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

Category: Top drops under $20 (page 1 of 4)

5 top drops… my best wines from a week of tasting…

This weekly blog is a place I can share some of the top drops that come my way as a wine writer. Wine is work. And let’s not forget the coffee, missing from this photo.

The aim of this weekly 5 top blog is to share wines that are consistent, uncompromised and thoughtfully made – the same aims I have in mind when writing about them. After writing for nearly every major daily newspaper in New Zealand, I am now a regular contributor to Capital magazine in Wellington, NZ WinegrowerDrinksbiz and Good magazine. I also work as wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, all of which means I taste a vast number of wines every week and the following five at the tip of a far longer iceberg.

So, what makes a great wine?

Is it only the taste?

I often think great wine is as much about affordability, accessibility and company as it is about flavour because a humble wine can taste fantastic when shared with the right person, just as some of the world’s most expensive wines can taste good but not great, if there’s no one to share them with. So, meet Madam Sass.

 

Sassy Pinot

2016 Madam Sass Pinot Noir $26, 13.5% ABV

The makers of Madam Sass Pinot Noir have channeled their energy into creating an appealingly cheeky brand as well as a drink-me-now red from the world’s most southern wine region, Central Otago. This is the first vintage of Madam Sass Pinot Noir, which is made with grapes grown in Bendigo, one of the sunniest spots in Otago. The warmth and sunshine translate to ripe, rich and dark cherry flavours and a medium body, underpinned by firm but balanced acidity, which adds a nervy edge to Madam Sass, which is made by Accolade Wines.

Where to buy: it’s widely available.

 

Top Aussie drop… for the cellar

2014 Vasse Felix Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon $45, 14.5%ABV

It’s not only yours truly who celebrated a five decade milestone this year (ouch) but this wine also does, thanks to being founded in 1967 by Dr Tom Cullity, who broke new ground in Margaret River when he produced this far flung region’s first significant red wine from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec in 1972. This new release is a big, brooding Western Aussie red made 100% from Cabernet Sauvignon and needs plenty of time in the bottle before it reaches the pinnacle of its tannic power and savoury structure. It drinks well now, if decanted, and has potential to age for over a decade.

Where to buy: specialist stores or order from Negociants NZ, phone 0800 634 624 or ordersnz@negociants.com  or www.negociantsnz.com

 

Great southern white

2017 Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling $30, 8.5% ABV

It’s tempting to think Central Otago is all about Pinot Noir; after all, there’s plenty of it down there – 80% of the region’s vineyards are planted with Pinot, but here’s a white that shows the great potential of sizzlingly fresh, succulently seductive Rieslings from the world’s most southern wine region. It’s one of two Rieslings made by Blair Walter at Felton Road, who puts this wine’s most vibrant fruit forward in this flavoursome drop with its ripe limes, white peach and nectarine tastes. Like a great Riesling from the Mosel in Germany, this beautiful Bannockburn Riesling walks a precarious tightrope between its fresh high acidity, its low alcohol (8.5% ABV) and its high but balanced residual sugar. Not that you’d think of this wine as ‘sweet’. It’s long succulent finish keeps the mouth watering for more.

Where to buy: www.FeltonRoad.com or email: wines@FeltonRoad.com

 

Nelson Pinot power

2015 Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Pinot Noir $, ABV %

Certified organic

Small yields, high quality and certified organic grapes are the story of this Pinot Noir, which was grown on the Hope Vineyard in Nelson from vines with an average age of 20 years. The grapes were destemmed into open top fermenters, treated to a pre-fermentation soak of 4-5 days to extract colour and tannin and then, during fermentation, plunged twice daily to gently coax their most flavoursome side out. This wine is all about silky Pinotesque elegance coupled with earthy, spicy flavoursome depth and a long finish, thanks to winemakers Andrew Greenhough and Jenny Wheeler.

Where to buy: Greenhough Vineyards, phone 03 542 3868 or email: info@greenhough.co.nz

 

Champion winner under $20

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling $21.90,  12.5%

The champion wine of this year’s New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition was this humbly priced Riesling, which is made with grapes grown on the Mound and Deans vineyards on the south side of the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury. Most of the grapes in this wine were pressed immediately but a small portion were left to soak on skins for 12 hours to extract flavour, then the juice was settled, inoculated with commercial yeasts and fermentation stopped at a medium dry level of  13 grams per litre of residual sugar – not too sweet at all,  but ideal for delivering a beautiful burst of lime, ripe mandarin and incredibly pretty floral aromas. This is an outstanding wine at a humble price.

Where to buy: it’s widely available.

 

PS: The New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition began in 2003 as part of the Canterbury A&P Show, which is now in its 155th year and was first established in 1863.

The 2017 New Zealand Aromatic Wine Competition

The full list of winners from this year’s show is here.

Beck & Caul Supreme Champion Wine of the Show

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling

Champion Sauvignon Blanc Winner

2017 Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Champion Pinot Gris Winner – 2017 Summerhouse Pinot Gris

Champion Rosé Winner – 2017 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Rosé

Champion Gewürztraminer Winner – 2017 Saint Clair Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer

Champion Other Aromatic Varieties Winner – 2016 Left Field Gisborne Albarino

Champion Riesling Trophy Winner – 2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 2016

MacVine Champion Canterbury Wine

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 2016

Champion Canterbury Rosé Winner

2017 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Rosé 2017

Champion Riesling Trophy Winner

2016 Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Riesling 

Champion Sweet Winner

2015 Tohu Raiha Reserve Noble Riesling 2015

Winemaker of the Year 2017

Michael Wood, Obsidian Vineyard

www.theshow.co.nz/show-entries/international-aromatic-wine-competition/#results

5 of the best wines of the week… top drops

Every week I publish 5 top drops which are the peaks of the mountain of wines that come my way as a wine writer, which has been my job for the past 23 years. Or is it more of a flash hobby than an actual job, as Master of Wine Stephen Wong once suggested? After 23 years of writing weekly columns for nearly every major daily newspaper in New Zealand, I am now a regular contributor to Capital magazine in Wellington, NZ WinegrowerDrinksbiz and Good magazine. I also work as wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. The 5 top drops usually go to ‘press’ on this site each Friday. Last week became a little busy so, without further ado, here are last week’s top 5 drops.

 

Pink with a difference…  

2017 Silver Wing Nada Syrah Rose Waipara $24, 11.5% ABV, 17.5/20

Hand picked Syrah grapes were whole bunch pressed and settled in tank (a portion of the juice was frozen and added back at bottling to produce a spritzy wine with a little cloudiness). The majority of the juice was then racked to barrels where it went through wild yeast fermentation and spent five months in elevage. This is a pale salmon wine with a cloudy appearance, a refreshing spritzy bubble and a dry taste, which makes it my kind of rosé from a small, adventurous producer in North Canterbury, New Zealand. www.silverwingwines.co.nz

 

Best Wild Sauvignon yet… 

2015 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough, $30, 14% ABV, 18.5/20

This is an outstanding wine that shines a new light on Sauvignon Blanc, thanks to Kevin Judd who trademarked the Greywacke brand in 1993 when he was still working at Cloudy Bay Wines.  He later trademarked the name Wild Sauvignon, which is the flagship wine for his Greywacke brand – “It’s our interpretation of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc out of left field and it’s a style of wine that I personally think is pretty tasty,” said Kevin, who was in Wellington recently to taste every vintage of his Wild Sauvignon Blanc. This version was made with grapes grown predominantly in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, but for the past four years, Kevin has also bought grapes from the Awatere Valley.  The first year it was made was in 2009 and the winemaking has remained consistent to a formula, which Kevin tweaks in response to the year’s weather. That formula always includes 100% barrel fermentation, 100% wild yeast and about two thirds of the wine going through malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. The finished wine spends about 11 months in barrel and remains in tank for another six months where it goes through battonage (the French name for stirring the lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over in the wine). The oak is kept at 10% new oak (or less). This latest Wild Sauvignon is, in my view, the best yet.

 

Powerful Pinot

2015 Mammoth Pinot Noir Moutere Hills Nelson $60, 13.5% ABV, 18.5/20

Michael Glover likes to push boundaries but it hasn’t always been that way. A winemaking stint in Italy many moons ago opened new doors of flavour and showed him unconventional ways of making wine. He now grows grapes without irrigation in the Moutere Hills, outside Nelson, New Zealand, which he treats to 100% whole bunch fermentation with no acid, yeast or enzyme additions and then produces this outstanding, full bodied South Island Pinot Noir as a result. It’s rich in flavour but not entirely all about fruit, which is what makes this wine so good, to me. It’s the earthy depth, the dark fruit flavours and the silky mouthfeel that give this wine its powerful but somehow elegant voice. You’ve heard the expression an iron fist in a velvet glove, well, here it is because it drinks well now but clearly has aging potential too; for up to a decade in a good cellar.

 

That southern Pinot… 

2014 Chard Farm Mata-Au Pinot Noir, $39, 13.8% ABV, 18.5/20

Otago Pinot Noirs seem to be a dime a dozen in New Zealand right now, so it’s worth searching for the goodies and here’s a bottle that stands head and shoulders above the crowd, without its producers charging like wounded you-know-whats for the privilege of enjoying it. This wine is made from two vineyards – the Tiger Vineyard at Lowburn and the Viper Vineyard at Parkburn (not that there are any vipers down that way). The name Mata-Au (pronounced martar-o) refers to the nearby Clutha River and this wine is all about silky mouthfeel, intense bright pretty red fruit flavours, characteristic high acidity which is balanced by a rounded full body. www.chardfarm.co.nz

 

Italian stallion… 

Umani Ronchi Vigor Sangiovese Merlot IGT $26.99, 17.5/20

What’s the main thing about a good Italian red? I often think it’s the dark, ripe flavours of the fruit. I’m thinking blueberries, black plums, ripe peaches and liquorice; and that’s what this big Central Italian red is all about, thanks to being grown at elevation to benefit from more intense sunshine than flat vineyards would allow. In this case, those vineyards are in the municipality of Osimo, 150 metres above sea level on a south east facing hillside in the Marche region in central Italy. It’s a blend of 75% Sangiovese with 25% Merlot for its softening effects; and it works a treat. This is a lovely smooth, spicy red with firm acidity adding a nervy edge to a drink-me-now wine from a consistently outstanding producer.

5 top drops… wines I never thought I would love

A dead French novelist once wrote that real discoveries are not about seeing new people, places or things, but seeing the same people, places and things with new eyes.

Apparently, he was quoting someone else but I’ve always liked the idea. And it’s been top of mind in the last three weeks of travel, tasting and writing; here are the 5 most surprising wines that I gave high wine scores to in tastings.

La Marca was first made in 1968  and is now available   in New Zealand.

 

Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco $26 to $28

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

Meet La Marca, which is new to New Zealand this month and is a cooperative wine made from grapes grown by over 5000 growers who sell their grapes to 9 cooperative wineries to produce this bubbly. It was first made in 1968 and was awarded a ‘Top 100 wines of the year’ by Wine Spectator magazine in 2007, which is pretty surprising given the light citrus flavours, frizzante style fizziness (i.e., not fully sparkling as a champagne is) and the lack of sweetness (1.7 grams per litre of grape sugar makes this wine bone dry – a big contrast to many Proseccos). Perhaps this is exactly what I like about La Marca – it’s dry, it’s fresh, it’s too easy to drink. Forget cider. I’ll opt for a Prosecco like this one any day.

 

Pinot Gris

2016 Mahana Estates Pinot Gris $25 to $29

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Pinot Gris pales into significance when positioned next to its terpene fuelled kin, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, says winemaker Michael Glover, who decided to change his methods in making wine from Pinot Gris by seeing it as a copper coloured grape rather than a white one.

Blood Moon Pinot Gris is the result. He gave the wine four days of pre fermentation skin contact, which has unlocked doors of flavour that might have been closed to Pinot Gris if made along traditional lines, with no skin contact. This is the best Pinot Gris I have ever tried (and there have been dinner parties devoted to Pinot Gris in my honour; to try and turn my head and heart onto the best Gris from around the world). This wine is fresh, dry, medium bodied, smooth and flavoursome with savoury tastes of spice, nuts and ripe orange, with refreshing acidity to carry it to a lingering conclusion. I had to check it out over three days to see if it really was that good – it is. Best Pinot Gris ever.

Buy it here: https://shop.mahana.nz/product/Mahana-Pinot-Gris1

 

Sauvignon blend

2016 Brancott Estate Reflection Sauvignon $60

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

Brancott Estate is a big company pumping out vast volumes of white wine, mostly from Marlborough, so it’s hard to see what could be done differently with yet another Sauvignon Blanc from the region that is drowning in the stuff. This wine is deliciously different, thanks to winemaker Patrick Materman’s innovative blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc and 48% Sauvignon Gris (a natural mutation of Sauvignon Blanc). It was officially released in late October 2017 to coincide with the launch of a new eight metre high iron sculpture, designed by New York based designer Dror Benshetrit, who also designed the label on this bottle. Like the sculpture, the wine makes a big statement; it’s dry, smoky and intense with flavours of lemon grass, grapefruit and oak – only 150 cases were made and it’s also available in a magnum; both bottle sizes are sealed with screw caps. I had to eat my silent words when tasting this wine because I wondered what could work well about blending Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris from Marlborough but this blend works beautifully with the succulence of Sauvignon Blanc being balanced by Gris’ fresh green flavours. Oak fermentation adds weight and depth but the fruit flavours taste stunning in this wine.

Buy it here: https://www.brancottestate.com/en-nz/visit-our-vineyard

 

New look for an old classic

2015 La Vieille Ferme Cote du Ventoux $20 to $25

Joelle’s rating: 17.5/20

It’s one of those cheapies you buy for the first time when budget rules all your buying decisions, but La Vieille Ferme (‘the old farm’) has come along in fruity leaps and savoury bounds since I last tried it about five years back, which was why  importer Mark Young of Vintners New Zealand suggested I take a new look at this old classic.

Today the old farm tastes brand new with a touch of savouriness balanced by fresh red fruit flavours and a smooth, light body. It’s a long way from the dusty austerity that held this wine back in the past and I can’t help but think the screw cap plays a large part in delivering this lovely French red in a fresh-is-best style.

 

Sauvignon from tricky vintage

2017 Dog Point Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc $27

Joelle’s rating: 18.5/20

The 2017 harvest will be remembered as short, sharp and shocking in many parts of New Zealand. It only lasted 21 days in Marlborough, but challenging times call for innovative solutions and the Dog Point winemaking team chose theirs by spending more time in the vineyard than usual, where they indulged their Sauvignon Blanc vines to early shoot removal and crop thinning so that 2017 was, for them, “a very low harvest” with impressive fruit flavours.

The proof is in the bottle. It’s bone dry, intensely citrusy and fleshy with green fruit and herb flavours underpinned by refreshing but balanced high acidity, finishing with complex nutty flavours.

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