What’s in the glass tonight March 22nd – Sauvignon Blanc

Sacred Hill SB 2017

Sacred Hill Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2017 – $

I have never been in love with this value tier of Sacred Hill wines (orange label). For several years I have found the Chardonnay wines all a bit underdone and bitter and it put me off.

However, this vintage of Savvy earned itself a Decanter Gold Medal at the 2017 Asia Wine Awards, and Winestate gave this 5 Stars, so something sincere must be going on in this bottle…

12.5% alc. Clearest pale straw colour.

Nice grassy and tomato-y and capsicum-y aromas lifting from the glass. Crispness and a sense of open space. Sharp apple.

Sharp and fresh fruit flavours to taste up front. A pleasant citrus tang. Short, bold. Agreeable fruit density.

Recommended 88 Points

What’s in the glass tonight June 20th – Chardonnay

Sacred Hill Riflemans 2015

Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2015 – $$$+


L and I recently jetted off for a long weekend on Denarau island in Fiji. L was to attend a conference, and I was her ‘plus-1’.

The weather was sunny and warm. The pool was cool and inviting, the hotel staff were friendly and helpful, and we had a great time with her workmates and fellow professionals. Vinaka vaka levu, L!

I raided the airport duty-free store on the way and bought a bottle of Chardonnay to drink on our hotel room balcony. I chose one of NZ’s best single vineyard Chardy’s, which is only made in good years from grapes off old Mendoza clone vines. As I have written about before, it was a bottle of the ’07 that started me on my wine journey.

The nose of the Riflemans showed mealy and fine and aromatic. The wine smelled oaky and oily, quite similar to Viognier in that regard, and had that typical Riflemans intensity, buttery character, and layer of lemon curd.

To taste, the wine was finely-grained and smooth in texture, with rich and dense golden fruit flavours, and some butterscotch and spice. It finished long, with quite “tingle-y’ acid, and showed some bitterness.

This Chardonnay is an somewhat old-fashioned heavy style of wine, in its way, and was not really suited to the tropical Fijian climate at all. A winter white, this one, and best for a cold climate and roast chicken dinners. Still, couldn’t deny the quality.

Highly recommended 91 points

What’s in the glass tonight September 5th – Chardonnay


From the Cellar: Sacred Hill Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2012 – $$

Gold colour. 12.5%

Mealy secondary aromas. Cashews, butterscotch, apricots. Interesting.

I taste dulled fruit, a bit thin at first look, and citrus. This wine died in the glass in a relatively short time, and became unrewarding. Some wines improve with a bit of age, but this was not one of them. Oh well.

79 points

What’s in the glass tonight May 9th

Sacred Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2014

Sacred Hill Reserve Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2014 – $$

From the producer of the notable Riflemans Chardonnay, the barrel fermentation creates here a soft style of Chardonnay. 13.5% alc.

A bit fat, a bit of citrus, a bit of apple, a bit of dried apricot, a bit creamy. A bit of everything, really.

A bit more individual personality would have lifted the rating…

BTG 3+

Straight to the Pool Room – August 2014

Pool Room August 2014

This month I am laying down and avoiding two cheapies, a belter and a legend…

Stoneleigh Malborough Chardonnay 2013 – $ – drink 2015-2016. This came out tops in my informal survey of value 2013 Chardonnays, so down into the Valley Of The Dolls they go!

Elephant Hill Hawkes Bay Syrah 2013 – $$$ – drink 2018-2028. GK scored this 18.5. ‘Twas also recommended by the good folk at RW. I loved last years model, and it was a good vintage in the Bay.

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Rifleman 2013 – $$$+ – drink 2018. I have adored this wine from earlier vintages – the 2007 started me on my wine journey. It has been a few years since the weather gods have allowed this wine to be made. Can’t hardly wait…

What’s been in the glass lately

2013 Ch-Ch-Cheap Chardys 2013 Cont’d – $

Another round of value Chardonnays wines from the 2013 vintage…

Mud House Marlborough Chard 2013

Mudhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2013 – $

Very pale. 13%. Citrus dominates the nose. The flavours are clean and ripe and approachable, with touch of vanilla. Grapefuit acidity and green apple. Lacking a bit of character. Nothing particularly memorable. 3

Tony Bish Fat N Sassy Chardonnay 2013

Tony Bish Fat ‘N Sassy Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 – $$

Pale yellow. 13.5%. Peaches, malo and oak nose; fresh. Ripe full fruit in the mouth; creaminess; butterscotch on the middle palate. This is more robust than other value ‘13s I have tasted so far. An attempt at the fatter style for a leaner price. I do see some bitterness at the finish; is this owing to less extract or is it a bit young yet? 3+

Sacred Hill Chardonnay 2013

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 – $

This is Tony Bish’s standard Chardonnay offering out of Sacred Hill – producers of the wonderful Rifleman Chardonnay.

This is a white gold colour. 13%. Warm bouquet of tropical mangoes, peaches and citrus. Primary in the mouth. Ripe and creamy explosion of fruit to taste. Medium weight. Quite sweet. Vanilla from the French oak. Creaminess from the malolactic fermentation and lees stirring.

A bold style of chardonnay, fruit forward, with some power. There is weight in the mid-palate. I like it better than previous vintages. 3+

Stoneleigh Chardonnay 2013

Hmmm…so having tried a few of the cheaper wines of the vintage now, I have to say the clear winner so far, for taste and value, is the Stoneleigh Marlborough Chardonnay 2013. Picking this up at your local supermarket at $12 or so marks outstanding value. I will be putting a brace of these away in the Pool Room…

What’s in the glass tonight March 30th


From the Cellar: Sacred Hill Rifleman Chardonnay 2009 – $$$

L and I worked like mad over the weekend sanding the timber floors in our house ready for staining and clear finishing. Hard back-straining work. But the result was worth it. I’m stoked.


To celebrate I knocked the top off one of my best wines.

Deep bright yellow. 14%.  The smell and the taste all bound up together in a complex intellectual drop.

It is mature, a bit hot even. Very toasty. Oily. It seems tainted by oxidative notes but hang on, I’ve been here before and maybe this is how this wine is meant to taste? I like it muy grande.

Mouthcoating. Long, long. 4+

What’s in the glass tonight July 30th

Sacred Hill Marlb Pinot Noir 2011

Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 – $

My experience should tell me that any pinot noir on special for less that $10 has to be suspect…

But it sez Sacred Hill on the tin. They make Rifleman, Deerstalker and Helmsman, so it has gotta be good, right?

Hmmm…the colour is raspberry cordial. The nose is very light, with only hints of typical pinot savouriness, and candle wax. It tastes thin, slightly bitter, perhaps the grapes were under-ripe or overcropped. Not good enough.

I have been feeling underwhelmed by the orange label wines I have been drinking from this producer recently. I am a big fan of their top Chardonnay, and have an ‘09 Helmsman under the house that I bought en primeur, but they are risking devaluing their name with me if this keeps up. More FLAVOUR please. 2

Straight to the Pool Room – July 2013

Lex Beaux Cailloux

A couple of bargains and a good ‘un:

Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2012 – $ – drink 2016

Sacred Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $ – drink 2014

Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Hawkes Bay Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay 2011 – $$$ – drink 2016-2023

Les Beaux Cailloux means ‘the beautiful pebbles’. Geoff Kelly sez, “This may well be the best chardonnay ever made in New Zealand. Sadly it is the last Beaux Cailloux till the 2018 vintage probably. Due to leaf-roll virus, the vineyard has to be completely cleaned out and replanted. Therefore, buy as much as you can afford, and watch wonderful mealy and cashew complexities develop over 5 – 12 years.” I won’t wait 12 years…

PS: Image above from the CR website

Blast from the Past: What’s in, April 24th

Sacred Hill Riflemen 2007

From the cellar: Sacred Hill Riflemans Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2007 – $$$

Please indulge me: BITD a bottle of this ignited my passion for New Zealand wine.

In ’08 I was still married, and it was my task to do the weekly grocery shop, and buy the week’s wine. My wife and I were both earning more at work and could afford to look a little higher up the shelves when choosing what to drink. I was also starting to read a bit about wine, and follow wine reviews in the paper and The Listener.

We both preferred chardonnay, and I’d read in Cuisine the top review this wine received.  I built up the nerve to spend what was then a fortune on a single bottle ($49), when I was used to thinking that $18 was extravagant. I opened it at home that night and It. Was. A. Revelation. Wow. I still remember that bottle.

So, two years ago two bottles came up for auction. I bought the pair for $100. I tested the first bottle for poison the night of the auction…

…and here is the second. Still with it’s auction tag on.

I’d been saving the bottle for a proper occasion. Last night was the first time I had spent time with L in what seemed like ages, so I thought it would be a good match with her beautiful company.

This is Sacred Hill’s premium chardonnay, made only in good years. Hand picked. Whole-bunch pressed. Wild yeasts. Tony Bish hasn’t made one since ’10. I pick this year will be legendary.

The ’07 Riflemans delivered. Pale straw. Elegant nose, lifted & pure. Refined in the mouth, not a big wine, but had real depth. Restrained fruit evident now, tasting of peaches, biscuits, honey, vanilla; secondary notes of age complexity starting to show, but not yet detracting. A lovely glass.

Like all the good bottles, it had a hole in the bottom, and disappeared too quickly!