Saturday, 12 September 2015


Tonight I opened a bottle of Basedow's Barossa Valley Shiraz to go with the Spaghetti Bolognaise we were having (not normal Friday night fare for us but I didn't have the makings for home made fish and chips in the fridge and the local fish and chip shops are crap compared to what we've been used to).

Anyway, the Basedow's hit the spot amazingly well.

Focus, orientation and the lean all due to the fact that the label says 14.6% alcohol with the reality that it's probably over 15%

I bought it from Majestic wines under their new '6 bottle (mixed) discount plan'.
After a hefty discount this wine was just over 6 quid a bottle. A bargain.
To put it into context, at between 5 and 7 quid the supermarkets are offering some pretty ordinary wines from around the world and, in the case of Australia, at that price you get the insipid and rag tag offerings from Wolf Blass, Hardy's, and other big brands' irrigated region South Australia plonk. This wine was 'the real McCoy' from the Barossa with big, lipsticky and full-flavoured fruit with a serious amount of alcohol.

The thing that attracted me to it (after the price and the fact that it was a Barossa wine) was the fact that it had no marketing hype surrounding it. The label looks like it was made in the 1960's as if some guy thought to run off millions of them back then to cut costs and then for ever afterwards overprint them with updated vintages and other mandatory bits of information. It looks hokey but real.

Looking at the label tonight (no doubt through alcohol tinted spectacles, I was taken back to the early 1970's when I went to Oz with good friend Tony. We were working at the liquor wholesalers then and had a good interest in wine. At one point at the end of our trip we had virtually run out of money and were staying in a motor camp in Canberra shortly before our return to NZ.
We bought the makings of a decent but simple meal from a grocery store (bread, cheese, tomatoes etc) and also the only bottle of wine we could afford.
It was a Barossa Valley red (probably Shiraz and or Grenache) and cost us about $1.99. It was stunning.
Huge, teeth-stainingly red/black, jam-packed with flavour and numbingly alcoholic it set us up perfectly for the end of our holiday.
I remember that the label was a plain white background with, in bold red writing the words:

 100% RED WINE
No brand name. No embellishment except for the region - Barossa Valley and no marketing bullshit on the back label.

I loved that wine and still remember it.

A couple of decades later wines like that, from the Barossa, made from 100 year old bush vines of Shiraxz and Grenache became trendy. They were no longer the poor cousins of the wine world and started to command prices of $50 to $100 a bottle. I am certain that the origins of our $1.99 bottle were the same as these modern 'show ponies'

Monday, 12 January 2015


 Good old Neil.

Simple lyrics that niggle a nerve.

That's what clever writing does to elicit nostalgia (in about  a million words less than Marcel Proust used).

I thought about this song as I rode a train north from Toronto (Ontario) last year. We all have our favourites and to be honest Neil Young wasn't really one of mine but folk/rock/jazz/pop performers of one's generation carry the common cultural values that we grow up with in some form or other.

The song was evocative when I was young, meaningful when I was in that huge country last year and visceral when I listened to it tonight.

Friday, 19 December 2014


The Urban Dictionary has this interesting description of a Wine Guy.


Wine Guy ~ A horny, middle aged, divorced, wine importing, BMW drivin, botox shootin, poser who played the clarinet as an adolescent. He is adept at the use of wine adjectives such as robust, soft, with abundant red fruit and lashings of rose pepper enveloped by with a chocolatey oak aroma that adds a creaminess to the lifted finish. You know standard B S that most women go Ga Ga over. He is such a poser and just wants to get in my girl friends pants. "

Yep, that just about sums it up.

Saturday, 13 December 2014


I went to Federal St Delicatessen tonight for a quick meal and a couple of glasses of wine.

I've been there before. The food is good and the wine list above average.

This is another of Al Brown's outlets so you'd expect the standards to be pretty high.

To be honest, both times I've been there it was second choice after The Depot one or two doors along. This is Al Brown's primary establishment and it is always crowded. No matter what time of day you go there you end up queing. I don't queue so went next door.

Federal Street deli is loosely modeled after the North American city delis. I've been to various ones in Chicago, NYC and Toronto and tehy are generally great. Busy, cheap with reliable food.

Federal is reasonably busy (not as much as the Depot), the food better than the North American delis but not cheap.

What's been lost in translation is the value concept of the deli. They exist in USA and Canada because they are a quick and cheap alternative to restaurant dining. What is being done here is the 'romantic' concept of the diner is being presented as if it was fine dining which it's not.

Mars diner Toronto

Federal Street Diner is getting 5 star reviews which, on the food and service it deserves but:

When ordering a super premium wine at super premium prices - between $14 and $20  a glass do you want it served in this?

I know that it is all part of the deli style but, put bloody orange juice in it not a decent wine that needs to be savoured.

Also, being squeezed into a booth or pressed up against the cooking area ( a small perspex shield separates the diners at the counter from the chefs in the kitchen) might impart a sense of "being part of the action" as my waitress told me, but at normal restaurant prices I think I'd rather the action was being done elsewhere and I was given a bit of space and peace.

The wines I had tonight were pretty good - Kumeu River Chardonnay 2012 and Greenhough Nelson Pinot Noir 2012. They were both served in the ridiculous tumblers. The Chardonnay was properly chilled but the Pinot Noir was overly warm.
If the resataurant/bar area is too warm from the exposed kitchen then why the hell don't they put the red wines in the fridge?

OK, those are the gripes.
As said the food is pretty good - much better than a lot of the fancier restaurants around town,

Tonight I had Kawhai fish cakes and chips.
Last time I had veal schnitzel and salad.
I can't fault that.
The food came out smartly and perfectly as I was wanting a quick bite before going to Christmas in the Park at the Auckland Domain.

Now, while I'm complaining about the price vs the ambience I have to say that while the US and Canadian joints are cheaper there are a few differences.

  • Federal Street Delicatessen food is better
  • Prices include GST whereas the North american set-up is that taxes (up to 18%) get added to the bill
  • Tipping is pretty much mandatory which is 15% to 20%
  • USD is 30% more than ours
This means that the $52 I spent on food and wine, in USA/Canada might have been $35 plus 30% plus 15% plus 20% or about NZD 63.00 equivalent. Maybe it's not so bad after all.

Friday, 5 December 2014


Christmas and New Year are nearly here. This means that a fair bit of wine will be consumed.

To be fair though recently I've been consuming a fair bit even without the celebratory occasions.

I guess with Her Indoors away and living the bachelor life it's inevitable that I have the odd tipple.
The problem is though that the tipples are becoming almost daily. There was a time when I made sure that Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were drink-free days. I'm now finding that 'Thursday' has become Tuesday.

It doesn't men that I get smashed 5 days a week though but I invariable have a bottle of wine open in the fridge and sometimes two - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - so that while cooking and eating dinner I will have two glasses at least.

If Her Indoors was here then combined will might win out but on my own I succumb to temptation and even look to justification. As I work in the wine industry I can say that I'm keeping up with the opposition, wine-styles, new vintages etc. etc. etc.

Whatever the reason the fact is that I must be drinking about 20% more than in previous years.

I hardy ever drink beer though and virtually never drink spirits unless a monthly tot of a good Cognac or Malt whisky counts.

I must be a saint then, really.

Thursday, 13 November 2014


In his book  BURGUNDY  Anthony Hanson said:

"Great Burgundy smells of shit. It is most surprising, but something the French recognised long ago, Ça sent la merde and Ça sent le purin being common expressions on the Côte. Not always, of course; but frequently there is a smell of decaying matter, vegetable or animal, about them." 

There's some truth in this but perhaps it's due to wine making faults and poor winery hygiene rather than any pure expressions of the Cote. Brettanymyces, over-cooked fermentations and the smell of gumboots can also be found in Pinot Noirs from Oregon to Yarra Valley although, thankfully, better wine making practises are eliminating these characters.

Nowadays the 'merde' is more likely to be the horseshit that's written on the back label rather than the wine inside the bottle.

Tonight I tried a Vidal Reserve Pinot Noir 2013.

 This is from the Villa Maria Stable with fruit from Marlborough (Vidal, the company is based in Hawkes Bay). There's no indication that the wine was made in Marlborough at Villa Maria's excellent winery which has a great reputation for Pinot Noir or whether the grapes were shipped to Hawkes Bay for processing. I imagine the former as this makes more sense. The wine in this case is most likely not batch-made for Vidals but part of the tiered range of wines that Villa Maria produces.

I've no problem with this as the wine is pretty good in the classic simple berry-like Marlborough style.
No, my problem is more in the marketing hype (horseshit) that accompanies it.

"This elegant and distinctive wine offers exceptional quality and true regional identity"

screams the opening statement on the back label after the mandatory wine identification.


Certainly and I think that if it was true then why would Villa Maria put the wine in a lesser label and one that commands a much lesser price than their Villa Maria Black label Reserve wines.
"Beautifully fragrant red berry and floral aromas combine on a silky finely textured palate'
is the follow up statement.


Grammar aside, what the fuck does this mean?

Berries being fragrant?- Check. typical Marlborough fruitiness.
Floral aromas? - Check. There is a hint of violets.
Combining on a finely textured palate? Well, maybe, but what about the taste, really?

The wine is good, don't get me wrong. I bought it on special at one of those bastard supermarkets and will buy more next time that I see them ripping the heart out of one of New Zealand's better winemakers but how the hell does the above description tell me what the wine will taste like?

Just like almost all other New Zealand Pinot Noirs this one is well made, clean, fault-free and a delight to drink.

The 'merde' is not evident at all, at least not in the wine.

Sunday, 19 October 2014


.....OK. it's a bit of a pronunciation joke but never mind.

Sherry. Why is it becoming popular again?

Centuries ago it was an elegant drink for posh people and for wine drinkers who had special drinks for different times of the day or occasions.

Over time it as a category degenerated into a cheap drink that gave more bang for the buck because of the high alcohol (fortified) nature.

Excise men soon wised up and charged double tax for anything over 15% and, in the case of New Zealand (Jim Anderton's fault) buggered up the equation by classing it the same as cheap spirits and basically priced it off the market.
In the case of New Zealand the category is dead.

But, it may be coming back albeit in a minor and specilaised way.

It won't be the huge market that allowed wine producers to pump out all sorts of sweet and diabolical shit and which had a big market share.

This was the favourite tipple of the little old ladies who gradually turned yellow from the effect of the alcohol and the colouring additives.

I wonder what they drink now?

Funny enough it was old Richard of RBB when he was a young man who boosted sherry consumption statistics. This was unusual in that he was in his early twenties when he was drinking Findlater Dry Fly and Williams and Humbert Walnut Brown - definitely non-demographic.

He wasn't really the classical figure of elegant sherry sipping though.

No, his consumption style was a bit different and certainly not the way the product was adverised and promoted.

With a slight resurgance of sherry consumption a few of the better importers and retailers are stocking interesting and fresh product.
I mention fresh because the best sherries are not those over-sweetened and cloying ones with 'cream' and 'milk' in their names. These are generally oxidised to hell and held up by high alcohol and sugar.
No, I mean the Finos and Manzanillas that are very dry and have low alchol (for sherry) at about 15%.

Like White Port though they don't last very long in the bottle whether it's been opened or not. You need to know when it was bottled and hopefully buy it within a couple of months of this.

I bought a couple of half bottles of the excellent La Guita Manzanilla from Glengarry recently.

This classy sherry (15%) was imported by Glengarry's sister company Hancocks Wine and Spirits and they thoughtfully have the bottling date printed on the back label - in this case 10 July 2014.
The wine is crisp, fresh and with a lovely nutty finish (no jokes please). It is a classic example of why we should support speciality and experience importers and retailers and avoid the mass market booze peddlars. Admittedly New Zealand's backward liquor laws don't allow supernmarkets to sell fortified wines like Port and Sherry but even if it did they'd more likely stock this.