Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

Month: September 2018 (page 1 of 3)

The dark past that inspired a new wine

The women behind these two wines were best friends who had incredible parallels in their lives.

Archangel Wines were founded by Mary and Ian Zurakowski, who named their wines after their mothers – lifelong friends who met as teenagers in hard labour camps in northern Russia, under the Stalin regime.


Both Halina and Stefania were born in eastern Poland, then exiled to northern Russia in 1940 and to South Africa about a year later. Both applied to the RAF during World War II, in search of better lives. Both met and married pilots. Both their children married (Halina’s daughter married Stefania’s son).

Fast forward more than half a century and Archangel Wines was born as an 11 hectare vineyard and cellar door at Queensberry, Central Otago.

Like most Otago wineries, Archangel’s is devoted predominantly to Pinot Noir. That means 70 per cent of their grapes go into Pinot Noir production and guess what?

The 2015 Archangel Pinot Noir was one of my top 20 wines at this year’s Spring Release Pinot Noir Tasting, held at Felton Road Winery on 28 September this year (yesterday, at the time of writing).

The wines are made at VinPro by winemakers Pete Bartle and Phil Anderson from estate-grown fruit only, all of which comes from the 11 hectare Archangel vineyard at Queensberry.

It is a great Otago Pinot Noir with a long life ahead, if kept in good storage conditions (dark, temperature stable and all that jazz).

Sometimes it’s hard to believe Central Otago is more about red wine than white. Archangel’s Rieslings prove the point. Their flavours are a journey into the diverse world of Riesling; a trip worth making to the cellar door where the story is as chilling as the wines are delicious.


Archangel Wine highlights

2018 Archangel Stefania Riesling Central Otago 

Stefania which translates to ‘crowned in victory’ – an apt description for a dry, light bodied Riesling with moderate alcohol of 12.7%, 8-9 grams of residual sugar and pronounced flavours of green apples, intense limes and lemon zest. Very refreshing.


2018 Archangel Halina Riesling Central Otago

Halina translates to sun ray and this was the name of Mary’s mother, who had a sweet palate, hence the sweeter style of this wine, which has clean fresh flavours of lemon, a medium body and lingering flavours from start to finish.


2015 Archangel Central Otago Pinot Noir

Medium ruby colour, bright, intensely flavoursome with vibrant red berry flavours and lovely acidity driving freshness in every sip of this wine. It drinks well now and has good potential for aging.

The first vintage of Archangel wines was in 2008.

A library release wine from the great 2007 vintage

If you think all Riesling tastes the same, think again – and check out this beautifully aged 11 year old wine, which its makers have re-released – to show how well Riesling ages, says winemaker Dr John Forrest, who modelled it on Dr Ernie Loosen’s great Mosel Rieslings from Germany.


It’s modestly priced (that’s polite for bargain) and absolutely awesome, thanks to Riesling’s amazing ability to age, the screwcap and impeccable cellaring at the winery. All of which make it a dream to taste, drink and buy this library release wine from the great 2007 vintage.

Regional Wines in Wellington where I consult as wine programme director (fancy title for getting to work with wine), has another five cases of this library release wine in store. It’s a wine I have followed with pleasure ever since its first vintage – 2006. This year, the 2007, was even better.

As for the pile of stones; they were sent up directly from the vineyard on which the grapes in this wine grow – in Marlborough.

Forrest Estate is owned by one of New Zealand’s biggest Riesling fans, John Forrest and his wife, Brigid – both doctors, hence the name.

A word about Riesling…

Its natural acidity keeps it fresh for decades

It ages incredibly well and develops complex flavours over the long haul

The best can taste fresh even after a decade or two

Screwcaps preserve its intense aromatic flavours better than other closures

Stony soils make vibrant wines

Even when modestly priced, Riesling ages outstandingly well.

Wines to reach for your wallet (or run for cover)

If you’re a fan of Italian wine then the words northern Italy will either make you reach for your wallet or run for cover. These wines don’t come cheap.

The hills of Piemonte in autumn 2010 photographed by Joelle Thomson

The best are made from tricky grapes such as Nebbiolo, whose name comes from the word nebbia which means fog – something the hills of the Piemonte region are often shrouded with. It’s not ideal weather for growing late ripening grapes in, but it’s the traditional home of the finicky Nebbiolo grape, which is the sole ingredient in the newest northern Italian wine in New Zealand this month – the 2016 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo $46.99.

It comes from the Langhe; the name given to the hills north and south of the city of Alba in the province of Cuneo in Piemonte.

The Langhe was established as a legally defined wine producing area (DOC is the Italian term – Denominazione de Origin Controllata) in 1994. It’s used mostly by Barolo and Barbaresco producers who make a cheaper than usual Nebbiolo for relatively early drinking and label it with the grape variety, Nebbiolo, and region, Langhe.

The region is relatively small at 1371 hectares, which is about a quarter of the size of Hawke’s Bay, and is home to a growing number of international as well as Italian grapes, but, being Italy, it’s the native varieties that are the most exciting.

And in the case of Nebbiolo, the best still don’t come cheap, but their early drinking styles mean that oak is either low or not used at all. The highlight is on the grapes – a refreshing approach, which allows fruit flavours to shine.
I’m loving this new example from the Produttori del Barbaresco. It’s not exactly everyday drinking with its price tag of $46.99, but it does represent a high quality Nebbiolo gateway that is aspirational and from a top producer.

I know of this wine because I contract to Wellington’s biggest independent wine store, Regional Wines & Spirits.

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