The sad lot of the modern wine writer

October 6, 2022

Feast or famine – flood or drought. Such are the life and times of a keen as Kiwi wine critic, writes PHIL PARKER.

Just four wines for review this month. It’s a funny old thing being a wine writer, but I love doing it. And yes, the great part is that you get ‘free’ wine sent to you from PR companies and wineries. Being at the very modest end of the scale of NZ wine writers, I don’t get a huge amount of trade samples shipped to me. But those that are sent for review – I do my best to include in this column, or in Ponsonby News.

I have always enjoyed writing. In fact, I believe that I communicate, and think way better in print. And for over 30 years I have had a rollercoaster ride in freelance journalism as a part-time job, kicking off in the mid-1980s with feature articles for Metro, North & South, the NZ Listener, NZ Herald and many others.

I did sell the odd feature story over the next 20 years, but things got leaner and meaner – and then we all got totally clobbered by the global financial crisis in 2007. But in the meantime, I had left my chosen profession of physiotherapy to launch a wine tour company. So, I figured: I have qualifications in wine education, I run a wine tour business, I drink a reasonable amount of wine. Why not be a wine writer? I drink therefore I am one.


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This time of year is always a slow patch when we wait for the current vintage releases of the year’s white wines, so I often seek out a few interesting wines from local retailers at my own expense. Then between September and Christmas, a tsunami of sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, rosé and some aged releases start arriving with increasing regularity from producers – all keen to get their products some exposure, especially before the summer holiday season.

It would be nice to say – thanks very much, I’ll pop them in the cellar and review them next year. But that’s not how it works. So, they are generally photographed, opened, and sampled in short order. I know enough about sauvignon blanc to recognise a good one, but it’s not my favourite variety, so my next-door neighbour is very happy to accept a bottle or two with about 100ml missing for tasting purposes.

Anyway, here are four fabbo wines that caught my eye (and my palate) this month.

Thornbury Waipara Pinot Gris 2021 $13
Delivers bang for buck, with juicy ripe Packham pear, lemon squash, pineapple and a hint of baking spice. Off-dry to medium style. Match with Asian foods, scallops, or slow-cooked rich pork dishes.
Available: widely

Millton Les Trois Enfants Gisborne 2017 $24
This biodynamic wine is a co-fermented blend of gewürztraminer, riesling and muscat. All of which would tend to make you anticipate a sweet or medium style, but no. This is a 14% alcohol, bone dry wine with a complex palate of honey, marmalade, canned peach and crème brulee. Dry and crisp with a complex palate and lengthy finish. Great match for antipasto, or as an aperitif.
Available: Pt Chev Organic Wines,

Palliser Estate ‘The Luminary’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2020 $25
A bargain price for a classic Burgundian take on pinot noir, with a slightly funky ‘barnyardy’ nose. Light bodied but oozing smoky flavours of cherry, savoury umami soy and truffle, red berry fruits and medium tannins. Food match: pasta with truffle and mushroom sauce.
Available: Countdown

Pegasus Bay North Canterbury Prima Donna Pinot Noir 2019 $100
Fragrant and spicy with silky tannins. Pegasus Bay’s premium pinot noir nails it again with this iconic north Canterbury wine. Cherry, poached tamarillo, dark chocolate and umami soy all play on the palate – with a soft and lengthy finish. Food match: venison or rabbit. Veg option – pasta with truffle and mushroom sauce.
Available: Caros,



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Originally a physiotherapist, Phil's fascination with the fermented grape juice led to the launch of his wine tour company Auckland Fine Wine & Food Tours at the turn of the century. A seasoned and well-respected wine writer, Phil's oenophilia led to the publication of his wine region guide to New Zealand, The Mad Keen Wine Buff's Road Trip (Random House).

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