Tag Archives: Wine History

Not Just Sauv, Part 1.

nz hearts

The biggest bore of working in a wine lounge is the knowing that our wine list could happily survive on seven wines. New Zealand knows what it does best, and it drinks what it does best- its the whole eggs in one basket situation we’ve got going on, a straight up shitload of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. But not to get too gloomy over our national wine glory, these wines are premium- new classics even- and wee old NZ deserves all the international recognition it gets, applauded for the rapid adoption of uniquely ‘NZ’ characteristics (cat-piss is one of them) that many countries take centuries to create. But really- just  like how no one wants pb sammies everyday for lunch, no one wants to drink those two wines day in, day out, even when they don’t taste like piss.

Thankfully for us, there is no reason to look afar for international varieties (which includes paying for your bottle to fly business class) when winemakers here are broadening their horizons and producing new wines of premium quality that really can excite. New Zealand may not boast the history,  size or variety of climates that other leaders in wine may have, and our maritime climate meant that even in this summer of drought rain threatened the last of the 2013 harvest, but lets just go ahead and pull out the old ‘big things come in small packages’ cliche- because nothing could be closer to the truth. NZ has the innate ability to constantly produce the cleanest, crispest wines in the world, and if I got started on the people, well, you’d scroll down a little then give up completely. So in brief- unbound by law, let loose by technology, driven by passion, pushing the envelope of innovation- there is no stopping the storm of wine  that the people of the long white cloud can present to the world

Todays wines education begins in a small corner of France, Alsace- The aromatic capital of the world,.Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat make up the Nobel Alsatian comradeship speaks of everything New Zealand wine is not- pretty, floral, aromatic, big and sometimes a  little bit sweet. The four managed to weasel themselves in some time ago, and in classic NZ fashion, have now created a style of their own.

My most recent, beloved and adored (consumed) discovery is the Tupari Dry Riesling, and if you can get your hands on the 2010, grab it and run. Tupari  is kiwi through and through- so fucking crisp. And the notes have everything right with riesling- fresh citrus and complex, but balanced minerality. Who would’ve thought wet stones would be so dang tasty. You wouldn’t call Tupari dry ‘inoffensive’ (sup Pinot Gris) and you wouldn’t say it has mass appeal- but that is Riesling, and  its great to see Marlborough giving something new a push. In my book of the devoted Riesling fiend, Tupari Dry Riesling is a total success. If you have the balls, give it a spin.

Pinot Gris just isn’t going to be discussed, its the 4th most planted variety in New Zealand and any wine writer will laugh and tell you  its boring  (but totes delish,  don’t get me wrong)

Back in the day I found Gewurztraminer as difficult to drink as it was to spell. But once the word was under my belt, I was able to advance from the sickly sweet 12 banger bargain bins and appreciate the god of floral and spice. Sweet has never been my jam, but its hard not to appreciate the perfumed intensity a singular grape can conjure up in a glass of Late harvest Alsatian Gewurztraminer, or the layers of aromatic complexity when Noble Rot gets involved- Gewurztraminer is in a league of its own, its liquid gold. A few weeks ago I took a tour of Kumeu River Estate, lead by Michael Brajkovich, M.W (Genius, Genius, Genius) and when it came to the tasting, stacked up against the best chardonnays in New Zealand , the 2012 Gewurztraminer (to my absolute shock) stood up to the plate and delivered something I have never experienced before. Turning back the clock to sweetness, in Alsace, the standard late harvest Gewurztraminer can have around 30 grams of residual sugar per litre in the final wine-  hitting sticky sweetness, now compare this back to the Kumeu Gewurzt- where in their first, and at the moment only, batch released had an extended ferment till as low as 5 grams of residual sugar per litre. The sweet wine goes dry.  Magic happens. Bursts of floral on the nose are stand by exoctic fruit and the  sweet spice of ginger, complemented by acidity that holds structure magnificently. Only New Zealand could turn a floral Gewurzt crisp and fresh. and with 200 cases made-you’d want to get in as fast as possible.

milton estate

Milton Estate Winery, Gisborne 

Muscat possesses many personalities, all over the world- sweet, dry, still,  sparkling, From France to Australia, Italy to South Africa. In Alsace, though ‘Nobel’, plantings are becoming increasingly rare. the grape itself isn’t groundbreaking- its flavour notes are best described as ‘grape’ (Eugh), but what producers can do with it, is what counts. One of my favourite expressions of the grape is the Moscato d’Asti, a DOCG of Northern Italy. The Sparkling wine of the Moscato Bianco clone of the grape is sweet and  low in alcohol and on the palate has fruitiness with candied orange overlaid with floral notes. One of my favorite New Zealand producers, James Milton, has made a wonderful bubble in this style- Muskats @ Dawn. Before I start losing it over how much I love this wine lets first note, like all of Miltons wines, everything is hand harvested and bottled on site (snaps for Milton), biodynamically grown (Snaps for Milton), Certified organic (snaps for Milton), Vegan (Snaps for Milton), Clobabs it up with Kate Sylvester for the kickass label (Snaps for Milton, Kate and NZ) and is  fucking delicious on a hot summer afternoon (100 more snaps for Milton). Tropical fruits, blossom floral, held by the fizzle of bubbles, its not too much, nor is it too little.  Milton is one of the many (albeit best) gems to come out of wee Gizzy, and I personally cannot get enough.

Moral of the story- NZ has it going on in more ways than two. I’ve mentioned three, but each harvest brings out more and more exceptional expressions of international varieties, coming from New Zealand’s oldest and reputable producers, to the younger ‘Garagistes’ with an eye for innovation, that are giving our superstars a run for their money.

line up- not just sauv 1

Get Some-

Tupari Dry Riesling, through glengarrywines.co.nz , $24

Kumeu River Gewurztraminer 2012, at the moment, you can only get it at their gorgeous Cellar Door, $35

Muskats @ Dawn 2012 by Milton, at the Gisbrone Cellar Door, Online at Milton.co.nz or Pretty much Everywhere in NZ, $22


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Reign of Terroir

terroir bottles

Terroir (Tehr-Wahr, if you say it all french and sexy)  is without a doubt the most overused word in wine. Overused, over criticized, over worshiped and over defined. Literally, terroir translates to ‘The Earth, the Soil’,  but in wine we find it loosely encompassing the character, quality and personality of the wine- as defined by not just the ‘Earth’ but also, the climate, weather, slope and hand of the winemaker. Definitions and factors that influence ‘Terroir’ are thrown around by experts and novices alike, and more often than not it’s major BS . Littered through labels, press releases and journalism, we see it worse as the ‘it’ term of the unforgiving wine snob, Exhibit A:

“Darling, this Chateau Latour is incredible, just taste that Terroir”

But enough of the arrogancy, if a haiku can’t sum it up nicely nothing will.

That which makes a place

unique, that produces wines


-Christopher Watkins Manager, Author and Host of 4488: A Ridge Blog at Ridge Vineyards

A French word, Terroir is likened most to French wines – where a long history of winemaking has resulted in a tipple that tastes of the place, say your premium Bordeaux, or Cote de Beaune. Centuries of viticulture and winemaking have moulded a grape, technique and style that all bundles up into a bottle that tastes purely of its own. Constantly,  for reasons many can’t explain (the truly puzzled love to talk about soil, straight up wrong) , the wines take on their own unique characteristics- say the flint in a Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc, or the minerality of a Chablis.  Terroir is mystery and luxury the old world commands and with the highly reputable label, like most things in the world, demands an equally high price tag, Major dollar bills.

What was a term of old world prestige, now has some major competition. Even New Zealand’s cat-piss Sauv Blanc is recognised by many as having a taste of place, or in Australia’s s Barossa Valley, where Shiraz truly tastes like nothing in the world- the heat drenched valley floor lends its way into a wine that is baked, hot and big – a pure expression of place, in a place regarded as a baby of the wine world. Despite its history, it now seems that what defines Terroir changes as frequently as the vintages that characterise them.

The secret to Terroir is simply not to be a dick about it. Nowadays you can attach the word to anything, and some wine snob will nod, umm and ahh. Winemakers may rant on about how their new projects are displaying terroir already, just three vintages in and they’ve got that marked character? It doesn’t quite add up, and once again, the umms and aaaahs will ensue. the above is all testament to the fact that the word is thrown around like its going out of fashion, and the more it is thrown, the less prestige is associated with it.

Continuing with Terroir etiquette- how best to utilise it? with all the snobbery that clings to it, terroir can be used by the most casual of drinkers,  and it all has to do with food. When it comes to the concepts and successes of matching food and wine, how could we possible go past sake. The rice wine finds its masterpiece pairing with sashimi, with high amino acids derived from the production of traditional sake, accentuating sashimi’s s rich umami elements. But say you’re byo-ing it up and bring a beer or wine to drink with your sashimi- and the whole experience is different- you lose the aromatic savoury softness and instead are left with, well, fish. Pungent and not one bit enjoyable. Ancient japanese proverb teaches that ‘sake doesn’t get into fights with food’, and all around the world terroir leads its way to local pairings of similar virtue. Emilia-Romagna, in Central Italy is known best for it’s cheese, Parmigiano Regianno, and a ham, Prosciutto di Parma, and funnily enough, the wine that suits it better than any other  in the world- red, frothy Lambrusco, the local wine of the same region. And the pattern continues almost eternally – Melon Blanc from the Loire finds perfection with the seafood of its port, and the tannic structure of a New Zealand Pinot Noir faces up to beef and lamb with absolute elegancy.

Its hard to define whether terroir really matters in the fast paced world that is that of wine today- modern winemaking techniques and innovation beyond its time is shaking up common conceptions- the span of what can be created is far and wide. but despite this a lot of the world holds on strong to tradition, and the common grape, in the common environment, can conjure up extraordinary things. What I like to think is the beauty of terroir is that it is more often than not unpredictable and unexplainable, not the marketing BS that is exploited today, and the roots of a wine, a vine and a tradition can shine through.

Bottles of Terroir Left to Right: Piemonte, Italy. Lavaux, Switzerland. Cafayete, Argentina. Barossa Vally, Australia. Central Otago, New Zealand. 


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For my current study, I’ve written a book review on a piece based around a prominent wine personality- here is my (edited) review on “A Life Uncorked” by Hugh Johnson, the done it all and know it all of the wine world- first and foremost a wine writer (The World of Wine Atlas, The Pocketbook of Wine, The Story of Wine, Vogue Contributor, Editor of Food and Wine) and even more so, a wine fanatic. He is the bomb diggity.

Hugh paints the picture of your stereotypical wine connoisseur from the start of his bountiful 40 years in wine. It began when a roommate returns home from a black-tie dinner in Cambridge presenting two glasses of burgundy- same vintage, adjacent vineyards, but tasting completely different. This was his first foray into a lifelong curiosity into wine, “A curiosity that still makes me impatient to see what lies under every cork”. The stereotype unashamedly remains- residing in Elizabethan ‘Sailing Hall’, his wine of choice is the Claret (British slang for Red Bordeaux), and more often than not the said clarets are drunk in his beloved garden, under the shade of an apple tree, his nose red, face in a smile- high class british wine lover 101. Throughout Uncorked we begin to understand his position in a breed of highly influential Englishmen, with a love for wine, and the aim of presenting the glories of it (mainly French) to the common wine lover, with a knowledge and talent of an elite few.

hugh johnson cheerio

Though we see very much of the scholar within Johnson throughout Uncorked, it is the curiosity within him that I found most engaging, and presents an array of episodes far further than those of your standard Wine Commentator. We see him collecting and designing wine glasses, with a brief of being unfussy but made for enjoyment and affordability, resulting in ten different styles, made specifically for the absolute enjoyment of ten different varietals. Frustrated with descriptive terms of vogue, e.g. ‘fruit driven’ and ‘mineral’, he designed a ‘Taste Tunnel Experience’ for the Sunday Star Times Wine Club, where large glasses were filled with the physical items that would typically be smelt or tasted for various wine varietals- liquorice, pipe tobacco, stewed plums, raspberries and a small amount of leather to represent Syrah, for example. Johnson talks in length of when his curiosity “got the better of him” and forayed into the science of wine, planting a vineyard in Bourbonnais, albeit far from other vintner’s eyes, or his position as a member on the board of Chateau Latour- one of the great first growth chateau’s of the 1885 Bordeaux classification, that still holds its place as a great today- well worth the hefty price tag.

As Johnson takes us through his cellar, pulling out reds, whites and sparkling’s, each vintage inspires a moment of his life- career, family, travel and tragedy, his cellar is a living time machine, that takes an reader through prolific moments of his life. The alone vintages can tell stories of their own- of luxury, of war, of a culture, of a family. Johnson can pull a story from a wine, the same way a fragrance evokes a memory. Bubbly takes the reader on a trip through time, where we meet a Dom Perignon that waits for bubbles to steady themselves before bottling, harvest workers drinking on the job from half fermented barrels- one of the first discovery of the CO2 effect on the brain, we then visit the Pol Rogers Salon in Epernay, experience Johnsons showman ship of sabre-ing the foil and cork off a bottle of champagne (successfully, and not so successfully) and a formula one drivers love affair with Mercier.

As we divulge deeper into Johnsons cellar, we find all quantities and vintages of Chablis, bountiful stocks of Bordeaux, Prosecco for the more casual celebration, German Rieslings, the odd red burgundy and even a case of 1911 Perrier-Jouet, and with all these wines, come hand in hand with stories, intelligence and a great undying passion for each. Uncorked is so full of old world wine, that Johnson seems a little out of touch with the modern wine landscape- it reads almost as history book, and with almost 400 pages, can get a little tiresome. Johnson impresses on almost every page with wines rich with history that one could barely imagine, and his passion for it is infectious, but still it reads cheerfully and clichés are strewn through, but comfortably- it would be nice to read something in there a little more far flung or “off the map”.

What I found most interesting from Uncorked is the Johnson is all in all a wine lover. Wine, for him, is for drinking with food, not other wines; he calls himself not a wine critic when it comes to writing, but a commentator. Johnson scoffs on the idea that a wine can achieve ‘a perfect score’, and that the notion of points themselves is ridiculous- the fact that people have different palates for starters, or how generally Americans prefer their wines sweeter and simpler- a good sweet and simple wine won’t stand out in a scoring line up of 30 wines, bigger is always better in that case. The concept of the ‘100’, a percentage of perfection, will provide the wine consumer a ‘ready-to-wear’ critical opinion, not the chance to explore the wine themselves. Commenting on scores and ratings, Johnson believes that numbers only really produce wine snobs- and from that, the even wore- the wine bore. Instead tasting notes are stripped of numbers, ratings and terms of vogue- a love of language spills from the pages, with some of his best wine notes adopting metaphors, where wines take on human characteristics- a pretty young girl, in full bloom of womanhood, approaching maturity or frail in age- not completely pc, and ridicule is easy- but metaphors work, allowing the consumer to stay safe or branch out with the promise of a tasting ‘adventure’, and in a way that doesn’t look like it has had money come in and influence a review.

Though of the old boys club of wine, very British with a palate that appeals to the French, Hugh Johnson has experienced many an era of wine- of great vintages, of drastic industry and scientific change. The world of wine has given him a lot, and he has taken it with open arms- calling him just a wine writer would be an insult. Uncorked gives a great taste of Johnsons vast estate of experience and knowledge from gardening columns in glossies, to parties with a bounty of Magnums of Riesling and seafood by the bucketload, Johnson has done, and knows, it all.

‘A Life Uncorked’,
By Hugh Johnson,
Published by University of California Press, 2005

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Today was my first introduction to Sherry and Port, drinks I never thought I’d touch until I was on microwave meals and needed something to get me through my knitting. Sherry, in my eyes, is a tipple in the arena of grandmas.
Old and adopted by the English fortified wine may be, but it has balls bigger than what you need to watch Coro, fortified wine = added spirits (juices from the Marc varietal), added spirits= more alcohol, plus with up to 100 years to go crazy with flavor and complexity, she sure packs quite a punch.

Jerez de la Frontera in the South of Spain is the ‘spiritual home’ of Sherry, and the common association of British origins comes from a long winded history of traders finding new markets to buy and sell alcohol throughout Europe, once french regained rule of Bordeaux in 1453. Now over 500 years later, wine making estates in Douro, Portugal, the home of Port, is sweet wee England’s home away from home, boarding at Eton, club sammies, the whole shabam #historylesson.

The tasting was not unlike many a childhood Halloween when I came to the last of my goods, to be faced with the task of finishing the ‘bad’ candy (as fast as possible, naturally), sickly sweet and syrupy would do the experience as a whole very nicely, but thankfully it had its merits.

Three Sherries, one region, a whole lotta booze.

The Manzanilla was up first, a style characterised by its ageing of the Palomino grape, with the solera process feat yeast. Yes yeast, not even removed, just stirred through and renamed flor, cause foreign is sexy, duh. Funnily enough, bread was the first thing to waft up the nostrils and take over the mouth, with citrus, savory and almond notes to go, I’ll go ahead and call it an acquired taste.

Next up was the booze hag of the bunch, Amontillado (up to 20% abv), the above plus spirits, killing off the yeast and bringing out raisins, almonds, walnuts, butterscotch and caramel aromas, which all in all, smelt like Christmas cake, Booze Hag edition. It tasted a lot more refined, nutty and savory, with dryness and acidity that lifted the wine from what could have been a syrupy disaster, the Amontillado was complex and interesting, plus 100% drinkable (bonus).

Pedro Ximenes (PX) was, through trial and tribulation, the pick of the bunch, black intense fruits and super sweet, taste number one was only encouraged by a sniff the slightest sniff of coffee within the madness. But fkya nose, the palate didn’t follow through, instead engulfing my mouth in a maple syrup drenched prune syrup. That said, it was nice, but enthusiasm and gulping cannot be trusted -back to the Halloween antidote- too much candy is a RL issue.

Whoever has been told that eating more chocolate wont make their problems go away can cheer for joy for PX, a mouth full of bitter chocolate (!!) and a secondary, more cautious, taste opened up my first mind blowing (I know, I know) experience of food matching. The syrup spun to velvet, prunes thrown to the curb and toffee down the drain, a bitter bite brought out velvety coconut, walnut and cherries, no more words can be said other than heaven

(and pour it over vanilla ice cream, I’m gaining faith in labels)

All wines produced by Lustau, Jenez, Spain.

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