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

Category: In the cellar (page 1 of 3)

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.

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

It’s a keeper…

It was the night before Christmas and quiet in our house, so out came our presents and our photos of the big one that hadn’t yet arrived… a new wine cellar.

The cellar in question is a large Vestfrost wine fridge which theoretically has the capacity to hold 143 bottles on their sides to keep their corks moist (so they don’t dry out), the wine at optimum humidity (again, so the corks don’t dry out) and a smoked glass door so the light doesn’t oxidise the contents of the precious bottles inside.

A week after Christmas, it arrived. It was duly wheeled into its new home downstairs where it fits snugly into a corner of the laundry (which is gradually becoming more of a cellar than a laundry, but that’s another story).

Most of the bottles have now been carefully stored in their new home on their sides and even standing up to maximise every possible corner of the new cellar. Those ones standing are sealed with screw caps so there is no problem about corks drying out or allowing air in. There are many wines in the new fridge sealed with cork and even a few with the classy looking glass Vinolok but most are sealed with screwcaps.

This may offer a clue as to the type of wines that make up most of my personal wine collection in the cellar: fresh, high acid whites made from Chenin Blanc, Riesling and (oak-influenced) Sauvignon Blanc.  There are also top shelf sparkling wines which are, literally, on the top shelf. These include a magnum of Bollinger, among others.

There are, of course, shelves devoted to reds from here (New Zealand Pinot Noir and Syrah, mostly), there (France, Syrah and blends containing it, mostly, with a small number of Italian stallions) and everywhere (Argentinian Malbec also features strongly).

The new Vestfrost is not the only place I store wine but it is the best place.

It offers space, portability and reliability. It was bought for me, but the brand name is worth mentioning as there are a greater number of manufacturers focussing on wine fridges these days. And that’s important in a world where a growing number of people live, like us, in a basement-free apartment. Ours a little different – in fact, it’s a lot different because it’s a two storey apartment, and one day we may even devote an entire room to wine, in which case we will touch base with the designers at White Refrigeration.

In the meantime, our wine cellar is a vast improvement on the over heated cupboard under the stairs in the place I used to call home in Avondale, Auckland.

The new fridge is one of the best presents I can think of – a keeper, as are the wines inside it.

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