USA Ski Trip Wines


L and I were extremely fortunate to join a bunch of lovely friends recently for an adults-only (no kids) skiweek holiday at Steamboat Springs in Colorado, USA.

Many years ago (30 years to be exact, gulp!), I spent most of a season working as a ‘lifty’ at Steamboat, on a student visa, and it was a real delight to have the opportunity to go back. And hadn’t the place changed! Gotten bigger. More condos. More ski lifts. More people recognised my accent, and knew where I was from (“oh, my nephew/cousin/friend’s child is living/studying/playing rugby in NZ…”) But the friendly people were still there. And the light powder snow. And the terrible food…

We smashed it skiing. By the sixth day I was shattered. Where I ski, getting to ski two days in a row in a novelty, but here at Steamboat, we could ski every day. Wonderful.

Also wonderful was the chance to try some US wines. Especially Oregon Pinot’s. They are so hard to get in NZ. The good ones are really rare and expensive, while the more common are just not imported. Here are some I tried:


Simi Landslide Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 – Drunk at the Cabin Restaurant in the Steamboat Grand Hotel. Not a Pinot, but rich, unctuous, savoury.  90 pts


St Innocent Villages Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2016 – Drunk at Mambo Restaurant. Savoury peppery & dense. Sweet entry, delicious fruit, slight spice heat on finish. 92 pts


OPP Other Peoples Pinot Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2015 – from a bottleshop. Very simple, fruity and forgettable. 83 pts


Seghesio Family Vineyard Sonoma Zinfandel Sonoma County 2015 – from a bottleshop. I like Zin. And I liked this. Savoury, rich, flavoursome. 89 pts


One of our friends arranged a degustation meal at Cloverdale Restaurant in Steamboat Springs. The food was a mazing. We could choose a wine match option with our meal, and we were fortunate to be there at the same time as the winemaker from J. Wilkes Wines, Wes Hagen.


Here is me a Wes (WeSS!) Wes Hagen is the winemaker and brand ambassador for J. Wilkes Wines in the Santa Maria Valley, California. In 2013, Michael Cervin (Wall Street Journal, Decanter) rated Wes as one of the 100 most influential winemakers in the United States.

Because Wes was there at the restaurant, we had the chance to select his choice for wines to accompany the food from his own range. I said yes, as did a few others, and Wes came to our table and talked us through what were drinking. Fabulous.


Wilkes Wines Pinot Blanc Santa Maria Valley 2014 – clean, aromatic, austere & steely, mineral cool climate, bitter finish, apple. 90 pts


Wilkes Wines Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2015 – Savoury sous boir, red cherries, delicious, dense red fruits, pepper. 91 pts

Wilkes Wines Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley 2015(Wes is holding the Chardy in the picture with me above) Delicious, elegant, creamy. Like a Meursault, refined minerality. 93 pts


Wilkes Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles Highlands 2014 – Elegant, lifted, big, dried fruit and spice, vanilla, aniseed, choc. 90 pts


Saferon Fields Vineyard Roots Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2012 – Promised much, didn’t deliver any savouriness or florality. I didn’t score it, so forgettable.  USD 50, expensive…!

A memorable meal one night was us all taking a sleigh ride behind a Caterpillar Snocat up to Ragnars Restaurant atop the skifield for a yummy Nordic-themed meal. There I had…


Stags Leap Petite Syrah California – Funky vanilla warm rich spice finish tannic drying dark plums. 90 pts


Meiomi Pinot Noir California – Smokey spice dark cherries rich fruity spice long. 87 pts

And at the airport about to fly home…


Francis Ford Coppola Merlot California – soft, round, fruity. Sorry Miles. 88 pts


What’s in the glass tonight Jan 31st – Sauvignon Blanc

Pa Road SB 2017

te Pā Pā Road Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2016 – $

Produced by a family-owned winery with an 800-year tangata whenua connection to the land, this mid-tier wine is made from grapes grown on the McDonald home block vineyard near the Wairau River bar in Marlborough.

13% alc. Drought-pale straw colour.

Clean clear citrus aromas of golden delicious apples, light green capsicum. Very attractive.

On tasting, a simple restrained quality sav is revealed. Not an aggressive style. Balanced fruit and acid. Quite sweet throughout the mid-palate with a sharp finish.

Delicious drinking, and v good value for the price point.

Highly Recommended 92 points

Italian Wine Biscuits

Wine Biscuit

A work colleague of mine returned from a Christmas vacation at home with her family in Italy. She brought back some authentic Italian Ciambelline al vino, or bundt-style wine biscuits. I couldn’t resist a dunk.

Nice biscuits. I can’t say the same about the wine, however.

Straight to the Pool Room – February 2018

Pool Room Feb 2018

A trio of top wines from Mercury Bay Estate for the cellar, bought from the winery:

Mercury Bay Estate Chardonnay Coromandel 2016 – $$ – drink now-2021.

Mercury Bay Estate Red Merc Coromandel 2014 – $$$ – drink now-2019. A Pinot Noir/Syrah blend.

Mercury Bay Estate Pinot Noir Coromandel 2014 – $$$ – drink now-2019.

Mercury Bay Estate

Mercury Bay Estate

When we were recently on holiday, camping at Hahei Beach, L and I enjoyed a lovely tasting at a beautiful local vineyard, Mercury Bay Estate, on a gorgeous blue sky day. Heaven.

Mercury Bay Estate is situated on the hillside above and behind the beach settlement of Cooks Beach on the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula. My own family owned a bach at Cooks for many years from the mid-70’s. I grew to love the area, so it was really nice to come back after a long time away and bring my family.


The estate is owned by Simon & Veronica Ward and was formed from the vineyard established by Alex Morcom in 1996 (named Shakespeare Cliff Vineyard after the famous nearby landmark, and then later Cooks Beach Vineyard). The vineyard originally contained plantings of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay & Sauvignon Blanc, and has more recently expanded to include a block of Pinot Noir.

We opted for a shared tasting of wines originating from the Cooks Beach site alone to get a sense of place (some varieties are sourced from Hawkes Bay). We selected the current releases of Chardonnay, Sparkling Blush, Red Merc (Pinot/Syrah blend) and their Pinot Noir.

I have to say they were all very good. The Chardonnay had a lovely tautness and acidity to it which was attractive, the Blush was all strawberries and lusciousness; the Red Merc was showed for me the best with its intensity and complex flavours, and the Pinot Noir was surprisingly dense and savoury for what I imagine is a hot site, but maybe it is  moderated by the sea breezes.

This producer is new to me, and is one to watch.

What’s in the glass tonight Jan 17th– Pinot Noir

TK Pinot Noir 2016

Te Kairanga Pinot Noir Martinborough 2016 – $$

Te Kairanga Wines has recently been acquired by US billionaire and multi winery vineyards investor Bill Foley. I don’t drink hardly any of this producers wines, don’t know why.

I didn’t record any notes for this wine specifically either, but I liked it. I recall good extract and fruit intensity in the wine, a nice spicy-ness, and a good savoury quality which is not always so apparent in Pinot Noir wines of this mid price point. Nice.

Recommended 88 Points

Straight to the Pool Room – January 2018

Pool Room Jan 2018

A trio of some favourite wines for laying down to sleep:

Elephant Hill Viognier Hawkes Bay 2016 – $$ – drink 2019-2021. A great producer.

Elephant Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay 2015 – $$$ – drink 2018-2020. A favourite Syrah for me. Delivers.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir Martinborough 2016 – $$$ – drink 2019-2022. This shone at a recent cellar door tasting.

What’s in the glass tonight Jan 13th– Riesling

Fromm Spatlese 2015

Fromm Riesling Spätlese Marlborough 2016 – $$

Joelle Thomson of Regional Wines writes of this wine:

Light and low and naturally so… this super concentrated Riesling is a wine of beauty from Marlborough’s warm days, cool nights and long growing season. Its low alcohol shows that winemaker Hatsch Kalberer intentionally stopped the fermentation well before the wine reached anything near to dryness, so it is a sweet style but, thanks to the high acidity of the Riesling grape, this wine finishes on a crisp, fresh and intensely floral note… its long succulent finish is juicy and delicious.””

8% alc. Pale green straw.

I thought it was stunning at the instore tasting so I brought a bottle home. Juicy and sweet, with such a lovely acid backbone. So so lovely. Such an Empress of wines, Riesling.

Highly Recommended 93 points

What’s in the glass tonight Jan 11th– Chardonnay

KR Village Chardonnay 2016

Kumeu River Village Chardonnay Auckland 2016 – $

Light gold colour. 13.5% alc.

Lovely elegant and expressive nose. Slighlty reductive. Crisp open lifted citris aromas, light stone fruit – unripe apricot – green apple and mint.

Lively and fresh to drink. Crips acid, tingly mouthfeel, mouthewatering, mint again, and complexly layered. Slightly bitter and spicy finish.

This is a wine that really over delivers for its price. Excellent value, just delicious.

Highly Recommended 92 points



What’s in the glass tonight Jan 4th– CdR Blanc

E Guigal Cotes Du Rhone Blanc 2015

Off Topic – E Guigal Côtes du Rhône Blanc 2015 – $$

Pale brilliant gold colour. 13.5% alc. 65% Viognier, 15% Rousanne, 8% Marsanne, balance of Bourboulenc and white Grenache

Floral nose of white peach and mandarin, with honey supporting.

Richness and body in the mouth. Flavours of apricots, the unctuousness of honey. A pure elegant and balanced wine. The weight of the Viognier is nicely moderated by the Rousanne and Marsanne.

Like a good Condrieu.

Highly Recommended 91 points