WanderCurtis Wine

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 3, Hawke’s Bay, Havelock North

Craggy Range

My visit to Craggy Range was well overdue. Their wines have long been one of my favourites. My first experience of them was a Craggy Range Le Sol back in 2004 at a wine society tasting in London with my French brother in law Seb. We were instantly struck by the concentration and intensity of this wine. So good was the Le Sol, we acquired a bottle that same evening and took as a BYO to the nearest Steakhouse. Kiran and I have long been fans of their excellent Bordeaux blend, Sophia, and have enjoyed many vintages over the years. The overall commitment to excellence shines through in their wines which we know well having hosted wine dinners over the years with Steve Smith MW. Steve has now left and set up his own business with American Brian Sheth (Smith and Sheth)
Craggy Range is owned by The Peabody family who have put it in a 1,000 year trust so it can never be sold, with the intention of creating a true legacy. The winery is a no expense spared tome to wine, set in magnificent gardens at the foot Te Mata peak.
The modern beautifully designed  winery is purely for Sophia. The other wines are made in a different site. We had the wine tasting in the garden enjoying the Hawke’s Bay summer.

Wines Tasted

Craggy Range Chardonnay 2019 kidnappers bay
Lemon citrus good acid fresh minerality
Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux 2017
This has not been made for a few years due to lead roll virus destroying the vineyards which have since been replanted.
Mineral soft textured smoky with beautiful balance. Pete the head somm rubbed together the stones found in the vineyard. The resulting aroma reflected some of the smoky minerals flinty nature of the wine. I couldn’t help myself in licking the stones which had a salty smoky taste, surprisingly delicious!
Craggy Range Te muna Road 2016 Pinot Noir
From Vineyards in Martinborough, Lovely ripe fruit cherry plum soft tannins
Craggy Range Te muna Aroha 2017 Pinot Noir
Sources from Vineyards in Martinborough Rich ++ complex perfume gamey wild berries could splash it on soft silky tannins ++ fantastic quality Pinot Noir displaying why this grape is so intoxicating.Aroha means love a very fitting name for this wine.
Abel clone gumboot clone ? origin from DRC clones smuggled back to NZ and confiscated.
Craggy Range Le sol 2016
100% Syrah20% whole bunch rich smooth blueberry long lovely tannins
Unidimensional at this stage, needs time to develop
Craggy Range Sophia 2011 and 2016
Merlot dominant cab sav cab franc
Tannins beautiful acid lovely fruit beautiful wine+  mocha
2011 more complex but hint of oxidation
As expected the wines were fantastic reflecting the philosophy and investment here. Peter explained that after years of research based on blind tastings of screw caps, Diam and cork that everything from now will be bottled with screw cap. A trend that is understandably becoming more universal.

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 2- Northland – Doubtless Bay


Dancing Petrel Wines

Whilst sitting enjoying coffee at Waterfront bar in Mangonui, I spotted some beautiful vineyards on the slopes at the far side of the harbour. These are the vines of the newly founded Dancing Petrel Wines named after the Storm Petrel, which pirouettes across the waves. I was hosted by the very welcoming owner, Kim Gilkinson who has lived here since 2012 and bought the vineyards in 2018. She says the vines were not in the best condition. However she has put a lot of work in since. The plantings include a small planting of Tannat and recently Gewürztraminer. The wines are made at Marsden winery.

Wines Tasted

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018

Carbonated, fresh apple apricot floral nice balance easy drinking

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018

not overtly floral, apricot in the finish, dried apricot chews nice balance length sl saltiness

Dancing Petrel Viognier 2018 (Oaked) slight nutty on the nose

Dancing Petrel Pinot Gris

some fruit pear subtle

Dancing Petrel Rose

Syrah and Cabernet Franc hints of red fruits


This is not the easiest place are to produce grapes given the high rainfall and predominantly clay soils. However, given the amount of warmth and the North facing slopes, there is some potential. The stunning location on Paewhenua Island with 360 degree panoramic views over Mangonui harbour and the tourism should aid a new wine business.

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020, Part 2- Northland – Marsden Estate

Marsden Estate, Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, Northland, New Zealand



Rod Macivor founder of Marsden was preparing for his earliest harvest on record. So early that he was having trouble acquiring the yeast supply. Never in the 27 years since commencing Marsden has the harvest been this early. It had been a particularly dry few months. How much may be down to global warming is unknown, but this felt like an ominous sign. I had travelled to Marsden in Kerikeri near The Bay of Islands having heard about Marsden’s quality and the award winning Black Rocks Chardonnay. I was lucky enough to be hosted by Rod despite him being immersed in work. They had one of their grape growers field day/workshops today. Marsden works a bit like a Co-op with Rod making wine for over 40 individual growers. This reflects the scattered nature of Northlands wine growing areas over a large distance, the remoteness and low volumes produced. It’s not the easiest place to grow grapes with the high rainfall and humidity increasing risks such as fungal disease.

I was lucky enough to meet Mark Nobilo who with his many years of knowledge and wisdom advises local growers and winemakers in his own time. I also met Ben Byrne, winemaker at the expansive and heavily invested property; The Landing, which is making quite a name for itself.


Wines Tasted

Marsden Pinot Gris 2019

Floral pear textured slight spicy finish

Marsden Black Rocks Chardonnay 2018 +

Lovely buttery malo nose vanilla toasty peach. lees contact, smooth toasty oak long vanilla finish 30 % new oak lees few months

Marsden Viognier 2019

apricot tinned peach, bitterness good acidity

Marsden Tempranillo 2015

Red berry, chocolate yoghurt oak soft tannins 12 months oak cellar savoury

Marsden Chambourcin 2015

 American French hybrid recently commercial, salami nose peppery

Cured meats spice smooth good acidity

Marsden Syrah Vigot 2015 +

Mixture ripe blackberries spices turmeric pepper, lovely wine. I had to buy a bottle as well as the Chardonnay and Pinot Gris!

Barrel sample tannat

Blueberry and good tannin excellent development and approachability despite being a barrel sample.


The wines are made very well. I particularly enjoyed the Syrah and it was good to try a wine with 5 years of age.

It was interesting to try the Chambourcin, something more unusual which is adapted for the climate up here.

I enjoyed meeting Rod who exudes generosity, passion and ability which is reflected in his excellent wines.


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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020 – Part 1 Auckland Region, Mangere

Villa Maria Estate was founded by George Fistonich, now Sir George, in the 1960’s and is still family run. They have extensive holdings in Auckland, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. The 40 hectare site sits on an extinct volcano, the crater creating a natural amphitheatre. They hold summer concerts, past performers include Simply Red, Radiohead, Rona Keating, Simple Minds, Tom Jones. In March Aha and Rik Astley are booked, a great excuse to prolong my stay!

We were guided through their wines by winemaker David Roper in their aged cellar. Categories of wine start with Private Bin, then Cellar selection, Platinum (recently introduced) and their best wines are the Reserve selection.

Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Nice texture not in your face Sauvignon, David explained this was a warm year thus the added roundness to the fruit.
More subtle gooseberry, passion fruit, classic Marlborough, flagship seller (1 million cases)
Villa Maria Reserve Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2019
Sl smokiness really smooth texture
More texture, passion fruit stone fruit herbaceous about 6 months lees ageing real  smoothness excellent wine ++
Quantity only 6000 to 10000 cases
Villa Maria Private Pinot Gris 2019
 Pear drop, blend of fruit north and south Island, ripe pears guava
Nice texture too 5 g residual. A nice example of NZ Pinot Gris
Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay 2018
Blend of both islands more fruit from North Hawkes Bay and Gisbourne
toast, smoke, some Malo oak from addition can be staves/chips/dust
17,000 cases
Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2018
Simple red cherryfruit Pinot not much length or finish neutral barrels
Villa Maria Cellar sélection Pinot Noir 2018
More smoke earthiness savouriness oak
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2018
Lots of fruit black and red and plums and smokiness soft mellow tannins food friendly Merlot dominated
85% rule re labelling
Villa Maria Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Perfumed violets floral ripe black fruit concentrated black fruit
Really ripe and lovely texture


I was really impressed by Villa Maria’s quality and consistency and price range. The 2019’s have only recently been bottled but were drinking beautifully.

We had a lovely lunch in their restaurant outside, overlooking the vines and tried a few more wines, including their excellent Albarino which had a distinctive saltiness. Then a walk in the Albarino vines with David Roper who had managed to put up with our company for 3 hours.

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New Zealand Wine Tour January 2020 – Part 1 Auckland Region – Kumeu


A Seat at the Table?

This is the title of the excellent, recently released film poses the question –  Has New Zealand earned a seat at the table  as a maker of the worlds best wines?

I think so, but I am biased. I’ve loved everything about New Zealand since I worked as a Junior Doctor here, at the Wairau Hospital in Marlborough a quarter of a century ago. It was then a fledgling region with most of the land in the Wairau and Awatere valley bare and full of sheep. How I wish I’d bought a few acres! A lot has changed since then with New Zealand showing itself as a world class producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay not just a mass producer of its most widely planted grape Sauvignon Blanc.

I had decided to take a sabbatical from work and what better place to be than in  New Zealand for Summer. My tour will span major regions in North Island, starting in Auckland, then to Northland, Hawkes Bay and ending up in Waiheke Island. I plan to review my favourite wines and give an up to date picture of the latest trends in the New Zealand wine industry.

Kumeu River Wines


The quality of Kumeu River Chardonnay is well know and I’ve been buying it for years from the wine society. The blind tasting in 2015  arranged by Stephen Browett of Farr Vintners in London confirmed their excellence when they scored higher than famed Burgundies.
This was one of the visits I was most looking forward to in New Zealand. The estate is close to Auckland city which is causing problems.
Paul Brajkovich our host for the afternoon explained that many local vineyards which used to supply fruit have been sold for property development from the encroaching city.
He talked us through the family history and how his grandfather escaping conscription into the army (Croatia was part of the Austro Hungarian empire) arrived in New Zealand in the early 1900s and starting planting grapes on this site.
We were lucky enough to be joined at the tasting by Paul’s brother Michael Brajkovich MW,New Zealand’s first Master of Wine and briefly met Melba the late Matés wife.
We tried the whole range of 2018 wines and a few treats to follow.
I was too busy speaking to Paul and Michael to make  tasting notes on all the wines. They were all of excellent quality, as Suzi demonstrated, they were too good to spit!
Kumeu River Estate Pinot Gris 2018
I really liked the texture here lovely textured mouthfeel with aromatics, florality and stone fruit.
Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2018
Well balanced citrus, stone fruit silky texture, consistently good and very good value
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2018
More complexity with hint of florality citrus and stone fruit lovely texture and length too
Kumeu Village Pinot Noir 2019
This is the first vintage from Rays Road Hawkes Bay fruit
Lovely bright red cherry aromas red fruit on the palate nicely balanced
A very good value Pinot
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Pinot noir 2017
Classic Pinot nose with earth and gaminess but still some red fruits good length and mouthfeel
Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2103
This showed ageing potential of these wines after 7 years still plenty of citrus and freshness with added complexity and hazelnuts
The attention to detail and low intervention with techniques such as  hand harvesting, whole bunch pressing, barrel fermentation use of wild yeast, gentle racking and oak ageing really shines through and there is no doubt these wines are every bit as good as top Burgundy.

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Pinots of Central Otago New Zealand wine tasting trip – December 2010

I can’t imagine a more beautiful place in the world to have a vineyard – just awesome. Steep mountain ranges, valley floors, gorges, glacial waters of the Kawarau river, a fusion of light and landforms.

Aaron, Kiwi wine lover and psychologist and I started on our quest for the finest pinot in Central Otago at Bald Hills in Cromwell. Owner Blair Hunt showed us his lovely collection, after a long day on the road from earhquake hit Christchurch, via lunch at Riverside Kitchen.

The newly opened wine trail bike route in the Gibbston valley provided the ideal oppurtunity to explore Perigrine wines and Amisfield. More examples of superbly made beautiful, fruit filled sensuous pinots.

Alan-BradyDay 3 was the highlight. We met Alan Brady, who planted the first vines in the Gibbston valley over 30 years ago and was the instigator for the wine boom here. After the initial embarrassment of not having his recently released book ‘Pinot Central’ but the one by John Saker, we were treated to a delightful tour. First of Gibbston Valley Winery then Mount Edward, followed by lunch in the sun. Surprised myself by ordering a rosé. Not normally much of a fan, these are 100% pinot and just delicious, with the most vibrant floral nose and supremely balanced palate that I am at last a convert to these rather unpopular numbers.

Alan is a true gent, humble for a man who has achieved so much here. He also rang ahead for us to arrange a tour of Rippon Valley wines in Wanaka the following day.

Off then to Felton Road and unfortunately just missed much talked about charismatic owner Nigel Greening. However had a tour and tried the wines.

The Holy Grail was found after four days of searching and 20,000km with four flight changes. All had been worth it. The passion/organic/biodynamic/terroir all came through to deliver a palatal treat – a real assault on the senses – wines gushing with fruit, flowers and complexity and something unquantifiable. The sense that a perfect harmony was present – bottled beauty!

jane-dochertyWhile Block 3 was particularly good, we loved them all. Well done to Felton Road, and after this nothing really mattered (except Man Utd seeing off Arsenal the following day!) We still had some stamina, and well worth it too as Jane Docherty from Carrick was a great hostess to the fine wines of Carrick.

A great trip and now have the ammunition for a “Best of Kiwi Pinot” WanderCurtis tasting in the early summer!