Weekly wine news and top drops

Author: Joelle Thomson (page 1 of 111)

Wines for Easter

 A girlfriend who loved art once said told me that the more she learnt about art, the more she realised she didn’t know. That’s exactly how I feel about winemaking right now. Not that I’m a winemaker. But as a wine writer, I have always felt it was important to learn some of the technical side to make the writing authentic. It’s easier said than done.

This is the fourth year in a row that I have worked a couple of days of vintage at Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. Or is it the fifth? Who’s counting. And the word ‘work’ isn’t strictly accurate. It’s more a case of tagging alongside a winemaker or two, plunging the cap on a couple of Pinot tanks, measuring a ferment starter and, occasionally, digging out tanks of sticky Pinot skins after the wine’s been moved to barrels.

It’s amazing dabbling in vintage work. I’ve learnt so much about how much I don’t know.

The incredibly diverse range of skills a winemaker needs to be successful is mind boggling. Knowledge of plant biology is essential to coax the best from the raw material – the grapes. Then there’s chemistry for the winemaking, technical understanding and proficiency when working with pumps and tanks and pipes in the winery. And last, but far from least, you need to love it. That’s the only way to blend wine that tastes great.

So the week was interesting, fascinating, delicious and humbling yet again, thanks to the great communicators in the cohesive winemaking team at Pegasus Bay Winery in North Canterbury. Speaking of which, the week began at Greystone Winery’s vineyards where a bunch of writers and retailers were taken on a journey into the vineyards to watch the third commercial release of this winery’s interesting vineyard ferment Pinot Noir, which I wrote about here:

And here, without further ado, are this week’s wines for the weekend. 

Bargain buy

2017 Forrest Albarino $24.99

Marlborough winemaker John Forrest was at the forefront of pioneering New Zealand’s modern wine industry, he was one of the first to adopt screwcaps in 2001 and, now, he is leading the pack with experiments of Albarino in this country. This fresh, high acid white grape variety is originally from the maritime climate of north west Spain, which makes it ideally suited to New Zealand. Its freshness and vibrant green herb and citrus flavours shine through in this well priced wine.

Available widely or Forrest Estate here:


Treat of the week

 2016 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir $50

Whole bunch ferments are rising and so is the quality of Pinot Noir at Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury.

The winemaking team is on a mission to fine tune their Pinot Noirs and this, the freshly released 2016, is possibly the best yet, although I am still smitten with the earthy depths and fruit ripeness in the 2015.

The grapes in this wine were harvested at 24 brix in stages between 7 and 21 April 2016. About one third were placed at the bottom of tanks to ferment as whole bunches, which adds strong fruity aromas and structure to the wine, which was matured in French oak (40% new) for 18 months. Its fruit weight and fresh acidity are beautifully balanced by the wine’s full body, moderate tannins and lingering flavoursome finish.

It often sometimes seems strange to discover the gritty reality behind the romantic dream of winemaking but a sip of this wine me of why I fell in love with wine in the first place.
Available from specialist stores or the winery:

Reaching for the stars

2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir $65

The first time winemaker ever Dom Maxwell bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release and this new release is the second one. It’s distinctively different Pinot Noir from most, in part because of its pale ruby colour and in part because of its earthier flavours, which are surprisingly medium bodied, given the pale hue of this tasty drop.
It was bottled unfined and unfiltered with a lower than usual dose of sulphur dioxide added only at bottling to prevent oxidation. This tastes spicy, interesting and fresh and, hopefully, has a long life ahead. I plan to find out by cellaring some.
Available from specialist stores or Greystone Wines:

Tasty experiments with Pinot Noir

If fermenting a wine in the vineyard sounds like an edgy idea, how about trying it in the cool of autumn in the South Island?

WInemaker Dom Maxwell and marketer Nik Mavromatis of Greystone Wines

The wines in question are the 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir and brand new 2017 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir. They are made from 100% certified organic grapes, fermented 100% with wild yeasts and aged 100% in older oak (no new barriques here). They were also fermented entirely in the vineyard.

It’s an unusual place to ferment grapes, even if it does, ironically, seem to be the most logical place to do it. No transportation is needed, for one thing, and that means the grapes can be picked and placed immediately into their fermentation vessels. What could be more logical?

The first time winemaker Dom Maxwell ever bottled a Pinot Noir that was fermented in the vineyard (rather than in the winery) was 2013 but that wine was firmly in the experimental category. Three years later, he made the first vineyard ferment Pinot Noir that was destined for commercial release.

It’s a distinctively different style of Pinot Noir from one of the great Pinot regions in this country – North Canterbury, which is home to Greystone Wines.

This week, a bunch of wine writers and retailers visited the vineyard to watch the Pinot grapes fermenting and taste the wines. I was invited. It was a great insight into an interesting new way (or should that be, an old traditional way) of producing Pinot Noir?

The wines are made without added yeasts. They are bottled unfined and unfiltered. Sulphur dioxide added only at bottling.

They are not the only top notch Pinot Noirs made at Greystone Wines by any stretch, but these wines do push new and interesting boundaries – in a good way. Winemaker Dom Maxwell uses 20% whole bunches of Pinot Noir in the ferment tanks and visits them all once a day, every day, to test the ferments. They tend to be .5% lower in alcohol than their counterparts that are fermented in the winery, which may in part be due to the wild yeasts and in part to the long, slow ferments in the cooler outdoor temperatures. In general, the outdoor ferments range from 24 to 34 degrees Celcius while the indoor winery ferments range from 26 to 33 degrees.

How it tastes

The 2016 Greystone Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir is a silky, graceful Pinot Noir and is as understated as its front label, which features an evocative illustration of the vineyard. The artwork is by illustrator Hanna Berry, who wandered into the vineyard with her sketchpad and drew a  picture perfect rendition of it, in black and white. It’s a fitting illustration for a Pinot Noir that is as interesting and tasty as the winemaking thought behind it.

Winemaker Dom Maxwell says he’s learnt a lot from the vineyard – “The best teacher when it comes to making wine.”

Journey into wine podcast… and wines for the weekend

NZ Wine podcast features my story this week

Whether it happens by accident or by design, it can be interesting to hear people’s stories of how they were bitten by the big buttery Chardonnay bug.

It’s at least 30 years ago since I fell in love with big buttery Chardonnays and more recently I’ve become smitten with podcasts too. Interesting podcasts can  transform insufferably long car journeys into fascinating ones, turn morning walks into mini wellness retreats and boring evenings into tantalising ones, thanks to the stories of those they feature.

Boris Lamont is the founder of the NZ Wine podcast, which features a quirky range of characters who love wine. I love listening to their stories, so it was a privilege to be asked to be among them on the NZ Wine podcast with Boris.

Click here to listen:


Wines of the week…

Bargain buy

4 stars

2015 Crater Rim Waipara Pinot Noir $22

This earthy Pinot Noir is from the third in a trio of warm, dry vintages with long, late summers that gave Pinot a chance to fully ripen, retain fresh acidity and drive, all thanks to the warm days and cool nights in North Canterbury. The wine was fermented with indigenous yeasts, aged in French oak for 13 months and bottled unfined and unfiltered, which is where those tasty savoury flavours come from. Its silky red fruit flavours give it the X factor and for $22, I call this an unbelievable bargain.

Available at specialist stores and online at


Treat of the week

5 stars

2012 Brown Brothers Patricia Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut $39.99

This is one of Australia’s best bubblies every year. In the past week I have tasted and shared three bottles of it, two from the 2011 vintage and this fresh new release from 2012, which is my pick. And fresh is the word because this wine spent six years on lees in bottle, post-fermentation, where these decomposing yeast cells released all sorts of tasty flavours, protecting the wine and keeping it fresh at the same time. That’s twice the time of most vintage champagnes but at a fraction of the cost and with grapes grown on a single vineyard too. In this case, it’s the Whitlands Vineyard, 800 metres above sea level in the King Valley, Victoria, where the warm days and cool nights allow the Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%) to retain their refreshing acidity. The wine tastes creamy, citrusy and full bodied.

It’s a fitting tribute to the late Patricia Brown, matriarch and much missed grandmother of the Brown Brothers who own and run the winery in Milawa, Victoria, today. This is the 16th release.
Residual sugar is dry at 8.5g per litre total. The first vintage of Patricia sparkling was 1997.

Available at specialist wine stores and online at


Reaching for the stars

 4.5 stars

2016 Pyramid Valley Field of Fire Chardonnay $99 to $100

Small, south east facing and biodynamic. Field of fire is all these things and remote. It’s a tiny vineyard on the home block at Pyramid Valley Vineyards in Waikari, 40 minutes’ drive inland from the Waipara Valley in North Canterbury. It’s also home to the Chardonnay grapes that went into this wine, which was aged for 10 months in barrel on yeast lees following fermentation. The vineyard was planted in 2001. The first vintage was 2006.

This wine was aged in a 50/50 mix of amphora and oak. It tastes full bodied, vibrant and fresh, thanks to pronounced acidity. It drinks well now and can age for 10 years plus (willpower allowing).

Available at specialist wine stores and online at

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