There’s no denying the life of a wine critic is a pleasurable one, with opportunities aplenty to sample some of the finest drops made by the myriad dedicated producers here and around the world.
Mostly, the task of assessing their products is a source of joy and pride, but occasionally – and it is just occasionally – critics can encounter a situation or practice that gets right up their nose almost as badly as an oxidised cheapie. Here are eight that bug me:
They can look quite smart and are an effective barrier to cork weevil, but those benefits are massively outweighed by the risk of serious injury and the delayed access to your wine. I recently spent nearly 10 minutes removing a wax capsule, finding and applying a sticking plaster and cleaning up wax chips.
Large bottles are becoming increasingly fashionable. But they increase the cost of the wine – and also its carbon footprint. Bottles weighing over 1kg should be banned. Why “heartbreak”? When the bottles are empty, they still feel as though there is a glass or two left – another good reason to avoid them.
New Zealand has a number of labelling rules that winemakers are obliged to follow. These include a declaration that the wine contains sulphites; an allergen declaration if milk, milk products, egg, egg products, fish products or other allergens are present; and a declaration stating how many “standard drinks” the bottle contains.
The makers of foreign wines, particularly those from Europe, are much less diligent about following our rules, yet for the most part New Zealand winemakers comply with the labelling regulations of the countries they are exporting to.
If you see an imported wine that is not complying with New Zealand labelling requirements (eg if it doesn’t have a “standard drinks” declaration, or give the New Zealand importer’s name and address), you can take a photo and report this to the Ministry for Primary Industries using the Label it Right website, which was set up by Spirits New Zealand.
Dinner party etiquette
When I get invited to a dinner party and take along a bottle I’m looking forward to tasting, I get really frustrated if the host consigns it to his or her wine cellar. Now, my standard response when receiving an invitation is to ask if I should bring a particular wine style to fit the menu or, instead, bring a bottle for the host’s cellar.
It’s a depressing thought, but a significant percentage of the bottles in my wine cellar are more than 10 years old and are sealed with a cork. My guess is that I will have trouble extracting at least half of those corks without suffering “cork crumble”.
A solution to my problem has just arrived. I witnessed a friend uncork a 1945 claret with complete success. He used what must be the world’s most effective corkscrew. It is called the Durand and consists of two corkscrews in one. You first use the regular Teflon-coated screw to secure the centre of the cork, then work a second, two-bladed “Ah So” corkscrew down the outside of the cork. Then it is simply a matter of grasping both corkscrews and easing the cork from the bottle. Mine cost $235 direct from the maker. You can see it in action on thedurand.com
I hate it when a restaurant doesn’t show vintages. Vintage can make a big difference to wine quality and style. The 2017 vintage was a dismal one in Hawke’s Bay, whereas 2019 was a cracker of a year. Vintage is also a measure of a wine’s youth or maturity. It is an essential piece of information. A wine list without vintages advertises the fact that a restaurant doesn’t care much about wine or, for that matter, its customers. It is easy to make a change on most wine lists and essential that they be up to date and accurate.
I’m fussy about serving temperature. I’ve had wines which offered twice the pleasure when the temperature was fine-tuned by just a few degrees.
At home, it’s no problem. With microwave or the ice-cube tray close to hand, it takes only a minute or so to warm or chill a glass or bottle of wine.
But in a restaurant, it’s a different matter. I always accept the waiter’s offer to check the wine when it’s brought to the table, even if it has been sealed with a screwcap. I like to check the temperature.
If I (politely) ask for an ice bucket filled with either ice or warm water, why does the waiter inevitably react as if I have accused him/her of gross negligence?
Serving temperature is a completely subjective matter. Some people like the same wine warmer, others prefer it cooler. On a warm evening, I tend to like my wine cooler than normal. That’s just the way it is.
I hate to hear someone sneering at another for drinking their wine too cold. Drinking your wine warmer does not confer higher social status. It just means you like it warmer.
Wine as a social statement
I’ll let you into a secret. People who drink pinot noir, riesling and alvarinho are not socially superior to those who prefer rosé, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris.
I’m sick and tired of hearing winemakers say they make sauvignon blanc but don’t drink the stuff, as if it elevates them above sauvignon makers who actually sip the wine that keeps them solvent. Remember when pinot gris suddenly became fashionable? I wish I had a dollar for every time I now hear someone say, “I’m sooo over pinot gris.”
I’ve met people who love rosé but would never drink it in public. What sort of crazy world are we living in when you have to pull down the blinds before pouring a glass of wine?
I’ve never met anyone who will eat Marmite on toast only in the privacy of their own home. Nor have I ever met an artichoke eater who flaunts their fetish. We should eat and drink what tastes and feels good to each of us.
Bob’s Top Picks
Palliser 2019 Hua Nui Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $85
From the renamed Wharekauhau vineyard (Hua Nui means “fruits of abundance”). Aromatic, silken-textured wine with ripe cherry, plum, violet, nutty oak and anise/spice flavours. Charming and accessible now, but should age well.
Deutz 2017 Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionnelle, Marlborough, $32.99
Fine, toasty fizz with citrus, green apple, brioche and bready flavours supported by tangy acidity that is balanced by a whisker of sweetness. Crisp, refreshing wine.
Church Road 2019 McDonald Series Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, $29.95
Intense, ripe syrah with plum, dark berry, chocolate/mocha, vanilla, pepper and spicy oak. Classy wine with impressive density and underlying power, although it is deliciously accessible. Excellent value at this price.
Read more from Bob at therealreview.com