Wednesday, March 30, 2016


.... so goes the old adage.

Conventional wisdom has always said that drinking beer and moving on to wine is a mistake as the consequential hangover will be a doozy. It's never been clear as to the quantities involved that cause these dire consequences but the threat was always there.

Worse still was moving from wine to grain based spirits (although in my experience wine based spirits like Cognac can also produce unwelcome results.).

No-one knows the origin of this 'conventional wisdom' and it's been dumped amongst all those other old wives' tales like:

  • Chocolate causes acne
  • Cracking knuckles leads to arthritis
  • Shaving causes hair to grow thicker
  • Double bass playing leads to madness*
  • Feed a fever, starve a cold

The medical profession is no help in this either as they say that while there is no correlation between mixing drinks and the severity of hangover the different alcoholic percentages between beer, wine and spirits can lead to the drinker underestimating the strength of the higher alcoholic strength drink after drinking the lesser alcoholic one. Translation - it's the quantity of alcohol that causes the drunkenness and subsequent hangover, not the type of drink.


But ...... on St Patrick's Day last week I went up to the local club which I'm a member of ( it's a nice community club along the lines of a Cosi club or RSA with pretentions to being a 'Gentleman's'  club even though you can wear shorts and a T-shirt). I had a Guinness and a Kilkenny (beers) to celebrate old Pat's special day. These drinks were about 4.5% alcohol and about 330 ml each equivalent to about a glass and a half of wine at 14% alcohol. I went home and drank two glasses of chardonnay making the total equivalent less than a bottle of wine.
The next day I felt like shit.

This last Easter weekend we had 3 friends to stay who arrived separately on Friday and left separately on Tuesday. Through the 4 days we consumed copious amounts of wine from Rieussec Sauternes and Coleraine red through outstanding chardonnays and pinot noirs through to Champagne, Deutz rose and some simple pinot gris, cabernets and chardonnays. Between the five of us we drank about 20 bottles!
That was about a bottle each per night. I felt fine each morning - good enough to swim, bush walk, do gardening and enjoy (non religious) the Easter weekend.


About that old wives' tale? It might just be true about the danger of mixing the grape with the grain.

I'll have to keep an eye out for hairy palms!

* Not certain that this one isn't true.

Sunday, January 24, 2016


In the past I've complained about the dumbing down of wine offerings by retailers in New Zealand.

This has been as a consequence of the rise of supermarket dominance of wine retailing and the decline of the wine and spirit merchant.

Sure this has been a process that has taken 30 years but it is a shame.
Big supermarkets with their volume buying power screw down suppliers, dumb down product offerings by forcing downward product engineering because of price pressure and set  difficult hurdle rates that encourage the promotion of budget and value wines.

Wine and spirit merchants have disappeared as supermarkets deal with wineries, importers and distributors direct.

Small wine shops, not being able to compete with supermarkets on price, parking and convenience resort to stocking their stores with RTD's and cheap spirits (that supermarkets by law cannot sell) and wines become an afterthought.

Well, I haven't really changed my mind on this but having lived overseas for the last 2 and a half years I can look at the local scene and favourably compare with what is going on in for example the UK.

United Kingdom has for centuries been the wine hub of the world, being exposed to all forms of wines from nearly all countries of the world.

The traditional wine and spirit merchant model was created there along with specialist wine shops, wine bars and many things 'fine-wine'.

The growth of multiple grocers (supermarkets) over time like in New Zealand has led to the demise of many of the traditional wine and spirit merchants, the high street chain retailers and hundreds of specialist wine shops. There has of course been a resurgence of small, family run wine shops but these represent a tiny percentage of the total. The multiple grocers - Sainsbury's, Waitrose, ASDA, TESCO, Marks and Spencer etc spend millions of pounds telling consumers that they have the perfect selection for them. Sadly this is like American television catering to the masses and dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator. Most of shelf space is now taken up by cheap offerings from Spain, South Africa, Argentina, South of France, Chile, Australia and, sadly, inferior bulk produced Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. So much for the wine hub of the world.

Multiple 'High Street' chains like Majestic and Oddbins are fighting a rear guard action but are seeming to struggle. They too are limiting their quality selections in favour of cheaper, value and budget brands and products from the aforementioned regions.

In the UK there are of course still some outstanding importer/distributors who still have the top wines of the world (Corney and Barrow, Harrod's, Berry Bros and Rudd, Adnams etc but unless you are a millionaire or are prepared to take out a second mortgage the offerings are generally beyond the average wine drinker.

As an average wine drinker I was very disappointed at the offerings in the supermarkets and high street stores that I visited. The Australian, New Zealand and Californian sections were particularly poorly represented. Being familiar with the stunning quality and exceptional value that can be found from these regions it is inexcusable that the retailers don't bother stocking them, preferring to dumb down their selections to match the undiscerning buying preferences of the majority of their customers. Shame on them.

This responsibility is left to the small independent wine shop owner whose enthusiasm drives him/her to find great examples but whose buying power restricts them on range and affordability.

When it comes to on-premise the situation is even more dire.
The wine bar is a sad reflection of what it once was or could be. The selections overall tend to be ordinary and the offerings by-the-glass pathetic. What are these operators thinking when they expect people to come in and buy a bottle when they may only want a glass or two. The ideal of a wine bar is in being able to try two or three different wines at a sitting, not to plough through a bottle.

Pubs are worse with plenty of beer choices with real ales and boutique breweries but they can't be stuffed when it comes to wine, generally having an indifferent white and an indistinct red as the choices and wonder why I and other say no thanks. I guess if we default to beer they are happy as there is more margin in that for them.

The most shameful are the big tourist hotels whether they be Hiltons or Travelodges. The food and beverage managers have been instructed to keep margins down and prices high so the wine by the bottle or glass will be some dire Riverlands crap from Australia or an undrinkable concoction from Argentina - all at astronomically high prices.

Where is this going?
Why back to Godzone of course.
At least in good old NZ the wine offerings in supermarkets while not being very broad in terms of countries of origin, will be very comprehensive in terms of New Zealand, Australian (and emerging California) varietals and the prices, compared to the UK are brilliant.

The wine bars and pubs and restaurants and cafes in NZ generally have a good selection of wines by the bottle and by the glass (could still improve but are better than Canada, UK and Europe).

Monday, February 3, 2014


We went to Cosi Fan Tutte yesterday at the Canadian Opera Company.
The performance was outstanding with seamless performances from the excellent cast. The set decorations were striking, albeit quirky. The director is a bit odd choosing to take literal interpretations of Mozart's opera e.g. the school for lovers alternate title for the opera is taken as the setting of a School for Lovers with students taking notes on the various characters' performances and actions. He also uses Frida Kahlo's "Two Fridas" painting as an overlooking backdrop. This features a visceral depiction of exposed hearts on the characters which is a bit obvious really.

I'm not a great fan of Mozart opera, preferring the Italian ones that have a bit of edge to them but I have to admit that the music was very lyrical and pleasant. A lot of opera depends on some big numbers linked by a lot of pretty boring filler. Mozart's kind of lacks the big numbers but instead has all very pleasant filler. Nice.

Toronto Opera at the Four Seasons centre use the sur-titles way at the top of the stage. This is generally OK for Rossini or Verdi but Mozart is a bit wordier so you had to continually look up to read the translations. The New York Metropolitan has little screens on the back of each seat so all you have to do is cast a quick look down to read the translations. You can also select a language which is pretty neat. In Auckland years ago they did a trial of a transparent screen across the fron to f the stage with the translation projected above the heads of the performers. This was an excellent idea but got discontinued probably because of some miserable old scrotes who felt that it was detracting.

Another meaning for Cosi Fan Tutti is "Women are like that" ie: inconstant kind of like:


"It's over now - do you want to hear a song"

Friday, November 22, 2013


I’m like Jack Reacher.

Jack Reacher is a former Major in the United States Army Military Police Corps. , the 110th Special Investigations Unit, formed to handle exceptionally tough cases, especially those involving members of the US Army Special Forces.

Reacher received many military awards during his career, including the Silver Star, the Defence Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Soldier's Medal, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.

Reacher is a drifter. He wanders throughout the US. He usually travels by hitchhiking or bus. The only possessions he carries are money, a foldable toothbrush and, after 9/11, an expired passport and an ATM debit card.

Reacher has the uncanny ability to know what time it is, at any time of the day, without referring to a clock. He often uses his internal clock as an alarm, enabling him to wake up at any time he chooses. He sometimes uses his "human metronome" ability to countdown and calculate during time-related situations.

Reacher has a fascination with mathematics.

Reacher is highly skilled at fighting, enhanced by in-depth technical and military knowledge. He has experience and skills from various martial arts, although he is not an expert in any particular style. He mentally plans his fights using physics in a scientific calculating method. He knows how to break a person's neck with one hand and kill someone with a single punch to the head or chest. Reacher places greater importance on winning than on how he will win.

Reacher wears his clothes for 2–3 days before dumping them, usually purchasing new clothing cheaply from discount stores.

Reacher is 6'5" tall with a 50-inch chest, and weighs between 220 and 250 pounds. He has ice-blue eyes and dirty blond hair. He has very little body fat, and his muscular physique is completely natural. He is exceptionally strong, has a high stamina, but is not a good runner.


I don’t wear a watch and can usually guess what time it is to the nearest 5 or 10 minutes, any time of the day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Humbert drove over the hill marvelling at the amount of gorse still adorning the slopes. "Chris' homemade pizza must have been good for it" he mused.
He drove through the suburbs of Moera and Petone thinking that they were much better when Ford, Todd Motors and Gear Meat co still operated there. He missed the smell of hot oil and blood.

Porirua hadn't changed much. The suburban crescents merged seamlessly into the crappy semi-industrial estates only separated by scrappy 'parks' liberally covered in dog shit. "Fuck" he thought "give me Nuova Lazio any day". He cruised around looking for Bella Vista Crescent. There wasn't a gps in the cheap courier van but Humbert knew the way city planners thought. Bella Vista - 'Beautiful View'. He looked around and up at the hills. There it was. The "beautiful view". Kenepuru Hospital and before that Porirua Lunatic Asylum where all the loonies were incarcerated. In today's enlightened times it was no longer known as this and the loonies were no longer incarcerated (they were living on the streets instead). Typical of the city planners. Bastards.
 He took a reference sighting off the hospital and back down to the snaking crescents. There it was Bella Vista Crescent with used tyre shops, garages, panel beaters, scrap metal merchants and ... a low corrugated iron shed set back from the road. There was a small sign at the roadside which said "GIW LTD" nothing more.

Humbert parked the van on the street. He knew that it was unlikely to be there or if it was to still have its wheels on when he got back to it but that wasn't his most immediate problem. GIW was.
He checked his internal clock. 9.30 hours. No, that was Shanghai. 13.30 hours. Fifty five and a half hours to go.

The approach to the shed was via a poorly maintained driveway. Rain and heavy vehicles had ground out the shoddy repair work  done with cement and bitumen. Bastards" Humbert thought "Just like the Nuova Lazio Mall car park.". Humbert stepped around the deepest puddles and quietly made his way to a side door. He stopped and listened. What was that? He had heard a soft ticking. He listened again. Yes, there it was - the sound of a large engine cooling. A 3.5 litre Ti-VCT V6. "Might come in handy" he thought as he carefully opened the door and stepped inside.

The shed was larger inside than it seemed from outside. It was set up like a warehouse but without much planning. There were cartons and bottles everywhere set out chaotically. At one end was a small industrial labelling and bottling line. The equipment looked to be about 40 years old. There was a man tinkering with part of it. He was replacing what looked like a star wheel.
"Yo" called Humbert.
The man dropped a spanner which rang out on the concrete floor.
"Who the fuck are you" the man said belligerently. Belligerence. Humbert liked belligerence.
"25 Pinetree Falling Grove ring a bell with you?" Humbert asked. He watched the man closely, saw his eyes slide to the right and downwards as he answered "No. Should it?"
"What's all this " asked Humbert, kicking and empty brown carton out of the way. He noticed the wording stencilled on the side in black ink "RBW Chardonnay 2009".
"Mind your own fuck..." the words he uttered were cut short as Humbert grabbed him by the throat with his right hand. The hand kept free for action and emergencies. His left hand held a brown paper bag containing toothpaste, a toothbrush, a razor and now 4 pairs of underpants.
"Don't lie to me mister I know what you're up to." said Humbert "remember the little issue of the Hawkes Bay Syrah that had only ever seen Hawkes Bay when the bottles were delivered from Waipara?"

The man looked again at Humbert, memory awakening and he tried to get away but Humbert's grip, strengthened by a lifetime of opening bottles and holding glasses didn't lessen.
" Maybe we can work something out" he gasped "I could use a partner. How about we go 60:40?"

He'd chosen the wrong man to try and bribe. Humbert let him go and as he fell to the floor kneed him in the goolies. "That's for the Syrah" he said "and this is for the Chardonnay".

Humbert grabbed the man by the collar and hauled him up and in one fluid motion threw him across the conveyer that led to the automatic corking machine. He could see what the man had been tinkering with. The safety cage was faulty and the guard had been removed. Humbert punched the start button with his right palm and the machine whirred into life and the conveyer began to move.
The man stirred and looked about wildly but couldn't move as Humbert pinned him down with a large forearm. As his head lined up below the automatic corker Humbert looked into his eyes and said "think yourself lucky punk that this isn't a screwcap machine" as the corks, propelled by a CO2 gun fired down into the man's mouth. As the man's shoulders jammed the safety gate the conveyer stopped but the machine kept working, firing cork after cork until the man was silent.
"Job done" said Humbert as he slapped the stop button on the machine.

Humbert looked about the shed. There were hundreds of cartons of the RBW wine and as many more of the same wine relabelled as Te Awanga Chardonnay. There were also hundreds of cases of other non identifiable wines along with boxes of labels. He sorted through these noticing labels for well known and well respected Hawkes Bay Chardonnays from the 2012 vintage. "I guess he was going to relabel the RBW wine with these" he thought.

Behind a pallet of flattened cartons he noticed 5 sealed cases of wine. Morton Estate Coniglio 2010. Wow! This was serious wine, one of the best and at least $80 a bottle. Humbert wondered why this was here. He grabbed a bottle. Cork, not screwcap. "Never mind" he thought and grabbed a large knife from the tool bench. He swung it at the neck of the bottle knocking the top off in a clean 'sabrage' stroke. Pouring some out to clean away any glass splinters he then took a swig. Then another. "Creamy, lovely tropical fruit. good oak balance - lovely" he said to himself and took another big mouthful.
"This is the real McCoy, old Richard will love this" he thought and loaded the five cases (less one bottle ) into the Ford Explorer that was parked by the loading bay. As he was doing this his boot struck a bottle that was on the floor. It went spinning out into the warehouse. Humbert watched it and as it came to a stop he saw what it was. Lemonade. Schweppes lemonade. A memory stirred. Northland 1976. A vertical tasting of Chateau Margaux with vintages from 1966 through to 1974. Chateau Margaux one of the world's greatest wines and now costing up to $1000 a bottle.

The tasting was ruined though because someone poured lemonade into the wines. Schweppes lemonade. Richard. Bastard.

 Humbert looked at the wine in the Explorer. He then looked back at the wines on the warehouse floor and came to a decision. He selected 5 dozen of the RBW cleanskins and took out the corks. He poured about 50 mls out of each one and topped up with lemonade from a crateful of bottles he found. Shoving aside the guy with a mouth full of corks he loaded up the corking machine with 60 corks from a box labelled "2012 Hawkes Bay"  and sent the cleanskin bottles through to be re-corked. He next rummaged through boxes and found some newly printed labels and capsules. "Te Mata Elston Chardonnay 2012" Perfect. And about $40 a bottle. He sent the re-corked bottles through. As they collected at the end of the conveyer he packed them into some 'Te Mata' cartons he had found and loaded them into the Explorer.

Humbert raised the roller door and drove out of the shed. He left the door open and splashed his way down the drive. The courier van was gone and he knew that the shed would soon be picked clean like bones in the desert. He drove in to Porirua town centre and found a local and international courier company.
Using the credit cards that he'd taken from the guy in the shed he processed the paperwork for two shipments. One of 59 bottles addressed to Trixie at a San Francisco address. He'd pick these up later.
The other 60 bottles he addressed to 25 Falling Pinetree Grove, Nuova Lazio. The old guy would like it.

Humbert drove to the airport, leaving the Ford Explorer in the long-term carpark. He used his open ticket for the next flight to LAX which was about 5 hours later. Stretching out in the departure lounge he thought about the last couple of days and was happy. Problem fixed. Job done.

It was 7pm - 1900 hours. Forty eight and a half hours under the deadline. He smiled to himself. He hated those last minute deadline scenarios.

Monday, October 28, 2013


Humbert woke early the next morning. "Five am" he thought "I'd better wake the others."
As he made his way to the kitchen he almost stumbled over a hunched shape at the computer in the study next to where he had been sleeping. It was Richard and he seemed to be talking to himself.
"But, Angry Jesus, Bill said not to buy that supermarket rubbish" said Richard.
"C'mon, what can it hurt. Just a few bottles to keep you going. You know you like it" said Richard again.
"The the Humbert guy the the won't the the like it though" said Richard yet again in another voice.
Humbert was worried. Very worried.
Sixty six hours to go and Richard might not make it.

Putting a cheery face on he said "Morning big guy. We better get on to business. Any chance of a cup of tea? Irish breakfast with soy milk for me"
Richard seemed to shake himself out of reverie and excused himself to go the the bathroom.
A half an hour later he joined Shelley and Humbert at the breakfast table. He noticed a three quater full bottle of Chardonnay by the back door and grabbed it and took a big swig wondering why Humbert tried to stop him. "Ah. Good. Hair of the dog" he said, smacking his lips " I wonder why we didn't finish that last night".
"We did" said Humbert.

After the breakfast dishes had been cleared and Richard had been cajoled into cleaning his teeth the three of them reviewed the situation.
The wine had been made by RBW and sold as cleanskins to GIW who had relabelled as a different wine. This must have been done at a small processing place, address unknown.
"We need to track down the courier driver. Where's that delivery docket Rich?" Said Humbert.
Richard handed over the docket and Humbert found a contact number which he rang.
"Hello. Humbert here. I need the address from a pick-up and delivery you made two days ago. It was delivered to Falling Pine Tree Grove, Nuova Lazio. I need to know  the originating address. The docket number is ...."
"Listen Mac.." Said the courier driver.
"Humbert" said Humbert.
"Listen Humbert" said the driver "I don't give out that sort of information so scram".
Humbert thought for a moment after the connection was closed. Belligerent. Humbert liked belligerent. This was going to be good. "Shelley" he said "call that driver again on your phone. Say that you have a very important pick up and that you'll pay handsomely for it. Tell him it's urgent."

After Shelley had made the call they waited. Humbert prepared by finding some packing tape, an old zip up bag with some kind of large musical instrument in it which he tossed in a corner and put these by the back door by the now half-full bottle. They were ready. When the courier driver came to the door Shelley invited him in. He did so warily, eying Richard who was still in his baggy pyjamas but didn't notice Humbert who came behind him, quickly bound his arms with packing tape and sat him at the table.
"Hi buddy. Remember me? You might know me as Mac" said Humbert. He poured a glass from the bottle that had been by the door which by this time they all had declared it 'Robert's Brew'. Forcing it down the driver's throat he asked again for the address of  GIW. The driver, at first shaking his head quickly came up with the information when Humbert poured another glass. Bella Vista Crescent, Porirua.  That was a camel and a packed lunch away. Humbert would need a vehicle. A vehicle that wouldn't arouse suspicion. The courier van.

After taping the driver's mouth and securely zipping him into the big bag, Humbert prepared to leave.
"I'll be of now" he said "don't ' worry, it'll soon be sorted. I'll call you when it's done. Give me six hours and then feed these to the driver" he said, handing over some tablets "these will erase his memory and make him feel good at the same time. Drop him off at the Nuova Lazio mall. Oh, give him a can of spray paint to give him something to do. It'll also keep those mall cops on their toes".

With that Humbert was off in the courier van.


 Fifty seven hours to go.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


The 9am San Francisco direct to Wellington flight was fortuitous. Humbert easily made it to SFO 90 minutes before take-off. Trixie hadn’t been a problem. She was pregnant. She wasn’t much of a waitress. But, she was in the wine business. She understood. Peeling off 50’s from a roll of notes he paid for his ticket, showed his battered passport and was about to make his way to the gates.

“Uh, Mr Humbert?” asked the Air New Zealand attendant at the counter.

“Yeah” said Humbert “just call me Humbert “

“OK Humbert. We can give you a free upgrade to business class if you want?

“Thanks, I’ll take it” said Humbert, pocketing the ticket and leaving with a wink to the attractive 30-something attendant. He wasn’t fussed whether he had  the more comfortable seat in the class two above the ‘steerage’ ticket he’d bought or not. He didn’t sleep on planes anyway, preferring to read (Late nineteenth century Scandinavian playwrights was his current reading, especially those that wrote about women’s issues. He was reading Ibsen’s A Doll’s House which is critical attitude toward 19th century marriage norms).

But business class would provide a superior offering of wine with his meals.

The flight was uneventful and at this early time of the morning there were no drunken businessmen making asses of themselves. He drank a glass of Kim Crawford Small Parcels Gisborne Chardonnay 2012 with his starter and a glass of Carrick 2011 Central Otago Pinot Noir with his main. The food choices tasted the same – plastic and with that peculiar microwave character. The wines were good. Humbert knew that if tasted on ground they would be better. High altitude in a pressurised atmosphere distorted the flavour characteristics of wine. He wondered about that.

The plane landed at 6pm the day after he’d started. The flight was just on fourteen hours and there was a 19 hour time difference. It had been 19 hours ‘real time’ since Richard had called. Seventy seven hours to go.

Wellington is a small city by world standards and in no time Humbert had taken a bus into the city, a train to the Hutt Valley and hitched his way to Nuova Lazio. It was 7.30 pm. The clock was ticking.

“Who’s there?” the at first unrecognisable and shaky voice called out as Humbert hammered on the door.

“Humbert” said Humbert.

“Wow, great come in quickly” said Richard, grabbing Humbert by the sleeve and hauling him in while at the same time, out of Shelley’s line of sight, kicking the ginger cat outside. “That was quick. Where’s your bag?”

Humbert winked and showed Richard and Shelley his small paper bag he carried in his left hand. He preferred to carry things in his left hand. This kept his right hand free in case of emergencies. “I’ve got all I need here. Toothpaste, toothbrush, razor and 5 pairs of underpants. I would normally have a wine-bottle opener but in New Zealand good wine should come in screw cap bottles”.  He noticed that Richard winced and noticed further that he hadn’t shaved for two days and had a tremor in his right hand,. His drinking hand. Humbert thought he’d arrived just in time.

 While dinner was being prepared he sprinted down the road, (refusing the offer of Richard’s car as he wasn’t a good driver) to the nearest wine shop. Again he felt that he was just in time as this guy was obviously going out of business. There was a Countdown supermarket about to open across the road. Humbert scanned the shelf in the Chardonnay section. This looked bad. There were unwooded Chardonnays ‘lightly-oaked’ Chardonnays, Australian/NZ blended Chardonnays and Marlborough Chardonnays. Disaster. When he was just about to leave he spied treasure. In the bargain bin by the counter he saw three blue capsules. On closer inspection his hopes were realised when he saw the three bottles of Pegasus Bay Riesling 2010. They were $20 each. Humbert knew this wine and that $20 was a bargain. He bought them, peeling off three $20 notes from the bundle of NZ cash he had. Humbert carried at all times small bundles of important overseas currency. He sprinted back to Falling Pine Tree Grove as dinner was laid on the table. “Here, this should carry you over for the next few days” he said handing Richard the bottles. “Riesling. Stunning Riesling. Keep away from those supermarkets.”

After the delicious Italian-inspired meal with a Nuova Lazio variation (pasta and roast potatoes) they got down to the serious business.

“Show me” said Humbert.

Richard gingerly handed over the now empty bottle of Chardonnay along with the cork. Humbert set them on the table, shoved aside a large space-wasting musical instrument in order to get better light and studied the labels front and back. You can tell a lot from a label or you should be able to. This was different. The front label described the wine inside as Te Awanga Reserve Chardonnay from the 2012 vintage. The back label described the wine as being typical Hawkes Bay Chardonnay with peaches, apricots balanced by nice oak flavours and with a pleasant leesy finish. It also described the 2012 vintage as being excellent for white wines from the region. The cork said 2009 Eiffelton with a small sheep emblem and the initials RBW. A small light of recognition went on in Humbert’s mind but he kept that quiet and asked for a new bottle. With great solemnity and with trembling hands Richard produced a bottle and opened it. He poured a glass – “Whoa, whoa “Humbert shouted “not a bloody bucketful, I just want a taste”.

“Sorry” said Richard “Old habits you know” at which Humbert expected a wry joke about his schooldays when taught by nuns, brothers and priests but nothing came. This was serious. Very serious.

Humbert peered at the wine. “”What the fuck!” he said and jumped but realised what he had seen was just the old guy looking through the glass from the other side. “Don’t do that” he said and continued with his investigation. The wine was pale, very pale with no hints of gold that you’d expect from barrel fermentation and maturation. He sniffed. And sneezed. He sniffed again. No, no brettanomyces just some over sulphuring. He tasted. Green fruit, undeveloped flavour components, low alcohol, ageing quickly. Pisswater. This was not a Hawkes Bay Chardonnay. Bastards.

“You were right to call me Rich. This is not what you paid for. We’ll sort this out” said Humbert and he asked for the courier slip, the invoice and any other documentation. Forensic accounting was old hat to Humbert. Lehman Brothers and Bearn Stearns were still fresh in his mind. His uncovering of the dirty little deals had been of great satisfaction to him and the earnings from the investigation had enabled him to travel freely, unencumbered by daily work responsibilities.

Humbert looked at the invoice first. ‘Green Isles Wines – Best On-Line Deals’ was the company name. “Mm” he thought “that sounds familiar”. He remembered some dealings a few years back with a fraudster using the company name ‘Glen Innes Wine shop – Best Internet Deals’. “GIW? Mm”.

He next looked at the cork again. Eiffelton. This was near Ashburton in South Canterbury. It was a very pretty area once known for sheep farming, more recently turned over to vegetable cropping for the big processors and most likely now being turned over to the ubiquitous dairy farming. No great reputation for wine though. Too far South. Too cold. Wrong terroir. Grabbing his iPhone 5 he set it to ‘roaming’ in New Zealand and googled RBW wines. Nothing came up at first but when he entered RBW Eiffelton he had a hit. RB was the name of a dairy contractor in Ashburton. He clicked on a ‘website’ for RB which was really just a simple directory listing and found the name and phone number. Ivan Ramsbottom. RB. RBW must have been Ramsbottom Wines.

Humbert dialled. He knew that 10pm was late to ring a farmer but this was serious. Very serious.

“Hello, Ivan here” came a sleepy voice

“Humbert. Bill Humbert” said Humbert “Sorry to bother you so late Ivan but we’ve got a problem and I do mean we”. Humbert liked this guy. He was a good reader of character and he could tell that Ivan Ramsbottom, from the three words he’d said was true blue.

“Problem? What problem? Asked Ramsbottom and Humbert filled him in on what Richard had discovered.

“ Bastards” said Ramsbottom. “I sold the remainder (nearly all of it as it hadn’t sold) of that wine, a 2009 Chardonnay as ‘cleanskins’ to GIW. I told him all about the vintage and the location and confessed that the wine wasn’t much cop and that Ive ripped out the vineyard and gone over to dairy farming. He gave me a dollar a bottle for it and said he’d move it on for a couple of bucks a bottle. Bastard still hasn’t paid me for it. What did your guy pay per bottle?

Humbert looked over to Richard and asked how much indicating the bottle on the table. Richard said “$20 dollars a bottle, marked down from $45 a bottle”.

Humbert told Ramsbottom who said again “Bastards”. He didn’t have any detail for Humbert on GIW except for a post office box number and a freight forwarding contact. Promising to help in any way he could he rung off.

“Nice chap” said Richard “Tell him that I’m happy to come down and give him a free double bass solo concert”.

Humbert looked Richard squarely in the eye and said “sorry old chap but he keeps dairy cows. They can’t be put off their milk. Besides, they are cows. You’re afraid of cows remember”.

Richard mumbled an apology and sloped off to a corner from which soon emanated low rumbling noises. Humbert prepared for bed as it would be an early start tomorrow and there were things to do. Important things. 11pm.

Seventy two hours to go.