Château d’Yquem Winemaker’s Dinner

On 24 August I was lucky enough to be invited to be one of 16 lucky wine enthusiasts to attend the Château d’Yquem Winemaker’s Dinner with Jean-Philippe Lemoine. Five wines with matching dishes from the talented Ben Battersby were served at the True South Dining Room (The Rees Hotel in Queenstown NZ).

Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne n/v

We were busy meeting the other guests so no notes – it was as good as it always is.

Aperitif: Truffle popcorn and fresh Clevedon oysters.

Château d’Yquem ‘Y’ Sauvignon/Semillon Bordeaux Blanc 2016

Light green gold. Lemon leaps out of the glass, pineapple, white peach, lychee, dried grass. Intense backbone, lovely ripe peach, nectarine, herbal grass, florals, fresh. Very long. 75% Sauvignon blanc 25% Semillon. Top wine. An inspired match with the food. 19/20. 96/100.

Ceviche: Scallop / coconut curry marinade / poppadoms / gooseberry puree / toasted almonds / tatsoi / cucumber / radish / coriander / puffed wild rice.

Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2016

Bright gold. Sweet peach, summer hay, pineapple, white florals, coconut, honey nectar. Sweet but clean; peach, almonds, sweet straw, hint of fresh herbs, salt, dates, honeyed nuts. Lingers in the mouth for 10+ minutes. Very good now and will be even better with time in the bottle. For most, this was the wine of the evening. Tasted from bottle prior to general release (in September 2018). Very good match with the food. 19+/20. 97/100.

Monkfish: Wrapped in prosciutto / tangelo and caper butter sauce / crispy prosciutto / burnt tangelo / fennel, pinenut and kale salad.

Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2011

Straw gold. Quite grassy, hint of petroleum, deep florals, caramel, peach, not much complexity on the nose. Palate is clean and linear, bitter citrus marmalade, stone fruit, roasted pecans. Mid length, orange peel character lingers. Very good food/wine match. 18/20. 93/100.

Fake Foie Gras: Duck liver parfait / brioche / orange and caramelised onion marmalade / dried fig / honey roast rosemary walnuts / raw celeriac.

Château d’Yquem Sauternes 2003

Amber gold. Autumn orchard fruit, stone fruit jam, beeswax honey nose. Palate is rich: caramel, dark honey, citrus, ripe peach, fig, very nutty, a bit cloying and fudgy; a bit oxidative – to me like the bad old days of high dosage Bollinger. Mid long, sugar obvious, sherryish (Ch. d’Yquem’s Jean-Philippe Lemoine says it is caramelised sugar rather than oxidised). A good food/wine match, with the food making the wine better. 17/20. 89/100.

Venison: Slow cooked venison topside / acidulated chocolate / quince / blue cheese pearl barley / puffed barley / watercress.

Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes 1997

Amber, the colour of Oloroso sherry. Nose of rich bitter orange marmalade, old-fashioned dried Turkish apricots, figs, dried peach, toasty sugared roasted nuts. Palate has big bitter citrus marmalade, toasted honey almonds, white flower perfume, currants, lovely acid spine for this all to hang off bringing balance to the sweetness (120g/l). Good length with lingering grassy hay and nice bitter orange peel. Worked well with the food, but the black pepper polarised the group with many finding it harsh on the back palate (I was in that group). 18.5+/20. 95/100.

Cheese: Goats’ cheese ice cream / smoked pineapple upside down cake/poached rhubarb/black pepper pineapple glass/pineapple coulis.

Chef: Ben Batterbury

Huge kudos to Ben, who created these ambitious dishes to match the wines without the benefit of trying them first. He gave credit to Google for helping with the wine flavours, but I suspect his experience and palate had much much more to do with the success of the evening.


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Tony Bish Fat n Sassy Chardonnay 2014

Mid straw gold. Nose a little closed at the moment, but it’s all there – ripe stone fruit with some nice fragrant tropical and lemon/citrus too, yeasty/mealy lees notes and just enough malo butter to be interesting. With time in the glass the wine opens and the aromas strengthen and are joined by some white florals.

On the palate it’s the nose repeated but with oomph. Ripe and sweet (but balanced by acid) peach, stone fruit, tropical and melon flavours. There’s a nice undertone of butter and meal, which gives the wine richness and complexity. Good mid-long finish with the sweet stone fruit notes lasting longest and making the wine already a great moreish summer drop.

Like the 2013, this will get even better, so buy a case or two of this and keep it – and grab the 2013 to try now.

Very good wine, and top value.

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

18.5/20 [tasted 17/10/15]

Bought cellar door. Top value at RRP $20.00.

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Books on wine

Best place to get great wine books is Book Depository. I’ll update this page with the ones I’ve found most useful.

  • Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wine (good annual reference and guide – I generally agree with Michael’s palate it seems)
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Fairmont Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Quite a deep colour for a SB – green/gold. Nose: wow! Ripe tropical fruit in the melon and guava spectrum but the varietal tomato leaf is there, and even a hint of tomato skin as well; palate is a slightly subdued version of the nose at first, all there but the fruit is a little dumbed down, good acid backbone – it does open in the glass though (read to the end for a recommendation!); long finish with the ripe fruit that was on the nose leaping back, along with a delightful Granny Smith apple note as well; leaves you wanting another sip, and then another.

Very good wine, especially as it was tasted only six hours after delivery from the winery. I suspect that with a few weeks post-delivery rest it’ll be better. And with a few months in the bottle it’ll be another step up again. Contact the winery and buy a case. Or two. I suspect that in a few months this will be a 19/20 wine for me as it has those tropical notes I love in Sauvignon Blanc. Time will tell.

Gladstone, Wairarapa, New Zealand

18/20 [tasted 7/12/13]

Bought cellar door. Top value at RRP $15.00 and even better by the case.

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Consumer NZ 2013 whites tasting

The December issue of Consumer NZ has the report of the panel blind tasting of New Zealand whites under $30. We tasted 60 wines, all purchased off-the-shelf by Consumer NZ. As with any panel, the scores among the judges varied, although there was generally very good agreement on the top wines. You can rely on the recommendations in the report, and you will find many of the wines at well below the recommended retail price.

The wines that I scored highly (silver or gold), listed in the order they were tasted are:

Sauvignon Blanc

Esk Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012

Very gooseberry nose – varietal! This is what you expect from SB on the palate: gooseberry, tight acid, fine with good length. Very good wine. 17.5/20

Wither Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Tropical on the nose, with some typical Marlborough too. Clearly young and a little unbalanced at this stage, very ripe. Comes together on the long finish. 17/20

Clearwater Cove (Yealands) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Pineapple, tropical fruit and varietal green notes on the nose. Full and complete on the palate – it’s all there, and shows some lovely complexity. 17.5/20

Sacred Hill Orange Label Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Ripe florals and tropical fruit nose. Good fruit on the palate, tropical fruits and varietal green/Marlborough as well. Long, lovely, complex. Good stuff. 19/20

Coopers Creek Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013

Nose of dusty florals and classic Marlborough gooseberry. Good clean style, tomato leaf and gooseberry palate. Balanced wine. Very good. 18/20

Pinot Gris

Mud House South Island Pinot Gris 2012

Good pear aromas on the nose. Ripe fruit on palate, good weight and depth, nice acid balance with clean greenish pear. Good food wine. 17.5/20

This wine was also reviewed in Winestate (Vol 37, Issue 7) and received 5 stars.

Dashwood Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012

Deep colour. Big pear nose. Big ripe wine, sweet (fruit and alcohol rather than sugar) but enough acid to balance. Summer afternoon wine – pear and stonefruit upfront on the palate. Very good fruit-forward style, but a touch inelegant and a bit hot. 17/20

Sacred Hill Orange Label Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012

Ripe pears and stonefruit on the nose. Palate has a good balance of ripe fruit and some green apple, acid brings balance. Complex wine with a long finish. Moreish. 18.5/20

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012

Nose a little shallow, with florals more than varietal fruit. Palate shows some fruit and the florals that were evident on the nose, delicate rather then fruit-driven. Finishes a little short. 17.5/20

Peter Yealands Marlborough Pinot Gris 2013

Unripe (in a good, crisp way) pear/apple on the nose. A delicate style, nice balance of fruit and acid with lovely floral notes. Top wine. 19/20

Vidal White Series East Coast Pinot Gris 2013

Pears on the nose. A touch simple on the palate at first and seems to lack depth but it opens nicely – give it time. A delicate style with everything there on the finish. 17.5/20

Kim Crawford First Pick Pinot Gris 2013

Ripe stonefruit, pear and apple crisp skin on the nose. Palate is nicely balanced with pear, apple and a little white peach. Delicate and complex. This is very good. 18/20

Brancott Estate Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2012

Nose all almonds and pears. Palate shows lovely fresh pear juice and some delicate florals. A long finish. Very good. 19/20


Villa Maria Dry Cellar Selection Marlborough Riesling 2012

Lemonade nose. Palate has lovely citrus, floral sweetness but cleansing acidity too. Lovely floral finish. 17.5/20

Mount Riley Marlborough Riesling 2013

White flowers, lime, very nice perfumed nose. Palate has good balance, delicate white florals and clover. Finish is long with floral citrus lingering. Very nice wine. 19/20

Giesen Estate Marlborough Riesling 2013

Initial whiff of derris dust, but this blows off revealing ripe citrus florals and stonefruit. Palate has lovely sweet florals and citrus, especially lime and perfumed lemons. Long finish. Very good wine in a sweeter style. 19/20

Spy Valley Marlborough Riesling 2012

Lovely florals and citrus aromas – classic Riesling nose. Palate is well balanced, showing ripe citrus and florals. Finish is long and lovely, although there is a touch of bitterness, probably due to sulphur. 18/20

Stoneleigh Marlborough Riesling 2013

Floral, honey, citrus flowers on the nose. Punchy acidity with honey, florals and citrus on the palate. Long finish that needs a touch more acidity. 18/20

Montana Waipara Riesling 2012

Lemon shortcake nose. Sweet wine with honey and citrus. Not my style, but good for its type. 17.5/20


Peter Yealands Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2012

Nose of delicate stonefruits and some floral notes. Palate of ripe fruit, good acid, florals add complexity. Nice early drinking Chardonnay. 17.5/20

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2012

Oak and stonefruit aromas. Bigger style wine, a touch of malo, ripe fruit, balanced. Oak/vanillins a little obvious for now but give it time. 18.5/20

Shingle Peak Marlborough Chardonnay 2012

Nose very reserved. Good minerality on the palate, nice fruit. A young wine that needs time, it does open in the glass. Balanced finish. This is a good food wine. 18.5/20

‘Natural’ wines

One final comment. There were two ‘natural wines’ in the line up. Both, for me, were faulty: very oxidised, quite bitter and harsh, and in one case a strong glue-like smell. So, what is natural wine? In reality, it’s vinegar as that’s the final stage in the natural fermentation process. Winemaking stops that process at the point where it’s what we know as wine. All wine is natural, and any labelled as such is, for me, best avoided because it’s probably far more ‘natural’ than you’d like.

The panel was Escarpment‘s Larry McKenna (chair) and Huw Kinch, Sue Davies of Wine2Trade, Laura Saba of WinecellarNZ, wine blogger Elissa Jordan, and yours truly. As always the tasting was very ably run by Consumer NZ writer Libby Manley and wine expert Raymond Chan. Raymond has also blogged about the tasting.

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Church Road Sauvignon Blanc Hawke’s Bay 2012 – quick note

Neither here nor there, this lacks both the punch of a good Sauvignon Blanc and the complexity and interest of a wine with the oak. Back label says a small proportion was fermented in a 7500 litre oak cuve. I suspect it would have better without this. There’s a bit too much sweetness on the mid-palate as well, although there is enough acid to bring things back into balance on the finish.A shame there’s so little to balance.

Not bad, but nothing special either. 14/20

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Chemical common sense – Letter to Decanter

Update: Decanter has published my response in the November 2013 issue. Let’s hope this puts an end to it.

I’ve just sent off another letter to Decanter magazine. Seems some chap in the US didn’t like my balanced response to the non-issue of pesticide residues in wine. Here’s what he reckons (Decanter, September 2013):

Chemical reaction

How could you let Gary Bowering get away with his letter on pesticide residues in wine (July 2013) unrefuted? There have been hardly any studies related to the synergistic effects from multiple chemicals that would prove that they are harmless. In addition, he says that because the residues are below legal limits, they are therefore safe. The legal limits are not in any way a true threshold for safety, as the chemical industry has too much power to self regulate, and most chemicals are never tested by independent agencies. Please don’t let these shills for agribusiness go unchallenged.

Jason Carey AIWS, Oakland, California.

My letter in response:

Chemical common sense

Internationally-accepted studies on synergistic effects of pesticide residues in the body indicate this is not a concern. 

The safety level is the amount of a chemical that the most vulnerable of the population could consume every day of their life from birth to death and still show no effect. The residue limit is usually 1/100th of the safety level, and sometimes even lower.

No industry, let alone business, has the power or resources to control the UN, World Health Organisation and every food safety regulator on the planet. A little research will show how regulations are set, monitored and enforced.

The area that most lacks research is chemicals generally regarded as safe, which include most chemicals registered for use on organic production. However, as with any other chemical that shows no evidence of effect when used properly, there is no reason to conduct such research.

I have never worked for any chemical industry. My letter was no shill for anything other than good science and common sense.  Indeed, for some years I was on the other side of the fence with the national regulator, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. Rest assured that we ate the same food and drank the same wine as everyone else. I still do.

Gary Bowering MRSNZ, Wellington, New Zealand

I could have written a lot more, especially around the “prove that they are harmless” bit. You can, of course, never prove anything is harmless. In fact, you can only prove that everything is harmful, including people. Following this false logic to it’s inevitable conclusion, where people must be protected from harm, everything should be banned, including people.

I was also going to note that there aren’t many studies on the ‘cocktail effect’ of pesticide residues for the same reason there are few studies on the time-travel abilities of the common goldfish. Better though to leave humour out. Some people just don’t get it. (In case you didn’t, it’s because there are more important areas to put research resources.)

It’s also interesting to note that in the very same issue of Decanter there was a story that mentioned that wine itself has well over 150 chemicals. Imagine how some people must fret when they have wine with food, since that it is made of many hundreds more chemicals, not to mention what they must believe happens when they all meet up with those that make up the body itself. Anything must be possible. Perhaps that explains spontaneous human combustion? (It doesn’t.)

Those of us with common sense will stick to worrying more about what wine to serve with each course than the non-issue of pesticide residues in wine. Or food for that matter.

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Stick to the science – Letter to Decanter, July 2013

It’s not often that I’m moved to write a letter to the editor of a magazine, but a news item in the April Decanter annoyed me. My letter was published in the July issue.

The original story is here.

Here’s my response:

As a wine lover and someone with a science background, including experience in food safety, the news story about pesticide residues in wine does a disservice to science and to wine lovers. While it did mention that all the traces found were below legal levels, it failed to provide both context and expert comment.

Modern analytical techniques can reliably detect molecules down to parts per billion or even trillion, the proverbial drop in a swimming pool. At this level of detection it is possible to find almost any molecule anywhere. Detection itself is meaningless. What matters is the amount of a chemical. As Paracelsus said hundreds of years ago, ‘the dose makes the poison’. Since all levels found were below legal levels, there is no harmful effect. Indeed, by many orders of magnitude, the most toxic substance in all of the wines was alcohol, which causes many proven harmful effects, including cancer. But once again we refer to Paracelsus and, to paraphrase, consume everything in moderation.

The story also failed to impart the science by relying only on the comment of someone whom appears to waver from modern toxicology. There is no accepted evidence of a harmful cocktail effect. Pesticides undergo intensive toxicological testing before approval and this testing includes metabolic breakdown products which are factored into Maximum Residue Limits.

Please ensure Decanter remains a bastion of truth, including informing us readers of relevant accepted science and not simply repeat opinion and belief.

Your critical-thinking approach to wine is one of the reasons I have been a subscriber for so long.

Gary Bowering MRSNZ

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Mt Olympus Chardonnay 2011

Green gold, mid depth. Nutty, mealy lees; ripe peaches. Ripe fruit style but with acid and mineral backbone. Clean with a good finish. A very good wine for the price. 13.5%

Marlborough, New Zealand

17/20 [tasted 24-11-2012]

Bought Very good value at $10.99. Tasted a few weeks after delivery so storage is not relevant.

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Waipara Riesling Challenge 2010 overview

Early this year I bought two cases of the 2010 Waipara Riesling Challenge wines at the bargain-basement price of $9.99 a bottle (from The challenge was an interesting idea: does the grape or the making make most difference? Or, to quote from the Challenge website: “This competition is a world-first in terms of providing a means of establishing the extent to which the winemaker’s individual skills and style can sculpt a given – and matching – batch of grapes into a world-class wine.”

Hand-picked bunches picked from the Mud House ‘The Mound’ vineyard were shipped to 12 top New Zealand winemakers. Each was given free rein to make at least 250 cases of the best wine they could from the four tonnes they received.

Between February and August I tasted each of the wines. It’s certainly not as ideal as tasting each wine blind in a single sitting, but I wanted to be able to enjoy the rest of the bottle after tasting the wine and, while a bottle with a meal is manageable, a dozen certainly isn’t!

Did the Challenge answer the question? Perhaps. All winemakers have options, but Riesling presents so many that winemaking input will clearly outweigh any terroir or site specificity, and the many outcome possibilities may introduce confounding factors for judges, including personal preference (eg, dry v sweet) and internal comparison against internationally-accepted accepted styles (‘It’s not Alsace). Perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc would be a better New Zealand white to try this experiment with? Maybe one day…

Links to the notes follow, as well as links to notes from Raymond Chan and Tom Cannavan who both tasted the wines in a line-up.

Waipara Riesling Challenge Jules Taylor 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Matt Dicey 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Patrick Materman 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Simon McGeorge 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Mike Brown 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge John Forrest 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Matt Donaldson 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Larry McKenna 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Paul Bourgeois 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Ant McKenzie 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Duncan Forsyth 2010

Waipara Riesling Challenge Simon Waghorn 2010

Raymond Chan’s notes

Tom Cannavan’s notes


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