Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

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Joelle Thomson’s Top 12 sparkling wines of 2019

It’s the time of year when my job really does go to the next level of toughness. So many bubbles. So little time. How to taste, rate and write about all the good bottles of bubbles on the market, let alone enjoy the occasional glass or three.

This weekend we will pop the cork on a very large bottle of celebratory bubbles because we have finally found a new place to call home – in the wonderful Wairarapa town of Martinborough. It’s not called the silly season for nothing. Did I mention we are not only snowed under with work (like half the world right now) but we also bought and settled a house in less than a week (did I hear the world’s smallest violin playing just for us?). It’s easy to get absorbed into one’s own problems, first world or not,  so, conscious of the bigger issues in the world and of the festive season, here my top 12 bubbles of the year. I hope you enjoy them and the hopeful chance for rest and relaxation over the next few weeks, wherever in the world you are.


Quartz Reef Brut NV $29-$34

5 stars

Quartz Reef Brut was the brainchild of winemakers Rudi Bauer and Clothilde Chauvet (daughter of champagne maker Marc Chauvet) who pioneered Central Otago’s best known bubbly, which has now become Bauer’s flagship sparkling wine (he also makes a stunning vintage blanc de blanc and a rosé). This one, like most wines from Otago, is based mostly on Pinot Noir (now 72% of the blend) with the balance being Chardonnay. It’s aged on lees for two years and it’s almost a travesty that it costs so little, given the intense flavours, great body and length. Not that I’m complaining because if I had a house pour wine, this would be it (and, okay, I have to admit, it often is).


Villa Sandi Cartizze Vigna La Rivetta DOCG $62.99

4.5 stars

Cartizze is the hillside heart of Prosecco country where the best bubbles are made. Its steep hillsides equal higher sunshine, which equals riper grapes and more flavoursome wines. And this bottle proves the point because it comes from the Vigna La Rivetta Estate, a cru Prosecco that lives up to its importers’ suggestion that it sits among the best sparkling wines of the world.

If you’ve ever wondered if there was such a thing as next level Prosecco, well, here it is.


Tohu Rewa Rosé Methode Traditionelle $40

4.5 stars

Rewa Rosé is all about Pinot Noir and is aged for two years on lees, which provides its rich, savoury, toasty flavours and lingering flavoursome finish. A stunning wine that punches well above what its price suggests. Delicious.


Tohu Rewa Blanc de Blanc  $30 to $31

4.5 stars

The South Island of New Zealand is home to some of the world’s tastiest and best value bubbles, including this creamy smooth, 100% Chardonnay with all the richness, weight and length of sparkling wines that usually cost a lot more than this.


2013 Saint Clair Dawn $37 to $49

4.5 stars

This sparkling wine was made in honour of its namesake, Dawn Ibbotson’s 100th birthday in 2014. She has now turned 105 and still lives alone, with a little daily help – and a fresh crisp, dry and full bodied glass of this stunning wine to enjoy every day. It’s made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; all hand harvested. The Chardonnay was tank fermented with malolactic fermentation to add softness while the Pinot was fermented in aged French oak barrels.


Champagne Lallier R015 $49.99     

4.5 stars

Lallier is a stunning champagne house based in Ay and the R015 is the flagship wine. It’s made from 61% Pinot Noir, 39% Chardonnay and 80% of the grapes come from the 2015 vintage, which is where the name R015 comes in. R stands for recolte (harvest) and the remaining 20% is 2008, 2009 and 2012 reserve wines. The result is dry, full bodied, toasty and complex.


Bollinger Special Cuvee $89

5 stars

If a five star rating suggests perfection, that’s because the fine bubbles, intense flavours and impeccable balance in Bollinger’s flagship bubbly, the Special Cuvee, is outstanding. And don’t just take my word for it. Bolly is made from 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier; over 85% of which are from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards – top vineyard sites.


2012  Brown Brothers Patricia Brut $29.99

4.5 stars

If 800 metres above sea level in northern Victoria isn’t reason enough to grow grapes to make cool climate, high quality sparkling wine, then I don’t know what is. This blend is 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay with long lees aging providing richness and dryness to this full bodied, flavoursome bubbly.


Champagne Taittinger Prelude Grands Crus Brut NV $129.99

4.5 stars

Another tasty champagne from a well known house and grand cru vineyards. Love the freshness, full body and dry taste of this beautiful bubbly. A must try for champagne lovers.


2017 Alpha Domus Cumulus Methode Traditionelle $28.99

4 stars

A blancs de blancs made from hand picked, whole bunch pressed grapes (gentle extraction, great concentration). Bone dry with one gram of residual sugar, 12.5% ABV, creamy smooth flavours and firm acidity adding freshness and length. It’s made from 26 year old Clone 6 Chardonnay vines grown at Bridge Pa in Hawke’s Bay and was disgorged at Soljans in West Auckland.


2012 Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blanc $39.99

4 stars

This is 100% from Chardonnay with all the rich, creamy taste and full body that suggests. A big brand that retains high quality in its production and a modest price to boot.


No 1 Family Estate No1 Rosé $47

4 stars

Daniel and Adele Le Brun made their first bubbles in Marlborough in 1980 and have since forged a name as top producers of sparkling wines made the same way as champagne, only in the eminently more affordable region of Marlborough – and they are members of Methodé Marlborough. This is one of their extensive range of bubblies; dry, full bodied and with high but balanced acidity combining nicely with the intense toasty aromas, thanks to being 100% Pinot Noir.

Life as a wine

If life was a wine, it would have to be Pinot Noir.  It’s variable, sometimes great, often disappointing and frequently frustrating. And just when you think you’ve found a great one, along comes a challenge that turns that idea on its head. It’s been a year when friends and family have had turmoils that remind me strongly of Pinot Noir, so, 2020, here we come.

That said, it’s often easy to see why Pinot Noir is a tad challenging. It’s one of the trickiest grapes to grow.

Thin skinned. Early budding in spring (making it frost prone) and early to ripen too but since it needs a cool climate to retain its edge, it often suffers from frost around harvest time in late summer. It also suffers from mildew and fungal disease issues – two of the very things often associated with cool climates. All of which brings to mind the 2018 vintage in Central Otago, the third biggest wine region in New Zealand and the southernmost one in the world. A place where harvest usually takes place after everyone else has finished picking their grapes. Usually, Central is not the first place in New Zealand to harvest its grapes, unless… it was the summer of 2018 – one of the hottest on record in Central with high temperatures early on followed by record low rainfall then heavy rain and fungal disease issues,  due to humidity. Wind helped and growing degree days were relatively high, so, despite the challenges, there are Pinot Noirs of good quality. Some are even beginning to trickle out now, such as two of this week’s trio of top wines.

Tricky to master and understand as Pinot Noir is, it can be even more difficult to understand why life can be so complicated but at least there’s always great Pinot Noir to enjoy along the journey.

Wines of the week

2018 Misha’s Vineyard Cantata Pinot Noir $30

Cantata is the mid priced Pinot Noir in MIsha’s Vineyard range and is made with grapes grown solely on the estate owned vineyard in Bendigo. The grapes in this wine were destemmed with 25% whole bunches retained and fermented with natural yeasts. The ferment was hand plunged two to three times a day and kept warm, post ferment, to allow tannin extraction for an average of 22 days before the wine was pressed to tanks, cold settled, then aged in 300 litre French oak barrels until the following spring.

It drinks well now and will continue to evolve for three to four years. Dry, smooth and fruity with a lingering finish. It was filtered before bottling in October 2019.



2016 Main Divide North Canterbury Pinot Noir $25

When second tier wines taste this good, you know someone’s doing something right. And that someone is the entire winemaking team at Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury, owned by the Donaldson family. This wine is an outstanding, full bodied, dry, earthy and savoury drop from its release and for up to 8 years following. Density, concentration, ageability and deliciousness? All present and counted here.



2018 Misha’s Vineyard The High Note Pinot Noir $45

The High Note is the top Pinot Noir from Misha’s Vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago. Estate grown grapes were fermented with natural yeasts with a modest 6% whole bunch fermentation and post ferment skin maceration time of about 24 days followed by aging in 300 litre French oak, 37% new. It was filtered before bottling in April 2019. Drinks well now and will unfold more flavour with time in bottle.


New Zealand third in world in London wine show

New Zealand  ranked third in the world for its medal tally at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London last month.

This country was awarded 14 gold medals and 287 medals overall in the first round of the 2020 International Wine Challenge. Australia was in first place with 36 gold medals and France in second place with 26.

The IWC is the biggest wine competition in the world and has a large number of judges, checks and balances, which means all wines are tasted, ranked and rated several times before conclusions about their quality is reached.

The 2019 Stoneleigh Wild Valley Wild Sauvignon Blanc was one of only six wines to score 96 out of 100 available points; an honour it shared with a Chablis Grand Cru and a premium red Burgundy from France.

“New Zealand has long been regarded as one of the finest producers of Sauvignon Blanc in the world, and the results from this first tranche of the International Wine Challenge prove that. It’s also great to see that a range of other wine styles from New Zealand, both white and red, were recognised for their excellence”, says Peter McCombie MW, International Wine Challenge co chairman.

Two Central Otago Pinot Noirs also hit new highs late last month at the IWC when the 2017 Wild Earth Pinot Noir and the 2017 Nevis Bluff Pinot Gris 2017 both took gold medals at the 37 year old competition.

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