthful, concentrated and tight. Colour is a ruby-hued garnet. Aromas are plummy, savoury with just a hint of poached tamarillo. Masses of oak that still seems quite primary with concentrated plum and bramble fruit, a touch of poached tamarillo, sweet vanilla and mulled wine spices. A big wine but still has that gentle demeanour and lovely savoury intonations that we expect from the Martinborough region.
Food match - tender melt in the mouth eye of fillet with a creamy mushroom sauce and a parsley garnish. A food course that struck the spot with this voluptuous Pinot.
Wine facts are 13.5% alcohol, screwcap closure and a $45 price tag. Fruit came from a 2-hectare vineyard planted in 1992. The hand picked fruit was destemmed & soaked for a lengthy preferment maceration to extract colour and flavour. The slow ferment of grapes sugars to alcohol took 28 days then the wine was transferred to French oak barriques, 1/3 new, where it rested for 12 months prior to bottling.
Find out more from www.porterspinot.co.nz.
Going on a Witch Hunt - and the winner is .
If you are looking for a wine from Queensland that will blow you away with its quality and deliciousness - then one of the smartly packaged Witches Falls wines will fit the brief I'm sure.
Up on Mt Tambourine, after parking the car amongst the trees, we followed a bromeliad-lined pathway through a pretty garden setting, with glimpses of a vineyard waiting to be pruned, to the barn-like cellar door tasting room.
"Welcome to Witches Falls Winery," said our host for the visit, Jane and popped a couple of the largest tasting glasses on the counter for June and me (Helen had already headed back to Brisbane to ready herself for Pink's concert that night). With glass walls behind Jane, we could see right into the working winery. This was the only cellar door we visited on the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast hinterlands where we could see that winemaking actually took place on site.
Apart from Rachael at Aussie Winery (see previous post), where we had visited before lunch, English-accented Jane (pictured right) was a refreshing cellar door host. She was reasonably new to her job as the face at the cellar door and didn't mind my questions at all. In fact if I when I gave an impression of a wines and said a term she didn't know, she wanted to learn.
"What's earthy?" she asked and pulled from the behind the counter Glen Green's pocket sized Essential Wine Tasting Guide. I pointed out a list of 'earthy' terms in the section headed 'Earthy'.
"Oh, barnyard," she said enlightened, "I know that one," she said.
All of the wines were crafted by owner/winemaker Jon Heslop, a winemaker with experience from both the Barossa and Hunter Valleys, before starting his own venture in 2004. Grapes for most of the wines came from the Granite Belt region further south. But there was a gorgeous Clare Valley Riesling for tasting too.
Witches Falls Clare Valley Riesling 2004 ($25) was powerfully scented with limes becoming quite toasty and layer of tropical fruit - dry and weighty with just the right amount of textural oiliness.
I wanted to taste Witches Falls Granite Belt Fiano 2009 - a native Italian grape - to extend my list of unusual wines tasted. But at the time of our visit near the end of July, the wine list said 'coming soon'. If I had been there today, it would probably have just been released. So we tasted many, but not all of, the Granite Belt wines -with their evolution of labels.
Withes Falls Granite Belt Co-inoculated Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18) was steely and crisp with green apple acidity, a hint of capsicum and green bean. It builds in power to a pungent finish - powerful, rich and strong - no doubting it is Sauvignon. 'Co-inoculated' was a new term for me but means that different strains of yeasts had been used at the same time. They do this with their Verdelho too.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Chardonnay 2007 ($18) had slightly buttery aromas from the malolactic process that converts the puckery grape acids into much softer and creamier lactic tones. New French oak and hints of citrus give a lemon polish overtone and the wine finishes dry and crisp with tropical fruit to the fore.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Marsanne 2007 ($18) was rather honeyed - both on the nose and in the palate with honeysuckle nuances too. A rich wine with wonderful aging potential, and despite the honey, it's dry.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2008 ($35) is the answer to the question in the heading. This was a clean, beautifully made Chardonnay with rich, biscuity, savoury flavours and stonefruit emerging on the long full finish. Mindblowingly good. "Yummy," I wrote. I considered taking a bottle back to New Zealand before I saw the price but the poor exchange rate that I was hit with on entering Australia would have made the wine appear on my credit card at over $50. In hindsight it would have been good to have had the opportunity to put alongside Kumeu River Mate's 2008 when that wine is released.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Saignee 2008 ($18) is a RosÚ made from Cabernet Sauvignon. It's rich for RosÚ with just a touch of sweetness and a spicy nuances amongst the strawberry-like fruit. Would be perfect for a picnic on a hot summer's day.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Pinot Noir 2006 ($25) was a surprise. It's a lighter bodied cherry / raspberry fruit style, quite creamy on the palate and has a savoury rustic undercurrent to the upfront fruit. Not a bad effort at all.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Grenache 2007 ($22) looks light from the colour but in the mouth it's quite a powerful, spicy and savoury with red peppercorns on the bright lifted finish.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Syrah 2006 ($22) disappointed at first but I realised the character I didn't like in just about every Queensland Syrah I had tasted, which many cases I had put done to the spoilage yeast Brettanomyces, was present in this wine. It couldn't be Brett because everything else tasted here, as well as the wines Jon made for Aussie Winery (excluding the 2002 Five Bars Syrah), was clean. So I'm putting the earthy rustic Shiraz character that I don't like down to the Queensland 'terroir'. Once I got past it, the blueberry and black cherry fruit came forth and the finish, which was actually quite nice, was persistent and long.
Witches Falls Granite Belt Moscato 2009 ($18) is made from Frontignac grapes. It's perfumed like Muscat and has light, fresh, fruity grape flavours. A sweet style of wine with just 7% alcohol, my sweet wine drinker friend absolutely loved it. She hadn't let me pay for any petrol during the trip, so I bought her a bottle of this Moscato instead.
So if you beat your way up to Mt Tambourine - which you should do if you are anywhere near Brisbane or the Gold Coast, be sure to schedule a visit to Witches Falls Wines for an enlightening wine tasting experience and yummy wines as well. They are at 79 Main Western Road, North Tamborine and open from 10am to 4pm daily. www.witchesfalls.com.au.
And if you got bogged down in the middle of this posting, the winner is ..
Witches Falls Granite Belt Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2008. A fitting finale to my Queensland visit.
Beating a path to Mt Tambourine
I like reading maps and plotting and navigating routes to destinations. So when it came to finding the shortest way from Ascot in Brisbane to Mt Tambourine inland from the Gold Coast I was in my element even though I was using a 'Refidex' that was somewhat out of date. While the motorway exits weren't clearly marked in the map book, at least the road signs were patently clear. We took route 92 from Beenleigh and soon we were there.
At Tambourine itself there is a large sign with a map of the wineries nearby - later I would find it was out of date. From Tambourine the roads snakes up the mountain past a piano player tinkling the keys to the beat of the tambourine.
On top of the mountain we stopped at the information centre to pick up a winery map. They didn't have one, but they did have a Tambourine pamphlet that had a wine trail map within it. When asked where we should go, the information centre lady recommended Cedar Creek.
Arriving at Cedar Creek (www.cedarcreekestate.com.au) the spacious car park and designated bus area signalled that they expect lots of visitors at times. It's a pretty setting complete with lake. On this Monday, however, there was only another party of six, besides us, in the restaurant for lunch. But first more important things to deal with.
"How much does it cost to taste the wines," I asked.
"You can have two complimentary tastings or pay $3 to taste them all," the cellar door lady replied.
"I'll taste them all," I said as I fumbled for the coins in my handbag.
"Oh, you won't have time if you are having lunch," she said.
"How long will it take?"
"About 15 minutes," she said.
"She poured me a wine, then completely ignored me for five minutes as she chatted to Helen, my friend, about something that was nothing to do with wine.
Cedar Creek Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2007 ($22) is perfumed and a little floral with Muscat nuances on the nose. A dry lean wine to the taste with a developed grassy Sauv character showing through and apples on the finish. Expensive for what it was.
Eventually I got a pour of Cedar Creek 'Claret Ash' Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($19). A full-bodied style with spicy American oak, smoky cigar box, hints of leather and an earthy savoury finish with a lingering aftertaste that had just a touch of sweetness. It was okay.
I really wanted to taste Cedar Creek 'In the Pink' Chambourcin Rose 2009 ($18) grown on the property and would have paid the $3 to taste this tipple alone. By now the lady was ignoring me, and my questions, even though I said I told her I was one of those dreaded bloggers. She said I should have come another day when the proper cellar door person was there. Helen had some of the pretty pink Chambo in her glass and I had a wee sip to find the sweetish flavours of yellow plums and strawberries.
Lunch was okay, but like in the wine room, the service left us feeling like we had intruded. Maybe they had a hangover from a busy weekend.
In the same road as Cedar Creek is Aussie Winery (www.aussievineyards.com) which we had visited before Cedar Creek- simply because it was there. This winery was missing from the roadside map sign as was another we would visit later. Aussie Winery has a modern cellar door and tastings are free. This winery gets the Sue Courtney Blog of Vinous Ramblings Award for Best Winery Visit of my short Queensland tour.
Rachael, who worked the cellar door was pleasant and friendly and didn't mind my questions at all. And on top of that all of the beautifully presented wines were clean and well made. Rachael said the vines on the front of the property at the entrance were just for show, although they looked like fairly new plantings. Aussie Winey source their grapes from Stanthorpe and Jon Heslop of Witches Falls Wines, near by, was the winemaker. I liked the Au labelling - a play on the gold symbol as well as an abbreviation of the winery name.
Au Granite Belt Sauvignon Semillon ($16.50) had a gorgeous scent almost reminiscent of coconut and lime -a little like an older Riesling - the texture is oily and rich with an apple and tropical guava character coming though and a fresh tropical fruit finish. Not like any Sauvignon I know, I really liked this.
Au Granite Belt Verdelho 2007 ($16.50) is steely, crisp and very dry with some bottle age characters creeping in and a concentration that comes with aged semillon - because that is what it reminded me of.
Au Granite Belt Unwooded Chardonnay ($16.50) is a fat style - fat and creamy and even though unwooded, it has a toastiness to the bright pineapple fruit.
Au Granite Belt Cabernet Merlot 2007 ($16.50) is quite leafy and green. A dry style - clean and well made with a creamy oak finish.
Au Granite Belt Shiraz 2005 ($22) has a cherryish aromas and light fruit flavours. Quite peppery with a savoury finish, then blackberry fruit emerges with hints of violet and pepper.
Au Granite Belt Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($22) is tasty and full of mint and cassis. A touch of vitamin B on the nose and a dry finish.
Au Granite Belt Cabernet Franc ($22) was the one I was most looking forward to tasting. A concentrated red with a brightness to the dense colour, it had aromas of blackcurrant and blueberry that carried through to the palate. Bright, fragrant perhaps a hint of strawberry. I though it just needed something more to bulk up the hollow mid palate.
There were two older wines under the Five Bars label, a reference to Ned Kelly that didn't work in the international markets as they had hoped. Five Bars Merlot 2002 ($30) shows some development. It's quite savoury, still with firm tannins and a nice touch of cherry on the finish. A clean wine with vinous concentration and drinking well now. Five Bars Shiraz 2002 ($30) was a lighter style with earthy barnyard character I found in many Queensland Shirazes. Definitely not my style.
To finish we tasted the Au Botrytis Semillon 2004. Thick and viscous in texture, picking up some kero notes with age and though sweet, it has a well-balanced dry finish. I still had the Church Road Semillon from Hawkes Bay firmly in my mind and the Au Sem didn't have the concentration of the opulent Hawkes Bay wine. June loved it though and bought a bottle.
Aussie Winery certainly lifted the bar. My recommendation to Mt Tambourine wine tourists is that this is a 'must visit'. They open daily and you can take a picnic - even if it's as simple as a great Aussie pie from the bakery in town. But there was one more winery that would surpass all others ....
Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 3
Day 3 in Queensland was rather more leisurely as far as wine visits were concerned. A couple of days previously I had asked the people in a wine tour group that we had seen at a couple of the wineries, what was the best winery they had visited. It was unanimous that The Little Morgue Winery (www.littlemorguewinery.com) was top of their list.
We found it was a place than June previously knew as the Black Cat winery. She thought it had closed but now it had been resurrected. We had seen the large sign that simply said 'winery' from the M1 motorway directly inland from Coolum at Killangour but planning was needed in order to take an exit to the adjacent 'old highway'.
What makes this winery unique is that it is right next door to a cemetery and used to be a funeral chapel and morgue. It's a theme winery and the names of the wines reflect that. Wine tastings are free. Queensland grapes come from the Granite Belt but not all of the wines were from Queensland.
Touch of Coffin Chardonnay 2005 ($19.50) was from the Hunter Valley. This had toasty oak and nutty aromas and the flavours were reasonably full-bodied, warm and toasty with hot melted butter and a ripe fruit finish.
Dead Smooth Classic White 2007 ($23.50) was made from Verdelho. It had a fruity aroma reminiscent of tropical guava and a slightly oily texture, fresh acid-driven palate with a little bit of spritz and a lemon / apple aftertaste. I'm used to high acid wines but the acidity was too much for my friends.
I was expecting Soft Angel Riesling Grenache 2007 ($21.50) to be a blush-styled wine but it was a clean, bright white. "Was the juice run immediately off the skins to stop the red colour coming through," I asked. "Grenache is a white grape," answered the cellar door guy. Googling Grenache on return home I find Grenache noir, which produces full-bodied reds in Australia, is one of the most commonly planted red wine grapes in the world. But there is a variant called Grenache blanc, which is white. Perhaps it added the spiciness to this medium sweet wine that was fresh and clean with tropical fruit and muscat-like grape flavours and a spicy, gewurz-like finish. It reminded me of a medium styled, low alcohol (8.3%) Riesling on the ripest end of the fruit spectrum. I like this style of wine and rated it highly.
Rest in Peace Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($22.50) made from Riverland fruit had blackberry fruit trampled with leather boots and an earthy savoury finish.
Redomortis Shiraz 2004 ($23.50) was lacking density of colour. Not a good wine, it had earthy iodine aromas and bitter leathery flavours.
There were fortified wines too - the White Lady ($30) a white port made from Semillon, was a spiritous nutty white with a hint of apricot, strong brandy overtones and a rancio finish. Black Cat Reserve Tawny Port ($50) was smooth, creamy and nutty - and very mellow. It was a good example of what it was meant to be.
Obviously this is a fun stop for bus tours and party groups with Murder in the Morgue and other scary wine dinners. While the morgue itself is perfect for barrel storage, upstairs the decorations are rather ghoulish and there are macabre gift items, like coffin shaped wine bottle boxes, for sale. If you believe in ghosts or are an aura photographer, you would be in your element here. Personally I couldn't wait to leave.
Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 2
The Eumundi Markets (www.eumundimarkets.com.au) inland from Noosa on Queensland's Sunshine Coast attract thousands of visitors and two wineries have tasting booths there.
At the Robinsons Family Vineyard booth (www.robinsonswines.com.au) tastings were free but unfortunately the wine was served from plastic thimbles that didn't provide for the best tasting experience. Robinsons grown their grapes in Ballandean in the Granite Belt region much further south but exhibit from their stand at the Eumundi markets every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The day I visited owner and retired winemaker Heather Robinson was 'manning' the stand. Heather's maiden name was Salter and her family established Saltrams in 1859. She and her husband John are regarded as 'pioneers' of the Queensland wine scene. But what of the wines?
A sauvignon blanc (vintage not noted) was not varietal at all to my New Zealand palate and I found the 2004 Shiraz and the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon both thin with strong sweaty saddle and barnyard flavours - not wines for me. Robinsons Family Vineyard Merlot 2006, however, was smooth, rich and fruity - of the four wines I tasted this was head and shoulders the best.
We spotted a sign for the Eumundi Winery but noted on our new wine trail guide a cellar door somewhere near by. Rather than to have to taste from thimbles again we decided to stop at the actual cellar door later. With varieties like Arneis, Tannat, Tempranillo. Mondeuse and Chambourcin (yes Chambourcin!!) they had lots of wines I wanted to try.
We headed to Kenilworth, about 25 minutes drive west, for lunch in the village then tastings at adjacent wineries under the towering Kenilworth Bluff.
Kenilworth Bluff Winery, the oldest winery on the Sunshine Coast (and currently for sale), has a rustic charm with its steep vineyard disappearing almost under the bluff and elevated 'tasting room' deck cantilevered over flowering shrubs. Fruit comes from both the estate and further south. What I liked most about this place is that we could take a seat at a table on the deck and the tasting wines were delivered, one by one, to us. Each came in a cute little liqueur glass, which I transferred to my wineglass that was meant to be for the water. The wines were varied in quality. You could purchase a cheese platter if you wished or bring your own picnic to enjoy with the wines. It's so good to be able to taste first to see what pleases. I like the relaxed ambience of this place. Tastings cost $2 per person and glasses of wine to drink cost $4 each.
Chardonnay 2004 ($15) had a rancid butter aroma and a sour, polished oak taste. Dry Semillon 2008 ($18) was an oily, lanolin style - dry and spicy with a sharp green apple finish. Seemed older than 2008 but I wasn't sure how long this, or the other bottles, had been opened. Shiraz RosÚ 2005 ($18) was the colour of rhubarb water and for its age I was expecting a tired wine but served chilled on a hot day, this would really hit the spot. Slightly floral aromas, sweet bottled cherry flavours with a little bit of grip, a dry finish and the peppery signature of Syrah. Shiraz 2005 ($18) with fruit off the property was to be one of the best tasted on the trip. Saturated deep red in colour, rich cherry and creamy American oak scents and slightly jammy fruit flavours with a smattering of spice, dry tannins and a savoury finish. Shiraz Merlot Cabernet 2005 ($15) was a little oxidised on the nose with rough drying tannins and sweet vanillin oak. Cabernet Merlot 2005 ($15) was moderate in weight and dry - but not as dry as the previous wine. A combination of plummy Merlot and leafy Cabernet with underlying acidity and hints of cigar, it reminded me a little of a Hawkes Bay style.
Next door is Blind Man's Buff Winery (www.blindmansbluff.com.au) where tastings cost $3 a person. The owners here go to a great deal of trouble to provide a unique tasting experience of their rather unique wines. They present the wines as a quartet and explain their philosophy. The grapes grown on the property are picked early because of the rain, thus they are low alcohol styles and served chilled on the cellar door lawn on a hot afternoon under the Kenilworth sun I imagine they could be quite refreshing. They are definitely wines for the right time and place.
Liaisons Chardonnay 2008 ($25) is dry and steely with green grape acidity softened by a hint of creaminess. It is unoaked and carries just 10% alcohol. Sophist Red ($22) is made from Shiraz and while emphatically told it is not RosÚ, to me it was very much a RosÚ style. It is transparent light red in colour with aromas of rubber bands and ripe cherry fruit, perhaps a hint of pepper, upfront sweetness, an aftertaste of strawberry jam with refreshing acidity to keep everything in balance. Just 10% alcohol too. Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($20) is a deep red colour of moderate depth. It's a light fruity style with cassis and strawberry, violet nuances, hints of spice, underlying savouriness and hints of mocha and chocolate too. I imagine that most meaty dishes would be overpowering. Again you could easily quaff on the lawn in the sun. Infatuation ($20) is a fortified chardonnay with oak aging. I found the brandy character overpowering and the peppermint/spearmint finish quite strange.
Time to head back to our base via Eumundi Winery (www.eumundiwinery.com.au). It said on our new wine trail guide that they were open until 5pm and this was restated on the sign at the gate, but at 4pm the 'in' side of the driveway had the gate pulled over with a 'closed' sign attached. The gate on the 'out' side of driveway was still open. They must have been setting up for an evening function so perhaps we should have tasted out of thimbles at the market after all. Never did get to try Queensland Arneis, Tannat or Tempranillo - or a decent Chambourcin - at all.
Sunshine Coast Wine Tour - Day 1
"What's the best wine to taste in Queensland," I asked participants on one of the Australian wine forums before I left for a Queensland holiday.
"South Australian wine" was more than one answer. Seems that Queensland wine doesn't have a very good rep - not amongst the wine geeks anyway.
Still, when in Queensland, may as well check out the locals - that is if you can find out who the locals are. The tourist maps I downloaded off an 'official' Queensland government site were several years out of date. Wineries had closed, other wineries had changed names and new wineries had opened.
We were staying on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane and it wasn't very far to the 'hinterland', the hills just inland a way where views back over the coast, and then a little further south over the remnants of old volcanoes called the Glasshouse Mountains, are rather dramatic.
We followed a route that took us from our base at Maroochydore on the coast to Nambour, Mapleton, Flaxton, the charming little village of Montville, Maleny, Landsborough and then back down off the hills to the coast.
The first winery on our trail map, at Flaxton, had a 'We are now closed' sign at the gate so that stop didn't take long.
Next one, according to our sheet, was Settler's Hill near Montville but on arrival the name was Flame Hill Vineyard (www.flamehill.com.au), re-opened December 2008. A re-sited early 1900's villa provided the venue for tastings, luncheons and coastal vistas where the seaside tourist towns were easily located by the white apartment block buildings reaching upwards to the sky. There was an outside area for imbibing too.
The Flame Hill tasting room was modern and the staff were friendly. The labels were striking too. There are two tiers of wines here, premium and limited edition. The 'premium' wines are in fact the standard wines and are open every day for tasting. The 'limited edition' wines are opened only on weekends - we were a day too early. We could taste four wines for free off the premium list, or pay $5 to taste them all. The Verdelho was the only one available that was grown on the property. Other grapes came from near Stanthorpe in the Granite Belt wine growing area. I looked at the list and decided to taste just four.
Flame Hill Verdelho 2009 ($22) reminded me a little of dry feijoa wine with green apple skin. Very crisp and very dry.
Flame Hill Sauvignon Blanc Semillon 2008 )$22) had a flinty character to start then lively tropical fruit coming through and a finish that was pungent and dry. I could taste the distinctive Sauv, but I don't know what the Sem did for this wine.
The reds were much older and I was told the owner dabbled around in making wine before they bought the old Settler's property.
Flame Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 had cassis, cherry lolly and a hint of liquorice on the nose and the flavours were soft, leathery and earthy with a touch of chocolate. It was a little on the light side but smooth, spicy and bright. I could imagine sitting on the deck at Flame Hill, quaffing a glass of this wine.
Flame Hill Shiraz 2004 looked more like a medium bodied Pinot. Earthy, leathery aromatics and light cherryish flavours with a sprinkle of pepper that commandeered the finish that was a little sour. While it could be good at the restaurant with the right food, the 'bretty' character in this wine was not to my liking.
We had passed through Montville before visiting Flame Hill, so returned here for lunch and as we were wandering through the village we found the cellar door for Masons, a Stanthorpe-based winery (www.masonwines.com.au). Tastings were free and the woman working the tasting room was friendly too.
"It's not as good as the 2008," she said of Mason Wines Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($18) but I found this rather to my liking. Strongly aromatic with hints of passionfruit and dry and steely in the palate full of tropical fruit, particularly yellow guavas. with underlying hints of apple and a smooth rounded finish. A 50/50 blend, I couldn't really detect the grassy Sem, perhaps it added the roundness?
Masons Verdelho 2007 ($17) had a rich fruity nose - more so than the previous wine - again feijoa with guava and apple - and a pungent palate - even more pungent than the previous wine. I wondered if it had some oak.
Masons Chardonnay 2007 ($17) had a lustrous lime gold colour. Aromatics were subtle with hints of butterscotch and the dry spicy taste was reminiscent of a Chablis style with subtle French oak coming through on the smoky finish - the smokiness perhaps enhanced by some reduction.
Masons Shiraz Viognier 2006 ($18) was a light coloured ruby red. A lighter style, it emanated vinosity on the peppery nose and seemed just a little jammy in the palate with pepper on the finish and hints of violets.
We had heard the were liqueur tastings elsewhere in the village and my friends were keen to find some white chocolate cream. We found Castle Glen Wines and Liqueurs on the other side of the road and my advice, if you go here, is "don't try the wines". Something labelled Semillon Rose 2009 was ruby red in colour and tasted like fermenting grape must. A 1999 Merlot was disgustingly bad - spoiled and oxidised. Thank good they only gave thimbles to taste out of. I didn't even finish my meagre samples. As for the liqueurs - the spirit was overpowering in all the ones I tasted and in the flavoured chocolate liqueurs the flavourings even overpowered the chocolate. Not recommended.
We carried onto Maleny to taste cheese and found wines from Riversands at St George in South West Queensland were available for tasting. My palate was still suffering from the last stop and as there was only cheese staff to serve the wines, I decided to give the wines a miss and concentrate on the many cheeses instead. It was basically one of many 'tourist stop' cellar outlets.
The brochure for Maleny Mountain Wines (www.malenymountainwines.com.au) says they have spectacular views of the Glass House Mountains, but that must have been written before the trees grew high. We only sighted one of the volcano remnants from the back of the car park where we were directed to see them. For best view of the mountains, you need to go to the lookout, less than two kilometres away, in Mountain View Road.
So it was the barrel-shaped tasting room and surrounding grapevines that set the scene. Only Chambourcin is grown on this site 430m asl. Maleny Mountains Chambourcin 2007 ($16.95) was not what I was expecting, however - it was light in colour, sweet to the taste, with a hint of cherry to the red apple fruit flavour and no supporting structure or tannins. My travelling companions, who like sweet wines, liked this. The woman in charge of the cellar door said they are the only growers of Chambourcin in Queensland. I told her I thought there were other growers in Queensland but she assured they were the only ones. It was obvious to me and my friends that I annoyed her with all my questions - they were necessary as the tasting list didn't show vintages and some of the bottles didn't either. Vintages are added to the generic labels with little stickers.
"How do you know so much?" she reorted when I asked another wine-oriented question.
"I drink a lot," I replied.
Tasted some whites but only the Chardonnay was memorable. Maleny Mountains Reserve Chardonnay 2004 ($24.95) had toasty spicy oak aromas with a layer of butterscotch. Dry and lean in the palate with a slightly salty note and a tangy aftertaste, like another one tasted earlier in the day, it was more of a Chablis style.
Maleny Mountains Shiraz 2007 ($16.95) made from grapes from the Burnett region had more density to the colour and a pretty floral perfume. Light to medium-bodied, fruit cake cherry, underlying grippy tannins, earth and florals - but it made me think more of Pinot Noir than Shiraz.
Maleny Mountain Ruby Cabernet 2007 ($16.95) at last offered a full-bodied red Saturated purple, dense in appearance. Perfumed aroma of violets and tobacco. Rich, full-bodied, slightly spice, underlying thick velvety tannins, juicy ripe fruit and hints of leafy tobacco. A good rich red made from a much aligned grape maybe it is suited to the Queensland climate. Despite the officious service at Maleny Mountain Wines, this was my 'Wine of the Day'.
Tastings here were $3 a person, refundable on purchase. It was probably the most 'touristy' of all the wineries we visited today - being right next to the information centre may have had something to do with that.
Because none of the wineries could offer us a wine trail map, we called in at the visitor centre on return to Maroochydore to pick up an up-to-date map for the following day.
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copyright Sue Courtney 2009