Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: January 2018 (page 1 of 2)

Wine, the universe and everything part 2

Big wine regions often get a bad rap but where would we be without them?

I’ve lost count of how many visits I made to Marlborough last year, often with others who work with wine, and each time we were staggered by the region’s heavy reliance on Sauvignon Blanc. Even when you do expect it,  the number of eggs that Marlborough winemakers have in the Sauvignon Blanc basket is daunting, to say the least.

Great Chardonnays from Marlborough are growing in number but even at the largest wineries, it often makes up less than 5% of their overall production. And that doesn’t even touch on the potential greatness of Marlborough Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Chenin Blanc (listed in diminishing order of their numerical importance in the region). Such is the importance of the wine we call ‘Savvy’. And you’d be anything but that, if you chose not to put most of your energy into producing the most profitable wine. Still, it’s great to taste a slow but steady divergence  amongst Marlborough Sauvignons, which is why Kevin Judd’s Wild Sauvignon hits the sweet spot with so many wine commentators and drinkers alike, not only in New Zealand but around the world. Read on.

The latest stats

85% of Marlborough’s wine production is Sauvignon Blanc

76% of New Zealand’s white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted grape overall and the dominant white wine in New Zealand, which occupies 22,085 hectares of the 37,000 hectares of grapes grown in this country

Sauvignon has had the biggest overall growth of any grape grown and wine made in New Zealand in the past 10 years

In 2008 there were 13,988 producing hectares of Sauvignon planted nationwide – today it is 22,085 (as above). Over the same period, Pinot Noir grew from 4,650 hectares in 2008 to 5,653 today; Chardonnay decreased from 3,881 to 3,203 and Pinot Gris grew from 1,383 to 2,469.




2015 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough $28-$30, 14% ABV 

Kevin Judd first made this wine in 2009 and it is 100% barrel fermented with 100% wild yeast; about two thirds of the wine goes through malolactic fermentation to soften Sauvignon’s naturally high acidity and  add roundness to this voluptuous, full bodied dry white. It ages in barrel and goes through battonage (French for stirring the lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over in the wine). It was James Healy – fellow winemaker at Cloudy Bay, who steered Judd in the direction of a wild and tank fermented Sauvignon, but that was back in 1991 when they both worked at Cloudy Bay. Judd says he was pestered by Healy to make  wild yeast fermented Chardonnay and he eventually he agreed to do it, he was surprised to find himself thinking ‘This is really quite good’.

As is his Greywacke Wild Sauvignon – full bodied, succulent, juicy, savoury and long. This wine shines a new light on Sauvignon Blanc. It can age well too; for up to 10 years.



2015 Kung Fu Girl Riesling $24.95, 12% ABV

The label’s naughty, the wine is nice. And it has a new importer in New Zealand as from this week; namely, Constellation Brands.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling is made from grapes grown on the evocatively named Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area – 566 hectares with only 5 wineries, so not large). It’s off dry, but only just, which suits its incredibly intense fruit purity,  light body and juicy flavours of ripe limes, green apples and mandarin.

Washington State is not exactly the first place you’d expect to look for Riesling but the classic light bodied, low alcohol, off dry German Rieslings were the inspiration for North American winemaker Charles Smith.

Available from specialist wine stores or email:



Bisou Bisou $19.99

Bisou Bisou means kiss kiss in French and the wine is definitely a big cuddly bubbly, made entirely from Chardonnay grapes grown in the Yarra Valley, 40 minutes north of Melbourne. It’s off dry but its creamy soft complexity balances the high but refreshing acidity. It was made at De Bortoli Wines and is available exclusively only through Vinomofo online.

Available from Vinomofo.



2016 Whistling Buoy Half Acre Vineyard Pinot Noir $42

This grapes in this wine were grown in Lyttelton, which is halfway down the South Island on the east coast of New Zealand. It’s a far flung place for growing fruit, even from the nearby city of Christchurch city (whose residents look north rather than east for the best local produce), but it is a beautiful getaway and a surprisingly successful one for the small Half Acre Vineyard, on the south of Lyttelton Harbour crater. This is the source of the Pinot Noir grapes in this wine. They growing facing north where they are drenched in sun on the warm slopes of a vineyard first planted in 2000. It’s an outstanding wine; revealing the earthy, mushroomy, dark cherry  character of Canterbury Pinot Noirs; its medium body and firm acidity add freshness to the beautiful ripe fruit flavours in this wine. The name comes from the original buoy that marked the entrance to this harbour.

Available direct from Whistling Buoy Wines online at



2016 Chapel Hill McLaren Vale Bush Vine Grenache $28.95 , 14.5% ABV

Grenache may be one of the most prolifically grown grapes in the world, but it’s also one of the most under rated. How often do you even see the G word on a bottle of wine? It’s one of the most planted grapes in both Spain and southern France and it was once Australia’s most planted overall grape, until a significant amount was pulled out. How times change.

Winemakers like Bryn Richards from Chapel Hill are now keen to plant more Grenache. He is also lucky enough to have access to old bush vines for this wine, which was made from grapes grown on a vineyard planted in 1952 in McLaren Vale, south Australia – a hot bed of experimentation. Richards is a massive fan of Grenache for its soft, sensual mouth feel and its intense red cherry flavours. If you love Pinot, check out this next step up. It’s full bodied but has a lightness in taste and is a wine of real beauty and instant accessibility; drinks well now, though can definitely improve with age in the bottle for 4-5 years, possibly longer.

Available from Glengarry stores.

It’s all about Chardonnay tonight

Chardonnay may play second fiddle to Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough but the brand spanking new 2016 Fromm La Strada Chardonnay proves this region has more than one string to its wine bow. 

Come and join us in store tonight for a free tasting of a great white made from Chardonnay, which also happens to be a brand new release…

The 2016 Fromm La Strada Chardonnay is usually $35.99 and is on special tonight for $32.99.

Join us for our free mid week tasting…

The time is 5.30pm to 7pm, the place is Regional Wines & Spirits and the theme is Wine Wednesday, which is back tonight with this big, bold Chardonnay from Marlborough.

Bookings are not necessary, just turn up any time between 5.30pm and 7pm to taste this great southern white.

Life, the universe and wine

New year, new column

In today’s fast changing media landscape, journalists need to create their own space for readers, so here it is – my weekly take on life, the universe and the best bottles of wine I have tried over the past seven days, in my work as a writer, journalist and wine communicator. 

This column (blog, if you must) is my attempt to replace the weekly columns I have written for most major daily newspapers in New Zealand over the past 24 years. I am a trained journalist, editor and author of 15 books, and also have the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s highest qualification; the Level 4 Diploma. I comment regularly on RNZ National radio about wine and write for Capital, Good and NZ Winegrower magazines.

Wine is sent to me in the hope that I will review it and from a wide range of makers, importers and countries, but I also buy more than my fair share of the world’s most interesting liquid too. 

Hope you enjoy the read that follows. 

Drop me a line any time at:


Top 5 weekly wines and musings about New Year’s Eve

If a black eye, smashed phone, family fight, stolen bike, hospital admission or break up  didn’t characterise your Christmas and New Year break, then you must have had a restful time away.

For some of us, it was a relief to return.

I say ‘return’ in the metaphorical sense; as in, return to work, if not actually return from being away.

I didn’t get into a fight, break up or go to hospital. I did arrive  back from six days away with a black eye, a smashed phone and minus a mountain bike. Not exactly a great outcome. I hurled from one disaster to another in a comparatively short space of time and with no real reason, other than rushing to call someone, hugging someone at the wrong moment and, as for the bike, let’s write it off to carelessness. I can be, at times. But there’s a moral to this story: If you’re going to multi-task, don’t do it without a screen cover on your phone. And if you’re going to give a six foot four man a hug late on New Year’s Eve, make sure he does not have his back turned to you. Oh, and if you’re going to leave your mountain bike in the bush and walk 14 kms instead of biking in the slippery mud, think twice.

The other disasters mentioned above are the unfortunate outcomes of others I know, who experienced a less than great start to the year. None of the aforementioned incidents are made up.

The truth is always stranger than fiction.


Here are this week’s top five wines


2015 Whitehaven Greg Southern Valleys Pinot Noir $59.99 14% ABV


This is the flagship red wine from Whitehaven Winery in Marlborough and it’s named after Greg White; the late husband of Sue White, who co-founded this large Marlborough winery in 1994.  And it is a fitting tribute to Greg too. It’s made from grapes grown on a vineyard in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, which face north and have a direct aspect to the sun, which accentuates ripening in this cool climate wine region. The long hot days and cool crisp nights highlight the hallmarks of Pinot Noir – its high acidity, which is balanced here by a savoury, earthy flavour that comes from low crop levels (smaller bunches of grapes equate to higher tannin ratios in the wine, ergo more savoury flavours). It spent approximately 15 months in oak, a substantial portion of which was new, but which is balanced by ripe red and dark fruit flavours and a long finish.

It drinks well now and can age for 7-8 years.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.



2015 Domaine Clape Cotes du Rhone $52, 13% ABV


If your eyes are popping at the price of this seemingly humbly named southern French red, think again… or better still, try this outstanding, deep purple, intensely flavoursome, dark and delicious wine, which is made 100% from Syrah – rather than being blended with Grenache, as most Cotes du Rhones tend to be (the majority are a 50/50 combo). This wine is made from grapes grown not only in the vast rolling hills of the Cotes du Rhone wine appellation but also from young vines in the Cornas appellation – the most southern area in the Northern Rhone Valley and planted entirely in Syrah (the only red grape legally allowed in Northern Rhone reds). The colour is impressive but it’s the dark ripe and smooth flavours that give this wine its X-factor.

Hard to find but worth the search.

Available from specialist wine stores or try NZ importers: Maison Vauron.



2014 Garofoli Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi $39, 14% ABV


Whenever I say Verdiccio is my favourite Italian white grape, most people look worried, as if to say ‘you’re nerdy enough to have a favourite Italian white grape?’.  Well, yes. Verdicchio puts the ‘H’ in humble and the ‘yes’ in ‘should you bother keeping it in the hope it will improve with age?’

Verdicchio is in my view, the greatest Italian white grape because it makes wines that can age incredibly well, often for two to three decades. This is thanks to its high acidity, which is nearly always well balanced by the wine’s full body and ripe lemon zest flavours; this is not at all like Riesling, even though it shares some citrusy overtones. It’s more like a combo of Chardonnay (creamy, full bodied, rich in taste) and Chenin Blanc (dialled up fresh acidity and a certain recognisable je ne sais quo). It has a long rich finish and is a winner in every way from its relatable flavours and full body to its usually incredibly accessible price. Podium puts Verdicchio’s most elegant foot forward with more structure, greater intensity and a longer finish.

It can be enjoyed now but will come into its own in 9-10 years.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.



2013 Rocca delle Macie Vernaiolo Chianti DOCG $19.99, 13% ABV


Some might say this humbly priced Italian vino is a typical house red from Tuscany but Rocca delle Macie has always been a better producer than that, as this wine amply shows, putting its most silky foot forward alongside flavours verging on rustic, earthy and savoury. It’s a DOCG Chianti, which means at least 80% of the wine must be made from the Sangiovese grape, which is blended with Merlot for softness (works well) and Italia’s Canaiolo Nero, which offers floral perfume and softness.

Affordable with depth of flavour and a long velvety finish.

Available from specialist stores such as: Liquorland.


2016 Fromm Spatlese Riesling Marlborough $23.99, 7% ABV

Spatlese means late harvest in German and was first used in the 1600s to describe wines with dialled up fruity flavours that taste like ripe peach, tangy citrus and white fleshy nectarines, thanks to being made from grapes that have hung on the vines for far longer than usual. This is Marlborough’s nod in that direction. And like its great German counterparts, Fromm Spatlese was intentionally made as a low alcohol style so that it’s light in body and after-effects, but super intense when it comes to the grapey flavours of this wine, which shine in every well balanced sip.

This is the best yet, in my view. A stellar sweet wine which tastes great on its own lightly chilled or with fresh clean flavours, such as goat’s cheese.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.

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