Vino

Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Champagne (page 1 of 2)

Wines for milestones

How many laps around the sun have you done?

This weekend, I’ll be celebrating 50 of mine, or rather, a large number of friends will be helping me not to think too hard about what five decades may or may not signify.

We’re having a party, which triples as a house warming for my boyfriend and I, and a double-50th for another wine loving friend.

The only prerequisites are to bring a person you love and a bottle of wine you love – oh, and to be invited, of course.

It’s a great excuse for me to crack open some of the wines I love, which includes this top list.

5 life changing wines

Bolly…

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee

Bollinger was the first bubbly ever to make me sit up and smell the hot buttered toast on speed deliciousness of what great Champagne is all about. And I’ve loved it ever since.

A minuscule 1% of all Champagne sold is Bollinger and the non vintage (made from a blend of grapes grown in different years) is the most challenging and difficult wine that the family makes each year because consistency is key. Their focus is on growing at least 60% of their own grapes so that they can control and maintain the high quality of this well known wine, which is aged for three years (double the legal French minimum) and this gives the wine its instantly recognisable deliciousness – like fresh sour dough toast with truffles on the side… it’s the warmth, the full body, the savoury ness of this bubbly that really rocks. And its consistent fantastic flavours are why I bought a magnum to celebrate this milestone. PS: It’s Pinot Noir-dominant, which also accounts for its rich savoury flavours.

 

Sauvignon with bells on…

2014 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon

One of my favourite New Zealand wines and one that I buy extremely regularly and love even more every time I open it – again, it’s all about savoury flavours rather than upfront fruity appeal, which is still present and counted in each glass of this stunning South Island white made with grapes grown in North Canterbury by the Donaldson family. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon spent time fermenting in old oak, which adds complex creamy notes and softens the zingy acidity. Every sip lingers, every bottle I’ve ever tried has aged brilliantly. The screw cap rocks in preserving this year – earlier in the year I tried one that was 10 years old on the shore at Kaikoura after fishing with the family who made the wine. It was still fresh and zesty.

Hot Spanish red…

2014 As Caborcas Single Vineyard Valdeorras 

Mencia is an old grape variety with a new lease of life – both in Spain and in my glass. Winemakers such as Telmo Rodriguez are at the forefront of pioneering new ways with this historic grape, which is mostly grown without trellising wires – en vaso (in the shape of a vase). Vines grown this way, as mini bush vines, can maximise heat from the granite soils because they are low to the ground, which aids ripening, leading to powerful flavours of wild berries, black fruit (plums, cherries) and licorice here. The flavours suggest a wine from a warm area, but its fresh zing comes from bright acidity which adds length of flavour, thanks to sensitive winemaking and great care in the vineyard – which is at 550 to 600 metres altitude on slopes above the Bibei River.

The grapes in this wine were hand picked, fermented with native yeasts and then aged for 15 months in old large oak casks. It’s actually a blend too – Mencia is the leading grape in this wine with fellow native Spanish grapes in supporting roles – these are Merenzao, Souson, Garnacha, Godello and Brencellao.

 

Riesling rocks…

2010 J J Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese

I love Riesling. And this one is 8.5% alcohol by volume, so it’s probably going to come out later on in the evening… And this is a very special wine made from one of the world’s great vineyards – Wehlener Sonnenuhr, which means the sun dial above the village of Wehlen along the Mosel River Valley, home to many of the world’s greatest Rieslings. It’s a cool climate, so the acidity in the wine is high which makes it taste incredibly refreshing. This wine is medium sweet and tastes of honey, limes, green apples, red apples, with aromas of peach and fresh flowers. It’s all about decadance. Need I say more.

 

Saucy Sicilian…

2014 Zisola Mazzei Noto Rosso

The name ‘nero’ means black and this wine lives up to its moniker with its intense aromas of blueberries, liquorice and even very ripe fruit such as peaches and blood oranges. This is intense, full bodied, long on the finish, velvety and smooth… like the party it’s going to be enjoyed at.

Champagne and New Zealand – likenesses and differences

Every silver lining has a cloud… said a friend at our three yearly catch up dinner last year. It’s not that we only want to catch up every three years. We live in different countries. It’s just how it pans out.

And it pans out that we weren’t drinking champagne, but the silver linings  analogy sprang to mind at a tasting of Champagne Mumm late last week in Auckland. There we were, two of us writers faced with six high priced sparkling wines, 45 minutes to taste them and one travelling winemaker-marketer – Didier Mariotti from Champagne G H Mumm in France.

It wasn’t the limited time we had to taste the wines but, as often occurs to me, the price of the wines in question. Many tasted outstandingly complex but are about as affordable as a Prada suit would be to most of us right now. Still, the flavours are intriguing, especially as all of the wines go through 100% malolactic fermentation to soften their acidity and add creamy richness, which has yet to come through – showing these wines have plenty of time up their sleeves for those willing to age them to watch their development.

The wines we tasted were

Champagne Mumm Cordon Rouge $66.49
Champagne Mumm Rose $103.99
Champagne Mumm Millesime $102.99
Champagne Mumm Blanc de Blancs $210.99
Champagne Mumm R’Lalou 2002 $390 (20 cases in New Zealand)

Prices  are recommended retail and may vary.

My pick… Mumm R’Lalou 2002 $390 (20 cases in New Zealand)

There is a quantifiable step up in this wine compared to the others and Lalou was my pick, which is about to be released in New Zealand after 8 years on lees and disgorgement in 2013. This wine has high acidity, fresh creamy flavours, pastry aromas and a long finish. It is high priced, in small supply (only 20 cases for the entire country) and definitely one for the collectors.

Comparing New Zealand to Champagne…

  • The Champagne region has approximately 34,000 hectares of grapes compared to New Zealand with 36,192 hectares in total.
  • The big difference between the production of sparkling wines in both countries is, says Didier, how champagne makers manage their reserve wines. “The quality of the still wine is very good from New Zealand, as it is also from cool areas in Australia, South Africa and California where sparkling wines are made. For me, the big difference is the lack of understanding of reserve wine. I would say that reserve wine is an insurance against frost, to be able to respond fast to market demand and to increase the quality of the wine to make more consistent wine over the years. It costs a lot of money to keep back reserves. always have nearly one vintage in advance in the winery.”
  • The entire range of Mumm Champagnes contains 6 grams per litre of sweetness (dosage) apart from Mumm NV Cordon Rouge, which contains 8 grams.
  • Mumm Cramant has a super fresh taste, noticeably higher acidity and less pressure (less CO2) because it is bottled at 4.5 bars of pressure compared to 6 bars, which all the other (and most champagnes) contain. This provides the wine with its fresher taste, says Didier.

A new Champagne Mumm Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir are being launched in New Zealand within the next couple of years.

The history of Mumm and Lalou

René Lalou headed up Maison Mumm for over half a century from 1920 until his death in 1973 and on two separate occasions he breathed new life into this well known Champagne brand. He rescued the vineyards after they were destroyed by phylloxera and, later, by World War Two.

For nearly 50 years, he travelled up and down vineyard rows, pulling up, re-grafting and re-planting vines, so that he reorganised the entire Champagne Mumm vineyards that, under his supervision, grew from 50 hectares to almost 100 just before WWII.

5 of the best… wines this year…

Reposted by request as the top blog to end the year on a high note…

It’s still early days and the highs and lows of relocating from this country’s largest city to its capital are still intense. Not only because of 7.8 earthquakes over the past month but because 17 years is a long time in any place and Auckland and Wellington are like chalk and cheese. One contains our closest friends, the other is home to family and my new partner. One is warm, wet and cloudy while the other has intense sunshine but is cooler. One is where we had to be, the other is where we wanted to be.

It was a big decision to move but it was the easiest big decision I have ever made.

Still, 2016 has not been an easy year. For many, it has been one shocking political event after another, while on the home front, my year has been one of intense travel for the three ‘t’s – teaching, talking and tasting wine.

First world problems.

So, without further ado, here’s another:  how does a wine writer whittle thousands of wines down to the 5 best?

With difficulty. But these  5 wines made the most positive impression on yours truly this year.

5 of the best… wines in 2016

Prices are recommended retail

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut, $99, 12% ABV

Big and beautiful. Bollinger never fails to impress. This year I have tried and enjoyed old and new bottles of Bolly – from 1966, 1976, 1982 and 1990 at a retrospective champagne tasting in May – followed by brand spanking new bottles to celebrate a milestone. It has everything I love about champagne; character, toasty aromas and savoury flavours, richness and depth and a long finish. What more could you ask for? Stunning.

2014 Terrazas de los Andes Malbec, $27, 14.5% ABV

Take a man with great foresight, an under-appreciated black grape (Malbec) and a little known corner of the wine world (Argentina) and meet one of the best value, high quality reds on Earth – in my view. The late Robert Jean de Vogue pioneered this wine on high altitude terraced vineyards (above 1000 metres in the Andes mountains) in the 1950s, and this latest wine does him proud – it’s deep purple in colour with a burst of intense fruit flavour and a long finish. It has a full body, is earthy and bone dry in taste. A stunner.

2005 Pegasus Bay Chardonnay, $50

This bottle was pulled from the best place possible – the winery’s own cellar – and it was enjoyed outside on a warm autumn morning at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. The disclaimer is that I worked (unpaid) a couple of days of vintage there (for the third time) this year, which was to gain insight into wine’s finer details. This full bodied, rich and savoury, complex and delicious Chardonnay is underpinned by zesty citrus notes and a fine thread of bright acidity providing its nerve and zing. Sensation.

2007 Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, $50, 14% ABV

If only I had bought more of this Pinot Noir; half a case wasn’t enough but 9 years of ageing did seem like the perfect time to catch this deep southern red at its tastiest peak of savouriness (is that even a word?). There’s no shortage of good Central Otago Pinot Noir but, in my view, eight to nine years of patience is a small price to pay to enjoy the great ones at their best. Bravo to Rudi Bauer; winemaker of this exceptional drop.

2008 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir $65, 14% ABV

Another aged stunner from Central Otago, pulled from my modest wine cellar, which now has a walk-in home (it’s called the other half of the laundry and is not a bad space to mature wine in). This wine still has plenty of time up its tasty sleeve but its soft smooth tannins and bright fruit flavours are moving into a delicious earthy taste.

 

This year, I have been woed and wowed by vintage champagnes, great bottles of dry Austrian Riesling and exceptionally good French Vouvray, but the wines above are those that have provided the most pleasure – and the biggest sense of surprise.

Every day in Wellington rewards me with the feeling of clarity when I look out of the vast two storey windows of our apartment at the harbour, the hills and the houses precipitously perched on their seemingly impossibly steep slopes. The architecture seems to defy logic as much as our decision to move to a quieter place, which has brought with it an unpredictable sense of relief.

 The sense of clutter I felt when living in Auckland has evaporated and I even enjoy frequent trips back there for work. So, was I suffering from other issues than merely a sense of feeling cluttered?

Undoubtedly. But as an old friend and therapist, Jill Goldson said earlier this year, when suffering from anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or under connected, the best path forward is kindness – to yourself. She sums it up perfectly: “Take time to reflect on conflicted feelings and to seek another perspective, which might be the very best place to start.”

And it’s also a high note to end a strangely conflicted year on.

Happy holidays.

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