John Belsham cut his winemaking teeth in Bordeaux, before establishing Foxes Island Wines in 1992. One of New Zealand’s most well-known wine critics, John answers some common wine questions and talks about his beautiful new rosé.
How does the body understand flavour?
The human olfactory system reports to the limbic system of the brain; the body’s emotional HQ. Thus when we smell, see, hear or taste something, we register an emotion before forming a word. We do this thousands of times each day. If people describe their feelings when tasting wine, it’s actually easier to begin framing critical thoughts. It can be as simple as ‘I love it’.
What are the correct serving temperatures for pinot noir, rosé, aromatics, chardonnay? Can red wine be chilled?
Serving wine at the ideal temperature makes a big difference in one’s enjoyment and tasting subtle nuances. Room temperature is 20-22°C, much warmer than optimal wine serving temperatures. If your red wines are sitting out, chill them for 20-30 minutes before serving. It is always better to serve a wine slightly too cold than too warm. Serve riesling, rosé and sauvignon blanc at 8-10°C, chardonnay at 10-12°C, pinot noir at 14-16°C and syrah and Bordeaux varieties at 17-18°C.
How much wine do I need to buy when planning for a party?
As a general rule of thumb, we work on one drink per guest per hour and five glasses per bottle. For a three-hour event for 10 people, I suggest six bottles. As a responsible host, we always ensure there is plenty of food and non-alcoholic drinks on hand.
Why does the bottle sometimes have a small pop when I unscrew it? Is it normal?
It is not uncommon for wines to have a very small amount of natural, residual carbon dioxide gas trapped in the ullage (the air pocket between the wine and the cap). Upon opening, there may be a small release of carbon dioxide creating a small pop or sigh. This is normal and confirms the seal was intact and the wine perfectly preserved. The same effect happens under cork.
Farro customers often ask about oak influence on chardonnay. What is the mark of a good chardonnay?
With or without oak, great Chardonnay begins in the vineyard and then it’s the winemaker’s approach. At Foxes we are meticulous; hand picking, gentle pressing and slow, natural fermentation that lasts 10 months, sometimes longer. There are brilliant unoaked styles and styles with oak influence like ours. Ultimately, great chardonnay is sophisticated and elegant with structure and beautiful curves.
You have recently launched a FOX rosé. What inspired you to make it?
I have had my hand in rosé winemaking for over a decade in Provence where I consult. Rosé should celebrate everything that makes us happy in life and I wanted to capture that feeling; hence the name ‘à la folie’ (French for ‘I’m crazy about you’). We specialize in pinot noir and 2018 provided the perfect fruit to make a beautiful, dry style rosé that is generous yet lively and mouth-watering.
With what dish would you pair the FOX rosé?
The rosé works well with salads and weekend barbecues or simply as an evening aperitif. Recently, we have been making a chilled avocado-cucumber soup that is simple and full of flavour. I created the recipe for our sauvignon blanc but it is also delicious with the rosé.
FOXES ISLAND CHILLED CUCUMBER & AVOCADO SOUP
3 medium-sized Lebanese cucumbers, quartered and de-seeded
2 ripe avocados
1 medium red onion, peeled and quartered
½ fresh, small red chili, de-seeded
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
½ cup fresh dill, de-stalked
1 lemon, juiced
3 oranges, juiced
½ cup plain, unsweetened yoghurt
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the garnish:
8 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
Handful of basil
Put all the vegetable ingredients, a pinch of salt, ground black pepper and half the orange and lemon juice in large blender or food processor. Blend to a smooth texture.
Ad the balance of orange juice, lemon juice and yoghurt. Puree.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Chill for at least three hours or overnight.
Pour into chilled serving bowls and garnish with tomatoes and basil leaves.
Serve chilled and enjoy with Foxes Island sur lie aged sauvignon blanc or FOX a la folie rosé.
What is your favourite part of the winemaking process?
Fermentation. The transformation of flavour from the relatively one-dimensional profile of juice to the multi-layered complexity of a wine through biological activity is fascinating. The influence that a winemaker has at this point can be subtle or dramatic depending on the wine style and the amount that you intervene.
What is the biggest change in New Zealander’s wine tastes over the last few decades?
There has not been as much change as one might think. Conservative wine drinkers still tend to favour mildly flavoured white wines with some residual sugar and their reds big and juicy. More experience and adventurous consumers prefer drier white wines with structure and texture and red wines that are complex and elegant. The real difference is the number of wines that are now available has significantly increased.