Wines of the week… top drops from Champagne

It was my Xth trip around the sun this week so it seemed only fitting to begin it with champagne and the company of Laurence Alamanos, export director of Champagne Ayala. Her trip to Wellington was to show the new lease of life in this old champagne brand, which was founded in the 1860s in Ay, a grand cru village in the Champagne region.

Right from day one, the bubbles of Ayala have been drier than most of their champagne counterparts, which may seem like a moot point these days when so many champagne makers are producing drier wines. But back then it was a pretty big deal because many champagne producers made wine specifically to cater to the large Russian market, which had a penchant for sweet sparkling wines – the sweeter, the better. Ayala stood out from the crowd at the time by making drier styles of bubbles. It was also a significant producer in size too. The company produced approximately one million bottles of bubbles a year out of a regional total of 20 to 30 million bottles, in its heyday in the 1920s. Today, its production remains around the one million bottle mark but the regional total has climbed to approximately 300 million. And it’s no longer a family owned company, having changed owners twice since its inception, most notably selling to Champagne Bollinger in 2005. The style of Champagne Ayala’s bubbles remains true to its original dry mantra and makes a zero dosage wine, which spends four years on lees in bottle to add more body, texture and weight to counterbalance the potentially austere dryness of the wine. I like the Brut Majeur but the 100% Chardonnay blanc de blanc bubbly was my pick of the Ayala range. Which surprised me. I first fell in love with Bollinger a long time ago and it’s the toasty, yeasty, savouryness of Bolly’s Pinot Noir dominant flavours that spins my taste wheels, so it’s nice to be reminded of the greatness of Chardonnay with bubbles by Ayala, the feisty little sister of Bollinger.

Bargain buy

2015 Konrad Dry Marlborough Riesling $17.99

It’s rare to find Rieslings labelled ‘dry’ on the front label even though wine consumers keenly ask for styles that are, unashamedly, dry. Konrad Wines is a sizeable producer in Marlborough, which  makes good quality Sauvignon Blanc and this outstanding dry Riesling with its lime zesty flavours, fresh acidity and lingering finish.

Available from specialist wine stores or Konrad Wines


Treat of the week

Champagne Ayala Rosé Majeur $105

This pale salmon coloured rosé is made from 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier, only it’s sparkling red wine that’s blended here rather than still (which makes up a relatively low 6% of this blend). Champagne is the only French region where white and red wines can be blended together to make pink wines. It tastes toasty, delicate and lingering.

Available from specialist wine stores.


Reaching for the stars

2012 Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs $130

This new vintage champagne spent 5 years on lees in bottle; those decomposing yeast cells that release delicious nutty flavours into the wine. It’s dry with 6 grams of sugar at dosage and the Chardonnay taste stands out loud and clear, balanced by crisp, fresh, lingering vibrant acidity.

Available from specialist wine stores.

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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