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

Category: In the cellar (page 1 of 3)

Top 5 drops… wines to get you through the season

5 top drops that push the boat of flavour into deep waters of deliciousness…

As Justin Dry – our Friday interview this week – says: our favourite wines might be a very personal thing but no matter what they are, they always taste better when shared. And with the year drawing swiftly to a close (some of us are happy to see the back of it), it’s only fitting to share 5 top drops for the silly season.

These are my final 5 top drops of the week for 2017 but I will post the year’s top 10 wines (personal choices, that is) in the next week or two.

The following wines were selected from a combination of my work as wine writer (I get sent wine to review), wine lover (I put my money where my mouth is) and Wine Programme Director (writing and tastings) at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, New Zealand.

So, without further chit chat, here they are – 5 top drops that really push the boat of deliciousness out into deep calm waters of great flavour.

Merry everything…

Spy’s top white… dry Riesling

2016 Spy Valley Envoy Dry Riesling Johnson Vineyard $32

19/20

It’s rare to find bone dry Riesling in New Zealand, especially when it’s fermented in old German oak ‘fuder’ (barrels) and has only ever been made four times.

Meet Envoy. Spy Valley’s top dry white is made from grapes grown on the sunny slopes of the Johnson Vineyard in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough – a free draining site where stony soils mix with clay at a slight elevation, which means the vines get more  intense sunshine and, in good years, gain greater  aromatic flavour, thanks to careful harvest decisions from winemakers Paul Bourgeois and Richelle Collier.

All the grapes used in this wine were hand picked after being trained on two canes which were shoot and bunch thinned to restrict yields. They were fermented in old oak which does not imprint its own flavour on the wine, instead allowing it to shine with softness as well as the characteristic high but, in this case, beautifully balanced acidity, which stretches out this wine’s flavours to a long finish. Delicious.

Available from… specialist wine retailers.

 

Great Italian white

2015 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi $23

18.5/20

Verdicchio is an indigenous Italian white grape that comes from the Marche region in central Italy – go to Tuscany, then head straight over to the east coast on the Adriatic Sea. It has the body of a fleshy big Chardonnay and the acidity of Chenin Blanc; speaking of which, great Verdicchios can also age superlatively, for those with the necessary will power. This accessibly priced white is just one of the growing number of Verdicchios available in New Zealand these days… It’s a fantastic dry white with full body and a long, succulent, intensely lemon zesty finish.

Available from… specialist wine retailers.

 

Dog Point Pinot

2015 Dog Point Marlborough Pinot Noir $47

18.5/20

The 2015 vintage was a great one in New Zealand with drier weather, lower rainfall and a warmer summer than most years, which eased the pressure on winemakers to pick grapes before their optimal window, and this is what makes the reds from that year so tasty. Like the year, this wine is dry, super concentrated in flavour (black cherries, savoury spice, hints of mushroom) and a full body. It drinks well now, but be sure to decant it and let the wine sit for two hours or more, before drinking. It also has outstanding potential to cellar well and evolve into an even more complex wine.

Available from… www.dogpoint.co.nz

 

Sauvignon with bells on

2014 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Semillon $32

19/20

Old vines, oak fermentation, maturation on decomposing yeast cells… it may sound like an interesting combination of factors, but this wine is an outstanding dry white that rocks my boat with its full body, complex flavours of green fresh herbs, ripe tropical fruit and nutty flavours. Year in, year out, this wine ticks all the boxes with its full body, vibrant freshness and super concentration of flavour; not least thanks to being made from grapes grown on a north facing, 30 year old vineyard in North Canterbury. Both the Sauvignon Blanc and the Semillon spent a portion of time fermenting and aging in old oak barrels, which adds body, softness and builds the textural deliciousness into this wine.

Available from… pegasusbay.com

 

Top champagne

Bernandier Champagne NV $94.99

19/20

Ticks all the boxes – a champagne made by the grape grower, who hand picked all the grapes, used wild yeast fermentation and a combo of oak and stainless steel for fermentation, then aged it for two years in bottle, prior to disgorgement (six months longer than the legal minimum aging time in the Champagne region).

This is a 100% Chardonnay, hence it’s a blanc de blanc, and it is the best champagne that I have tasted so far this summer. Despite my personal preference for Pinot Noir dominant bubbles, this one  blew my mind – a champagne that is, like Bollinger and many other great wines, first and foremost, a wine – the bubbles add a je ne sais quoi.

Available from… specialist wine stores or Dhall & Nash.

A wine worth cellaring

A top drop for the wine cellar… 2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir $120

It can be a rocky road for wines made from grapes grown in cool climates, even when those grapes are planted on north facing slopes to maximise sunshine, but for one of Central Otago’s highest priced Pinot Noirs, it can be even tougher because the vines face both north and south on the steeply sloping Rocky Knoll Vineyard.

The vineyard is owned by Amisfield Winery. It’s a gravelly and dry site, so the vines often struggle in this arid environment, yielding fewer grapes than the average vineyard at Amsifield Wines does. Winemaker Stephanie Lambert says the Rocky Knoll Vineyard was planted with the expectation that it would grow high quality Pinot Noir grapes, but there was no guarantee until the wines were made and the proof was in the bottle, but at blind tastings conducted over the years at the winery, the batches of Pinot Noir made from the Rocky Knoll have always stood out.

For this reason the wine, fondly nicknamed RKV Pinot, has evolved as a highly expressive, small volume wine that expresses its site.

The first Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir was made 10 years ago but it has not been produced every year; there was none in 2011 and only tiny volumes in 2009.

A wine worth cellaring

2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir $120

This intensely coloured, richly flavoursome southern wine is an outstanding expression of Central Otago Pinot Noir. Not only because it is super concentrated in flavour, thanks to low crop levels in the vineyard, but also because it is a true expression of both its place of origin and the grape variety it’s made from. There’s no doubting this is Pinot Noir, thanks to its freshness, driven by high acidity, which balances the rich fruit flavours and adds length. The new 2014 Amisfield RKV Pinot Noir drinks well now and will age well for up to 10 years, thanks to its firm tannins (derived partly from whole bunch fermentation) and the high acidity.

There’s a smidgeon of Riesling on the Rocky Knoll Vineyard too, which mostly makes its way into Amisfield Dry Riesling, which is another stunner of a wine. 

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.

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