Friday, March 17, 2006

And the blinds remain shut

Thanks to all who have written. Real life has intruded a bit too much to make this missive a regular event. Allow me to let this lie fallow for a while, and see if either free time or free head space or renewed energy bring it back to life. If not, it was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?

Yours in the spirit of wine,


Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ringing in the 90s

Spent part of the holidays traveling, and whilst happily ensconced in the bosom of the enormous Brussels, Belgium-based Screwcaps fan family, attended a nice 5-hour lunch commemorating the 1990 vintage.

Now I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't have any 1990 NZ wines hanging around my cellar, so even though I was the only representative from the Southern Hemisphere, I had to make do with a 90 Veuve Clicquot Grand Dame (still a baby, by the way, needing hours in the glass to put on its full show.)

Most of the other wines were Bordeaux:

1990 Trotanoy was the flashiest out of the gate--very soft, feminine, Burgundian, as befits a middle-aged Pomerol. It was the wine of the night for the first hour, but faded quite a bit as it aired.

The 1990 Lynch Bages remains a chunky, monolithic wine, not of the breed of the 89, and still way too young to evaluate as aged Bordeaux. Whether it will gain a huge amount of complexity with another decade is anyone's guess (I would guess no.)

The 1990 Pichon Baron started out the least evolved and accessible, but by the end of the meal was singing, clearly the finest of the the three. All the cedar and graphite aspects of Pauillac, and still very young, it opened to layers and layers of complexity. Wish I had a case of this to enjoy over the next few years.

The 1990 Prunotto Cannubi Barolo seemed to be hitting its plateau of full maturity, which was a bit surprising, as I'd expected it to be the youngest of the reds. Great out of the bottle, filled with leather and tar and bitter cherry; it remained that way until drained, the first bottle to be finished (the fact that the food was Italian and not French might have had something to do with that). Great wine, perhaps a touch more feminine and Barbaresco-like than I was expecting, but a pleasure anyway.

The surprise of the day was a half-bottle of the Avignonesi Vin Santo, Occhio di Pernice. This is a legendary wine, bestowed with a 100-point score from the Wine Spectator some years back, and deserving of it: thick as 50-weight motor oil, cut from the same cloth as a PX Sherry, but with much more acidity and a finish that goes well into dinner. Thanks so much to the chap that brought it--what a treat.

So, anything interesting happen while I was gone? I see Graham posted with a spirited defense of Keith Stewart's book. Thanks for that: I still think the book is absurd, but your response was cogent, rational, and better written than what you were defending. Huzzah!


Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Kwanzaa!

Don't know what it is? Look it up, you multicultural philistine.

On holiday break until late Jan. My advice: make your own scandals for the next few weeks.

Oh, and do look hard for the 04 Rhone and Southern French whites that are rolling in now. They are the best in years.



Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Order of Events

1. Press release from Winegrowers becomes article screaming "biggest export month ever" for New Zealand wineries.

2. A few well-placed winery owners happen to mention to the Gregans-that-be how most intelligent people--notably that gadfly 10x5--aren't buying all this "good news" about how increased export numbers equate to unprecedented prosperity in the wine industry.

3. A follow-up purposefully placed article has Gregan tactfully and soberly pointing out how export numbers don't necessarily equate to increased profits.

As modest a chronology as this is, you can call it a tiny victory for honesty in the wine biz.

In other news, Cuisine is out, and that preternaturally prescient moi sees the Shingle Peak Sav has nailed the Best Buy award. 'Course, as our astute readership pointed out earlier, this should have been a no-brainer after seeing it was wine of the year in The Moustache's book, but I'll take credit wherever I can get it.

Final Savvy note: Ignore what you read about the St. Clair Pioneer Block 2 in the Top 10. If you find somewhere selling both, get the Block 1. It's markedly better, and is a candidate for "shameless tiny-production, award-whore wine of the year from a giant company". Yum!


Saturday, December 03, 2005

Going to the bookstore... you don't have to! Inspired by this hard-hitting TV One report (watch the video, it's better), I went and had a nosy through Keith Stewart's new book, The Great Wines of New Zealand.

After watching the typically incomprehensible TV One segment, I had no idea what the book was trying to accomplish, only the vague sentiment that if Sam Neill hates it, then it might actually be pretty good. If there's anything I hate worse than over-oaked young-vines Pinot, it's agreeing with any Hollywood actor-turned-gentleman vigneron.

But as hard as you might try to find even one redeeming feature about this book...well, let me save you the effort. It is the single most ridiculous, irrational, moronic, pandering, kiss-ass, knee-jerk, utterly misguided wine book ever written in any language about any topic.

Don't hold back now, 10x5. Say what you really feel!

Seriously, though, I've not a clue even what to say. First, to group grape varieties into Maori-language categories, such that Pinot and Syrah, for example, share the same name, is enough to get Stewart kicked out of wine journalism forever. Second, to defend it by saying that we need to "brand" our product in order to be recognized internationally is to boldly, in print, declare that he knows not the first thing about global marketing. Third, to invoke the French AOC system or the 1855 Bordeaux classification, to run a photo of Robert Parker in your book...oh, oh, the horror. Keith, Fat Bob will burst a blood vessel in his brain laughing at your proposal (and what a mess that will create at table).

What's most shocking of all is his quality metrics. It smacks of cronyism at its most shocking to see who he has included and lauded with his Atua (top) ranking (of course, don't be surprised to see that virtually every winery bum-smooched in his previous book, "Taste of the Earth," is top-ranked here.) And then to follow up the main body of the book with a list of the wineries who were too young or not quite in the first rank yet, and include the Felton Road Block bottling Pinots in it (whilst putting Chard Farm in the main part of the book) borders on the unbelievable. If I were Blair Walters, I'd...I'd...well, I'd pay no attention to this whaledreck, which I'm sure is what he's doing.

My favourite of all is the inclusion of ol' David Glover from down/up/over in Nelson in this second section, with two of his wines, one given the category of "Rising," and one "Hopeful." If you've ever stumbled upon Mr. Glover (and if you've not, you should), you'll understand what a hoot this is.

Good on ya, Keith! Your book made me laugh harder than anything this sorry week has delivered.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

All lost in the supermarket...

Went on down to the local Progressive box to have a holiday nosey. A couple wines stood out:

2004 Esk River Chardonnay, Hawkes Bay, $7.95!!
No tears were shed at Screwcaps Central when the Herald announced the demise of the less-than-venerable Esk River. The other, other Esk (after Esk Valley and Eskdale) never flew high enough to even register on most folks' radars. While their wines were not expensive, neither were they great values--purely middle of the road. Well, Foodworths had apparently bought out their stocks at pennies on the liter, because they're selling this perfectly fine Chardy at $8. It's a case buy no-brainer if you're entertaining the family this holiday, or hosting the neighborhood shindig. Can't say the same about the Merlot/Cabernet, which was eminently forgettable, but the Chardonnay has enough purity of fruit and a fair whack of oak that manages to not overwhelm, wrapping up a decent enough package. $8?? Amazing.

2002 Crossroads Destination Series Cabernet/Malbec/Franc, Hawkes Bay, $9.95
Another odd visitor to supermarket shelves, albeit from their purchased-grape range, I would assume. A pretty decent wine, lightweight and with the faintest touch of green from the Cab Franc, but possessing good purity of fruit, cherries and plums on the palate and a moderately long finish with a tannic edge that promises to soften in three years. It can't compete with Cr$ggy's Red Rock, but at half the price, it's pretty impressive.

2005 Shingle Peak Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, $14.95
The Cuisine Savvy issue is due out soon, and we can expect the usual flurry of Villas and Matua Valleys, and St. Clairs in the Top 10, I assume. I'd not be surprised to see this one there, Matua's big Marlborough operation. At this price point it's a pretty good buy, managing as it does to skirt the overripeness that haunts so many 05 Sauvs. It certainly lacks the intensity of the St. Clair Wairau, but its drier, and what it sacrifices in weight it makes up for in seamlessness. And, duh, price--again, half the price of the benchmark, and almost as good. For what it's worth, it blows the Astrolabe out of the water. That's reason enough to give it a try.

Three varieties, three bargains, three spot-on holiday buys. Who says you don't get great advice here?


Thursday, November 24, 2005

24 hours of binge

More than a few people here will be keeping an eye on Londoners' drinking patterns when closing times for pubs in Britain become a thing of the past today. The legislation allowing this was fought for, railed against, and anguished over for years, before finally passing a few months back.

Battles like this make for interesting bedfellows and unlikely antagonists: Conservatives vs. big business (in this case, pub owners, grocers, and brewers), Liberals siding with Big Alcohol, and the like. Some great statistics here, and some numbers on how many pubs and stores will be extending here.

This is of course a salient point for us, because there are periodic attempts to bring 24-hour drinking here. Once again, the 18-24 year old set is staunchly allied with the companies who would love to pour more profit-making product down their throats, while virtually everyone over 50 seems to be dead set against it.

For this observer, the concept of universal opening hours would be more palatable if it weren't backed by Big Booze Inc., who have long believed that the solution to our social pathology of binge drinking is to encourage more alcohol consumption over longer stretches of the day.

Having never been much of a pub crawler, I'm not qualified to speak for the binge-drinking hordes, but it seems to me that if you like the feeling created by pushing the boundaries of alcohol consumption, you will eventually craft that altered state for yourself, be it at 11PM, 2AM, or 6AM. It's a matter of urges and feeling, not a desparate need to hydrate in the last 15 minutes before closing time. At least, that's how it looks to me.

Most conflicted in this are the various police forces around the country. You hear the most wildly divergent opinions: Relax the closing times so that we don't get all over-taxed by having all our call-outs at the same time; or don't give us endless opportunities for call-outs by de-containing the danger zone.

We've always been looked at by the Commonwealth as a social and economic experimentation zone. This time, it's the Poms we'll be keeping an eye on. With all the various spins put on by all the interested parties, we'll likely get no clear story, with each side claiming either resounding success or dangerous failure, but I'll be most interested to see what the "official" line from the police union is, say a year down the road.