Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

Month: October 2017 (page 2 of 4)

Bubble hubbub

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.

New steel matrix sculpture lands on NZ’s biggest vineyard

Meet Marlborough’s massive new giant wine rack… The 8 metre high sculpture was officially unveiled yesterday along with two new high priced wines with labels that reflect the design by New York based Dror Benshetrit, who has been working on the project for the past 18 months.

The sculpture was craned onto Brancott Estate Vineyard last week as an interlocking concertina frame, comprised of 52 individual components, which locked into place once the flat matrix was unfolded. It’s welded to the ground and is a permanent fixture on the vast vineyard.

Dror also designed a mini version of the matrix as a wine rack (available from Brancott Estate’s Heritage Centre in Marlborough for purchase for $350) and the wine labels for the new Reflection wines.

Form and function combine in the mini version of the Understanding sculpture; a wine rack, pictured above.

The 8 metre high sculpture is titled Under/standing and the wines are called Reflection; a reference to both the sculpture and the wines, says Pernod Ricard chief winemaker Patrick Materman, who worked with Dror on the logistics of the new artwork – and the labels.

Great wine can be a reflection of the vineyard on which their grapes grew, which was the inspiration for the name and represents what he wants to achieve in these wines.

Reflection… Two new wines with labels which reflect the giant wine rack sculpture by Dror and also reflect the country’s largest wine region’s two major strengths – dry white Sauvignon and full bodied Pinot Noir.

Here are my notes on the new Reflection wines

2016 Brancott Estate Reflection $60

Here it is… and it’s tasty stuff too. This first new Brancott Estate Reflection white is a blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc and 48% Sauvignon Gris (a natural mutation of Sauvignon Blanc, only grassier in taste). The aim was to make something that had some oak shining through, tastes good with food and can age, which meant the winemaking process was a few-expenses-spared process from hand picking the grapes to raging the wine in 4000 litre oak ‘fuder’ barrels. The result is a dry, full bodied white with flavours of lemon grass, grapefruit and notes of smoky complexity; it’s delicious but restrained rather than out there when it comes to fruit flavour, and its zesty acidity adds a long finish. A stunner.

How much was made? About 100-150 cases.

What does it taste like? Smoky and oaky on the nose but in a pretty restrained style. It tastes of fresh citrusy lemon grass and a touch of green apple and it’s dry, zesty, full bodied

What type of oak was used? Large 4000 litre oak fuder for fermentation and maturation, post ferment. The wine spent the best part of a year in that oak sitting on its lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over after fermentation, which protects wine from oxidation and also adds yeasty complex flavours.

What are the links between the wine and the sculpture? “The steel plates on the sculpture go in two different directions on the sculpture and together they form a structure and strength; the same is true of the two different grapes in the wine, which work together,” says chief winemaker Patrick Materman.

Will it be made again? It’s an ongoing brand which will sell only at the cellar door.

And it’s available… in standard 750ml bottles for $60 and magnums (1500 mls) for $130.

2015 Brancott Reflections Dror Pinot Noir $80

This is a powerful statement of a wine with bold, powerful aromas of cloves, orange peel and dried cherries; it’s 14.5% ABV, so it’s not shy on the alcohol front but this is nicely balanced by intense red cherry, plum and smoky flavours. It’s a blend of the best components of Pinot Noir from hand selected barrels, says Materman.

Rosé is on a roll…

We’ve got a bit of a thing for a pink drink here at Regional Wines, where I work as wine programme director – tastings, writing interesting info’ about the world’s most interesting beverage and all that jazz… Anyway, so this week, we’re going to crack open three pink drinks tomorrow night at our new weekly casual tasting, Wine Wednesday, at Regional Wines from 5.30pm to 7pm.

Our resident wine whizzes will guide you through a trio of pink drinks and explain the differences in style and why colour is not an indication of dryness – or otherwise.

Speaking of which, rosé – or pink wine – can be made from any red grape and can even be made by blending red and white wine together, which is standard practice in France’s Champagne region for the production of the world’s highest priced pink sparkling wine. Unusual as that sounds (and it’s another story, which we can revisit over the upcoming festive silly season), most New Zealand rosé is made from Pinot Noir – for obvious reasons.
Pinot is the most widely planted red grape and most widely produced red wine in this country. This means that rosé tends to be produced in two main ways in New Zealand.
Firstly, it can be made as an intentional wine where red grapes are pressed and given anything from a few hours to a few days of skin contact so that the colour adds a light tinge to the wine.
Secondly – and this is more common – rosé is made using a method called saigneé – French for ‘bleeding’.
This refers to making pink wine from red wine (in this case, Pinot Noir) while the wine is still fermenting in tank – by bleeding off a little of the fermenting juice, The wine that remains in the tank (most of it) can gain a more intense colour and flavour while a fresh, light pink wine can be made at the same time. Hey presto – rosé.
Come along and check out this trio tomorrow at 5.30pm at Regional Wines in Wellington – there’s no need to book… come and check out these pink drinks with us for $5 at the door.
We hope to see you there.

Pink drinks at Wine Wednesday…

2016 Whitehaven Rosé $17.99

2016 Eradus Rosé $18.99 

2017 Haha Rosé $14.99

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