The romance of wine
Wine is often associated with love. We open a bottle of bubbly to celebrate a wedding or the birth of a child. We give wine to friends to mark the Chinese new year.
Love and wine brought winemakers Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen together. They met in Australia while working for rival vineyards in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales. Sarah-Kate, a New Zealander, convinced Dan, an Australian, to move to the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s south island.
Central Otago is one of the most visually magnificent places in the world. It is also rapidly becoming known as one of the world’s best regions for cool-climate wine, especially pinot noir. America’s Robert Parker, probably the world’s most influential critic, featured the region in the Wine Spectator magazine.
Jancis Robinson MW, wine writer for the Financial Times, was in Shanghai and Beijing last month to launch the Chinese edition of the World Wine Atlas. She described Central Otago as possibly “the next great pinot region”. And influential Australia critic James Halliday called Central Otago “God’s country” in relation to pinot noir.
Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen have launched their own label in Wanaka in Central Otago (www.maudewines.com), and I had the pleasure of tasting the current vintage and some barrel samples while in Wanaka.
Sarah-Kate makes wine for her own label, Maude, and for a vineyard her parents own, Mount Maude. All are seriously good wines. The 2008 Maude pinot gris spoke of long romantic walks in an orchard, surrounded by the perfume of pears. The 2008 Maude pinot noir is refined yet complex – a lot like a good relationship. The 2008 Mount Maude chardonnay is creamily elegant, with excellent length on the palate.
Barrel samples of the 2009 pinot noir and chardonnay promise even better things. The chardonnay was like walking into a bread shop, to be embraced by aromas of brioche and bread dough. The pinot noir offered a range of red fruits, all contained in an elegant structure of new oak.
Wine speaks so much of love and wonder, and should be enjoyed in excess.
In Australia, where I live, people consume an average of about 80 glasses a year.
Australia makes good pinot noir. But pinot noir from New Zealand’s Central Otago region has been receiving much attention from the world’s influential wine critics.
Rudi Bauer, winemaker for Quartz Reef in Central Otago, is the region’s best-known winemaker. He was one of six people short-listed as international winemaker of the year, the equivalent of a wine-world Oscar. The award will be announced March 20.
Gibbston Valley was an early standard setter in Central Otago, its 2000 vintage gaining the trophy for best pinot noir at the London International Wine Challenge. That wine is so much in demand that it sells for $NZ450 (US$322) a bottle.
In 2008 the Wild Earth 2006 pinot noir received an award for best pinot, and then the trophy for champion red wine, at the International Wine Challenge in London. Last year Cuisine magazine named the wine New Zealand’s best pinot noir.
Wild Earth’s owner Quintin Quider, an American, told me yields were deliberately kept low to improve fruit quality. The vineyard sits at the end of Felton Road, opposite the famous Felton Road Vineyard.
Next door to Wild Earth, another American, Jen Parr, is weaving magic in the vineyard at Olssens, and picking up lots of awards, especially for her whites. Parr’s 2009 Annieburn Riesling is sold out, such is the demand for this sweet delight. The 2009 dry version of the Riesling has elegance and great length, with minerally hints of honeysuckle and lime.
Perhaps the best-known red at Olssens is the Nipple Hill pinot noir, named after a mountain above the property that looks like the breast of a powerful Amazon goddess. It is a friendly, entry-level red with plenty of ripe fruit.
* Published in Asia News, 19 March 2010
How to win at wine auctions
Online wine auctions can become an addiction, warns Stephen Quinn
People who know what they are doing can find bargains at online wine auctions. But it’s a lot like gambling: The house usually wins. But when the humble gambler does, it’s time to open a bottle to celebrate.
Like many things in life, the key to online purchases is doing good research so you know what you are getting.
Sometimes, like a player at the casino, we can win big. For example, this past month I bought two and a half cases of classic 2005 and 2006 New Zealand red wine that retails for $45 to $48 a bottle in that country. Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines rated the wines near the top of a nine-point scale – his equivalent of a high silver medal.
He described the wines as “refined, with excellent concentration of fruit”. Unlike some wine guides, Cooper’s book criticises poor wines as well as praises fine ones. Interviewed in Melbourne for the Taste of New Zealand event on February 22, Cooper told me he strives for accuracy and clarity.
“I tell people what I think about the wines honestly,” he said. And refreshingly he added: “You should always treat the views in my book for what they are – one person’s opinions.” It’s the same with this article.
I paid $341.75 for 30 bottles, including postage, freight and buyer’s premium. That works out at $11.40 a bottle.
Sometimes at the casino you can lose badly. So it is with the game of online wine auctions. Late last year I bought a case of 20-year-old Hunter Valley semillon and 18-year-old chardonnay. Hunter semillon with pedigree can last for generations, but only if it has been stored well. This wine had not. Because it was an old wine, the auction house would not refund my money.
That wine went down the sink.
With young wines – vintages from the past five to eight years – most auction houses will give your money back if the wine is corked. Not so with older wines. The lesson here: choose younger vintages unless you know how the wine has been stored. Names of auction houses will not be mentioned to protect the guilty.
This brings us to the auction process. You need to register online and provide a current credit card and an email address. You receive a user name and password via your email address.
Once you log on, bidding for wine involves clicking on the bid button and then confirming that, yes, you would like to buy that wine.
Most online auctions run for between 18 and 36 hours. If someone overbids you, the auction house sends an email advising how much you now need to bid, and provides a link back to the wine, where you can try again.
Online auctions also allow you to set a maximum bid. Bids jump in $5 increments, and bidding usually starts at around $9 or $10 per item.
I recommend setting oneself a limit per item – let’s say $90 a case. Sometimes you need to be strong. It is easy, and tempting, in the heat of the last few minutes to keep bidding. Some primal competitive urge takes over.
Most auctions will continue past the deadline if two or more people are still bidding in the last 10 minutes for an item.
My eagerness to win has cost me in the past. This leads us to the golden rule of online wine auctions: Know what you want and the maximum you will pay. Do your research before you start bidding, and be strong.
Here are a few tips, assuming you have identified the wine you want. Many auctions offer several cases of the same wine in the same lot. Bid low for all of them. Perhaps four cases at $29 each. It’s likely someone else will overbid you for some of the wine. But not always: You can often be left with one of those cases, which you got for a bargain.
Most auction houses charge a buyer’s fee of 15 per cent of the bid, and another $20 a case postage and handline.
Be prepared to lose. Remember the zen of wine auctions: it is better to have bid and lost than not to have bid at all.
* Offered to The Age. Published in Asia News (part of Asian News Network) March 2010