Posts in the Category: Merlot

My New Zealand Reds of the Year 2014

Think New Zealand red, think Pinot Noir but there’s more to New Zealand red wine than one variety: some of the best reds I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months reflect New Zealand’s ability to produce classy Bordeaux styles as well as sexy Syrah, particularly in the warmer climes of Hawke’s Bay.

When it comes to …

Posted in - Blog Posts & Central Otago & Hawkes Bay & Martinborough & Merlot & New Zealand & Pinot Noir & Syrah & trends & Waipara on January 13th 2015 0 Comments

The Charm of Runway Terroir

Kiwi Master of Wine Sam Harrop has been enjoying a long OE in London but a winery with a disused airstrip has lured him back to his homeland.

Te Motu winery on Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland CBD, is also home to the island’s now-defunct airstrip. “There would be a flight from …

Posted in - Cabernet Sauvignon & Master of Wine & Merlot & New Zealand & Waiheke on January 22nd 2014 0 Comments

Roll out the barrels

A tour of winery barrel halls is about as exciting as watching paint dry. And when winemakers tell you which brand of barrels they use, it doesn’t mean much to most of us non-winemaking mortals.

But suddenly it makes much more sense after sitting in on a barrel trial tasting session with Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale, La Jota and Lokoya in Napa.

We sat down in front of five dense 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignons from the sub-region of Mount Veeder, which is destined for the Lokoya brand. They were the same wine but had been put into different types of oak. They had been in barrel for the same length of time, the toast was the same on each barrel, and the age of the barrels was also the same – but the wines tasted dramatically different.

Carpenter explained, “Mt Veeder has big fruit and giant tannins so we need to fill in the middle. We try to do that in the winery but oak also helps.”

We each marked the wines on that basis with the coopers Bel Air and Taransaud coming out joint favourite. Other coopers’ barrels flattened the smell of the wine while others overpowered the fruit. It was interesting to see Carpenter and his assistant winemaker completely disagree on the Bernard-made barrel, showing wine is totally subjective even when you know what you’re doing.

However these barrel test results are specific to each wine so while our favourites for this wine were Taransaud and Bel Air, this test doesn’t apply to the other Cabernets or Merlots Carpenter makes.

It is also interesting to note that most of us were non-plussed with the World Cooperage Barrels. These barrels just overpowered the fruit, giving an unpleasant coffee, mocha and vinyl character to the wine. However, Lakoya’s parent company, Jackson Family Wines, is a partner in World Cooperage Barrels.

Carpenter added, “We are going to France this year to try to figure out why they are like this. Is it how they are cutting the staves in France or is it the cooper in Missouri? These barrels do work with out Merlot but not with our Cabernet.”

Inevitably, with consolidation one of the key trends in the wine industry at the moment, there is some pressure from accountants to use this oak, as it is up to 50% cheaper.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Cabernet Sauvignon & California & Merlot on October 10th 2011 0 Comments

Chinese designs on New World wines

Suspicions that the 2008 Mouton-Rothschild label would be designed by a Chinese artist were confirmed last week.

Prices have been creeping up in the past 12 months amid the speculation. Since Xu Lei was announced as the artist, prices went up 20% overnight.  According to Fine & Rare Wine’s market data tool (, a year ago, you could pick up the 96 Parker point wine for £2800; now you’re looking in the region of £8750.  A 211% rise in value.

The Mouton move followed Chateau Lafite’s announcement that the 2008 vintage would feature the Chinese number eight symbol on the bottle. The wine’s value has since surged. In the past twelve months, the price has increased from £4857 to £15,303– a rise of 215%.

Which brings me to ask the question – why aren’t other producers doing the same thing? A New World producer with some traction in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai would be pretty smart to follow the likes of Mouton and Lafite. If a Kiwi winery – say Craggy Range, Te Mata or Villa Maria employed the services of a Chinese artist or designer for their top Bordeaux blend (Sophia, Coleraine and Twyford Single Vineyard respectively) it woud be incredible PR – increasing awareness, sales and possibly prices.  Surely, it couldn’t be that difficult and a cost benefit analysis would no doubt conclude benefit benefit benefit.

Do it now before everybody else does.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Bordeaux & Cabernet Sauvignon & China & Hawkes Bay & Hong Kong & Marlborough & Merlot & New Zealand & wine on December 5th 2010 0 Comments

South Africa: Safari so goodie

So I’ve finally made it to South Africa after eight years working in the wine industry and this being Africa, day one meant safari.

I’m not sure what I was expecting as I boarded the Big 5 Wine Safari vehicle at Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch but it wasn’t a comparison between a white rhino and Sauvignon Blanc, that’s for sure. But life is full of surprises.

Wrapped in a fuchsia pink blanket to stave off the cold spring day, our tour guide Ivan took us around the wine safari, also known as a vineyard tour.

“Cabernet Sauvignon,” he said “is like a lion. The lion is the king of the jungle. When Cabernet is young, it is aggressive on the palate; as it becomes older, the tannins calm down, just like when a lion ages.”

Hmm, a bit tenuous, but I see what you’re driving at Ivan and I’ve never heard a wine compared to a wild animal before. It’s refreshing for a wine journalist who has seen enough stainless steel tanks and barrels to last a life time.

Sauvignon Blanc…which of the Big 5 safari animals would it be? The white rhino, of course. The link was fresh green grass: the rhino eats it; the wine smells like it.

Cabernet Franc is apparently like an elephant because they both have thick skin and you can keep the wine for a very long time. Warwick does a single varietal Cab Franc, a relative rarity in South Africa, but I couldn’t see any relation to Dumbo or Nelly.

The buffalo is another safari favourite but it’s unpredictable and wild hence the comparison with Pinotage. And last but not least Merlot gets likened to a leopard – because it’s smooth. For wine connoisseurs, it might seem a bit silly but the wine industry needs a bit of fun injected into its rear end. It’s a great way to educate the consumer, link the wine trade with a successful tourism industry –  and make wine seem less elitist.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Merlot & Pinotage & Sauvignon Blanc & South Africa & tourism & wine on August 31st 2010 0 Comments

Gimblett’s neighbour steps up its game

Hawke’s Bay producers based close to the Gimblett Gravels in ‘The Triangle’ are planning to group together to gain international recognition for their terroir.

While still embryonic, producers including Bridge Pa and Alpha Domus aim to form a ‘Triangle’ association to compete with their well-known neighbours Gimblett Gravels.

Paul Ham, Managing Director at Alpha Domus, said, “We are constantly bombarded with Gimblett Gravels. I’m not complaining about it but it’s up to us to be proactive. Across the road from the Gravels we have this triangle sub-region which offers something else.”

“People have heard all about Gimblett Gravels and they are looking for what’s next from Hawke’s Bay, so we have a great opportunity to get some traction,” he added.

The Triangle – also known as the Ngatarawa or Bridge Pa triangle – first needs to settle on one name for the area and define its boundaries. It lies around one kilometre from the Gimblett Gravels, on the same former river bed but with a clay and sandy top soil. The wines are similar in style to the Gravels but Stephen Daysh, director of Bridge Pa, claims, “The Triangle fruit isn’t as dense or heavy as Gimblett Gravels but is a little more lifted and perfumed.”

This is not the first time people have talked about defining the area but it has not yet come to fruition. It is likely to come against some opposition from other Hawke’s Bay producers and the regional association, which aims to promote the region as a whole. Let’s face it, most consumers don’t even where New Zealand is, let alone Hawke’s Bay! However, in the fine wine market the Gravels have already started to gain recognition and the producers shouldn’t just sit and watch while they run away with all the headlines.

Other vineyard owners in the Triangle include Ta Mata, Sileni, Matua and Church Road.

Posted in - Blog Posts & Cabernet Sauvignon & Hawkes Bay & Merlot & New Zealand & Syrah & wine on February 7th 2010 0 Comments