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Sue Courtney's blog of Vinous Ramblings

wine, food and other vinous topics from New Zealand

 

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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.

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

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

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Archive: May 2012
May 31st: Rabbits take over the Ranch
May 24th: At the Abbey
May 21st: Celebrating last month's International Malbec Day
May 16th: Main Divide Pinot Gris 2011 on Wine Me Up Wednesday
May 15th: Just where do you buy that wine George Wyndham?
May 9th: Playing Wine Options one last time
May 7th: Meeting the Messenger
May 2nd: Top 50, Top 10 and Giesen The Brothers Chardonnay
May 1st: Wrights of Gisborne, vegetarian wines and first taste of 2012
Older Entries


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 31st 2012

Rabbits take over the Ranch

I'm always on the lookout for well-priced, great drinking wines to promote on my wine chat segment on Radio Live. I figure most of the listeners are not wine geeks and what they want to know about is well-priced, great drinking wines, whether red or white. But it's hard when it comes to Pinot Noir because most of the ones that press my buttons usually exceed the upper price limit of wines I want to promote on the show. I'm realistically looking for wines with a maximum RRP of $25. If they sell for under $20, then even better.

I looked back to my reviews of Pinot Noir, mostly when Paul Henry was hosting the show, and only one fell into the price point category I've now set and that was the fantastic Crowded House Pinot Noir 2010 which sells for around $17.

So I set myself the task of tasting all the $25 and under Pinot Noirs I had in my sample boxes but most left me feeling wanting something more. But there was one in the tasting that was so utterly irresistible that it was the wine we chose to accompany our dinner, and then we finished the rest.

It was Rabbit Ranch Central Otago Pinot 2010 and it seduced with its rabbit fur softness, bright juicy fruit and quintessential Pinot savouriness. Lovely touch of chocolate and fruitcake spice coming through too. Pretty much an easy drinker in fact, perhaps too easy and despite the gimmicky name, this is Pinot Noir that pushes way above its RRP$25 price point - comparable to wines that cost $10 more.

I asked Mr MacGregor how he keeps the price so low. "Put it down to being made in the old tractor shed, filtered through Mrs Mac’s stockings and fined with Easter eggs," he said. 

But the truth could be that the wines are distributed directly from the ranch to restaurants and retailers.

Widely available - check the Rabbit Ranch website www.rabbitranch.co.nz - oh, and the supermarket flier this week had it on special for under $23.  Excellent buying I reckon.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 24th 2012

At the Abbey

Rather besotted with Abbey Cellars Prophet 2009 Cabernet blend, reviewed in the blog post below, and astounded at its sub-$20 price point I decided to take this wine into the Radio Live studios to taste with Andrew Patterson on the radio. I chose it as a cosy red wine for drinking out of a big glass in front of the fire and I made sure the wine was a cosy temperature. It had been a pretty cold night so the wine spent several hours in the hot water cupboard before the show. It was served around the optimum of 18 degrees C.

I had heard Annabelle White on the radio the day before telling Andrew all things taste better the second day and that's so true with many wines particularly Bordeaux-styled reds, which is what the Prophet is. But if you can't do this, you can decant - and because I wanted the wine to reveal it glorious aromatics almost instantaneously, that's what we did on the show.

Once again I'm pleased to say Andrew was impressed with my selection.

I haven't been to Abbey Cellars because the cellar door wasn't open the last time I was touring this part of Hawkes Bay, but the photos I've seen of the winery and brewpub are quite striking so it should be easy to spot the Abbey at 1769 Maraekakaho Road, Bridge Pa, not far from the Hastings Golf Course. Check out the pics at www.abbeycellars.com

The kind of religious theme carries through all their wines. There is:

  • Blushing Monk Rosé
  • Bishop Merlot
  • Cardinal Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Temptation Malbec  (yum, yum, yum - a Wine of the Week here last year)
  • Testament Barrel Selection
  • Graduate Merlot Cabernet
  • Gabriel Noble Chardonnay (angelically sweet!)

You can buy online from their website, which has the best  'Where to Buy' page I've seen with outlets nationwide. Wouldn't it be great if other wineries followed this example and made it easy for potential customers to find out where to buy.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 21st 2012

Celebrating last month's International Malbec Day

In mid-April, World Malbec Day was firmly on my mind. This annual homage to the Malbec grape has its roots, not surprisingly, in Argentina. In this South American country Malbec is as important to their wine industry as Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand's. It's celebrated on April 17th each year in honour of former President Domingo Faustino Sarmiento who, on that day in 1853, officially made his mission to transform Argentina's wine industry. He asked French soil expert Michel Aimé Pouget to bring over new vines and among the selections was Malbec.

Malbec hasn't been in New Zealand quite as long and was so inconsequential it didn't feature in the New Zealand Winegrowers' annual reports until 1998. This indicated 3 hectares were in productive vineyards in 1991, increasing to 25 hectares in that 1998 report year. Malbec plantings show an increase to 157 hectares in 2011.

It's still a minor grape variety, however, and few producers make a 100% Malbec varietal wine. But I've been impressed by several producer's efforts to date. I have, you see a bit of a Malbec fetish.

So to celebrate World Malbec Day at my home, we opened six wines with Malbec. Three were 100%; the other three were blends. What surprised me in this tasting was that every wine passed my rigorous taste test. In fact the wines were all so good I couldn't pick a favourite.

Malbecs

Hyperion Midas Matakana Malbec 2010 - $35
Dark crimson red with a rich, bright, plummy aroma that hints also of rose hip and savoury nuances of earth, barnyard and leather - the fragrance so smooth, creamy and opulent in a cosy kind of way. Initially quite savoury to the taste with chicory and sweet vanillin oak welling through, concentrated blueberry fruit, a red liquorice brightness, firm yet svelte tannins and a very long finish with a fragrant musky infusion and classy French oak on the lingering finish.

West Brook Waimauku Malbec 2010 - $29.50
Rich plummy red, like a velvet robe. Attractive aromas of vanillin oak and cigar box with a touch of barnyard later reveal Malbec's typically attractive, floral bouquet. Very bright in the palate with red fruit, vanillin oak, fruit cake and chocolate. Initially the tannins seem firm and mouthcoating but become smooth and velvety on the ripe juicy finish that leaves behind a taste reminiscent of a bowl of mixed berries mingling with cedar. Underlying acidity (= longevity) indicates this young wine has a long way to go. Screwcap closure.

Kidnapper Cliffs Hawkes Bay Malbec 2009 - $45
Lovely deep crimson red. Some red berries on the nose exude bright acidity with a meaty richness and smoky cedar complexity. A bit of a blockbuster with huge tannins, ripe purple and black berries, fruit cake spices, leather, liquorice, some violets - rather sumptuous in fact. Typical Malbec with an earthy depth and a floral finish - it reminded me of lamb being roasted with rosemary and redcurrant jelly and I imagine this would be the perfect accompaniment to the roasted lamb too. Cork closure.

Blends

Abbey Cellars Hawkes Bay Prophet Cabernet Blend 2009 - $19.95
Ruby hued, medium bodied depth. Initially restrained on the nose, then smoky, cedary, earthy and meaty with lovely berry perfume - becoming quite alluring as the wine opens up. Smooth textured with finely structured tannins, dark plums, juicy red berries, liquorice, meaty nuances, integrated oak and a long rounded finish with a floral brightness as the wine lingers. Lovely wine with a powerful finish. A blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec and 9% Merlot. 13.5% alcohol. Screwcap closure.

Abbey Cellars Barrel Selection Hawkes Bay Testament 2008 - $25
Dark red with opulent aromas of blackberry pie and plum laced with cedar. Smoky and savoury in the palate with a cedary backbone, redcurrant and plum fruit, liquorice, homemade blackcurrant jelly. Fine, thick, velvety tannins yet rounded, approachable and juicy with richness and depth and a little touch of herbaceousness on the end. A blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot and 12% Malbec. 13.5% alcohol. Screwcap closure.

Te Awa Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot 2009 - $36
Rich dark crimson red. Smoky oak on the nose with leather, dark berry fruits, floral nuances and a suggestion of acidity too. Sweet smoky oak and cigar box nuances come through in the palate with black jelly beans and red jelly babies. A ripe, tasty wine with red fruit brightness and a floral intrigue, firm velvety tannins becoming quite fine, vanilla, a touch of cinnamon and the acidity is very well balanced. A blend of 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec. 20 months in French oak. 13.5% alcohol. Diam closure.

We liked all the wines, it was so hard to rank them and all were a terrific accompaniment when tasted alongside a slow cooked beef casserole. But if I was forced into making a decision I would choose Hyperion Midas Malbec (1) and Abbey Cellars Prophet (2) as my favourite pair.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 16th 2012

Main Divide Pinot Gris 2011 on Wine Me Up Wednesday

I love the Wine Me Up name of my Radio Live wine segment on Wednesdays. And I love taking in wines that my radio host loves. I've been doing the show with Andrew Patterson the last few weeks and while I know Andrew loves blockbuster reds and full-bodied whites I wasn't sure how the Main Divide Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2011 would go down. But no worries.
"I love it," he said after the first sip. Actually he's loved every wine I've taken in. It seems we have totally synchronised palates.

I gave Mark Wilson, the show's producer a sneak preview, but he wasn't initially so positive. "It's rather sweet," the self-confessed Chardonnay lover said.
"If you think that's sweet, you should try the Main Divide Pokiri Late Harvest Pinot Gris" - I tried to assure Mark the wine in his glass was hovering about medium to medium dry. He still shook his head.
But after the 'on air 'segment with Andrew, Mark had changed his mind. "This is really nice," he said.

Main Divide Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2011 is a fragrant wine and on the first taste tangy orange zest and spritz hits the palate, then honey kicks in - the honey coats the tangy citrus at the same time as the citrus keeps the lusciousness of the wine in check. With nuances of pear-like fruit, a creamy richness from a small portion of oak and aging on yeast lees, the wine seems to get more complex with every sip. And the lingering aftertaste kept the memory alive as I made my way home.

This terrific wine was acclaimed by the panel of judges at Cuisine magazine as their No. 1 wine in the Pinot Gris tasting earlier this year. I'm so totally not surprised.

My top food match for this wine is pork belly, slow cooked in orange juice and white wine with a dash of tamari plus five spice powder and star anise, but it makes a terrific aperitif too - it would wash down well a creamy chicken liver or duck pate.

Widely available in selected fine wine stores and online retailers - I've found prices ranging from $16.99 (discounted further with bulk buys) to $22.99. Of course you can buy it at www.maindivide.com, where it is $19.99 a bottle.

Main Divide is the sister label to Pegasus Bay but is used for wines made from grapes from selected South Island vineyards other than the 'home block'. The wines labelled Pegasus Bay are made from grapes grown solely on the from the Pegasus Bay vineyard. All are worth checking out.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 15th 2012

Just where do you buy that wine George Wyndham?

After reviewing the absolutely delicious Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Founders Reserve Shiraz 2008 on Radio Live with Andrew Patterson last week, someone asked me, "Where do I buy the wine?" A bit remiss of me not to say but time flies away on the air.

"I can't find it anywhere," he said.

I had checked nationwide availability prior to going on air and the New Zealand location search results from Wine Searcher indicated it was available from First Glass in Takapuna and major supermarket chain Countdown. I knew that not all wine shops appear on Wine Searcher but I was happy that it would be easy to find as Wyndham Estate is imported by the country's largest wine producer and supplier, Pernod Ricard, owner of Brancott (formerly Montana). Founders Reserve is middle-tier rather than entry-level so it didn't faze me that it wasn't in my local Pak 'n Save - they did have the Bin 555, however.

When I review a wine from New Zealand I ask the producer for retail availability in addition to their website and cellar door, if they have one. When it comes to overseas wines I ask the distributor and if they are vague, as they sometimes are, I resort to Google, www.google.co.nz refining the search to 'pages from New Zealand'.

Google gave a hit on Wine Searcher so I immediately clicked on the link. Wine Searcher's average price was $20 - but that was last week when Countdown had the wine on special.

Google's results included a number of restaurants with by-the-glass options as well as bottle options.

Wyndham Estate George Wyndham Founder's Reserve Shiraz 2008 from the Langhorne Creek region in South Australia is a deep, dark, almost impenetrable black red colour with an alluring crimson glow. The opulent ripe-fruited aroma is crammed with American oak, chocolate, cedar and cherry, and boasts of its South Australian origin. Full-bodied and juicy, spicy and peppery with blackberry and raspberry, mocha and liquorice, a plush, lush texture and a long-lasting smoky vanillin oak finish, the flavours of this mouthfilling wine are succulent and long. An amazing buy for under $20.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 9th 2012

Playing Wine Options one last time

On July 1st this year, Wine Options, the wine identification guessing game that many New Zealand wine lovers and their friends have played over the last 30 years, is coming to an end.  Kingsley Wood, who has organised the game since its inception, says it is time to call it quits.

Eleven years ago I interviewed Kingsley and learnt how the concept for the game came about. It was when he managed the hugely popular Wilson Neil-owned Carnarvon Station Hotel in Dunedin and not long after he had started the Cellarmasters Wine Club. Some of the Wilson Neil staff had played a wine guessing game at St Hallet in Australia so Kingsley had a bit of a play at the guessing game with the Dunedin Cellarmasters in 1982. It was lots of fun. The following year, with Kingsley relocated to Christchurch as Wilson Neil's South Island Regional manager, the first Wilson Neil Wine Options took place with 35 teams competing.

Amazingly Kingsley got the concept right from the very start, serving eight wines - four whites and four red - to be identified by a series of five questions to identify the origin, variety, vintage and brand name of the wine by the teams of four people competing.

Soon heats were being held in every region culminating with a grand final each year.

The history of Wine Options in New Zealand can be briefly summarised as follows -

  • First National Final in Christchurch in 1983 - Wilson Neil Ltd.
  • It changed to the Liquorland Wine Options in 1990 then became the First Glass Wine Options in 2001
  • The biggest year was in 1991 when 101 teams took part in Auckland - 404 competitors and 350 spectators.
  • Over the past five years the average number of teams competing is around 50.
  • The format has changed over the years from the very serious classroom style seating with no talking to full team participation on every question with plenty of talking and suggestions, It's now a relaxed, informal and thoroughly enjoyable event.

Kingsley reckons that about 16000 wine lovers have taken part played the game since it started.

The last Wine Options to be organised by Kingsley on such a grand scale take place at 1 pm on Sunday 1st July at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Auckland. Already teams are re-grouping to relive the hey-day. You can find out how to enter at www.first-glass.co.nz

In 1994 the team I was in won the National Final, held in Wellington that year. Our team name was Too much wine makes you Braindead, and it was a family affair as my co-team members were my husband Neil and my two sisters Christine and Linsey. We are thinking of regrouping for the final this year but we won't be in such a gory costume as the Braindead one, perhaps we might resurrect our best costume winning St Hallet and the Wirra Wirra Angels. Dressing up is always worth doing. And we won't be there to win. We'll be there to play the game and have a great afternoon of fun.

Check out the Wine of the Week Guide to Playing Wine Options in NZ by clicking here.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 7th 2012

Meeting the Messenger

An advantage of living in a wine region is proximity to vineyards. And when it's harvest time, there's nothing I like better that getting amongst the vines - to have the opportunity to taste the grapes, to taste juice if lucky, and to smell the magic scent of new wine.

Here in Auckland there are almost one hundred vineyards to choose from and most of the owners are happy to have me along, if I ask nicely.

I popped into Kumeu River in early March for their Pinot Noir harvest. Kumeu River used to be the closest commercial vineyard to my home but now there is one that is even closer and that is Messenger Vineyard in Messenger Road on the banks of the Weiti River (aka Wade River) near Stillwater.

It was Good Friday, almost a month after my Kumeu River visit, when I called into Messenger Vineyard in the midst of the Malbec pick. There had been a week of good weather - it turned out this was the start of the summer we never had - and the grapes were plump and juicy. I'm glad I didn't volunteer to pick, however, as the vines have an exceptionally low fruiting line. One of the pickers had put wheelbarrow wheels onto an office chair and cranked the setting way down low. Back-saving clever thinking.

For a while I thought how nice it would be to live in a location like this, with a yacht at the bottom of the vines, but it must have been nail-biting leading up to this years harvest. It would have been a disaster if the weather hadn't come right.

I left the pickers to it and joined owner / winemaker Paul Syms in the winery to taste some previous vintage wines. The label is attractive with a dove, representing the messenger, carrying some grapes.

Most of the wines are a blend of the vineyard's three grapes - Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec, however sometimes some experimental, non-commercial, single varietal wines are made. I was excited to taste the Cabernet Franc as this is a wine variety I like very much, but single varietals are hard to find as it is so often blended away.

Messenger Cabernet Franc 2008 has a savoury smoky cedary bouquet - very typically Bordeaux-like. Firm but succulent and silky tannins, cherry and redcurrant fruit, rose petals, savoury smoky cedar and a lovely subtle hint of liquorice on the long, fine creamy but very dry finish. I liked the wine and it became more and more attractive with floral and cherries nuances infusing into the bouquet as the wine opened up. 14.5% alcohol. A bit of a collector's item, it is $110 a bottle.

Messenger Le Menage a Trois 2008 is a blend of 40% Malbec, 30% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc. It's a bright dark red with a floral driven bouquet layered with concentrated red berries and fruit cake spices, yet there's a lovely earthy savouriness and cedariness coming through. A very modern and attractive New World style with ripeness and concentration. I found red berries, vanillin oak, cedar and sweet gamey nuances. Fleshy and dry, yet supple and mouthfilling on the finish. 14.5% alcohol

The smoky, savoury Messenger Le Menage a Trois 2009 is a blend of 39% Merlot, 37 % Cabernet Franc and 23% malbec. A purple-red colour, looking more youthful but nowhere near as dense as the blockbuster 2008. And it's quite a different wine to taste. Lots of smoke, cedar and cigar box, red and black fruits with subtle florals on the finish. It has fine silky tannins and while it seems more savoury than fruity, there's a lovely sweet thread running through the dry finish. Like the Cabernet Franc, the perfume becomes more and more floral and berryish as the wine opens up. 13.1% alcohol.

Although the wines are not for all wallets, from the first two vintages off the vineyard we seeing wines for all palates - the 2008 blend for the modern taste and the 2009 for the traditionalist.

Visit www.messengerwines.com for more


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 2nd 2012

Top 50, Top 10 and Giesen The Brothers Chardonnay

Getting the heads up in a wine magazine can do wonders for a brand. And even if we haven't heard of the magazine before because it's not on general distribution in New Zealand, or not aimed at consumers, it's something for the wineries to brag about when they are featured.

I have to admit I hadn't heard of Drinks International, established 1972 and distributed to senior drinks buyers in 67 countries for an annual subscription of £112 (UK) to £143 (international). Not until the news went viral on the local wires that seven kiwi wineries are featured in their Top 50 list of the World's Most Admired Wine Brands for 2012. The magazine asked sixty members of the global wine community, including a number of Masters of Wine, to nominate the wine brands they admire most and the surprising thing to me is that a French wine brand couldn't rank higher than No. 7. Here are the Top 10 and the NZ placings.

1 Concha y Toro - Chile 14 Brancott Estate
2 Torres - Spain 17 Oyster Bay
3 Antinori - Italy 22 Cloudy Bay
4 Penfolds - Australia 31Villa Maria
5 Jacob's Creek - Australia 44 Babich
6 Kendall Jackson - USA 46 Wither Hills
7 Michel Chapoutier - France 48 Nobilo
8 Guigal - France
9 Vega Sicilia - Spain
10 Chateau Margaux - France

Full list at Drinks International 

Here in New Zealand, Cuisine - www.cuisine.co.nz - is the most respected magazine for wine commentary and their bi-monthly tasting results are eagerly awaited. In the May issue, chardonnay featured and the judges awarded 10 wines with 5-star accolades. Then the judges had the difficult job of ranking them from 1 to 10. This is the list that resulted from the three judge's individual rankings.

1. Corbans Cottage Block Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2009 $39
2. Villa Maria Single Vineyard Ihumatao Chardonnay 2010 $36-$40
3. Villa Maria Reserve Barrique Fermented Gisborne Chardonnay 2010 $36-$40
4. Man O’ War Valhalla Waiheke Is Chardonnay 2010 $40
5. Giesen The Brothers Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 $23 - $25
6. Black Barn Vineyards Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $28-$30
7. Craggy Range Chardonnay Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Hawke’s Bay 2010 $31.95
8. Villa Maria Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $29-$32
9. Vidal Legacy Series Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010 $50-$54
10. John Forrest Collection Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 $40-$50

There are a number of wine shops that hold Cuisine Top 10 tastings throughout the country, as listed here. I went to the First Glass tasting where 80+ consumers tried the entire Top 10. All of the wines were served blind and at the end we all voted for our favourite. And the votes didn't really concur with Cuisine. Not surprising really as we all have different tastes.

I chose Giesen The Brothers Marlborough Chardonnay 2010 - and this was the wine I featured on Radio Live Drive with Andrew Paterson today. Chilled for an hour before the 30-minute drive to the radio station, it was just the right temperature when poured.

It has a fragrant, nutty, toasty oak and butterscotch bouquet and tastes full-bodied, opulent and vibrant with spiced stonefruit, honeyed oak, orange and mealy savoury flavours with lingering butterscotch and caramel cream. Beautifully balanced by fresh acidity, it has great delivery and length. What I like about this wine is that the 85% new oak is beautifully integrated. Fermented with wild yeasts with full mlf and 11 months in barrel on lees, this stunning wine has an alcohol reading of 14.5%

From one of the original Canterbury wineries established in 1981, now based in Marlborough, 'The Brothers' is a premium range named for the three Giesen brothers: Theo, Alex and Marcel. Find out more from www.giesen.co.nz.

And click here for my reviews of the entire Top 10 in the random order they were tasted.


Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings
wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand
May 1st 2012

Wrights of Gisborne, vegetarian wines and first taste of 2012

I've been following the progress of Wright's Wines the last few years. It's easy to do because they send out a terrific and informative regular e-letter.

Geoff Wright and his wines first came to my attention at a Gisborne Wine Festival many years ago (adored the gewurztraminer), then later when Wrights became the first wine label in New Zealand to put vegan friendly words on the label. There was a television news item, on TV3, I think.

"What's this vegan hoo-ha," I thought, echoing the thoughts of many many kiwis brought up on a diet of dairy products, meat and three veg. I knew all about hippies, having been known to dress like one occasionally, but vegan seemed extreme - it was one of those terms that bounced off me.

Geoff and his wife Nicola, they married in 2006, aren't vegans any more. They stopped the 'no animal products' policy in their diet for the benefit of their children. However they continue the day one philosophy in the production of their organic, biodynamic wines. They aim to produce good quality wines that are as pure as possible. As such, they were the first to promote vegetarian wines and to display the Vegetarian Society's logo. So I asked Geoff about using the biodynamic cow horn preparation. He says you have to look at the much bigger picture.

It was back in 1999 when Geoff put his career as an accountant on hold to follow his dream. There could have been some genetic interference going on there as his Croatian great-grandfather, Stanko Jurakovich, was one of the first wine license holders in the Kumeu area just north west of Auckland. The story goes that Stanko could have been pressured into getting a license after the authorities cottoned on to the fact he was selling wine illegally. Stanko sold up in 1944 to a keen young man named Mate Brajkovich. That original holding called San Marino would eventually become one of New Zealand's most recognisable wine brands, Kumeu River.

Despite Geoff and Nicola being the focus of a Country Calendar television program last year (click here for link), Wright Wines seem to fly under the radar. This surprised me when I tasted the wines last week at Geoff's parents place in the seaside village of Orewa, north of Auckland. Bubbles, two chardonnays, two gewurztraminers and a crisp and refreshing 2012 verjuice, really did please.

Bubbles has been on Wrights wine menu since 2001. It's called 'Entity', an accountancy term, to reflect Geoff's crossover from accountancy to winegrowing, although he still practices part-time, as does Nicola as a lawyer.

Wrights Entity Methode Traditionelle Blanc de Blanc 2010, $30, is 100% chardonnay. The bouquet is toasty with Champagne-like yeast autolysis and the taste is fresh and salivating with a crisp acid backbone, a savoury yeasty undercurrent, some oxidative notes and a bone dry finish (there's no dosage) with some lovely, almost salty, nuances coming through. I could imagine this being the perfect match for oysters but what would a vegetarian like? Geoff said olives are a pretty good match.

Of the other wines, a 'reserve' is produced in most years. Geoff calls his non reserve wines the 'classic' range, even though 'classic' is not mentioned on the label.

Wrights Gisborne Chardonnay 2011, $28, ticks all the chardonnay boxes. It 's an appealing, creamy barrel fermented style with bright apricot and tropical fruit flavours, a toasty spiciness and a savouriness to the finish. Two-year-old French oak was used.

Wrights Reserve Gisborne Chardonnay 2011, $38, has a creamy, nutty bouquet with intriguing tropical banana caramel nuances too. It's a full-bodied dry white with a stonefruit sweetness, a little graininess to the texture and a dry flinty finish. Quite tight to start, but so expansive in the mouth, filling out nicely with apricots and cashew on the creamy finish. Oak is even more toasty in this wine and the 100% malolactic introduces butterscotch nuances to the end.

Wrights Gewurztraminer 2010, $28, has a citrine radiance to the hue, the bouquet has fleeting pink bubble gum, musk lemon balm, a nuance of honey (5-10% botrytised grapes in this wine) and there's a touch of oak on the back palate from the pressings to add richness and savouriness. I love the infusion of roasted cumin and coriander spices, a tingle of ginger and a long, rich, dry finish where delicate musky florals linger. A pretty wine with a soft, oily, mouth-caressing texture, I like this a lot. Made from some of the oldest gewurztraminer vines in the Ormond Valley, Winestate rated it 4 stars but I'd go further and rate it 5.

Wrights Reserve Gewurztraminer 2011, $38, has 50% first pick clean fruit and 50% late picked botrytised grapes, the latter barrel fermented aged on lees with malolactic fermentation. The bouquet is a little restrained at first then there's an amazing burst of fragrance that reminds me of my herb garden in flower. The taste seems quite sweet although the finish gives an impression of being dry - there's lemon balm, oriental spices, an underlying savouriness, a subtle salinity, typical rose petal muskiness and the texture is rich and full. Then about a minute after swallowing, apricot nuances come though. Different to what we are used to but this is where Geoff’s innovation comes through. Very intriguing. Worth pursuing. A wine to age.

Now for something completely different: verjuice I thought verjuice as something used in cooking or for making salad dressings. I didn't know you could drink it. Well, if it's made from white grapes and made well, you can. It has not been fermented so it's alcohol-free. Geoff developed the style when Nicola became pregnant with the first of their three boys. It's $19.95 well spent.

Wrights Chardonnay Verjuice 2012, $20, smells of grapes and grape flowers with a little hint of pollen - it smells rich and heady yet tastes crisp and refreshing, finishing bone dry and leaving a really juicy tasting impression. It brings back memories of old-fashioned, homemade lemon, orange and green apple fruit drink with natural sweet and sour tastes, but it's been clarified so it looks sparkling bright and clear. The grapes were picked at 13 Brix on the 17th February 2012, so the first to be picked in New Zealand this year.

Find our more about Wrights Wines at www.wrightswines.co.nz. And you can enjoy reading all their archived newsletters there. Sign up to get in your inbox.


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