Joelle Thomson

Words on wine

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Wines of the day, Tuesday 19 May… A tale of two Pinots

I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would write about wine as an essential service in a time of global lockdown but life throws all sorts of weird and sometimes even wonderful things at us.

In this case, Covid-19 is the weird and wine is the wonderful. It’s an essential part of a wine writer’s ‘job’ to report on new releases and here are two interesting Pinot Noirs that landed on my tasting table (aka my desk) this week. Both come from North Canterbury with one from 2018 and the other from 2019. The vintages and the wines are extremely different in style.

My pick of this pair is the youngest wine from the 2019 vintage, which also happens to be a reserve wine, meaning it has had more hand work in its production and also comes from a superlative year. It also needs  more time to soften and relax into itself, and it has the structure to reward those with willpower to cellar it for seven or eight years. It’s great to taste another delicious South Island Pinot Noir from the 2019 vintage, which is hitting high notes all round in terms of top quality 2019 Pinot Noirs from the South Island, of the wines I’ve tasted so far. If this is any indication, there’s a lot more to look forward to from 2019. Bring them on.

18.5/20 (gold medal)

2019 Main Divide Te Hau Reserve Pinot Noir $32.95
Te Hau Reserve Pinot Noir is named after Henry Te Hau Tapu Nui o Tu Donaldson, an ancestor of the Donaldson family who own Pegasus Bay Winery today. This wine and that region are consistent favourites of mine, due to the depth of flavour and robust structure, which comes from earthy flavours and smooth but noticeable tannins (not always a strong feature in Pinot Noir). These qualities come from windy springs (which reduces grape and bunch size), to hot summers (which aid ripening) and long autumns, which enhance ripeness. This reserve wine is not made every year but every time it is produced, the style and quality punch significantly above the price tag, which is relatively humble, given the great concentration of flavour, dry taste and full body in this wine.

The 2019 vintage in North Canterbury was unsettled in spring and a smaller crop ripened earlier than usual in settled weather conditions. This wine will reward cellaring for another six to seven years.

17/20 (high bronze medal)

2018 Main Divide Pinot Noir $24.99

This new release of Main Divide comes from a very hot summer with some rain followed by dry autumn conditions. The wine was aged in oak (35% new) after fermentation with plunging twice daily to extract structure. It’s a good quality Pinot Noir and tastes youthful now, so will benefit with time, softening and maturing into an even more approachable wine.

The Main Divide wines are the introductory range from Pegasus Bay Winery in Waipara, North Canterbury. They are named after the Southern Alps, which form the backbone of the South Island.

New wine reviews – Tiki Wines, May 2020

Tiki Wines is owned by Sue and Royce McKean (pictured above), who live in Christchurch and own a 325 hectare vineyard in the Waipara Valley, 40 minutes’ north of the city in North Canterbury. The brand was named in honour of Royce’s great great grandfather, Ngati Uenuku Chieftain, Tiki Tere Mihi.

Their wine story began in the early 2000s when they searched for land to plant in grapes, finally purchasing a 325 hectares sheep farm in Waipara, which they have subsequently converted into a vineyard, naming it Waiata Vineyard. That was completed in 2006 and in 2009 they harvested their first grapes from an expansion they made into Marlborough. They also make wines from vineyards in Hawke’s Bay and Central Otago.

Here are my reviews of the new wines they sent me this week.

Tiki new releases


2019 Tiki Single Vineyard Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $24.99

Barrel fermentation and malolactic ferment to soften the wine give this wine richness and softness. It was pressed using a Champagne cycle with no press cuts which provides very clean, high quality juice, which was then fermented in French oak and aged for 10 months on lees by Hawke’s Bay winemaker Evan Ward. This wine is bone dry and made from 100% Chardonnay Clone 15. It has fresh, clean, creamy flavours and spicy notes from the pronounced oak influence, which is held in good balance thanks to the firm acidity from this wine. The grapes come from a vineyard 34 kilometres inland in Hawke’s Bay with nearly 200 metres elevation; high, for this region.

Drinks well now and can continue to age for four to five years.



2019 Tiki Koro Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $34.99

A richly flavoursome Chardonnay; dry, full bodied and succulent, thanks to extended time on yeast lees in barrel following 100% barrel fermentation. It is made from 100% Chardonnay clone 5 from a vineyard 34 kilometres inland at 175 metres above sea level in Hawke’s Bay. Winemaker Evan Ward fermented 55% of this wine in new French oak barriques, following the ferment with full malolactic to add complexity and softness to the palate. Ten months on lees with fortnightly battonage (lees stirring) further adds to the weight in this ripe, rounded, full throttle creamy Chardonnay. The lees stirring encourages yeast mannoproteins in the wine, which add flavour and complexity.

This is a stunner; big and bold with balance and the ability to age for up to seven to eight years. It also drinks well right now.



2019 Tiki Koro Central Otago Pinot Noir $34.99

Central Otago leads the way when it comes to Pinot Noir with 80% of its vineyards devoted to this red grape. The 2019 vintage was a smaller than usual one due to frosts in this edgy cool climate wine region.

This wine was fermented in open top fermenters and hand plunged daily during its 22 days of maceration then pressed into 225 litre French oak barrels for 10 months, which adds notes of smoothness, spice and a touch of complexity.

It is a light bodied red with freshness and drinks well now. It can hold for the next two to three years too, providing a lovely refreshing red.

Wine in semi lockdown, New Zealand @ level 2, 15 May 2020

This morning’s walk and take out coffee gave me a chance to reflect on Covid-19 and how it’s changed our lives, some of us more than others.

New Zealand started off well but as we inch closer to the lives we refer to as normal, the worst side of us starts to peer out from under lockdown. Normal people doing normal things, like standing too close to each other when signs clearly state a 1 to 2 metre safe distance.

The man in the queue behind me at my local café this morning inched closer as we waited in line, until he was so close that I put my hand up and said ‘I’m trying to safe distance’, to which he rolled his eyes and asked if I was serious. “Definitely am,” I replied, trying to find a smile.

Situations like this make me wonder if I’m living in a parallel universe.  As a work colleague said, prior to lockdown, “It’s not just the virus that will kill us, it’s how we respond to it that’s going to do the real damage.”

If you’re reading this and able to enjoy coffee and wine, which, for me, are essentials, then we’re the lucky ones. We can choose to enjoy these good parts of life, which remain daily pleasures, lockdown or not. We can go out to exercise, to stand in line for coffee (or not) and to safe distance, knowing it will lower the potential risk of contracting what is, for me at least, a horrifying prospect.

We began so well. New Zealand infections and deaths from Covid-19 are, so far, incredibly low compared to many other countries. And yet, as soon as a drop to level 2 was announced,  many began to act as if it was already here and everything normal could resume. Safe distancing, to take one example, seems to be regarded as an optional extra, by some. This is dangerous thinking. I still prefer to act as if I have the virus in terms of hygiene and contact. That way, I am less of a danger to myself and everybody else. I would love to visit my mum for instance, but since she lives in a different region and is potentially less strong than I am, I won’t be doing this for some time.

In the meantime, I find that wine is not only an essential service for those who have to harvest the grapes in lockdown, but an essential part of softening the daily hurdles that life throws at us. I have long since tired of the advice not to drink alcohol in lockdown, lest we become too reliant on it. My career morphed from journalist to wine writer so long ago that while I am hugely aware of health in food, exercise and safe drinking limits, I also look forward to a glass or two of wine at the end of each day. It’s not just the flavour and alcohol I enjoy, but the mental stimulation and voyeuristic charm. Armchair travel doesn’t get better than wine, for me. Every glass stimulates my mind, takes me to another country, region and vineyard, to the people I’ve met or read about who grew the grapes and made the wine.

Today’s wines of the week will be published this afternoon.

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