Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: August 2017 (page 1 of 4)

Bubble bubble… NZ’s next big thing?

Hunter’s Miru Miru fizz turns 20 – and it’s growing

“We are growing our sparkling winemaking because it has a strong future,” says Jane Hunter, of Marlborough’s eponymous Hunter’s Wines, which celebrated 20 years of MiruMiru bubbles this week.

Hunter’s Wines was one of the first in the modern Marlborough wine industry, but bubbly is one of the last things you expect from any Marlborough winery these days because Sauvignon Blanc rules the roost, has done for 25 years and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable.

All of which may make it surprising that Hunter is putting her money where her mouth is and focussing on a strong sparkling wine future for her iconic wine brand.

This week some of that money was spent hosting an interesting tasting in Auckland, flying in writers from around the country to taste her sparkling wines, and I was lucky enough to be invited.

We tasted, talked and, later, ate lunch at Meredith’s on Dominion Road. Then we flew back to our respective homes and I have since bought a couple of bottles of Hunter’s MiruMiru so that I am putting my money where my mouth is.

It’s not the first time I have ever tasted MiruMiru bubbly and been impressed, but this week is the first time I have ever tasted a comparative line up of old, new and pink MiruMiru bubbles, and I am strongly impressed by the high quality and incredible affordability of these wines.

Like a small handful of other New Zealand sparkling wines, MiruMiru puts many champagnes to shame because its yeasty complexity, fresh crisp acidity and long finish makes it outstanding value for money at NZ$29.99. Call it $30 if you will, but it’s outrageously good value.


Why isn’t New Zealand sparkling wine rocking?

Perhaps it is, but in modest volumes.

New Zealand has commercially successful big name, low priced, high volume bubbles, but it is the top shelf bubbles that really get me going. They don’t cost much compared to their classic European counterparts and they can offer exceptionally high quality. As do the best Franciacortas from Italy (another traditional method sparkling wine, made using the same techniques and grape varieties as champagne) and as do many good comparable wines from Tasmania, Argentina, California and a few other places.

With New Zealand’s cool climate, burgeoning South Island wine industry and exceptional commercial success with white wines, it seems obvious that sparkling wine – made in the traditional method – has a bright, shiny future.


The history of MiruMiru – and the future

The first Hunter’s MiruMiru was made in 1997 and was produced with the expertise of winemaking consultant Dr Tony Jordan (as was the first sparkling wine produced at the winery).

“High end bubbly has a huge amount of capital tied up in making it, due to the tank space it takes up, the barrel space we need to allocate for it and the money we don’t make while we are aging the wines,” says Jordan

Jane Hunter agrees:  “I don’t think we want to get too big because of the cost of the stock tied up in aging sparkling wines prior to release.”

That said, she and Jordan are committed to growing their sparkling wine production, as are their winemakers James McDonald and Inus Van Der Westhuizen.

“In our mind’s eye, we are modeling our bubblies on Bollinger,” says McDonald.

This means that barrel fermentation is a technique they are using more than in the past. And the non vintage MIruMiru contains a significant proportion of reserve wines too, as Champagne Bollinger famously does too.

Hunter’s Wines was founded by Ernie Hunter in 1979. He made his first wine in 1982 and the first sparkling was produced in 1987 and named Hunter’s Marlborough Estate Brut. Jane Hunter took over the winery in 1987.


Top drop under $30

Hunter’s MiruMiru NV $29.99

Hunter’s Wines is one of Marlborough’s first wineries and is the region’s second winery ever to produce bubblies made using the traditional technique used in Champagne – the so called traditional method of creating bubbles in the bottle during a second fermentation. This results in greater density of bubbles and massively more complex, yeasty flavours than most sparkling wines made in sealed tanks where the CO2 from fermentation dissolves into the wine.

MiruMiru NV is super fresh in flavour with intense yeasty aromas and fresh bakery flavours in every complex sip. Its bubbles are fine and lingering, just like champagne, only a hell of a lot more affordable.


The MiruMiru sparkling stable

Hunter’s MiruMiru NV $29.99

This is a blend of 57% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Noir and 11% Pinot Meunier, which are fermented in a combo of stainless steel and old French oak barrels. The wine spends a minimum of 18 months on lees before disgorging.

MiruMiru Rose NV RRP $49.99

A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 41% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier. Full bodied with fresh bread and toasty aromas, a creamy palate and  dry style. Lovely step up from the already very good MiruMiru NV.

2013 MiruMiru RRP $49.99

A blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier. This reserve wine has more of everything; more depth of flavour, more body, a longer, more memorable finish, which lingers… the mark of a great wine.

Can Cloudy Bay make New Zealand Pinot as famous as Sauvignon Blanc?

Can Cloudy Bay make New Zealand Pinot Noir as successful as Sauvignon Blanc?

The question sprang to mind last week at a tasting held at Cloudy Bay HQ on Jackson’s Road, Blenheim. This was not just any old tasting. We were tasting bottles of great wines with enormous price tags from all over the world, alongside their far humbler priced Cloudy Bay Pinot Noirs.

So, what was the point of the tasting?

Cloudy Bay senior winemaker Tim Heath said he wanted to compare and contrast his Pinots with great reds from around the world – and he wasn’t  mucking around.

The full list of wines appears at the end but my stand outs were:

2011 Vega Sicilia Valbuena Ribera del Duero ***** (5 stars)

Spain’s most famous red or merely its most seductive? Not that there’s anything ‘mere’ about this powerful wine, which  puts Cabernet Sauvignon’s most commanding foot forward here, only it’s riper, rounder and more approachable than Cab’ Sauv’ can usually hope to be. And speaking of feet, it has one in both the traditional camp – it’s blended with Merlot and Malbec – as well as the maverick one; it also contains the characterful red fruit appeal of Tempranillo (known as Tinto Fino in the Ribera del Duero region). It was aged in both old and new oak and the grapes were grown at relatively high altitude in this warm region, which accounts for the retention of acidity, which freshens this big red. It has enormous potential to age and was my star of the tasting.

 2009 Sori San Lorenzo from Piemonte ***** (5 stars)

When first made in 1967, this became the first cru Barbaresco ever produced by Italy’s modern wine pioneer, Angelo Gaja, who named it after its location – sori means hilltop with a southern exposure and that tastes like it works a treat for the late ripening, Nebbiolo grape, which is paradoxically delicate and intense (floral, a touch of tar, smoked meat, red fruit, full body, high acid, long finish, another seductive red). It was also the best wine with the food , due to its high acidity cutting a delicious path through the cheese, the salad and even the salmon that I ate after the tasting when we were able to re-try the wines at lunch.

2011 August Clape Cornas **** (4 stars)

This is like super concentrated teen angst; it needs time to chill out before it’s ready to socialise. It’s all about earthy flavours, tar, black olives and pepper with loads of everything (tannin, acid, super dry, full body). It was made using wild yeasts, was aged for 20 months in old oak then bottled unfined and unfiltered. It was not my fave to drink right now, but it’s impossible not to be impressed with the depth, length, body and all that jazz.

2013 Domaine Dujac Clos de la Roche Grand Cru **** (4 stars)

Made from grapes that were organically grown and taken from a Grand Cru vineyard, but more revealingly, it has a high percentage of whole bunch fermentation, which tasted intensely stalky, but provided impressive concentration, which seemed to dominate the delicacy that I look for in Pinot Noir. It’s an impeccable wine, although its style polarised the room.

2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir  ***** (5 stars)

This is the best Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir I have ever tasted and it’s not the first time it’s made an outstanding impression on me in a blind tasting. It is made from 3 vineyard sites: Mustang in the Southern Valleys, Barracks planted in 2004 and the Delta Vineyard acquired by Cloudy Bay in 2013. About 15% of the wine went through whole bunch fermentation and there is no oak evident on the palate, which has clearly benefited from the intentional oxidative maturation that well used oak aging can bring to wine.

Winemaker Tim Heath says this: “We’ve worked really hard on the use of oak over the past four or five years. That, and our focus on how many whole bunches to include in the fermentation of Pinot Noir have been such an obsession that I needed to take a mental break from after our extensive trials. The aim is to make a Pinot that benefits from both, but doesn’t scream of those winemaking bells and whistles.”

2014 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir **** (4 stars)

This wine is made from a 50/50 blend of grapes which it purchases from the Calvert Vineyard and grown on the Northburn Station Vineyard, which it now owns. And while it is elegant, fresh and full bodied, it says far more about Pinot Noir than the first Te Wahi (made in 2010) ever did, thanks a significant reduction in the use of whole bunches  in the fermentation. This is a beauty; all red fruit, elegance, a lively style and long finish. A keeper and it drinks very nicely right now.

The aim of the Cloudy Bay Pinot Salon 

This was New Zealand’s first Pinot Salon – a curious name for an event focussed on many wines that weren’t even made from the tricky old, oversensitive, thin skinned, Pinot Noir grape.

The Pinot Salon has replaced the annual Pinot at Cloudy Bay event, which was held annually until 2015 when the salons were launched in London. Senior winemaker Tim Heath and viticulturist Jim White have hosted salons in London and Tokyo and have more planned around the world. This year’s was the first time it has been held in New Zealand.

Cloudy Bay’s new Estate Director, Yang Shen, also attended the event and is pictured standing in the following picture:

“Cloudy Bay first planted Pinot Noir in Marlborough in 1985, and released the first vintage in 1989. Since then we have acquired some of the finest Pinot Noir vineyards in Marlborough, and more recently in Central Otago where we are continuing to refine our style,” said Shen, who is a trained winemaker in his own right.

The tasting was co-hosted by New Zealand’s sole Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas, and all wines were tasted blind.

The wines tasted  

2011 Auguste Clape Cornas – Rhone Valley

2014 Domaine Cedric Chignard, Fleurie, Les Moriers – Beaujolais

2013 Domaine Dujac, Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru – Burgundy

2013 Domaine de Montille, Volnay, “En Champans”, 1er Cru – Burgundy

2013 Domaine Sylvain Cathiard, Nuits-St Georges, Aux Thorey, 1er Cru – Burgundy

2009 Rene Rostaing, Cote Rotie “Ampodium” – Rhone Valley

2011 Vega Sicilia Valbuena 5° – Ribera del Duero

2009 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo Langhe – Piedmont

2005 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Magnum – Marlborough

2010 Te Wahi – Central Otago

2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir – Marlborough

2014 Te Wahi – Central Otago

Wine from a war zone… taste Chateau Musar in Wellington

The Propylaea is one of many Roman temples in the Beqaa Valley, which is also home to Lebanon’s most famous winery, Chateau Musar – come and join us to taste Chateau Musar wines at Regional Wines in Wellington on Tuesday 5 September, 6pm to 8pm, bookings are essential, phone 04 385 6952, $35 per head . 

Chateau Musar is Lebanon’s most famous winery and family member Ralph Hochar will host a tasting of the winery that his grandfather, Gaston Hochard, founded in 1930.

These are interesting wines made with an unconventional twist on the Bordeaux grape theme; many are blended with Cinsault, which traditionally originates in another region in the sunny South of France – the vast Languedoc region.

Chateau Musar wines are available for purchase in store at Regional Wines but we will taste a wider range than we usually carry on Tuesday 5 September.

Come and learn what wine from a war zone tastes like and hear the history of one of the world’s most unusual wineries.

Here are the wines we will taste at Regional Wines:

2016 Musar Jeune Rosé

2014 Musar Jeune Red

2014 Hochar Père et Fils Red

2011 Hochar Père et Fils Red

2008 Chateau Musar Red

2006 Chateau Musar Red

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