Our theme was ‘French’ at our last wine & food degustation dinner in cooperation again with the great team at Ti Kouka Café held on 24 July 2012.   The event again booked out within less than two weeks from first notice similar to what we experienced with the Spanish degustation in May.

The event opened in the bar where people were greeted with a glass of Billecart Salmon Brut Champagne and their first course of Ti Kouka cold smoked salmon w/ dill & preserved lemon crème fraiche to match before moving into the dining room for the next six courses.

All of the courses were amazing – the food divine, the wines excellent, and the wine matches extraordinary!   At the end when polled many had different favourites which tells you about the calibre of everything served that night.  One patron even asked to be pre-booked on all future events!  Thanks Noel.


For me, it is very difficult to pick favourites but if I had to pick, I think my favourite course was possibly the duck & hare cassoulet matched with the French Burgundy aka Pinot Noir (Ponnelle Haute Cotes de Nuit 2008).   But a very close second was the Seared rack of lamb with kumara & potato gratin, cucumber & mint salad matched with the red Bordeaux (Chateau Fonenelle Rouge 2007).

Does this whet your appetite?


Our thanks go out to Shepherd Elliott and the team at Ti Kouka for a fantastic evening of fabulous food, atmosphere, and service.  As each course was being served, Shepherd shared his thinking behind each dish, the ingredients and preparation, and his wine match thoughts and was even willing to share his recipes with anyone who asked!

We also want to thank Brandon Nash of Dhall & Nash — the importer and supplier of these great wines and our fab presenter telling us little anecdotes about the regions,the wines and the wineries.

The Event Tagline:  Mangez bien,  riez souvent,  aimez le vin!

Which means, “Eat well, laugh often, love wine!”   And yes we did!

On to planning the next one …


Vino espanol y tapas degustacion

Recently the team at Wineseeker were privileged enough to hold a Spanish wine and tapas evening that combined the talents of the fabulous Ti Kouka Cafe (Central Wellington), and highly regarded Spanish wine importers, St Vincent’s Cave (Auckland).  It was a fantastic opportunity to show off some of the superb Spanish wines that are available to us here in New Zealand, and to be shown how to expertly match these wines with traditional Spanish fare……with a Kiwi twist of course.

As the evening kicked off it was obvious that we were in good hands.  The menus that lay in front of us were an enticing prelude to the seven magnificent wine and food courses to come.  Sophie Cotter of St Vincent’s Cave began with a little background on her business.  Sophie’s wine importation company is named after St Vincent, “the patron saint of wine growers and winemakers, born in Zaragoza in the late third century”, and specialises in importing Spanish wine and food into New Zealand.  Sophie, a New Zealander, spent around eight years working in the wine trade in Barcelona, where she developed a passion for the diverse wines of Spain while working as an export manager for a Cava producer, and later as a buyer.

We went on to meet Shepherd Elliot, head chef at Ti Kouka Cafe, and part-owner with his brother Jesse.  Shepherd’s exciting career has seen him based in many great chefing roles, including a stint at Logan Brown (a Wellington institution).  These positions have led him to place great importance on the origin and sustainability of the produce that he uses.  This awareness shines through in both the style and flavour of Shepherd’s cuisine.

Now that we were better acquainted with our culinary tour guides, it was on to the first course……

 Jamon with Almond Picada & Olives

Wine match:  Cava Beso NV – “Stress free Cava” made from Macabeo and Chardonnay grapes.

Described by its producers as “stress free cava” due to its careful cellaring in an environment with no light, no sound and no vibrations, this was the perfect place to start.  The saltiness of the olives and jamon (serrano ham, slightly less fatty than iberico) was beautifully complimented by the salty, chalky notes in the Cava.  Even the subtleties of the almond in the picada were picked up by the delicate biscuity, brioche notes of the wine.  Delicious!

Smoked Fish Croquette with Aioli

Wine match:  Valdesil Godello 2010 – “Silver Valley” (valdesil) Godello grapes are sourced from 30-40 year old vines in the Valdeorras region to produce this stunning dry white.

 It was clear from the first sip that this wine might be a favourite.  Typically tricky to produce from a winemaking perspective, the end result is well worth it.  Valdesil Godello is a rich, fuller bodied dry wine, with subtle fruit and good acidity that carries it though to a cleansing, dry finish.  This cleansing, mineral element in the wine meant that the smoky, rich flavours of the two types of fish croquette were enhanced, yet balanced.  Shepherd also went with a carefully selected Wairarapa lemon olive oil, providing extra balance and depth to the dish.  A superb match!

Paella with grilled King Prawn

Wine Match:  Sin Palabras Albarino 2010 – from a family owned Galician winery with four generations of experience in the Rias Baixas D.O

Working with the tools that they had available, the team at Ti Kouka did a spectacular job of making paella on what would be considered “small scale” by Spanish standards.   Short grained paella rice was flavoured with a base of king prawn and chicken stock.  The finishing touch came in the form of just the right amount of Saffron sourced from local growers, Greytown Gold.  The savoury nature of the paella worked with spicy notes in the wine, and the tropical fruit notes in the Albarino were a classic contrast to the savoury king prawn.  After some discussion later in the evening, it was suggested that the Valdesil Godello may have been an even better match with this dish!

 Mushroom and Rabbit Ravioli with Truffle butter sauce

Wine Match:  Marques de Riscal Reserva Rioja 2006 – predominantly Tempranillo, from one of the first Spanish producers to bring French winemaking techniques to Spain.  

 This was a truly indulgent combination, with many voicing  their enthusiasm as the dishes were brought to the table.  Sophie’s description of the wine as one of the more traditional styles of Rioja was spot on.  The rustic composition of ingredients, accompanied by the bucolic profile of the wine enhanced the earthy truffle notes and formed an idilic match.

Roasted Large Black pork with confit duck, braised beans, apple and fennel

Wine match:  Lavia + Monastrell 2005 – 100% monastrell (also known as movedre) named after the nearby Lavia mountain range. 

 For me this was one of the best matches of the evening. The confit duck and roasted pork brought out  plum and dark fruit flavours in this deep red monastrell.  Braised beans sat well with apple and fennel, providing a freshness to what would be a very hearty dish on its own.  Known for its gamey flavours and tannic structure, monastrell was well suited to cut through the richness of the dish while lifting the heavier components.

Braised beef cheek with roasted parsnip, chard and mojo verde

Wine match:  Acustic Cellar Samso Garnaxta 2008 –  “Acustic” refers to the hands off (unplugged) winemaking methods used throughout the production of Acustic Cellar wines. 

 A bit of a crowd pleaser, both the food and the wine were greatly received.  Shepherd chose local grain finished beef, adding a rich flavour to the parsinip and chard combination.  Mojo verde (a sauce made of wine, olive oil and nuts) topped the arrangment.  The samso grape, also known as carignan, added a  phenolic dryness to the wine, and the garnaxta (grenache) softened the blend, while maintaining a characteristic rustic perfume.  A very good match for beef!

Crema Catalana and Whipped Tinui blue cheese with quince and walnut

Wine match:  Alvea Moscatel NV – fondly called the “High Low Wine” at its 300 year old winery source, this complex sweet wine is known to be “high” in taste, but “low” in price. 

What an outstanding way to complete the menu.  The crème catalana, complete with crushed pecan nuts on top, merged deliciously with the warm, honeyed and nutty notes in the wine.  In total contrast, the salty blue cheese whip with quince and walnut was a satisfying match with the sweet, fortified moscatel, rounding off the dish nicely.

The verdict…..Everyone had their favourites, but all agreed, the wine and food matches were an overall success!  The highlight for me, without a doubt, was the jamon with almond picada and olives matched with Cava Beso.  Simple, I know, but I was most impressed with this delicate combination of savoury flavours that worked so well together.


Wine Match Test: Maple glazed spiced Salmon with Pineapple Salsa with Alpha Domus “The Wingwalker” Viognier 2010

Maple glazed spiced Salmon with Pineapple Salsa

My original Wine Match Impression: Maple glazed salmon with spices and pineapple salsa — tricky wine match but I would go with a Viognier which has the aromatics and tropical flavours and richness of palate to stand up to the rich oily salmon and sweet spicy fruit.

Now Tested: I tried this recipe and wine match last night and it worked pretty well. I matched it with Alpha Domus “The Wingwalker” Viognier 2010 (Hawkes Bay) which has the ripe stone fruit, citrus, and mineral flavours and has full luscious palate and with spice and complexity from the barrel fermentation. The pineapple salsa was a bit too sweet for the wine though on its own. I served the salmon with couscous with lemon zest and coriander.

The Salmon Recipe:  4 out of 5 – great flavour balance and texture

The Wine:   4 out of 5 – one of my favourite New Zealand Viognier’s

The Matching Verdict:   4 out of 5 – not perfect but it did match the salmon very well

Wine & Food Match Test #1: Seared Duck Breast with Cherries & Port Sauce with Marques De Riscal Rioja Reserva 2006


The other night, I was wanting to create a lovely romantic dining experience at home for my husband and I.  So I whipped out the ipad (*very important business tool!*) and opened the Epicurious application and started searching for recipes that took my fancy.   I came across a recipe for seared duck breast with cherries and port that sounded fantastic.      So I got the ingredients, whipped up the dish almost to the recipe specs, and then added sides of al-dente green beans and oven roasted new baby potatoes and nashi pear.

The recipe made a wine match suggestion for a particular Crianza Rioja which had black cherry and smoky notes.   The one suggested though was not one that I could get my hands on so I decided to try it with another Rioja — Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2006.  This wine was one that was featured at the Wineseeker Spanish wine and tapas evening the previous week but as I was manning the store on the night had not had the chance to taste it.    This wine is 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano & Mazuelo.

The tasting note from Sophie of St Vincent’s Cave reads “Cherry coloured with spicy, balsamic aromas of great complexity, with notes of ripe dark berries and light toasted nuances. Delicate yet complex, with good structure and rounded elegant tannins. The finish is long and fresh, with a slight reminder of the fine oak.”

I thought I would give it a go with this duck dish — opening it up two hours before dinner was ready.

The Duck Recipe:  5 out of 5

The Wine:   4 out of 5

The Matching Verdict:   3.5 out of 5

The wine was a bit overpowered by the amazing cherry and port sauce.   I think I needed to go for a fuller bodied and richer wine with similar flavour characters.

The port sauce is one that I want to make and bottle for later!  — it is that amazing as well as simple but also pretty rich.   It went fantastically with the duck.   The roasted pear among the potatoes was a bit of a surprise combination — the texture and flavours actually worked.

Do Riedel wine specific glasses actually make a real difference for wine enjoyment?


This question has plagued me unanswered until recently.   I have been a sceptic.   Really, how much does a glass’ shape and size really matter?   In many cupboards, we have a larger style red wine glass and a smaller style white wine glass.    But do I really need separate glasses for Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon?  Do I really need a different glass for oaked Chardonnay than for an un-oaked Chardonnay?  And what about all of the many other varietals?      The whole concept of having many different glasses for the different wines seems crazy and an extremely expensive undertaking.  So I wanted to know once and for all, do I really need to do it in order to appreciate my wine more?

Recently, I participated in a Riedel tasting class where I got my answer – absolutely yes!    This was not at all what I expected.     At this class, we reviewed four different wines in five different glasses and I want to share with you what I learned from this class.

Well I should start by saying unequivocally that a glass cannot change the flavour of the wine.    The wine, with all of its flavours and aromas, whether flawed or exquisite, will always be the same wine no matter which glass you use to drink it in.   But a glass has a profound effect on how well we can perceive the true characteristics of the wine.      Mark Baulderstone, the Managing Director at Riedel Australia who led the class said that using the appropriate glass for the wine varietal is like “putting the wine under a magnifying glass” – allowing you to detect so much more than another glass will allow.

This concept was demonstrated by having us taste the wine first in the correct Riedel Vinum specific glass.   Once we had really experienced the wine and all its flavours and complexities we then transferred the wine to a small normal tasting glass and then proceeded to taste the wine again.     The difference was huge!    What initially was an absolutely stunning wine in the correct glass with amazing aromas, flavours, acid-alcohol-sugar-tannin all in balance became a muted, subdued, unimpressive wine in the small tasting glass.

Ok, so a quality Riedel glass is better than a cheap small tasting glass – that seems logical!   But then wouldn’t the wine taste similarly good in another quality Riedel glass?   No indeed!   Mark had us pour the wine into a different varietal Riedel Vinum glass and alas the wine still did not have all of the amazing nuances that it had in the first glass!    We then poured the wine back into the first glass – the correct glass – and validated that indeed all of those characters were always there and not just imagined.   The other glasses just did not allow us to perceive the wines characteristics properly.

Mark explained that 80% of what we taste comes from our sense of smell.   If we cannot smell, our experience of taste is lacklustre at best.   The varietal specific glass allows us to experience more of the wines aromas which enhances the wine’s flavours and thus our enjoyment of the wine.

This realisation for me was not a happy one as you might expect – the concept of upgrading my wine glass collection seems daunting as I love and drink many different varietals.     And where would I store all of these glasses!  Sheesh – I know what I am asking Santa to bring for the next ten Christmas’!

The Age(ing) of Riesling

Some wine myths deserve to be busted.

Many will know that I have been a long-time fan of Riesling.  If you’ve been (un)lucky enough to walk into shop while we’ve been offering one on tasting you’ve probably already had an earful as to the wonders of Riesling… and I make no secret that I consider it a king among grapes.

For some unknown reason it is still the most underappreciated grapes in New Zealand.  Almost universally adored by winemakers, it still stays out of the heady limelight enjoyed by our mainstay of production (Sauvignon Blanc) and darling of the boutique wine world (Pinot Noir).

So what do I love about this wine.  For starters, it’s an astonishingly versatile grape – the different styles, the wonderful flavours and the subtle textures it can produce, the fact that it can be bone dry, super-sweet and everything in between.  It is also a well-known fact that Riesling can age incredibly well.  Of all the white wines I’ve tasted with years of bottle age, nothing I have had stands up to a well-aged Riesling.

This evening my wife surprised me with a great dinner at home, along with proud presentation of a real treat of a wine.  She had discovered in our cellar a Riesling from Palliser Estate from 2001.  That’s not a typo, this is a locally made Kiwi white wine with 11 years of bottle age.  The forlorn white sticker I had attached to it some years ago instructed me to “drink by 2010”.  Oops.   But hey, what’s 2 years between good friends.

We approached the wine with a slight mix of apprehension and curious excitement.  Has it stood the test of time?  Winemaker Allan Johnson’s note on the bottle is to enjoy young and fresh, but would reward cellaring and enjoy from 2003-2010 (plus).

So what happens to Riesling as it ages?  Most people know that red wine can successfully age gracefully for many years.  The best Bordeaux wines and Burgundies can age over decades.  But a white wine with no oak barrels or tannins in sight?  Riesling usually has a high level of acidity, this can act as a natural preservative of the wine and enable it to age gracefully over time.  The best Rieslings have been known to sit for decades or longer.  But in New Zealand?

Over time, a Riesling will often darken in colour from a pale straw to a more golden hue.  The original fruit forward flavours will soften and be replaced by more subtle and complex characters and aromas.  Often an aged Riesling will have a distinctive petrol hue to it, some consider this a flaw but many more treasure it as a sign of maturity.

The Palliser Riesling is no exception.  It has turned a pale gold, with soft aromas of lemon lime, baked green apple, a hint of lanolin, and a dose of that distinctive petrol.  First taste is a wave of relief, not only is it not spoiled, it is fabulous.  In the mouth is a flood of sensual flavours and textures.  It keeps evolving and changing each time I try it.  I taste the lemon lime that carries through from the nose, a hint of washed riverstone, tart stone fruit and citrus, and a satisfying mouth filling texture.  I would consider it a ‘dry’ style, the acidity is subdued and allows the flavours to shimmer in the mouth.  A long satisfying finish with dried honey, and a fresh minerality.  According to Allan the wine has a touch of botrytis on it that I wouldn’t have guessed from the nose, but it explains the weighty texture and suppleness on the palate.

And the best news?  Katie says we may have another one tucked in the cellar.  I’m tempted to leave it there for another year, or two… do I dare?

Think local – Drink local

At Wineseeker we pride ourselves in stocking local producers, both beer and wine. For me, the best of Wellington beer lies in the careful and passionate production of Yeastie Boys. Stu McKinlay and Sam “The Grandmaster” Possenniskie, two beer lovers with phenomenal talent,  researched beer through  tasting over 2,000 different beers, over 70 different styles from over 50 countries. Now that deserves a high distinction! The result of this in depth analysis is unique, well crafted and damn tasty beers of varying styles.

Currently in stock we have one of my go to beers, ‘Pot Kettle Black’. This multi-award winning black IPA is rich, dark, smooth and concentrated with ground coffee, a hoppy kick with hints of orange. A beautiful drop with a full mouth feel, it simply is a fantastic beer.

Another stunner from Yeastie Boys would be their 100% peated malt beer – Rex Attitude. This beer was inspired by French techno and the whisky of Scotland’s west coast. For beer enthusiasts this is one to try as it is possible the world’s first beer made from 100% heavy peated distilling malt. It is defiantly one of the most interesting things I have ever had to drink – if you are a fan of Scotch Whisky and beer then you have met your match!

Come in to test out the range  – Yeastie Boys beer are great value and are a little bit of love in a bottle.