Lauraine Jacobs

Food Writer and Author of Delicious Books

Wines to drink

16 April 2011


Wine and food matching is interesting. Even the most seasoned palates will agree to differ, even if a self considered wine buff told me the other day that pinot noir ruins a roast lamb dinner. Whaaaat?

Right now we're in the midst of the Bluff oyster season and I find it hard to pass on them in my local supermarket where pottles are $23. So oysters have become my favourite pre-dinner snack, accompanied by a glass of wine, while my dinner cooks.

I am not a huge fan of chardonnay, but the just released Mahi Twin Valleys 2009 chardonnay from Marlborough that we opened was soft, elegant, restrained and pleasantly and quietly reminiscent of ripe stone fruits. That Brian Bicknell is one smart winemaker. It really went well with those oysters, or as they say a match made in heaven. I will be out and about looking for more.

23 January 2011


There’s always going to be an occasion to open some of those special bottles that are squirreled away in the cellar. We met a passionate wine buff, Rick, and his wife Diana visiting from Bath, UK at a friend’s celebration party this week. They were on their way to a Pinot Noir conference in Central Otago and really knew their New Zealand wines. But, my husband discovered, they’d never had the opportunity to drink the well-made wines of the cultish winemaker Neil McCallum of Dry River. So doing our duty for God and country we invited the couple, and their hosts here to dinner.

Neil McCallum (who is a good friend of ours) was one of the earliest to move to Martinborough in the very early 80s and plant the now revered Terraces with a range of grapes. They’ve proved to be stellar wines, and for the last decade or two, if you wanted to buy his wines directly from the winery, there was a waiting list to go on the mailing list. We stocked our cellar most years with a goodly selection, and now eke the wines out when we know there’s an appreciative palate around.

The evening was a great success. We started out with Dry River Riesling 1998 Amaranth from the Craighall vineyard. Neil designates a wine “Amaranth” when he’s convinced it will cellar for an extended period. Twelve years on, he was right with this one! The wine was sublime, very dry and steely with lovely lingering fruit flavours that were soft and subtle. “If you hadn’t shown me the bottle I would have been certain this was a ten year old Riesling from one of the best Alsace houses,” our guest said.

We then moved to the table for my fish course, and served Dry River Pinot Gris 2002 Amaranth. We live in an area known for Pinot Gris (Matakana) and this was spectacularly different from the wines we drink locally. With a complex palate, dry and yet bright and flavoursome, the match with our fish was good, although I kept wishing we’d had another bottle of that sumptuous Riesling on hand.

It was then time for the reds. In an unusual move, we served Dry River Syrah 2003 Lovat Vineyard first as I had cooked a subtly spiced pork belly and was convinced the syrah would work far better as a match for the food than the Pinot Noir we intended to drink too. The wine was spectacular; rich, dark, full of amazing aromas and flavours, and yes, it worked wonderfully with my food. But the Pinot Noir was crying out too. So another round of glasses was poured so we could try Dry River Pinot Noir 2004. It too was incredibly intensely deep crimson coloured. The flavours absolutely leapt from the glass and it was soft, unctuous and the stuff of dreams. Our British guests were impressed, their house hosts almost overwhelmed.

But there’s more. No-one was quite ready to leave and although we had Dry River Gewurztraminer waiting, we all voted to have another red. So I pulled another ace wine from the cellar. Cameron Douglas had given me a Clos de Ste Anne Pinot Noir Naboth’s Vineyard 2006 from the Millton Vineyards. The colour was much more New Zealand Pinot Noir-ish. A lighter more ‘muddy red’ colour but still a special wine with acres of complexity and lots of lovely wild flavours. I am sure Rick and Diana will find it hard going in Central Otago to match such a wine dinner as this one.

Note: Pic above shows the wines on my bench but I am not quite sure how that lovely rogue Felton Road Block 3 got into the picture. I can assure you we did not drink that on this occasion.

25 November 2010


Winemaker's Lunches can be hit and miss affairs, but they are always entertaining. I was lucky enough last week to go to a splendid feast at Barolo, the ritzy Italian restaurant within the gorgeous Langham Hotel in Auckland. Selaks winemaker Brett Fullerton presented the Winemaker's Favourite range, matched to five courses of lovely Italian food.

My assessment of this lunch? A hit! I got to sit with the charming Rob Sinclair who is Selak's national sales manager, the wise old Warren Barton from Wanganui who has written about wines as long as I can remember, Phil Parker who takes great wine tours within the Auckland region, and my extra-talkative mate Hawkesby who is always funny. Lots of laughter and fun at our table.

The food was marvellous; perfect for matching wine as it is robust and flavoursome , just as you would expect from an Italian chef. Standouts were the goat cheese tart with melt-the-mouth-light-as-air pastry and "agnolotti del plin, beef broth, braised cabbage" pictured above. Remarkable as the pasta was silky and wonderful and flavoursome and fabulous.

As for the wines, they were terrific. Selaks Winemaker's Favourite Methode Traditionnelle 2006 set the mood with its effervescent gingery flavours. This wine has come a long way since Mate Selak started out 76 years ago and produced something called Champelle at one stage. We also tried the Sauvignon Blanc 2010(tart and juicy) , Viognier 2009 (the boys liked this), Pinot Gris 2009(I loved the pear flavours), Chardonnay 2009 (a fabulous feeling in the mouth), Merlot Cabernet 2009 (sweet flavours and aromas as only Hawke's Bay can yield), Syrah 2009(medium-bodied but amazing value) and the Marlborough Ice Wine 2010( which was elegant but no match for the chocolate dessert, but Brett told us that anyway.) The whole range is well recommended and can be found in stores and supermarkets where the price really stacks up for good-value well-crafted wines.

You will be pleased to know I jumped in a taxi and went home for a quick nap after that.

23 October 2010


When Brian Bicknell bought the old Cellier Le Brun site tucked into a sunny corner close to Renwick, I knew that good things were in the offing. He made the two obvious Marlborough varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir and some lovely Chardonnays. He’s a winemaker with passion, who worked in Chile before basing himself in New Zealand at Seresin Estate, where the wines were very highly regarded (and still are today.)

But then he struck out to do his own thing and under his own label, Mahi, has developed a fine reputation. Mahi means “our craft” and every wine I have drunk that bears this brand is a well crafted wine that has been delicious. So I was intrigued to see just how his Mahi Gewurztraminer and Mahi Pinot Gris would be.

I am often reluctant to open a bottle of Pinot Gris as the varietal can be like a ticket in a lottery. Lots of bottles but only a few winners. I would certainly drink Mahi Pinot Gris again as it was quite light in style, and not heady with the oiliness that many other NZ Pinot Gris exhibit. It seemed almost savoury and with three of us relaxing and enjoying the wine with a platter of nibbles, it disappeared all too quickly.

The next night I tried the Gewurztraminer and thought it a lovely wine. The grape is one of my favourites and I love the way that all the wine writers declare it is full of rose petals, lychees and Turkish Delight. I don’t think that Mahi’s Gewurztraminer had all that stuff in it. To me it was had a nice little floral aroma and almost seemed to taste a little citrusy. It definitely is suited to being served as an aperitif wine. What I would really like to do with this wine is get another bottle, and braise a tasty stuffed chicken in the wine, and then reduce the juices for a lovely sauce or gravy. I reckon that would be luscious.

31 August 2010


Every so often something comes along that completely knocks your socks off. While on tour with my co-authors to promote and celebrate the launch of The New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook we attended a very fine organic/biodynamic dinner at Bar Saluté in Greytown in the Wairarapa. We suspected the food would be wonderful, as I have been a fan of Travis Clive Griffin’s cooking for as long as I have known him. It was superb; from the starter of local Kingsmeade haloumi with tiny pink fir potatoes and roasted chestnut tabouleh with Lot 8 olive oil through the pork rillettes, a ravioli of oxtail and beef shin, Urlar highland beef, pithiviere of boeuf bourguignon and a poached pear bavarois with homey and cardamom ice cream to finish with a stunning Urlar Late Harvest Riesling, it was all superb. And a gin and tonic sorbet thrown in for good measure, made with local gin. Everything grown locally and organically – a real triumph.

But I was not expecting the wine. I had not heard of Urlar and as it was billed as ‘an organic and biodynamic local wine’ I had an image of a couple of bottles of rough but honest plonk. How wrong! Urlar is as sophisticated and delicious as it could possibly be. The stunning labels, the flavours and aromas of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir wines we drank, and the passion of both owner Angus Thomson and winemaker Guy McMaster could not be faulted.

Angus and his family sold up the family farm in the highlands of Scotland and journeyed to Gladstone, Wairarapa where they planted their dream on a farm with stony soils and the cool but predictable climate that the region offers. Their aim was to create a truly sustainable business and bio-dynamic and organic practices are paramount to the family, and to Guy as the winemaker. The wines all exhibit that quality I always seek; bone dry well rounded finish but lots of sweet fruit flavours that make for lovely drinking. Guy manages to get a ton of texture in every glass. I am hard pushed to pick my favourite amongst the whites, as the Sauvignon Blanc was gorgeously smooth and not harsh at all, the Riesling was pure fruit with that slight botrytis nose that suits the grape so well, and the Pinot Gris had lovely texture and a very interesting touch of spice on the nose. Two vintages of Pinot Noir showed why these wines really will be taken seriously for the luscious flavours, slight pepperiness and a dark broody intensity really impressed. Urlar wines are well worth seeking out and probably easier to find now that Negociants are distributing this classy, chic range.

And as for that dinner, the beef and pork were grown on the Urlar farm too. That’s probably a first; a meal with food and wine matches sourced from the same property!

12 August 2010


I went to a very special wine tasting recently. Kemp Rare Wines have scored the distribution of Waitaki Braids; superb wines, (made in a spectacular northern Otago valley), which are possibly the tipping point in the recognition of a newly emerging region. Kemp can be found upstairs in Carlton Gore Rd, above Jones (great cheese room there), and I spent a fascinating couple of hours tasting and talking.

The Waitaki Braids owners were out in force. Wineries need money so Steve Cozens, an investor and developer, bought the best land and joined forces with two other people who have the requisite skill set for success. Michelle Richardson, arguably our country’s best winemaker, and Peter Gordon, who’s the most famous international face of NZ cuisine and a tireless promoter of food and wine. All spoke with passion and wit, but the night was Michelle’s.

Michelle is extraordinary. I have never heard a better talk and explanation of wines than she gave that night. Her description of the processes she put these wines through was brilliant and I will bet if the other winemakers of NZ had attended and listened all our wines would improve. She’s a wine maker who pays incredible attention to the viticulture, picks the grapes at precisely the optimum moment and then lets them do their thing in their own time. (I hear readers saying that’s what every wine maker does. No, that’s what every winemaker tries to do. But some do it far better. Michelle does it best of all!)

Suffice to say I am not going to share her secrets here. The Rosé 2009 was fabulous. It was sweet and succulent, dense in flavour and colour, and really truly memorable. I had to have a second glass and noticed all the boys did too. This rosé was so gutsy and delicious it could almost be a red wine. It was then on to the as yet unlabelled Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris is a real enigma; sometimes oily, some times sugary, sometimes flabby. Waitaki Braids Pinot Gris, in Michelles’ hands, is none of that. It was mouth-filling and still ever so slightly fizzy (that will disappear as it settles) and has a wonderful wallop of fruit that leaves the palate tingly and excited.

Finally the Pinot Noir, supposedly the flagship of the stable. It’s very different from the Pinots from Central Otago. More sophisticated and way more cool than most of those. Michelle manages to find subtlety and maximum flavour at once. This is truly great wine from a truly great winemaker. But I can’t stop thinking about that rosé.

28 July 2010


I have a New Zealand palate. Essentially that’s because I live in a country where everyone resides no more than 150kms from a vineyard, and often much closer. Our wine industry, worth over $1 billion, produces a range of terrific wines that we drink constantly and have all grown to love. We start out on sauvignon blanc, graduate to chardonnay, veer off for love affairs with riesling and gewürztraminer and then full circle, return to the more complex sauvignons, especially when they spend a little time in an oak barrel. And that’s just our white wines. (I will leave the reds, pinot noir, cabernet blends, syrah and all that for another time.)

So it’s very intriguing when confronted by a couple of imported white wines, to watch our reaction as we taste something quite unknown. Bill came around the other evening for an impromptu dinner. Bill owns a wine shop (Village Winery in Mt Eden village) and with access to a glorious range of both local and imported wines, can be counted to turn up with something very interesting to drink. His choice on Saturday? A Fritz Haag 2000 riesling kabinett and a bottle of José Pariente 2008 verdejo.

Riesling is one of my favourite varietal, if not the favourite, so this looked promising. And it was. Fritz Haag comes from a respected wine family who have tended vines on the banks of the Mosel in Germany for over 400 years. So this was a wine that we could expect to be pretty good. It was quietly minerally, had lots of ‘structure’ and light fruity accents that were sweet and citrusy. Different from the wines I love from the Waipara, but delicious. But best of all for me, the alcohol level was 7.5%. Gosh, I could drink several glasses of that and still cook dinner!

The other wine, a verdejo, had me completely flummoxed. It’s not a wine we see a lot of in New Zealand. I knew the lovely fruity verdelho produced at Esk Valley in Hawke’s Bay and I knew that Villa Maria won a trophy for their excellent Ihumatao verdelho 2008 this year, but generally the variety is as rare as hen’s teeth. So I was not really prepared for this slightly aggressive dry wine with what seemed to me to be a little bitterness on the edge. The second glass grew on me however, which goes to show that even a seasoned palate is only seasoned by the experience of the wines that have gone down before. We’ll have to get Bill over again soon.

NOTE: That trophy winning Villa Maria verdelho will be served at our New Zealand Vegetable Cookbook launch lunch at Soul Bar & Bistro on Tues 10 August. Another good reason to attend!

25 June 2010


Every year the Mercy Hospice Brunch gets better. It’s a swanky affair held at the Hyatt and 450 guests enjoy the chance to graze through ten courses of beautifully executed food prepared by star restaurants round town. Better still, ten wineries join in the fun with vinous treats and are paired with the cooks to match each dish with the perfect wine. So what wines were on the menu this year?

To give the morning a lively kick start, Pernod Ricard’s Deutz Prestige Cuvée vintage was poured in the foyer and the creamy rich flavours, soft and full of effervescence were served with Hammerheads’ bite sized smoked salmon blinis. Society photographers rushed about, snapping the guests and hardly a word could be heard above the buzz, reminiscent of those vuvuzelas at the World Cup.

Then it was off to the serious business of gourmet eating and drinking. Most of the restaurateurs had anticipated the stormy wintry weather and prepared hearty comfort food with a twist. So with the huge task ahead of us, we headed first to the two seafood plates. Bracu restaurant had prepared a tartare of salmon folded with horseradish crème and surrounded by a sauce gribcihe and baby parsley. A lovely start with Coopers Creek SV Marlborough Riesling ‘Mr Phebus.’ I have no idea who Mr Phebus is, but he sounds like he should be a horse. He does grow lovely grapes to make this exquisite example of a Riesling that balances sweetness and acidity very well.

The second oceanic choice was Mikano’s Waikanae crab lasagne with a truly perfect beurre blanc. I could have gone back for a second helping of this masterpiece, but the queue was too long. And Villa Maria’s Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 was equally sublime. I nearly sneaked back for that too.

Hawkesby, Brett McGregor of Masterchef fame and I shared the next dish; Poderi Crisci’s braised beef cheek on a hugely generous portion of saffron risotto finished with gremolata and truffle oil. Delightful. And matched to Poderi Crisci Merlot 2007, a plumy soft wine grown and produced at Antonio Crisci’s boutique winery on Waiheke Island. True Italian flair in both the winery and the kitchen.

I sent Hawkesby off to get Andiamo’s dish; a perfect square of braised pork belly on a black tiger prawn polenta cake with apple pea puree and crisp crackling. We both loved this dish, even if John thought the polenta was potato. (He may know about wine, but needs more practice with his food skills.) Saint Clair’s 2008 Pioneer Block12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer was a terrific spicy match with soft rose petal aromas.

Bowmans dished up a playful interpretation of vitello tonnato. I loved the slice of sparkling fresh tuna, the braised veal and the snowy mound of lemon foam. It reminded me of lemon meringue pie, and was well matched with Elephant Hill Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008. This relatively new winery in Te Awanga, Hawkes Bay produced a Savvy that was classical, with flavours of citrusy lemon to complement the dish.

Dawsons, clever caterers on the Auckland scene had made a meltingly soft lamb shank dish with smoked sage gnocchi and a jus with hints of liqourice and beetroot. Remarkable, and lovely with the Weeping Sands Waiheke Island Syrah 2008. We loved it all.

Do you know Xocopoli? Hawkesby had no idea. Tribeca, the classy Newmarket restaurant got daring and served their rare ostrich fillet with xocopoli crumble, butternut, Rocquefort milk, dates and coffee. The dish was riot of flavours and colour, and I am sure that poor John still doesn’t know xocopoli is Mexican chocolate. He did love the accompanying Coalpit Pinot Noir 2007 however, a great example of fine Central Otago wine.

There was an endless queue for the one and only dessert. Prepared by the Hyatt’s own kitchen, a the hazelnut and Baileys mousse with thyme apple went beautifully with Mount Riley Pinot Gris 2009. A sweet and toothsome finale.

But there’s more! The winning dish on the day, as judged by the Masterchef, the wine buff and the MC (me) was a tender, flavour-filled osso bucco with light as air truffle potato tortellini and gremolata, from Prime Bistro, that super little lunchtime restaurant in the PWC tower opposite the Ferry building. We loved it and we loved the wine match. Ransom Dark Summit 2005 Cabernet blend was moody, with an intensity of flavour. Unusual, for the blend includes some Carmenère, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Merlot, all grown in Matakana wine region.

The day was a sell out, and over $216,000 was raised for the Hospice. Look out for next year’s event. Can it get better than this?

9 June 2010


There’s no doubt that Champagne is the glamour puss of the wine world. It’s sassy, it’s always in fashion, it’s the celebratory drink every thinking wine drinker turns to, and the mere mention of Champagne evokes memorable moments of lives lived luxuriously. I love it.

Last week, I had the opportunity to share a most extraordinary tasting of Champagne. François Hautekeur (pictured above opening the mystery wine), the oenologist at Veuve Clicquot, was in Auckland and opened six magnums of Veuve Clicquot NV over a lunch for six wine writers at O’Connell St Bistro.

For those readers who are not sure, NV stands for non-vintage. Almost all wines record the year the wine was grown, picked and processed on their labels and that becomes the vintage of that wine. Champagne makers, under a fairly strict set of rules, can declare very a good growing season as one for vintage champagnes, and all the wine in those labelled bottles will be from grapes grown that particular year. These wines command a much higher price than the non- vintage house Champagne and are regarded as truly prestigious. Vintage Champagnes also display unique characteristics as they are a very real expression of the climate and conditions of that season.

It’s non-vintage (NV) Champagne, however, that forms the real backbone of any Champagne house, and it’s NV that most of us drink when we want a little uplift in our lives. As François Hautekeur explained, every bottle of Veuve Clicquot NV tastes exactly the same, regardless of which year it was made. Consumers can rely on this, and don’t need to worry as the clever wine making team conscientiously blend wines to ensure that Champagne NV offers a reliably consistent taste. Veuve Clicquot is proud of their vast cellar of more than 400 reserve wines which they can draw on to blend with the base Champagne each year to create the NV that pleases my palate.

Apparently there’s a code that allows the Veuve Clicquot team to identify which year the wine was actually bottled, and we were lucky enough to indulge in what was called an assemblage tasting. We worked our way (and yes, this was work!) through six glasses; from 2007, 2006, 2004, 2001, 1990 and a mystery vintage. Richard Yeomans, the NZ manager of Moet Hennessy wines, said in his nine years with the company he’d never had such a tasting opportunity before, which illustrates how privileged we were, the six writers present.

There’s no doubt that Veuve Clicquot NV has its very own unique and distinct taste and structure, regardless of when it is made. It’s a complex Champagne, with delicate flavours, beautiful perfume, lots of very fresh fruit notes underlying the bright effervescent mouth feel and a lingering finish that stays with you for ages after the last drop has slipped down. Even more impressive was the way that the wines had held on to these characteristics. I expected ‘07 and ‘06 would still be fresh and lively and they were. ‘04 was really superb, apparently from a very good growing year and the oenologist and wine making team had not had to add too much reserve wine to make this blend. ‘01, nearly ten years old, had lost some of the fruitiness, but was a really lovely wine still displaying loads of Veuve Clicquot style. Then came the 1990; a toasty wine that was crispy, sweet, quite weighty and had that distinct quince flavour that older wines develop. I was amazed to see that the bubbles were just as lively as the recently made Champagnes of ’07 and ‘06.

The mystery year? Aha! When this Champagne was poured it had a very different colour and aroma from the previous NV assemblages. It reminded me of a beautiful Cognac. It was sweet, with yeasty flavours that were like very slightly burned buttery toast and yet it was lively and magnificent. François invited us to guess just what year this wine had been blended. Even with two MWs (Masters of Wine) present no-one came within eighteen years of the correct date. It was revealed to be assembled from 1953. Fifty seven years old! I looked around the room and realised that even the oldest in our group would have been in the junior section of primary school then, so it was no wonder that the experienced team putting together this Veuve Clicquot NV far outweighed any experience and age we had.

This stunning tasting was followed by lunch, and on the cold wintery day O’Connell St’s hearty fried crumbed anchovies to start were the perfect match for the amazing wine that despite it’s non-vintage status, was still lively and luscious. It certainly proved to me that non-vintage Champagne does not need to be consumed quickly. In fact I will be hiding a case or two of Veuve Clicquot NV in the basement and hoping to drink it in years to come. But I doubt that I will still be around to repeat such a tasting in 57 years’ time.

30 May 2010


I really care about the wines I drink and will take some time to choose a bottle for dinner. But when I am entertaining I can often become so absorbed by the cooking process and all the attendant details of organising everything and everybody, it is quite late into the evening before I have a chance to truly relax and sip my wine.

This was exactly the case last Friday when we invited four guests (girlfriends who had all been at school together in Perth last century, and were on a week long reunion tour north of Auckland, to see a little corner of New Zealand.) I cooked a three course meal; a puff pastry tart with long slow cooked caramelised onions, manuka cold smoked salmon, horseradish cream and salmon caviar, followed by barbecued spiced lamb with salad and crunchy roast potatoes and fresh mandarins in rum and caramel syrup to finish. And by the look of the bottles above, pictured in my hallway next morning, we managed to get through six different wines.

I certainly enjoyed my glass of Moet et Chandon NV at the beginning of the evening. Bubbles always get me, and everybody else in a great mood. Moet is always lively, not too acidic and a popular choice in our house. But then the drinking desires of our group diverged, and my husband was kept busy pouring different wines for each of the guests. One wanted red, a red that was mild and fruity. So she had Wild Earth Pinot Noir 07 from Central Otago, and it wasn’t until I relaxed once the main course was on the table that I had a chance to taste this wine. It was lovely, well structured, a lingering taste and terrifically balanced. I would buy that again as it is a particularly super example from the southern part of the country. Once that bottle was emptied they had opened Envoy Pinot Noir 2007, a classy wine from Marlborough made by Spy Valley, and I was proud to think we could give the Aussie girls two out of two pinots that were exceptional.

But two of the other visitors and my husband wanted to drink white. He loves Chardonnay so his favourite, the Saint Clair Omaka Reserve 2007 came out and he was happy. No so the girls, who declared a preference for Riesling. I have stashed away my own supply of Muddy Water Rieslings, and it wasn’t until I examined the bottles in the hallway, that I realised he’d given them one of my all time favourites; the James Hardwick 2008. Damn! I was so busy cooking I didn’t get any. But they had loved it too.

And as the evening ended the husband brought out one of his favourite wines, to honour the Perth girls. Cape Mentelle is a winery in Margaret River, Western Australia where superb reds and fine chardonnays star. A toast and a drink for the road, as the team were travelling back home the next morning. All I had to do was stack the bottles in the recycle bin and muse over what I had missed out on.