John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Testing a wine expert's ego

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At a blind tasting in the shadowy surrounds of Clooney restaurant, the wine expert's skills were to be either illuminated or exposed as fraudulent. Photo / Getty Images
At a blind tasting in the shadowy surrounds of Clooney restaurant, the wine expert's skills were to be either illuminated or exposed as fraudulent. Photo / Getty Images

It's the kind of game that sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine writers love and hate at the same time: blind tasting with a series of flights of wine, where you have to work out which is the European wine.

Reputations are on the line. On the one hand you relish the challenge and the chance to test your own palate but on the other, you don't want to fail and be exposed as a fraud. This is where your ego and authority as a wine expert is severely tested.

The scenario: take a smart modern restaurant with a recognised chef - in this case Auckland's Clooney, with resident chef Des Harris - and pair with a degustation menu of four courses each accompanied by three wines.

The restaurant is full; it includes Masters of Wine, writers and people responsible for the wine lists for some of Auckland's smartest restaurants.

First up, glazed smoked eel, cucumber, marrow and borage. Matched with three white wines ...

two are iconic Marlborough producer Fromm, one is French.

Then follows a venison dish matched with pinot noir, a duck breast also matched with pinot noir and finally a cheese course with syrah. At each stage, two of the wines are Fromm and one is French.

Firstly you have to identify the grape variety and, secondly, which of the three wines is French.

Nobody in the room has a perfect score - for the record it was the cheese course I stumbled on, thinking the French 2006 Guigal Cote Rotie was a Fromm wine.

The object of the exercise? To demonstrate how New Zealand wine is not necessarily that different from the globally recognised wines of the French.

Fromm has a distinct advantage here - the winery was founded by European Greg Fromm in 1992 and has been guided by Swiss winemaker Hatsch Kalberer and ex-Cloudy Bay apprentice William Hoare.

As the Fromm team say, "We coach the wines rather than make them."

Fromm is one of New Zealand's premier producers. There is a big focus on reds - especially pinot noir, but you overlook their chardonnay and riesling at your peril. Marlborough wines with an old world sensibility - at a fraction of the price.

Recommended

2008 Fromm La Strada Chardonnay, $34
Held back and not bottled until 2011, this is excellent drinking now, with hints of lemon and a mealy finish. It needs food - try with roast chicken.

2008 Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir, $69
A real stunner and a perfect example of just how silky, complex and world class New Zealand pinots can be. It has heaps of red fruit flavours with nice touches of spice and liquorice ... Divine.

- NZ Herald

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