Life, the universe and wine

New year, new column

In today’s fast changing media landscape, journalists need to create their own space for readers, so here it is – my weekly take on life, the universe and the best bottles of wine I have tried over the past seven days, in my work as a writer, journalist and wine communicator. 

This column (blog, if you must) is my attempt to replace the weekly columns I have written for most major daily newspapers in New Zealand over the past 24 years. I am a trained journalist, editor and author of 15 books, and also have the Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s highest qualification; the Level 4 Diploma. I comment regularly on RNZ National radio about wine and write for Capital, Good and NZ Winegrower magazines.

Wine is sent to me in the hope that I will review it and from a wide range of makers, importers and countries, but I also buy more than my fair share of the world’s most interesting liquid too. 

Hope you enjoy the read that follows. 

Drop me a line any time at:


Top 5 weekly wines and musings about New Year’s Eve

If a black eye, smashed phone, family fight, stolen bike, hospital admission or break up  didn’t characterise your Christmas and New Year break, then you must have had a restful time away.

For some of us, it was a relief to return.

I say ‘return’ in the metaphorical sense; as in, return to work, if not actually return from being away.

I didn’t get into a fight, break up or go to hospital. I did arrive  back from six days away with a black eye, a smashed phone and minus a mountain bike. Not exactly a great outcome. I hurled from one disaster to another in a comparatively short space of time and with no real reason, other than rushing to call someone, hugging someone at the wrong moment and, as for the bike, let’s write it off to carelessness. I can be, at times. But there’s a moral to this story: If you’re going to multi-task, don’t do it without a screen cover on your phone. And if you’re going to give a six foot four man a hug late on New Year’s Eve, make sure he does not have his back turned to you. Oh, and if you’re going to leave your mountain bike in the bush and walk 14 kms instead of biking in the slippery mud, think twice.

The other disasters mentioned above are the unfortunate outcomes of others I know, who experienced a less than great start to the year. None of the aforementioned incidents are made up.

The truth is always stranger than fiction.


Here are this week’s top five wines


2015 Whitehaven Greg Southern Valleys Pinot Noir $59.99 14% ABV


This is the flagship red wine from Whitehaven Winery in Marlborough and it’s named after Greg White; the late husband of Sue White, who co-founded this large Marlborough winery in 1994.  And it is a fitting tribute to Greg too. It’s made from grapes grown on a vineyard in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, which face north and have a direct aspect to the sun, which accentuates ripening in this cool climate wine region. The long hot days and cool crisp nights highlight the hallmarks of Pinot Noir – its high acidity, which is balanced here by a savoury, earthy flavour that comes from low crop levels (smaller bunches of grapes equate to higher tannin ratios in the wine, ergo more savoury flavours). It spent approximately 15 months in oak, a substantial portion of which was new, but which is balanced by ripe red and dark fruit flavours and a long finish.

It drinks well now and can age for 7-8 years.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.



2015 Domaine Clape Cotes du Rhone $52, 13% ABV


If your eyes are popping at the price of this seemingly humbly named southern French red, think again… or better still, try this outstanding, deep purple, intensely flavoursome, dark and delicious wine, which is made 100% from Syrah – rather than being blended with Grenache, as most Cotes du Rhones tend to be (the majority are a 50/50 combo). This wine is made from grapes grown not only in the vast rolling hills of the Cotes du Rhone wine appellation but also from young vines in the Cornas appellation – the most southern area in the Northern Rhone Valley and planted entirely in Syrah (the only red grape legally allowed in Northern Rhone reds). The colour is impressive but it’s the dark ripe and smooth flavours that give this wine its X-factor.

Hard to find but worth the search.

Available from specialist wine stores or try NZ importers: Maison Vauron.



2014 Garofoli Podium Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi $39, 14% ABV


Whenever I say Verdiccio is my favourite Italian white grape, most people look worried, as if to say ‘you’re nerdy enough to have a favourite Italian white grape?’.  Well, yes. Verdicchio puts the ‘H’ in humble and the ‘yes’ in ‘should you bother keeping it in the hope it will improve with age?’

Verdicchio is in my view, the greatest Italian white grape because it makes wines that can age incredibly well, often for two to three decades. This is thanks to its high acidity, which is nearly always well balanced by the wine’s full body and ripe lemon zest flavours; this is not at all like Riesling, even though it shares some citrusy overtones. It’s more like a combo of Chardonnay (creamy, full bodied, rich in taste) and Chenin Blanc (dialled up fresh acidity and a certain recognisable je ne sais quo). It has a long rich finish and is a winner in every way from its relatable flavours and full body to its usually incredibly accessible price. Podium puts Verdicchio’s most elegant foot forward with more structure, greater intensity and a longer finish.

It can be enjoyed now but will come into its own in 9-10 years.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.



2013 Rocca delle Macie Vernaiolo Chianti DOCG $19.99, 13% ABV


Some might say this humbly priced Italian vino is a typical house red from Tuscany but Rocca delle Macie has always been a better producer than that, as this wine amply shows, putting its most silky foot forward alongside flavours verging on rustic, earthy and savoury. It’s a DOCG Chianti, which means at least 80% of the wine must be made from the Sangiovese grape, which is blended with Merlot for softness (works well) and Italia’s Canaiolo Nero, which offers floral perfume and softness.

Affordable with depth of flavour and a long velvety finish.

Available from specialist stores such as: Liquorland.


2016 Fromm Spatlese Riesling Marlborough $23.99, 7% ABV

Spatlese means late harvest in German and was first used in the 1600s to describe wines with dialled up fruity flavours that taste like ripe peach, tangy citrus and white fleshy nectarines, thanks to being made from grapes that have hung on the vines for far longer than usual. This is Marlborough’s nod in that direction. And like its great German counterparts, Fromm Spatlese was intentionally made as a low alcohol style so that it’s light in body and after-effects, but super intense when it comes to the grapey flavours of this wine, which shine in every well balanced sip.

This is the best yet, in my view. A stellar sweet wine which tastes great on its own lightly chilled or with fresh clean flavours, such as goat’s cheese.

Available from specialist stores such as: Regional Wines & Spirits.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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