Joelle Thomson Writer

Author, journalist, speaker

Month: December 2018

Top wines of 2018

The year that was 2018 had plenty of ups and downs, but fortunately the ups were made even better by being privileged enough to have had these wines pass my lucky lips along the journey, which included cycling down the beautiful Mosel River in Germany to the great Niederberg Helden; home to one of the wines on this list.

PS: There were the next level up Chablis, the great Barolos, the amazing Chenin Blancs and a particularly spectacular bottle of Verdicchio shared with a great friend and aged for a crazily long time on lees… yes, they were outstanding one offs, but the following dozen are my best available wines – with reasons why clearly outlined. If you can count, you’ll see it is a baker’s dozen. Why stop at 12?

Italian style… hipster from Tuscany

2016 Tenuta di Carleone Il Guercio DOCG $65.99

Chosen because… it shows a great grape in a new light.

Natural ferments, foot stomping,  low sulphur, free run juice… It doesn’t get much more hipster than this IGT Toscana Rosso, which comes to New Zealand thanks to the adventurous importer, Richard Klein; a former restaurateur who now taps into the interesting underside to Italy’s mainstream wines. “Il Guercio” delivers big time on being a great drink – my first big tick for any wine on a top 10, top 12 or any top list, for that matter. It’s made from Sangiovese, the most famous Italian red grape, which tastes as it should – dry, fruity, full bodied, refreshing.

Cheeky little French red

2016 Clape Cotes-du-Rhone $59.99

Chosen because… it breaks the mould – Auguste Clape is one of the great winemakers of the world and a master of Syrah from the northern Rhone, so it’s only fitting that his Cotes du Rhone is a next level up red, made in small quantities entirely from the Syrah grape, from vines between 30 to 50 years old, grown on granite – absorbs sunshine, retains it, reflects it back to the vines. Brooding power and dark deliciousness.

Sparkling sensation

Quartz Reef Brut NV $26.99 to $34.99

Chosen because… It’s affordable, it’s dry, it’s classic and it consistently over delivers. Rudi Bauer and his team launched an extraordinary first ever Blanc de Blancs this year too but it’s the amazing value for money and consistency of this wine that make it such a stellar sparkling.  

Greatest value white

2015 Main Divide Riesling North Canterbury $21.99

Chosen because… Speaking of over delivering, meet New Zealand’s best spatlese style Riesling under $25 – and often significantly less. It’s no mean feat to make a wine that tastes this good every year and the Pegasus Bay winemaking team (led by Mat Donaldson) achieves just that. If anything, this sensationally concentrated wine keeps getting better, thanks to Mat’s constant quest to fine tune his winemaking philosophy and production. Zingy, zesty, succulent, like ripe-lemons-on-steroids in style.

Adventurous newcomer

2017 Forrest Estate Albarino Marlborough $19 to $22

Chosen because… it’s great quality, delicious and shows another side to New Zealand’s biggest wine region. And this Albarino is the best yet from the determined father-daughter winemaking team that is John and Beth Forrest. This is their third vintage of Albarino – dry, medium bodied, super fresh. It’s made from their warmest vineyards in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys.

Methode in Marlborough

2013 Saint Clair Dawn Methode Traditionelle Brut $35.99 to $49.99

Chosen because… it tastes outstanding – zesty, full bodied, toasty, subtle – and shows how well suited the South Island of New Zealand is for sparkling wine production. The Ibbotson family originally made the first vintage of this wine for their matriarch’s 100th birthday, back in 2014, naming this wine ‘Dawn’, in homage to the great lady. The wine is aged for the same time as a vintage champagne – 35 months on lees in bottle. And how better to celebrate the 100th birthday of their matriarch, Dawn. That was four years ago and the bubbles keep getting better.

PS: Dawn celebrated her 104th birthday in December 2018. No prizes awarded for guessing which wine the family toasted her birthday with.

Quartz Reef’s top drop

2017 Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir $85

Chosen because… It’s bold, red and powerful but soooo refreshing. Bendigo is one of the hottest parts of Central Otago and is home to the vines that grew the grapes that went into this powerful Pinot, made by Rudi Bauer, owner of Quartz Reef Wines. This is an outstanding Pinot – my top southern red tasted all year.

Pinot power

2017 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir $90 to $110

Chosen because… Block 5 Pinot Noir is the most outstanding Pinot of the well known Felton Road Winery in Central Otago. It’s also on strict allocation to members of the winery’s “Block” mailing list. Quantities are tiny but quality is super high – fruit forward, silky, sensational.

2017 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir $39.99

Chosen because… The 12 hectare Grasshopper Rock vineyard is one of the edgiest places to grow grapes in New Zealand (frost prone and chilly, but also dry and hot) and yet this wine is one of the most consistently powerful Pinots from the world’s southernmost wine region. It drinks beautifully now and can age for up to 10 years and then some.

2017 Schloss Lieser Nederberg Helden GG $40-ish

Chosen because… This is Riesling at its very finest. I cycled to this winery this year and it was worth every drop of perspiration in the European heatwave that passed for summer in August this year. What a wine. Incredible concentration, essence of limes, green apples, peaches and nectarines. Every sip lingers.

2014 Guigal Cotes Du Rhone $26.99

Chosen because… its humble price, growth in quality over the past decade and delicious drinkability put this wine in the affordable category for most wine drinkers.

It’s a blend of 60% Syrah, 35% Grenache and 5% Mourvedre, which is aged today in the northern Rhone – one of many qualitative moves that make this wine so consistently high in quality. It’s aged in large oak for 16-18 months – to accentuate softness, roundness and drinkability.

Yes, Guigal makes a huge number of other far bigger, more impressive wines, but if you’re looking for greatness in terms of availability, affordability and very good quality, then look no further than this wine, which expresses France’s southern Rhone with great taste.

Mount Ed’s great red

2016 Mount Edward Pinot Noir $49

Chosen because… Mount Edward Pinot is a leading light in the world of Pinot Noir, thanks to judicious everything in the winemaking – from the organically certified grapes to the natural yeasts, low use of new oak (just 15%) and careful addition of whole bunches, which is balanced here in a wine that’s silky, smooth, powerful, savoury and has beautiful fruit flavours too. Very very good now. Can age. If you have willpower.

Top champagne

André Clouet Champagne Grand Reserve NV $57

Chosen because… This wine is made in the village of Bouzy in the Champagne region from 100% Pinot Noir grapes and it tastes fresh but with beautiful aged character – like a youthful oldie, in other words. An awesomely delicious wine, thanks to being aged for six years before release. At this price, what more could you ask for?

  • The best wine I drank all year is no longer available and it’s an oldie but a goodie – the 2000 Weingut Willi Haag Brauneberg-Juffer Sonnenuhr Spatlese was impeccable – from my cellar for my daughter’s birth year, enjoyed with her when she turned 18. Danke, Wilhelm Haag.

Homage Syrah destined to double

It’s one of the highest priced, lowest volume wines in New Zealand and it’s destined to double. It is Trinity Hill Homage, which will double in production from the 2018 vintage, a high quality year for Hawke’s Bay’s red wines.


Homage was first made in 2008 and is made from vineyards around Hawke’s Bay – it is not a single vineyard wine nor are all the grapes from the region’s highly respected Gimblett Gravels sub-region

The announcement means that Homage will be more widely available in restaurants and retail, albeit still as a niche wine.

The announcement that it would grow in volume was made at the launch of the new 2016 Homage at the winery in Hawke’s Bay, where the wine has been made since 2002 when it was priced at $105.

Today it costs approximately $135 and is on strict allocation, most of it going into restaurants, with a smidgeon in specialist wine retail.

Fine tuning the quality

The style of the wine has changed over the years and Trinity Hill Homage is, in my view, a far better wine these days.

Its biggest changes include adding whole bunch fermentation to the winemaking and removing the hefty amount of oak previously used.

Whole bunch fermentation was introduced to Homage in 2010 by winemaker Warren Gibson, who says whole bunches change the texture of tannins and how dense the wine feels in the mouth. The percentage used will always be a response to vintage. In a cool year, for example, the use of whole bunches would be minimal.

He has also intentionally and significantly reduced the hefty amount of new oak in the wine. He wants to shine the light on the fruit flavours, bringing them forward and drawing attention away from the wood used in the wine’s aging process.

History of Homage

The first vintage of Trinity Hill Homage was 2002 and the wine has been made nearly every year since then, with the exceptions of 2003, 2005 and 2008. None of these years were deemed strong enough in quality to produce the wine.

Homage heritage

Unlike many of Hawke’s Bay’s best known, highest priced red wines, Homage is not made exclusively with grapes grown on the Gimblett Gravels, although a percentage do come from this famous sub-region.

Homage growth

The announcement that production of Homage would double was made this year by Philip Kingston, CEO Of Trinity Hill Wines.

While production would increase significantly, overall volumes were still destined to remain small and the wine would continue to be allocated, due to its relatively low volumes.

Growth would take place from the 2018 vintage, one of the best years in quality and a year in which vineyard investment over the past decade has finally begun to pay dividends in fruit quality and quantity.

A deeper shade of dry rosé

She is a self declared Huntress by name and by nature and, now, Wairarapa winemaker Jannine Rickards has released the first two vintages of her new wines, branded Huntress.

Jannine Rickards’ first Huntress Rosé, a bone dry deep coloured pink…

They break the mould, in more ways than one. Aside from the distinctive artwork on the labels, featuring native New Zealand birds and trees, the first two wines are deeper shade of rosé, which looks more like a light red wine (and is bone dry, incidentally – proof yet again that colour and dryness are not a linear relationship in rosé) and a Pinot Noir from the tricky vintage of 2017.
The rosé is made from certified organic grapes grown in Gladstone, in the central Wairarapa, where she works full time as winemaker for Urlar Vineyard.

The deeper shade of Huntress Rosé

This wine is bone dry but falls midway between being a pink wine and a Pinot Noir, in terms of colour, taste and style.
“I thought it would be really nice to have a rosé that’s a bit deeper in colour, totally dry and a different style than many out on the market now,” says winemaker Jannine Rickards, of her first vintage of 2018 Huntress Waikura Rosé.
It’s sealed with a screwcap and labelled with original artwork depicting native New Zealand birds, drawn by Martinborough artists Dusty and Lulu.

The name

Waikura means ‘red glow in the sky’ and is a fitting description of her relatively dark rosé – or pale red – depending on your take on the colour.
Rickards made her rosé using a combination of winemaking styles. She incorporated  70% whole bunch carbonic maceration with 30% Saignee Pinot Noir, which was fermented in old French oak. It was then aged in old oak for a couple of months, prior to racking, after a small sulphur addition (40ppm), filtering, then bottling. She made 1300 bottles.

The Pinot Noir

The 2017 Huntress Pinot Noir is the result of a cool vintage, which was a tricky one to start with for a Pinot, she says.
As a result, she gave the wine a relatively modest 17% whole bunch fermentation, using clones 5, 828 and Abel.
These were grown on the On Giant’s Shoulders vineyard, which was originally part of Martinborough Vineyards and then renamed Pahi for the Escarpment Vineyard.
The grapes were given a warm post ferment maceration and egg white fined to reign back the tannins.
“I don’t think I’ll come to a set way to make this wine. It will be what feels right in each season and what style of flavours the vintage gives me.”
She made 1000 bottles of the 2017 Huntress Pinot Noir.

Where to get them

Both wines are available at specialist retail stores.