Book helps to 'crack wine code'

02:07, Nov 15 2012

The last time I met John Saker, writer of the cheerful new book Vinacular: A wine lover's illustrated A - Z was at Sacred Hill in Napier.

Of course our paths keep crossing, as wine writers we are usually invited to the same events. Just as a good wine will have length, Saker has height. His interest in wine began when he played professional basketball in France. He's one of the few people I know who allows me to feel I am a normal height at just under 1.8 metres tall. I haven't asked Peter how he feels, but vertically challenged might be on the cards when engaged in a three-way conversation!

Now we have even more reason to look up to him as Vinacular follows on from two other wine books - the informative and attractive Pinot noir: The New Zealand Story and How to Drink a Glass of Wine.

Saker's latest offering is both funny and factual - the best way of presenting the wisdom you'll discover between the covers is to go to . . . the letter ‘K'.

"Kero. Despite its smell you don't drill for it, nor can you run your car on it. Older riesling develops that kerosene-like flavour which the French call ‘goute de petrole'. All it fuels is a desire to maybe have another."

Scott Kennedy, who we have never met, also deserves a mention as he produced the smile-inducing illustrations for this gem of a book. A New Zealand-based illustrator, his work appears in a range of publications in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. His paintings and prints are held in galleries and private collections around the world.


Vinacular is a delightful collaboration between wine writer and illustrator - helping explain the sometimes challenging terminology that is a part of the world of wine. For those who inhabit this world it all makes perfect sense, for those trying to get their foot in the door - it can sometimes seem like you'll never learn the lingo.

For those who think the world of wine appreciation is all a foreign language and too much high falutin' behaviour, this book brings it all back to earth, while delivering some worthwhile insights for those keen to learn and some humour for those who already "know the lingo".

As Saker puts it in the book's "Vintro" - "You may well learn something, but the author's larger wish is that, as with a glass of wine, by the end of it you're a little happier than you were at the beginning."

Vinacular: A wine lover's illustrated A - Z is published by Awa Press, $25.

Waipara Hills Central Otago Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.90)

Deep ruby red with a tight aroma - plum, green herb, sweet tobacco, warm earth, oak and tannin notes just shine through.

Silky in texture, the palate has fruity, spicy flavours and perfumed aromatics. An elegant wine with fine, firm tannins and perfect acid balance. Ripe plums and a waft of toasty smokiness add charm, while any sweetness is cut through by the long, dry and very rewarding finish. Bouldevines Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 ($29.95) Garnet and slightly opaque in the glass.

Cherry sweetness and gentle spice are to the fore in the aroma. Perfumed and gentle with beguiling smoky oak and old plum notes - lovely.

The palate is generous with young plum fruitiness, warming spice and some herbal crispness on the finish, due to some firm green tannins. The finish delivers a hint of cocoa and lingers nicely. There's plenty to enjoy in this wine.

Saint Clair Family Estate Premium Cabernet Merlot 2011 ($21.50)

Ruby on a black background, opaque.

A dark berry-fruit aroma is supported by deep earth, chocolate and coffee notes with a hint of mint and leafiness.

The palate has plenty of old barrel, leather and juicy plum flavours balanced by furry yet slightly grippy tannins. Weighty and mouth-filling with minty briskness to maintain balance, this little gem finishes woody, fruity and dry. Good value here.

Gladstone Vineyard 12,000 Miles Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($19)

Look for the "travel tag" label - it's attractive and a point of difference on the shelf.

The aroma is tight, but we teased out some lemon/lime and mango notes and some classic, crisp green apple. A hint of creamy toffee suggests time spent on lees.

The palate is a blend of lime with some steely minerality. Overall a fat, fleshy wine with a crisp apple finish - the texture and taste make for a generous mouthful.

We enjoyed the pleasing sub-regional characteristics displayed in this sauvignon blanc from Gladstone in the Wairarapa.

Seresin Marlborough Chardonnay 2009 ($30)

Warm lemon gold in the glass.

Displays a rich, buttery aroma with classic chardonnay with oak, stonefruit and marmalade top notes rounded out by buttery toast and nougat - all the bells and whistles here.

The palate is rich, textured and perfectly balanced. Lovely, tingly fruit acids are counterbalanced by rich, ripe, creamy fruitiness and soft caramel flavours. Gentle spiciness and subtle oak add to the complexity and long finish.

One of the best examples we've tried in a while.

The Marlborough Express