Top drops under $20 (and over) and wine news from Joelle Thomson

Category: Bubbles (page 1 of 3)

5 top drops… wines I never thought I would love

A dead French novelist once wrote that real discoveries are not about seeing new people, places or things, but seeing the same people, places and things with new eyes.

Apparently, he was quoting someone else but I’ve always liked the idea. And it’s been top of mind in the last three weeks of travel, tasting and writing; here are the 5 most surprising wines that I gave high wine scores to in tastings.

La Marca was first made in 1968  and is now available   in New Zealand.



La Marca Prosecco $26 to $28

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

Meet La Marca, which is new to New Zealand this month and is a cooperative wine made from grapes grown by over 5000 growers who sell their grapes to 9 cooperative wineries to produce this bubbly. It was first made in 1968 and was awarded a ‘Top 100 wines of the year’ by Wine Spectator magazine in 2007, which is pretty surprising given the light citrus flavours, frizzante style fizziness (i.e., not fully sparkling as a champagne is) and the lack of sweetness (1.7 grams per litre of grape sugar makes this wine bone dry – a big contrast to many Proseccos). Perhaps this is exactly what I like about La Marca – it’s dry, it’s fresh, it’s too easy to drink. Forget cider. I’ll opt for a Prosecco like this one any day.


Pinot Gris

2016 Mahana Estates Pinot Gris $25 to $29

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Pinot Gris pales into significance when positioned next to its terpene fuelled kin, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, says winemaker Michael Glover, who decided to change his methods in making wine from Pinot Gris by seeing it as a copper coloured grape rather than a white one.

Blood Moon Pinot Gris is the result. He gave the wine four days of pre fermentation skin contact, which has unlocked doors of flavour that might have been closed to Pinot Gris if made along traditional lines, with no skin contact. This is the best Pinot Gris I have ever tried (and there have been dinner parties devoted to Pinot Gris in my honour; to try and turn my head and heart onto the best Gris from around the world). This wine is fresh, dry, medium bodied, smooth and flavoursome with savoury tastes of spice, nuts and ripe orange, with refreshing acidity to carry it to a lingering conclusion. I had to check it out over three days to see if it really was that good – it is. Best Pinot Gris ever.

Buy it here:


Sauvignon blend

2016 Brancott Estate Reflection Sauvignon $60

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Brancott Estate is a big company pumping out vast volumes of white wine, mostly from Marlborough, so it’s hard to see what could be done differently with yet another Sauvignon Blanc from the region that is drowning in the stuff. This wine is deliciously different, thanks to winemaker Patrick Materman’s innovative blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc and 48% Sauvignon Gris (a natural mutation of Sauvignon Blanc). It was officially released in late October 2017 to coincide with the launch of a new eight metre high iron sculpture, designed by New York based designer Dror Benshetrit, who also designed the label on this bottle. Like the sculpture, the wine makes a big statement; it’s dry, smoky and intense with flavours of lemon grass, grapefruit and oak – only 150 cases were made and it’s also available in a magnum; both bottle sizes are sealed with screw caps. I had to eat my silent words when tasting this wine because I wondered what could work well about blending Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris from Marlborough but this blend works beautifully with the succulence of Sauvignon Blanc being balanced by Gris’ fresh green flavours. Oak fermentation adds weight and depth but the fruit flavours taste stunning in this wine.

Buy it here:


New look for an old classic

2015 La Vieille Ferme Cote du Ventoux $20 to $25

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

It’s one of those cheapies you buy for the first time when budget rules all your buying decisions, but La Vieille Ferme (‘the old farm’) has come along in fruity leaps and savoury bounds since I last tried it about five years back, which was why  importer Mark Young of Vintners New Zealand suggested I take a new look at this old classic.

Today the old farm tastes brand new with a touch of savouriness balanced by fresh red fruit flavours and a smooth, light body. It’s a long way from the dusty austerity that held this wine back in the past and I can’t help but think the screw cap plays a large part in delivering this lovely French red in a fresh-is-best style.


Sauvignon from tricky vintage

2017 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $27

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

The 2017 harvest will be remembered as short, sharp and shocking in many parts of New Zealand. It only lasted 21 days in Marlborough, but challenging times call for innovative solutions and the Dog Point winemaking team chose theirs by spending more time in the vineyard than usual, where they indulged their Sauvignon Blanc vines to early shoot removal and crop thinning so that 2017 was, for them, “a very low harvest” with impressive fruit flavours.

The proof is in the bottle. It’s bone dry, intensely citrusy and fleshy with green fruit and herb flavours underpinned by refreshing but balanced high acidity, finishing with complex nutty flavours.

Kiwi bubbles wow the world…

Hunter’s Wines has been awarded Best New Zealand Sparkling Wine for the third year running at this year’s Sparkling Wine World Championships for the third year in a row…

The Marlborough bubbly was celebrated at a retrospective tasting in Auckland this month to mark the 20th year of production. Jane Hunter of the eponymous winery says production of MiruMiru will grow, but will be capped – “The resources tied up in making high end sparkling wine are so big so that it’s best for us to continue focussing strongly on quality as well as growing the quantity a little,” she said at the tasting.

“MiruMiru is the jewel in the crown of our winemaking and I have watched production grow over the past years as well as the range expand from the Reserve MiruMiru to include Non Vintage and Rosé,” she says.

Hunter collected the trophy for Best Sparkling Wine for the 2013 MiruMiru Reserve at the Vintner’s Hall in London last week. Hunter also received two gold medals at the event for the Hunter’s MiruMiru Non Vintage, and the 2013 Hunter’s MiruMiru Reserve.

The Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships is the most comprehensive international sparkling wine competition in the world and was founded in 2014. All wines are tasted blind at the competition, which is judged by Tom Stevenson, Essi Avellan MW and Dr Tony Jordan, who also consults to Hunter’s Wines.


Contact Hunter’s Wines here:

Bubble bubble… NZ’s next big thing?

Hunter’s Miru Miru fizz turns 20 – and it’s growing

“We are growing our sparkling winemaking because it has a strong future,” says Jane Hunter, of Marlborough’s eponymous Hunter’s Wines, which celebrated 20 years of MiruMiru bubbles this week.

Hunter’s Wines was one of the first in the modern Marlborough wine industry, but bubbly is one of the last things you expect from any Marlborough winery these days because Sauvignon Blanc rules the roost, has done for 25 years and is likely to remain that way for the foreseeable.

All of which may make it surprising that Hunter is putting her money where her mouth is and focussing on a strong sparkling wine future for her iconic wine brand.

This week some of that money was spent hosting an interesting tasting in Auckland, flying in writers from around the country to taste her sparkling wines, and I was lucky enough to be invited.

We tasted, talked and, later, ate lunch at Meredith’s on Dominion Road. Then we flew back to our respective homes and I have since bought a couple of bottles of Hunter’s MiruMiru so that I am putting my money where my mouth is.

It’s not the first time I have ever tasted MiruMiru bubbly and been impressed, but this week is the first time I have ever tasted a comparative line up of old, new and pink MiruMiru bubbles, and 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.


Why isn’t New Zealand sparkling wine rocking?

Perhaps it is, but in modest volumes.

New Zealand has commercially successful big name, low priced, high volume bubbles, but it is the top shelf bubbles that really get me going. They don’t cost much compared to their classic European counterparts and they can offer exceptionally high quality. As do the best Franciacortas from Italy (another traditional method sparkling wine, made using the same techniques and grape varieties as champagne) and as do many good comparable wines from Tasmania, Argentina, California and a few other places.

With New Zealand’s cool climate, burgeoning South Island wine industry and exceptional commercial success with white wines, it seems obvious that sparkling wine – made in the traditional method – has a bright, shiny future.


The history of MiruMiru – and the future

The first Hunter’s MiruMiru was made in 1997 and was produced with the expertise of winemaking consultant Dr Tony Jordan (as was the first sparkling wine produced at the winery).

“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,” says Jordan

Jane Hunter agrees:  “I don’t think we want to get too big because of the cost of the stock tied up in aging sparkling wines prior to release.”

That said, she and Jordan are committed to growing their sparkling wine production, as are their winemakers James McDonald and Inus Van Der Westhuizen.

“In our mind’s eye, we are modeling our bubblies on Bollinger,” says McDonald.

This means that barrel fermentation is a technique they are using more than in the past. And the non vintage MIruMiru contains a significant proportion of reserve wines too, as Champagne Bollinger famously does too.

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 drop under $30

Hunter’s MiruMiru NV $29.99

Hunter’s Wines is one of Marlborough’s first wineries and is the region’s second winery ever to produce bubblies made using the traditional technique used in Champagne – the so called traditional method of creating bubbles in the bottle during a second fermentation. This results in 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.

MiruMiru NV is super fresh in flavour with intense yeasty aromas and fresh bakery flavours in every complex sip. Its bubbles are fine and lingering, just like champagne, only a hell of a lot more affordable.


The MiruMiru sparkling stable

Hunter’s MiruMiru NV $29.99

This is a blend of 57% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Noir and 11% Pinot Meunier, which are fermented in a combo of stainless steel and old French oak barrels. The wine spends a minimum of 18 months on lees before disgorging.

MiruMiru Rose NV RRP $49.99

A blend of 55% Pinot Noir, 41% Chardonnay and 4% Pinot Meunier. Full bodied with fresh bread and toasty aromas, a creamy palate and  dry style. Lovely step up from the already very good MiruMiru NV.

2013 MiruMiru RRP $49.99

A blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Meunier. This reserve wine has more of everything; more depth of flavour, more body, a longer, more memorable finish, which lingers… the mark of a great wine.

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