Marlborough is a long way from Champagne at the best of times but it must have felt like another world when Daniel le Brun first laid eyes on the dusty plains of New Zealand's biggest wine region in 1978. The weather appealed. The grape varieties not so much.
Muller Thurgau was the leading grape variety grown in the region at the time, but Le Brun took the plunge anyway, making his first sparkling wine in Marlborough in 1980. This year, he and his partner in wine and life, Adele, and their adult children Virginie and Remy, have added a new wine in honour of Le Brun's mother, Reine.
The new sparkling wine is called Reine Cuvée Reserve Marlborough Méthode Traditionelle and was launched on Friday 27 October to coincide with Global Champagne Day. Reine married Rene Le Brun, who comes from Champagne producers who trace their first vine planted in the Champagne region to 1684 and their first wine made there to 1791.
The new wine was launched at Arbour restaurant in Marlborough at a retrospective tasting of sparkling wines made using the traditional method of production.
Here are my highlights of the tasting.
No 1 Reine Cuvée Reserve RRP $63
Reine Vautrelle Le Brun loved flowers, which is echoed on the label of this bottle, which is a delicate but full bodied blend of 50% Chardonnay, 43% Pinot Noir and 7% Pinot Meunier, given extended lees ageing of four years giving it the weight and balance to stand up to the low dosage of 2.8 grams per litre. This is bone dry sparkling wine with finesse and a long finish. While it can age superbly for two to three years, it drinks beautifully now - fresh and zingy, paying homage to a woman who lived through World War II; years that represented some of the Champagne region's toughest times.
Retrospective tasting highlights
The first rosé made at No 1 Family Estates was in 2004 and began with 250 cases, which has since grown to 1000 with further plans to increase volumes thanks to a new grower in the Wairau Valley who will allow the Le Brun family to farm the vineyard.
2016 No 1 Family Estate Rosé
My pick of the pink sparkling wines made at No 1 and from a very good vintage with high quality grapes, which translates to a beautifully balanced, full bodied expression of sparkling Pinot Noir with great depth of flavour mid palate and a finish that keeps lingering.
2018 No 1 Family Estate Rosé
From a wild year of cyclones, flooding and an early harvest which led to lower than usual alcohol of 11% ABV, which makes this a lighter expression of sparkling Pinot Noir with summer berry flavours of fresh raspberries, balanced by lees ageing which adds creamy notes.
2017 No 1 Family Estate Rosé
Medium to deep salmon colour with rich toasty nose, suggesting it has aged. Made from Pinot Noir 667, 777 and 10/5, aged on lees for 37 months, 6 grams per litre. A good sparkling wine with age and freshness.
2007 No 1 Family Estate Rosé
Deeper salmon in colour and showing its age on the nose with some herbaceous notes and a medium body though still fresh acidity keeping freshness in the wine.
Retrospective of No 1 Methode Traditionelle NV
I preferred the youthful freshness and long lees ageing of the reserve aged wine, which came about as the idea of Adele le Brun, who suggested keeping some of the blanc de blancs on lees for longer to see how it would develop.
The developed Chardonnayesque characters come through in the older non vintage expression of clone 95 Chardonnay, aka Mendoza (also called the hen and chicken clone because grapes vary in size from large to very small, which adds piercing and balanced high acidity to retain freshness in wines.
No 1 Methode Traditionelle NV Reserve 2014
Aged on lees for eight years and from a challenging year, so the wine was given long lees ageing and is relatively dry with 4 grams dosage per litre. Fresh and higher quality wine.
No 1 Methode Traditionelle Reserve 2009
Aged on lees for eight years and showing rounded, full and flavoursome flavours.
Daniel Le Brun planted his first New Zealand vineyard in 1980, made his first Marlborough Méthode Traditionelle in 1985 under his first venture and launched his second venture, No 1 Family Estate, in 1999, on 14 July - Bastille Day. In 2021 Daniel and Adele received The New Zealand Winegrowers Fellows award, recognising individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the New Zealand wine industry. In October 2023, they were awarded the Sir George Fistonich medal in recognition to services in New Zealand wine.