Decanter fetish

By: Bob Campbell MW

Using decanters regularly is a sign of eccentricity, like wearing a bow tie.

I have a moderately large collection of decanters but tend to use them on ceremonial occasions only. Decanters have great decorative value. I particularly like magnum decanters and own several, despite having little opportunity to use them.

Apart from adding a little gravitas to the dinner table decanters are a good way to remove sediment from aged wine and are a good way to aerate wine, although the benefits of aeration are disputed by some wine scientists. Exposing red wine to air does seem to soften the tannins a little although, to quote no less of an authority than Professor Émile Peynaud, only wine with sediment should be decanted and then served as quickly as possible. Peynaud believes that wine loses its aroma when exposed to air and if it needs aeration to remove or reduce a fault, such as reduction or mercaptans, a quick swirl of the glass will do the trick.

Peynaud may not have had much experience with wine from bottles sealed with screwcaps. In my experience, red wines (and some white wines) from bottles sealed with screwcaps do respond well to a little air time in a decanter.

The appropriately named Decanter magazine conducted a blind panel tasting where wines sealed with both corks and screwcaps were decanted for an hour and compared with freshly poured samples. They concluded that decanting had little benefit for red or white wine sealed with either screwcap or cork.

I recently set up my own simple comparative tasting for a group of students. A bottle of red wine was decanted for an hour while a second bottle was opened and poured. Everyone thought the wines tasted different with a majority preferring the “softer and mellower” decanted sample. Those who favoured the freshly poured sample liked it for its “freshness and punchier flavours”.

I concluded that if you are a “taste person” then don’t decant, but if you are a “texture person” then you might consider routinely sloshing your red wine into a jug or decanter.

The downside of using a decanter is that they are fiddly, harder to pour than a bottle, difficult to clean and a pain to wash. If you like your wine aerated there are many very effective aeration devices that will do it a glass at a time.

(The image is of a Riedel Black Tie decanter that I own but have never used because it seems to fragile and hard to wash. It does look terrific though.)

A salute to wine excellence

By: Bob Campbell MW

After a lengthy gestation, we’ve finally released The Real Review Certificate of Excellence and Top Wineries list selected by a carefully designed algorithm from a mountain of wine tasting notes.

I feel considerable pride and more than a little awe at the progress New Zealand wine has made since I started my formal wine tasting database more than 30 years ago. In a single generation, vineyard area has increased eight times, the number of wine producers has risen from just over 100 to nearly 700 while export revenue has increased from NZD $1.3 million to NZD $1.7 billion. Thirty years ago, nearly three-quarters of all table wine produced were bag-in-box and Gisborne was our largest wine region.

It’s exciting to note that our top seven wineries are based in six different regions. The country’s diverse range of climate and soil types provides the potential for excellence in a remarkable range of wine styles, while the passion and drive of our top winemakers has converted potential into reality.

Pinot noir is one of the country’s greatest successes. Wines such as the taut, powerful Ata Rangi 2015 Pinot Noir; the mineral-laced Bell Hill 2014 Pinot Noir; the complex, opulent Craggy Range 2015 Aroha Pinot Noir; the remarkably perfumed and evocative Blank Canvas 2015 Pinot Noir; and the vibrant Akarua 2015 Kolo Pinot Noir are exciting expressions of this challenging variety that would have been undreamt of a decade ago.

Chardonnay has also gone through a major makeover to reach new heights of quality. The intense and flinty Vidal 1888 Chardonnay 2014 is a masterful example, while the taut and elegant Neudorf 2016 Moutere ChardonnaySacred Hill 2016 Riflemans Chardonnay and Elephant Hill 2016 Salome Chardonnay are celebrations of both place and winemaking skill.

Anyone who doubts that New Zealand is now making world-class syrah is unlikely to have tasted Trinity Hill’s truly heroic 2015 Homage SyrahCraggy Range’s supremely elegant 2015 Le Sol or Sacred Hill’s dense, powerful Deerstalkers Syrah. We’ve come a long way since Allan Limmer rescued a few syrah cuttings from the Te Kauwhata vine research station and re-launched the variety in this country.

Framingham earned the top place with the help of their wonderful range of botrytised rieslings created by the master of riesling, winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley. The Framingham 2017 F-Series Beerenauslese and 2017 F-Series Trockenbeerenauslese have extraordinary concentration and power together great purity and exquisite balance, while Framingham 2017 Select Riesling is the latest in a long line of wines that define the variety with minimal botrytis influence. The Felton Road 2017 Block 1 and 2017 Bannockburn Riesling offer further evidence that the variety can be a high-performer in this country.

Blended reds, or so-called “Bordeaux blends,” is another of this country’s strengths. The Te Mata 2015 Coleraine has won well-deserved iconic status for a string of elegant and complex wines that first appeared in 1982, blazing a trail for others to follow. The Vidal 2013 Legacy Series Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot demonstrated power and finesse, while Destiny Bay’s 2014 Magna Praemia is an example of elegance on a grand scale. The Craggy Range 2015 Sophia is another super-smooth red with layer upon layer of intriguing flavours.

These are just a handful of high points. There are many more.


(Featured Image courtesy of Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro

Start a wine tasting group

By: Bob Campbell MW

I wanted to learn about wine in a hurry when I first got a job as an accountant with the country’s then largest winemaker, Montana Wines. Because I was working for a winery, my friends all assumed I must know a lot about wine. I didn’t. I liked drinking it with my workmates every Friday, but any knowledge I had didn’t extend very far beyond the handful of Montana brands on offer at the end of each working week.

You don’t need a club name, a president, or a club wine cellar. You do need a bunch of people who like wine but want to know more about it.

When one of the few local wine critics in that day, Peter Saunders, formed a wine club I jumped at the chance of attending his monthly tastings with other like-minded souls. I began to read wine columns, wine magazines and wine books. Visiting local wineries became a popular weekend activity. I started a wine cellar. I even began to produce wine at home once a year when I could beg, borrow or (mostly) steal some wine grapes. I was hooked.

It didn’t take long before I was invited to judge at a wine competition. I soon knew enough about wine to be able to teach others.

When students ask me “where to from here” on the final night of my wine classes I tell them to taste as many different wines as possible. I suggest they attend retailers wine tastings, visit wineries and start their own wine tasting group.

A wine tasting group can be as serious or as social as you care to make it. I established a wine tasting group while living in Los Angeles where I ran an export office for Corbans Wines. I got to know a bunch of wine enthusiasts and invited them to bring a bottle of chardonnay to a tasting at my house. 15 people showed up. We brown-bagged the wines, tasted them blind and voted on our preferred bottles before unmasking the bottles. It was fun.

From then on, we met once a month, each bringing a bottle based on a pre-determined theme. We were a competitive bunch. Everyone wanted the honour of bringing the top wine. My aim was to bring the top-voted wine that cost the least.

We learned a lot, became good friends, and discovered many wonderful wines that we might otherwise have not tasted. For the cost of one bottle, we got to taste a dozen or more different bottles. We became a buying group, pooling our orders to negotiate sharp prices from suppliers.

You don’t need a club name, a president, or a club wine cellar. You do need a bunch of people who like wine but want to know more about it.

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