Let’s drink to vinous promiscuity

Think about the last ten wines you’ve tasted. How often did you drink the same wine? If you answered never, congratulations, you’re a fully paid up member of the Promiscuous Drinker’s club. If you answered three or more – you need help. It pays to drink around. Next time you pop into a wine shop or supermarket count the number of different bottles. Chances are you’ll still be counting when you reach two hundred. How many of those wines have you tasted? Most of us have more fingers than the bottles we’ve sampled from a single wine outlet.

Are you sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck? If you’ve tasted less than 5% of the wines on offer there’s a good chance that you can do considerably better. I know, I know, change involves risk and wine’s one of the more expensive items on your shopping list.

You can reduce the risk by trying before you buy. Always taste the free sample that demonstrators offer. There’s a 50/50 chance that it will be better than the same old, same old you’ve been quaffing for years. Visiting a winery is another good way to take the peril out of purchasing. At most winery cellar doors you not only get to taste first, you also get an expert to guide you through the product range – “If you think that’s too dry try this …”.

You took a chance with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and verjuice – perhaps it’s time to venture out of your vinous comfort zone. I can help. I’ve listed a range of popular wine types below with some recommended alternatives under two headings:

  • “More of the same – but better”: Offering some lesser known alternatives that’ll let you stay in your comfort zone (they’re mostly local)
  • “A walk on the wild side”: For the truly vinous promiscuous. High risk but potentially very exciting (they’re mostly imports).

SAUVIGNON BLANC

More of the same – but better

Astrolabe 2005 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc $19 – Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t get much better than Marlborough, and Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t get much better than this. So concentrated you can dab it behind your ears of there’s any left over (which there won’t be). – view on bobcampbell.nz

Himmelsfeld 2005 Sauvignon Blanc $19.50 – This stylish Nelson wine is a bone-dry beauty. It’s a great food wine. You won’t find this in your local supermarket. No website but you can call the winery on 03-543 2223. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Mad Fish 2005 Western Australia Sauvignon Blanc Semillon $22 – I’m a huge fan of this classic Western Australian wine style. It’s got the freshness of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc but with more weight and body than most. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Domaine du Seuil 2004 Bordeaux Blanc $25.50 – A French bland of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc plus a tiny bit of Muscadelle. Dry, full-bodied white wine – delicious!

RIESLING

More of the same – but better

Palliser 2005 Martinborough Riesling $18 – Palliser has always made good Riesling but this is the best ever. Lime blossom and lavender flavours. Delicate and drop-dead delicious. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Villa Maria 2005 Taylor’s Pass Vineyard Marlborough Riesling $29.95 – A “new wave” German-style Riesling with a low alcohol (8.5% vol) and intense citrus/mineral flavours. It costs a little more but it’s worth every cent. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

SA Prumm 2001 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese (Germany) $44.95 – A great example of “the real thing”. Moderately sweet but exquisitely balanced with beautiful knife-edge acidity. Fantastic! Available from Scenic Cellars in Taupo.

Knappstein 2005 Hand-picked Clare Valley Riesling $20 – Bone-dry, high quality Australian Riesling. Great food wine. A bargain at this price. Imported by Distinguished Vineyards. – view on bobcampbell.nz

GEWÜRZTRAMINER

More of the same – but better

Lawson’s Dry Hills 2005 Marlborough Gewürztraminer $21.95 – In its price category this wine is a clear leader every year. It’s pure, liquid Turkish delight. Power-packed wine in an off-dry style. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Stonecroft 2005 Gewürztraminer Hawke’s Bay $25 – Pure as a mountain stream with delicate rose petal flavours – fantastic! Call the maker to find a bottle or two on 06-879 9610 – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Domaine Paul Blanck 2003 Gewürztraminer $36.95 – From Alsace in France, the spiritual home of Gewürztraminer. It’s even got a screwcap!

Schoffitt 2004 Gewürztraminer $32.95 – Seductive floral flavours with a suggestion of wild ginger. An off-dry style. Available from Caro’s in Auckland.

CHARDONNAY

More of the same – but better

Craggy Range 2004 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay $26.95 – This is my favourite NZ chardonnay under $30. It’s so good it brings tears to my eyes. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Matariki 2004 Aspire Chardonnay $19 – Also from the Gimblett Gravels of Hawke’s Bay. A little beauty that punches well above its weight. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Laroche 2004 Chablis $34.95 – This French Chardonnay is bone-dry with appealing mineral salts characters. Match it with seared scallops – amazing! Imported by Hancocks. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Laroche 2004 Chardonnay (Argentina) $17 – It doesn’t cost much to find out what happens when a talented French winemaker makes Chardonnay in Argentina. Fantastic value! Imported by Bennett and Deller.

BUBBLES

More of the same – but better

Lindauer NV Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs $17.95 – Very classy bubbles made from 100% Chardonnay. Fantastic value. Could be mistaken for champagne in a blind tasting. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Deutz 2000 Blanc de Blancs $34.95 – The very big brother to Lindauer Blanc de Blancs. Seriously good fizz. Better than a lot of champagne. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Mondoro Asti Spumante $16.95 – It’s sweet (but not cloying), unfashionable and the world’s most thirst-quenching sparkler. Nothing better for Sunday lunch. I love it. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Irvine Brut Merlot $30 – Sparkling red wine! Australia’s best kept wine secret. A dry, oaked and very serious red – with bubbles! To try it is to love it. Imported by Lace Fine Wines.

PINOT NOIR

More of the same – but better

Peregrine 2004 Central Otago Pinot Noir $35 – It may seem expensive but it’s the best value wine from Central Otago’s 2004 vintage.

Any Pinot Noir from Central Otago’s 2003 vintage – Shop around, there are still quite a few wines available from this terrific vintage. Top drops include Carrick (tastings), Peregrine (tastings), Olssen’s (tastings), Kawarau Estate Reserve (tastings), Akarua (tastings) and Rockburn (tastings).

A Walk on the Wild Side

Any French burgundy from 2003 below $40 – Burgundy makes the world’s best Pinot Noir although not all burgundy is great or even good. In 2003 Europe had an unusually hot vintage. It’s affect on wine quality varied a great deal. Burgundy has a cool climate. Cheap burgundy is made from the coolest sites which can be pretty marginal in cool or even average years. But in a hot year like 2003 the cheapies were the winners. I’ve yet to taste a bad wine under $40 from 2003 and I’ve tasted many excellent wines.

MERLOT

More of the same – but better

Craggy Range 2004 Gimblet Gravels Merlot $26.50 – This seriously big Merlot can easily be misunderstood if opened within a year of release. Keep your hands off it for 2-3 years and you’ll be well rewarded. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Spy Valley 2004 Merlot $19 – Marlborough is normally a bit too cool to ripen Merlot successfully every year. This wine is an exception. Great value. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Taylors 2004 Merlot $18.95 – This delicious Australian red doesn’t offer too much of a risk. In fact Taylors doesn’t make risky wines – they’re all as reliable as gold bullion. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Cono Sur 2004 Merlot $15 (Chile) – Merlot is Chile’s signature wine. They can be very good (and expensive) or just offer very good value like this pleasantly drinkable red. Imported by Gold Medal Wines. – view on bobcampbell.nz

SHIRAZ/SYRAH

Shiraz and syrah are different names for the same grape variety – correctly called Syrah but misspelled by the Aussies who’ve made so many good wines with the variety that some French producers are now calling their wines “Shiraz”. You’ll notice that I’ve used Aussie examples in “More of the same ..” and Kiwi ones in “A Walk on …”. That’s because Australia set the standard and we’re now catching up – or have we overtaken them?

More of the same – but better

Saltram 2004 Mamre Brook Barossa Valley Shiraz $20 – This hasn’t been released in NZ yet but it’s even better than the terrific 2003 (buy that if the 2004’s not available). – view on bobcampbell.nz

Taylors 2004 Shiraz $18.95 – This is a great drop for the price. Grange is twenty times the price but it’s not quite twice as good as this Clare Valley classic. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

2004 and Gimblett Gravels promise to be a great combination for Shiraz. Many of the heavyweights have not yet been released. They’re certainly worth waiting for.

Craggy Range 2004 Block 14 Syrah $35 – Destined to become an icon. Big, powerful red that can be appreciated now but needs plenty of time to hit its straps. I bought a case. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Trinity Hill 2004 Gimblett Gravels Syrah $29 – This is the best Syrah yet from a producer of very serious Gimblett Gravels reds. – view on bobcampbell.nz

CABERNET SAUVIGNON & MERLOT BLENDS

More of the same – but better

Villa Maria 2004 Cellar Selection Merlot Cabernet $24 – This trophy-winning wine is a great buy at this price and even better at $13.99, the discounted price offered by one supermarket chain. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Wild Rock 2004 Gravel Pit Red Merlot Malbec $19.95 – Another silly price for a bold, flavoursome red that’s worth far more. – view on bobcampbell.nz

A Walk on the Wild Side

Montes 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere $21.95 – Chile produces good value and increasingly very stylish reds. This combination of sympathetic grape varieties is a beaut. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Any Bordeaux red from 2003 under $30 – This is a slightly risky option but I estimate that two out of three will put a big smile on your face. The others won’t be too bad either.


First published in Taste Magazine NZ – May 2006.

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