Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

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Wines of the week… Trio of NZ reds

Pinot Noir may be the most popular red in this country (the biggest production, best known, most planted grape and all that jazz) but it’s easy to forget just how recently it’s been that way. In 1990 there were 178 hectares of Pinot Noir grapes in New Zealand, which pales in comparison to the 5653 hectares today.

Numbers of grapevines overall were small in this country back in ’90. Pinot Noir wasn’t even the most planted red in the country. That happened in 1998 when Pinot grew to 582 hectares, overtaking Cabernet Sauvignon with its 532 hectares. Statistics have dramatically changed since then too.

Not only has Pinot Noir grown hugely, but Cabernet Sauvignon has shrunk  to just 249 hectares and Syrah has climbed from being not mentioned at all to a miniscule 69 hectares in 1997 and to a still modest 435 hectares today.

It’s a big change all round. And while quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah remain tiny in comparison to Pinot Noir, the quality of wines made from these later ripening grapes has never been better. For proof, look (or should that be taste?) to the annual top 12 wines from the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers’ Association, which commissions Master of Wine Andrew Caillard to blind review a vast range each year to come up with his best.

One of them is among my top trio of wines this week. More will follow in weeks to come.

Bargain buy


2017 Main Divide Merlot Cabernet $20.99

Main Divide wines are named after the Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana), which divide the east coast from the west in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a fitting name for a great range of wines from Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. This blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc was fermented in stainless steel with regular draining and spraying back over the cap of the skins to gently extract tannins. It was aged in French oak for 18 months, just 10% new oak, ensuring minimum wood flavour and maximum softening effects.

Treat of the week


2016 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah $59.99, 13% ABV

Hand harvested grapes were were picked over a two week period, fermented, then aged for 16 months in French oak by winemakers Tony Bish and Jenny Dobson, who collaborated on this full bodied, bone dry Syrah. Just 25% of the oak was new, which flatters the wine rather than dominates the ripe dark fruit and spice flavours that come through. Drinks well now. Definitely has aging potential. One of the top 12 reds selected by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard for the Gimblett Gravels’ Winegrowers Association.


Reaching for the stars


2016 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago $99, 13.5% ABV

The new Te Wahi Pinot Noir from Cloudy Bay is a blend of grapes from two vineyards in different areas of Central Otago, namely, Calvert Vineyard in Bannockburn; 230 metres above sea level and a vineyard at Northburn on the east bank of Lake Dunstan which rises from 220 to 275 metres above sea level. The altitude helps avoid the ever frost risk in the deep south.

Grapes were given a five day cold soak before wild yeast fermentation in open top fermenters with 15% of whole bunches. The wine was then aged for 12 months in French oak, 30% new, and bottled in July 2017. It has pH of 3.65 and TA of 5.2 grams per litre.

The 2016 vintage had a chilly start in Central Otago with slow spring growth and warm temperatures in early summer followed by heavy rains, leading to larger than average berry sizes. Harvest was slow with dry weather allowing a long hang time for ripe flavours. This wine is youthful, dark and needs time to shine. One for the cellar. 

Wines of the week… Barossa, Martinborough and Central Otago

Another week, another bunch of tastings. Every day this week has been fascinating when it comes to wine with tastings from the Spanish island of Majorca one minute and Tuscany the next with importer Sophie Cotter of St Vincent’s Cave. Not to mention Valli Pinot Noirs from Central Otago with winemaker Jen Parr and Hawke’s Bay Chardonnays, Syrahs and Merlots.

My top picks this week come from far and wide and here they are, without further ado.

Bargain buy

2017 Jacob’s Creek Barossa Signature Shiraz $19.99

Next level is the aim of the winemakers behind the new Jacob’s Creek Barossa Signature reds, which includes a Cabernet Sauvignon (highlighted last week) and this juicy, full bodied, dry but juicy Shiraz, which contains 14.5% ABV and was matured for 12 months in a combo of American and French oak barrels. The new Barossa Signature range is a step up from the big JC’s core wine range and designed to look that way too, thanks to its smart new black labels.

Both wines were launched in New Zealand this  month.



Treat of the week

2016 Julicher 99 Rows Te Muna Road Pinot Noir $32

Winemaker Martin Bell blended seven different clones of Pinot Noir (5, 6, 114, 115, 667, 777 and Abel) grown on different vineyard blocks on Te Muna Road, 9 kms east of Martinborough township. All grapes were hand harvested and destemmed into small open top vats for fermentation and given a four to five day cool pre-fermentation maceration to extract colour. Punch downs took place three times a day during fermentation and provide firm smooth tannins in the wine, which was matured for 10 months in a combo of old and new (20%) French oak barrels. The wine was filtered for clarity.

It tastes full bodied, dry and fresh with dark fruit flavours and a lingering finish. It is my pick of the two new releases from Julicher Estate in Martinborough, owned by Wim and Sue Darling.



Reaching for the stars

2017 Valli Pinot Noir Waitaki $69.99

If this is how a tricky vintage tastes, then bring it on.

Vineyards in the Waitaki Valley were first planted in the 2000s and it’s a challenging, cool climate region with altitude around 200 metres of sea level and high limestone content in the soils.

Flowering at harvest is a big challenge in this cool maritime climate of the Waitaki Valley and the yields per vine are generally small with bunch weights of Pinot Noir at a dismally low 50 to 70 grams and only 1000 to 2000 tonnes per hectare. The flip side is great concentration of flavour and a long ripening season with warm days and cool nights, leading to wines that contain elegance in spades. This Pinot Noir is dry, medium bodied and floral with silky, succulence and lingering flavours.


On the road again… Negociants annual fine wine show

Book it in now; the dates have been announced for this year’s Negociants New Zealand Fine Wine Tour to be held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The event is held every year with public tastings from 6pm to 8pm on each of day with trade tastings running from 1pm to 5pm.


The dates

Auckland, Monday 22July at The Royal NZ Yacht Squadron

Christchurch, Tuesday 23 July at Hagley Pavilion

Wellington, Wednesday 24 July at Te Wharewaka o Poneke


Facebook has more details




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