Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Spain

Vino of the week: $20 Spanish red

2011 Rioja Gran Familia $20, 13% ABV – 4 stars – Joelle Thomson

Where to buy: Farro and Fine Wine Delivery Company in Auckland; Regional Wines and Moore Wilsons, Wellington; Vino Fino, Christchurch.

This Spanish red is new to New Zealand this year…

Here is the low down: It’s a Rioja so it’s a blend of two Spanish grapes – Tempranillo and Garnacha – with (potentially) smaller amounts of Mazuelo and Graciano,which can range from zero to around 10% of the blend, but often do not appear at all. Tempranillo is an early ripening red grape that plays the lead character in Rioja, providing savoury flavours, acidity and structure that allows these wines to age. This one spent 12 months in oak and three years (in total – that’s including the time in oak) in the Bodega, prior to being released for sale.

Its flavours?

Like most Rioja, it offers significant complexity, particularly when you take the price into account. This wine wine has pronounced aromas of red plums, black cherries, fresh wet leaves, wet stones, cigar leaves and a clean earthy taste… While fruity flavours dominate, it’s interestingly savoury too and makes a very good value glass (or three) of wine right now and will hold for 3-4 years. Very good value for money.

Wines with tough names don’t sell easily…

Does pronounceability affect sale-ability?

If you’re looking for a new drink experience, which wine will tickle your fancy? A glass of unpronounceable Give-urtz-tram-eener, Vee-oh-nee-ay or Ree-ok-a?

A Sem-ee-on or Ar-nays?

Or maybe a new brand of Chardonnay or Pinot Gris that leaps onto your radar. After all, who wants to risk saying the wrong thing?

Well, some of us are gifted at saying just the wrong thing, but that’s another story. Ever since I wrote my first Under $15 Wine Guide back in the early 2000s, I’ve been a fan of wines with tricky names, such as Nero d’Avola, a lovely big soft red from Sicily and Verdicchio; a big full bodied white from Italy’s Adriatic coast.

Today I asked winemaker Lynnette Hudson of Tongue in Groove wines whether winemakers find that pronounceability and saleability are related and she said: “Yes, definitely, it’s really hard to get people to try things that are difficult to say because if you can’t pronounce it, then how can you tell your friends about it?”

It’s that intimidation factor that makes it tough to sell wines with unusual names.

How to find new flavours

Ask your local wine retailer how to pronounce names that are unusual

Spread your wings – and your wines Try the A to V of new wave wines

Arneis and Verdicchio are the tip of a far bigger iceberg of experimental wines in New Zealand – made locally and imported.

How do we pronounce weird wine names?








Sauvignon Blanc 






Rioja (the main ingredient is Tempranillo, hence the new found popularity of it)



The above may seem obvious, to some, but not to all and correct pronunciation can make all the difference between being able to sell – and enjoy making or drinking – a wine. 

 Three top weekend whites

2013 Villa Maria Private Bin Arneis East Coast $12-$14

“Ar-nays” is the name of a white grape that originally comes from the north of Italy and is now grown in New Zealand – it is a fresh, light bodied white with flavours of ripe lemons and a dry, crisp style. Refreshing and great value.

2015 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Albarino Gisborne $22-ish

“Alba-reen-yo” is the name of a white grape that comes from the border of north west Spain and north west Portugal (where it’s called Alvarinho). It’s a dry, medium bodied white with fresh, slightly salty flavours. Easier to say than most of the new wave of unusual, lesser known grape varieties.

2015 Umani Ronchi Casal de Serre Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi $23

“Ver-deek-ee-oh” is my favourite white grape (and wine) from Italy because it combines the full body of Chardonnay with the fresh lemony acidity of Riesling, even though it tastes like neither of these two – Verdicchio is a dry, full bodied and extremely good value white wine, which is available at specialist wine stores. This is a grape that I’d love to see growing in New Zealand – now, here’s hoping it may make its way to our maritime wine regions…

Happy weekend wine drinking – and thinking.

These wines may be challenging to say but their flavours are easy to enjoy – as  Oscar Wilde said; the true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

Listen to pronounceability and saleability on RNZ National’s podcast here:

Spain in September

Spanish wine is hot. It’s affordable, accessible and has wide appeal with its warm, soft fruity flavoured reds and fresh as a daisy modern whites.

This combo of win-win factors made it an ideal theme for Celia Hay’s third annual Wine and Food Celebration from Saturday 10 September to Monday 12 September in Auckland this year.

The event was first launched in 2014. This year it will again be held at the  New Zealand School of Food & Wine, where I teach New Zealand and WSET wine courses for Hay.

This year she has secured international experts for the event, including chef David Puig Zaragoza from Maximal Concepts in Hong Kong, who she met on her wine travels in Hong Kong. Australian TV food personality Lyndey Milan will share her baking secrets and the event will also include the New Zealand Sommelier of the Year 2016 competition, which will be led by head judge and Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.

The event also includes how to cook an urban hangi, fresh ceviche and northern Thai food from chef Lek of Saan Restaurant in Ponsonby, Auckland. Masters of Wine Bob Campbell and Stephen Wong (New Zealand’s newest Master of Wine) will highlight tasting techniques at informative master classes.

Find out more and book tickets online at:

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