This story was first published in Capital magazine, October 2017.
New Zealand winemakers enjoy great commercial success with high volume, low priced sparkling, but it’s the top shelf stuff that really gets me going. It’s modestly priced, compared to its classic European counterparts (we’re talking champagne here), and New Zealand’s bottle fermented sparkling wine can meet the best of them head-on, when it comes to quality.
New Zealand’s cool climate, burgeoning South Island wine industry and exceptional commercial success with white wines all bode well for the growth of top shelf sparkling wine, so it seems surprising that few wineries focus on it. All of which makes it heartening to hear Jane Hunter announce this year that she is growing the production of her fizz, MiruMiru.
If you’re thinking ‘why now?’, you’re not alone. This is the 20th birthday of MiruMiru, which is Maori for bubbles, and it’s a wine that replaced Hunter’s Brut, which was a fore-runner of its kind when first made in 1997.
When Hunter’s Wines went into bubbly production, it became the second Marlborough winery to do so and Jane utilised the winemaking expertise of Dr Tony Jordan; a sparkling wine specialist, who has consulted from day one with Hunter’s sparkling wine production, advising on choice of grape varieties, aging and production processes. It’s not a cheap exercise but, done well, it can be an extremely tasty one.
“In our mind’s eye, we are modelling MiruMiru on Bollinger and over the past decade, we have modified our winemaking methods to enhance the complexity of MiruMiru. These methods include using a higher proportion of barrel fermentation for the base wines and using old oak (with the occasional low proportion of new oak) as well as incorporating a higher percentage of reserve wines where possible,” explains winemaker James McDonald.
So, MiruMiru gets treated to plenty of tasty bells and whistles prior to its second fermentation in the bottle where the CO2 from fermentation dissolves into the wine, creating the bubbles we know and love.
There are three wines in the MiruMiru range; Hunter’s MiruMiru NV, Hunter’s MiruMiru Rose NV and the vintage dated reserve wine, the 2013 Hunter’s MiruMiru.
“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, so we will be judicious about how much we increase production,” says Jordan.
Hunter agrees, saying that she doesn’t want to grow her sparkling wine production “too much” due to the sheer cost of stock tied up in aging sparkling wines prior to release. That said, she and Jordan are committed to growing Hunter’s fizz production, as are their winemakers James McDonald and Inus Van Der Westhuizen.
This year is not the first time I have tasted MiruMiru bubbles in a line up but it is the first time I have seen such a strong comparative difference between the three styles. 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.
Post script on MiruMiru
Hunter’s was the second winery ever to produce bubblies made using the traditional technique used in the Champagne region – the so called traditional method of creating bubbles in the bottle during a second fermentation. This results in a 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.
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 fizzy drop
Hunter’s MiruMiru NV $29.99
MiruMiru NV is fresh, clean and full bodied with intense flavours but a light touch – pronounced fresh bakery flavours add depth to the refreshing style of this bubbly, which is modelled on the world’s best, only it’s a hell of a lot more affordable.