Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

Month: March 2017 (page 2 of 5)

Wellington the craft taste capital

Wellington is the craft beer capital with a micro brewery on every second corner and, if you live in Aro Valley, upper Willis or the Cuba Street precinct, every single corner. So, why is it so darned difficult to get a decent wine in many of the city’s bars these days?

It’s a question I ponder every time I set foot outside the front door but rather than die wondering, a couple of us decided to host a tasting that highlights the craft wines of our country’s most creative drinks makers. It’s on this week and we still have a couple of spots because we have moved it downstairs to the warehouse for an informal, relaxed and informative night devoted to:

New Wave Kiwi Wines… Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Libiamo, Syrah and more…
So, join us this Thursday 23 March at Regional Wines from 6pm to 8pm – book by phone 04 385 6952 or online:

It’s the start of vintage for many winemakers around New Zealand so, for those readers who, like me, are mostly desk-bound, check out the new tastings programme at Regional Wines & Spirits –

I am the new (part time) Wine Programme Director there, which means I’m hosting tastings and wine education.

It’s a buzz and it’s fantastic to be a part of, as is writing about vino in all the usual spots, which include Capital magazine, Good magazine, Drinksbiz and NZ Winegrower.

Taste the new wave in Wellington

Wellington is where it’s at if you are a craft beer fanatic, but it’s not a bad place to be this Thursday 23 March, if you’re into wine too, because we are tasting a big ripple of the new wave of Kiwi vino.

The “we” in question is the Regional Wines & Spirits team, which I am working on the tasting programme for.

This tasting is our first warehouse wine tasting and promises to be relaxed, informal and informative; all in the best ways possible.

Wines we will look at – with our eyes and mouths are:

2015 Aronui Albarino from Nelson

2015 Tono Albarino from Hawke’s Bay

2015 Libiamo White Field Blend from Gisborne

2016 Te Whare Ra Toru from Marlborough

2012 Villa Maria Verdelho

2012 Colere Pinot Blanc from Marlborough

2014 Astrolabe Chenin Blanc from Marlborough

2013 Esk Valley Chenin Blanc from Hawke’s Bay

And… the brand spanking new…

2016 Maxim Chenin Blanc from Hawke’s Bay

The two reds are…

2013 Redbarrel Syrah from Hawke’s Bay

2013 Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah from Hawke’s Bay

This is a fantastic line up and the Chenin Blancs taste particularly exciting – nervy, edgy, funky whites have never been so good from this forgotten white grape, which has sadly declined in number over the past decade in New Zealand from about 50 hectares to less than half that today. But the good news is: the Chenin Blanc that is around is the best it’s ever been in quality terms…

So, come along and check out these outstanding wines from a wide range of this country’s top winemakers.

Book to come to the warehouse tasting here…

Dialling up Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc…

The same wine in a different way… Matt Large on Marlborough savvy

Experimental wines may not make the accountants ecstatic, but they keep winemakers engaged and punters happy. Excuse the use of the word ‘punter’ but it fits, especially when used for the new Wither Hills cellar door and winery restaurant, which finally opened on 9 December last year to keep visitors to Marlborough well fed and watered.

The newly expanded cellar door and restaurant opened after  delays, due to earthquakes and complications, including a random event that nearly decimated this famous winery. But that’s another story. We’re here to talk about happy endings, which Wither Hills has plenty of these days.
Like most wineries in Marlborough, Wither Hills relies heavily on  Sauvignon Blanc. Approximately 75% of the winery’s production is made up of Sauvignon Blanc – a direct reflection of the region’s total vineyard area and production.

If this appears to be a heavy reliance on one thing, it is. But this is the story of New Zealand’s wine industry today and Marlborough’s nearest neighbours – Nelson and North Canterbury – are also now home to more Sauvignon Blanc than any other grape, with 39% of each region’s total vineyard area planted in this popular white  variety. While that makes sense, given the strong export demand for Kiwi savvy, it seems a great shame to me that Riesling and Chardonnay have both fallen from their prime spots, respectively, in these regions. Both are every bit as good in quality and have great aging potential in all South Island wine regions, in my view.
So, back to Marlborough, where it’s heartening to see and taste experimental wines at Wither Hills cellar door, thanks to winemakers Matt Large and Sally Williams, who are both big champions of their cellar release range. Wines available only at the cellar door include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Chardonnay and a fortified Pinot Noir, among others. But since Sauvignon rules the roost here, I asked winemaker Matt Large what he would do, if he could make a wine from any grape, in any style.
His answer?
He would like to make the star attraction but in a different way.

“If I had an open slate to try anything at all, I’d like to do something with Sauvignon Blanc. Not so much a different style but a wine with a different intensity – what we do but on steroids. The intensity, the weight and the aromatic palate weight – all dialled up,” says Matt.

Every year, he and Sally make about 3000 cases (give or take a little, depending on vintage variation) of Rarangi Sauvignon Blanc, which is a single vineyard wine. This is comparatively miniscule compared to the 200,000 cases of Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc the pair produce, most of it destined for export.

Wine is now the seventh biggest export earner for New Zealand. Growth has been significant in the past couple of decades, particularly in the United Kingdom, but the focus is now on the United States, Australia, Asia and the domestic market rather than growing quantity.

Back to the future, Matt is quietly confident the winery has access to good quality Sauvignon Blanc grapes from which to make that intense Sauvignon Blanc he has in mind.

Wither Hills fact file…

  • Wither Hills was established in 1994
  • The winery was named after the southern landmark Wither Hills in the Wairau Valley, which is the source of all grapes in the winery’s production
  • It was begun by the Marris family and is now owned by Lion NZ
  • Significant vineyards include the Taylor River Vineyard at the start of the southern valleys and Rarangi, closer to the coast
  • 50-60% of grapes in Wither Hills wines comes from estate owned vineyards
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