Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 3 18 March 1970
By insisting on having your bottle pointing to the north when the cork is being drawn, and calling the waiter Max, you may induce an impression on your guests which hours of laboured boasting might be powerless to achieve. For this purpose, however, the guests must be chosen as carefully as the wine.
One of the most noticeable sociological changes in recent years has been the transformation in New Zealanders' attitudes towards the finer arts of eating and drinking. When one looks back even only ten years the changes are amazing. We now have licensed restaurants up to a very high international standard and at present there is every possibility of 'secondary' licenses being granted in the near future (to more ordinary establishments wishing to serve lager or New Zealand wine with their meals). The influence of professionals like Graham Kerr and John Buck has had its effect on many people who previously would never have thought of sloshing some wine into a casserole, let alone drinking wine with the resultant culinary effort.
But let's not get too complacent, we still have a long way to go. After all, wine is one of the greatest pleasures of life, to become proficient in its appreciation one must keep learning. There is no excuse for not experimenting these days because relaxation in import control has engendered a sense of competition amongst wholesalers and there is now a good range of wine available at reasonable prices.
"Those who wish to study the developments and refinements of wine should ignore the ponderous pronouncements of the pundits. There is no need to be challenging and aggressive in order to cultivate a palate for the finer qualities of expensive wines. Understanding is much more likely to come to the hopeful and modest student who has the courage to be ruthlessly honest with himself."
This is Allan Sichel's advice to readers of the Penguin Book of Wines. New Zealanders' task is much more difficult because firstly one must refute numerous basic generalizations about wine which are a hangover from our good keen rugby players' image. These myths usually revolve around the following pre-conceptions . . . All varietal taste is a form of snobbery. Usually spoken by a member of the older generation. After six years in the licensed restaurant business I consider that the generation gap is extremely pronounced in the appreciation of wine. It is much easier to get through to a youthful imbiber than it is to evaluate the worth of various wines with older people more set in their ways and more staid in their taste. This is usually preceded by . . . New Zealand wines are as good as any and followed by "mind you I don't like wine myself. Give me a gin and tonic any time." We must have sweet wine for the girls. What a load of rubbish! Womens' palates can be accustomed to drier wines just as easily as mens'. It must be sparkling. Sparkling wines such as Asti Spumanti, Nederburg, Sparkling Liebfraumilch, Lanzerac and so on, are a good starting point. Their lack of finesse and subtlety palls on the refined palate. Also the worst wine is used in these and consequently value for money is not very good. (An example of this is the common buying practice of German houses. They will buy in from whichever European country has a glut of poor—that is, cheap-wine, blend with the minimum amount of German wine then carbonate and market as Sparkling Liebfraumilch, Moselle, Hock and so on.) It doesn't matter what type of wine you have with your food, drink what you like. The defeatist's excuse for serving the cheapest of Nelson apple ciders with main courses. Nowadays the excessive formality of white wine with white meats and red wine with red meats has gone but it can't be denied that a broad rule must be kept to. For example, one may drink white wine with a roast, but a sweet white wine will take away most of the full-blooded taste of the food. Reading on the subject only leads to intellectual snobbery. On the contrary, the enthusiast can't expect to be stimulated only by what he tastes. Half the enjoyment comes from reading about certain bottlings and then managing to get hold of some of the wine. I recommend the Penguin Book of Wines and Hugh Johnson's Wine (published by Nelson—retail price approximately $10) for a broad, general background. John Buck's excellent book Take A Little Wine (Whitcombe & Tombs $4.50) provides a well-balanced discussion of European, Australian and New Zealand wine. All this talk about treating wine as if it were human is a load of nonsense. Good wine is most delicate and often very shy. When one considers the care and attention that has gone into the making and keeping, followed by careful storage for years, it is unreasonable to expect the wine to be at its best if dragged out of storage, thrown on the table, jolted up and down during efforts to get the cork out and then promptly drunk. If your bottles are treated in this manner then you are getting neither the full enjoyment possible nor the maximum value for money.
If possible drink out of clear, stemmed glasses which hold 6-10 ounces, allowing the drinker to receive a sizeable amount of wine without filling the glasses by over two-thirds. Temperature is most important. Do not get carried away with the American habit of overchilling white wine—more than two hours in the refrigerator results in the loss of many of the delicate characteristics. Ideally, red wines should be bought the day before drinking and stood in the room so as the sediment will settle at the bottom. An hour or two before drinking the cork should be pulled and the wine poured gently into a decanter. (If you hold the bottle against the light it should be easy to see the first cloudy streaks of sediment approaching the neck of the bottle: stop pouring at this stage). The time in the decanter is variable. If the wine is old, more than a half an hour might result in a loss of much of its delicate character. A young wine might need two or three hours to liven it up and remove the harshness of youth. Good wine must be expensive. Much of the enjoyment of drinking wine is finding the best value for money.
Recognition of these Kiwi myths is the first step towards getting value for money when buying and drinking wine. The next step is to avoid commercial brand names. Liebfraumilch is the 'In' word with German wines and many houses have recognised the sales potential of an attractive label coupled with the magic name. Beaujolais and Chateauneuf du Pape hold similar places in French lines. More of both these is exported than is actually produced in France—many houses are content to blend the wine with other types, just as long as they can market it under the well-known name. Similarly, there is much skulduggery amongst the labelling of Australian and New Zealand wines. Do not be taken in by attractive and grandly titled labels. Also do not make a practice of buying wine from bottle stores. Not only is it cheaper to buy from wholesalers but you also get a better selection and can be sure that it has been stored correctly. There is one exception to this: the Carlton Hotel prides itself on its wine cellar and has the good sense to store wines correctly.
- Levin and Company, Featherston Street,
- Murray Roberts, Adelaide Road,
- T & W Young Ltd., Egmont Street,
- E.T. Taylor Ltd., Courtenay Place,
- Avalon Wine and Spirits, Tocker Street, Taita.
It would be impossible to comment in detail on these merchants' lines. A listing of the reasonably priced bottlings that I do know to be good value follows:
- Chateau Lafleur 1964
- Chateau du Monthil 1964
- Chateau Badette 1964
(Three basically sound bordeaux, all around $2.30. Available from Levins and from Murray Roberts. Murray Roberts has Pradel Rouge, a light, quaffable Provence red, and Pradel Blancs de Blancs, a white with similar qualities).
Chanson Cote de Beaune Villages 1963. (An excellent burgundy, very smooth and refined, From Youngs or Avalon, $2.50). Chateau Haut Roucaud 1965 (Outstanding value from Avalon at $1.65. Honourable Salient Editor David Harcourt is still raving about the bottle he drank three months ago!)
- Gustav Adolf Schmidt Mosellblumchen ($1.60 Levins and Murray Roberts.)
- Nollen and Co. Bemkasteler Riesling ($2.00 Youngs.)
- Richard Langguth Moselle and Bernkasteler (Approx. $2.00 E.T. Taylor).
- Valkenberg Rudesheimer Rosengarten ($2.00 Avalon).
Siglo and Rioja Marques de Murrieta. (Two excellent reds for casual drinking. Both approximately $1.60 a bottle from Levins, Murray Roberts and Avalon).
- Wynns White Burgundy ($1.40 Youngs).
- Wynns Hermitage ($1.70 Youngs).
- Stoneyfell Metala ($2.00 Youngs).
- Angoves Brightlands Burgundy ($1.50 Avalon).
The New Zealand wine ranges are too numerous to list. Avoid the more commercial houses which are marketing rubbish with only sales potential in mind. McWilliams, Corbans, San Marino, Western Vineyards, Babich's, Nobilla and others have a more honest approach towards wine-making.