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

Category: Sparkling wine

It’s fizzy and it’s (sometimes even) affordable

Tune in to RNZ National with Jesse Mulligan and yours truly this afternoon (Friday 16 December) 3.15pm

Champagne… Its name comes from Latin, its first entrepreneurs were German and up to half of its production exploded, due to high pressure  and flimsy glass in the 18th Century.

Champagne. If its name brings special occasions and high price tags to mind, it wasn’t always so. In the early 1700s, champagne with bubbles was considered inferior to the still wines of the Champagne region (the capital letter denotes the region while the lower case is the generic name of the sparkling wine). Fast forward to today and three new champagnes have arrived in New Zealand, which show it’s not always necessary to pay a small a  fortune (or a large one) to drink good quality bubbly. A new trio is imported by Master of Wine Stephen Bennett, who’s well known in this country for opening the floodgates to good quality Spanish wine, pioneering Spain’s new wave wines over the past 16+ years, or so. He’s also a fan of good champagne and the trio he has begun to import do not cost the Earth, starting at $39.99, moving up to $69.99 with a couple of prestige cuvees (that’s shorthand for flagship wines), which are also competitively priced. Here are my top bubbles of 2017 and, by the way, these wines were tasted with their labels were concealed so I was not swayed by my own preconceptions.

Joelle’s top sparkling wines of 2017

Wines  rated out of 20

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvee $99

Buy from Regional Wines & Spirits

Bollinger is an old favourite but to ensure it was put through its paces, it was tasted blind twice and still shone brightest with its delicious flavours of hot buttered toast, ripe lemon zest, grapefruit, apple strudel, brioche, brie, and all held together with refreshing crispness. I love this wine.


Champagne Paul Louis Martin Grand Cru Bouzy is $69.99

Buy from Accent on Wine in Auckland

Master of Wine Stephen Bennett is the importer of this wine, which is new to New Zealand this year. Bouzy is one of the top quality villages in Champagne’s Montagne de Reims and is well known for rich, full bodied, intensely toasty wines like this one – a star.


Champagne Charles de Cazanove Tete de Cuvee NV $39.95 to $49.95
Buy from Fine Wine Delivery Company

Awesome champagne imported by Master of Wine Stephen Bennett. This bubbly has rich, dry, toasty flavours, is made mostly from Pinot Noir, as its yeasty flavours show. It won gold at Kingsley Wood’s New Zealand International Wine Show this year and scored 92 out of 100 in Wine Spectator magazine. 


Gatinois Grand Cru Ay Tradition NV $54.95
Buy from Regional Wines & Spirits and Maison Vauron

Grand Cru champagne is a rarity at this price and this one is richly flavoursome, massively over delivering on its price tag (even if it cost more, as is so often the case with champagne). Fantastic wine.


Ruby Bay Jewel Methode Traditionelle $38

Buy from Ruby Bay

Ruby Bay vineyard is a tiny Nelson wine producer but this is a big bubbly with incredible depth, thanks to Pinot Noir providing toasty richness and Chardonnay’s creamy smoothness.


2013 Deutz Marlborough Blanc de Blancs $32.99

Widely available.

New Zealand’s Pernod Ricard makes this rich, flavoursome, full bodied, dry, creamy bubbly, which rocks a very champagne-like style.


Col do Salici Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore Brut 2015 $27 

Buy from Mineral Wines

Dry, lemony, soft and fresh prosecco, worth the extra dollars.


These wines were the stars of a far bigger sparkling wine tasting (and also two other tastings). All wines were tasted with their identities concealed. Other sparkling wines tasted alongside them came from Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand and Spain. These were the best.




Cloudy Bay Vineyards is at a turning point…

In the middle of the earthquakes, the tornado and the torrential storms that hit New Zealand last week, a visiting Frenchman discussed a new lease of life for one of this country’s oldest wine brands – Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Marlborough

Meet Jean-Guillaume Prats, president and CEO for Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines. This interview took place in Auckland, New Zealand on 17 November.

Wellington city is shaking as the plane flies through grey clouds to Auckland for an early morning interview with Jean-Guillaume Prats, president and chief exec’ for Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines. He’s here for a busy time, not for a long time, and his trip coincides with that of his newest staff member – Yang Shen.

You could say that Prats and Yang are anything but typical in their management roles.

Prats is a father of five and a keen tennis player who describes himself as very hands-off when it comes to managing wineries all over the globe. Meanwhile,  Yang Shen spends his spare time singing, playing basketball and studying wine in France. At least, that’s how he got into the wine industry.

Yang was born in China, studied wine in France and this month took up residence in Marlborough to take on the role of general manager at Cloudy Bay Vineyards. Despite his new home, his new job will be all about growing the sales of wine in China. It will be done here on the ground in New Zealand so that he is in direct touch with where that growth happens – starting from the ground up, in other words.

The announcement of his new role was made on 17 November in a softly-softly fashion when Prats met with less than a handful of writers to explain the new appointment – so that the Cloudy Bay wine brand can grow strongly in China.

Exactly how this happens is is in Yang Shen’s hands, says Prats. He manages the Moët Hennessy wineries outside of France, which is a long roll call of big names, such as Domain Chandon wineries (California, Brazil, Argentina, China, Australia and India); Cloudy Bay in Marlborough and Terrazas de los Andes in Argentina, among many others. He is not a winemaker, but Prats reveals in conversation that he’s all over winemaking methods, markets and how to make them grow. Not that he will dictate that to Yang Shen.

“Being French we are very good at giving lessons to the world and showing that we know everything when it comes to wine but that is not how we operate as a company. The winemaking and viticultural team at Cloudy Bay is currently very strong and they don’t need a leader to guide their style so it has been interesting and even strange, in a way, to appoint a new general manager when the team there are so outstanding at winemaking and in the vineyards.”

So, why appoint a new general manager?

Prats pragmatically points out that the company’s biggest focus going forward is breaking into the Chinese market and that Yang will play the biggest role in spear heading this vast new wine drinking market.

How will Cloudy Bay break into the Chinese market?

“I don’t think we can run after too many fishes. We have to stick to a few fundamentals, one being that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc will remain a relatively limited edition wine. It’s our flagship and we are committed to keeping its high quality image,” says Prats.

Will you grow Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc production?

“Unfortunately, no. We are not able to expand within Marlborough. Today Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc is on allocation internationally and we don’t want to expand. If we go any further, we will change the style and that is something we don’t want to do.”

Which wines will grow then for the Chinese market?

Sauvignon blanc allocation may be able to be shifted from some markets to others but this is unlikely to meet the demand for high volumes that the Chinese market may require.

Pinot Noir and sparkling wine are made in volumes that will remain limited, but there is more room to manouvre, especially in terms of Central Otago  Pinot Noir and also with Pinot Noir from Marlborough.

“I truly believe that both Central Otago and Marlborough Pinot can help us to open up larger volumes of high quality wine for China,” says Prats.

When it comes to exporting New Zealand wine to China, Prats suggests the market will explode, but in limited volumes. Pinot Noir is a more expensive grape to grow (and more expensive wine to make) than Sauvignon Blanc. As is high quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method (also known, in the past, as ‘methode champenois’ – a term now outlawed in Europe, due to its close resemblance to the name Champagne). Enter Pelorus, which is Cloudy Bay’s traditional method sparkling wine. These days it is an NV (non vintage – as are most champagnes) but in the past it has been made as both an NV and a vintage sparkling wine. This may be the case again. Prats suggests a wide range of styles and possibilities for Pelorus.

“But this will be Yang’s job to decide. Not mine. I am not here to dictate what he does. He’s got a great team who know what they’re doing and we want them to have the freedom to work with what they think is going to be the best way forward to continue raising the quality of Pelorus.”

Pinot Noir will come first, however, because Cloudy Bay now has significant vineyards of its own in Central Otago at both Northburn Station and at the Calvert Vineyard. The latter is managed by Felton Road and Prats describes it as “one of the best vineyards in New Zealand, in terms of how it’s managed and the grape that come from there.

He is at pains to point out continuously during this interview that “The Pinots from Marlborough and Central Otago are equivalent to some of the great Pinots of the world and this makes Pinot Noir is the ideal starting point for major growth from New Zealand because the Chinese market is more into red wine.”

Another ideal starting point is the addition to the team of a general manager who understands the Chinese culture. The winemaking capacity at Cloudy Bay is currently being increased, which also bodes well for the significant future growth of the brand in the world’s biggest – and newest – wine drinking market.

Watch this space.

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