Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Marlborough’s newest fizz launches today

End of year parties have a lot to answer for and I’m not just talking about the hangovers, if that’s where you thought this story was heading.
The silly season has piqued my interest in and craving for a glass of absolutely kick ass champagne. We drank a fair few bottles at our Christmas work party, just over a week ago, as you’d expect we would since the ‘we’ in question is the team from Wellington’s biggest independent wine store. Anyway, now I can’t get those delicious yeasty flavours out of my mind – and I’d quite like to taste them again soon too. Which is lucky really because tonight I had my chance and it didn’t cost me an arm and a leg because I was invited to be part of the launch of New Zealand’s newest bubbly from Whitehaven Wines in Marlborough.

This large winery made its first sparkling wine on a small scale, launching it tonight via an Instagram Live tasting, which I co hosted with winemaker Peter Jackson (no relation to the film maker of the same name). I’ve been lucky enough to try the first bubbly from Whitehaven twice now – and it’s come a long way over the past four weeks or so, since I first tried it. Only 1800 bottles were made and while it tasted fresh and crisp when first disgorged, corked and labelled, the 2018 Whitehaven Samantha Methode Traditionelle now has a far more complex taste of fresh sourdough, sweet pastry and citrus, all finishing super dry and with a long flavoursome finish, thanks to just 4.5 grams of residual sugar per litre. That’s pretty damned dry, if you ask me, given that when I first started drinking wines made this way, it was normal to have at least 12 grams of residual sugar. Wine changes. Not just overnight or over a decade spent in the wine cellar, but in how it is made. Winemakers have a vastly different philosophy today than they did even a decade ago, let alone longer. So, without further ado, here is my tasting note on the new Whitehaven Samantha bubbles.

Wine of the week

2018 Whitehaven Samantha Méthode Traditionelle $45
Buy here
Samantha is the daughter of Sue and Greg White, who founded Whitehaven Winery back in 1994, and she is also now a second generation member of the winery team. This wine is named after her and made as a méthode traditionelle; another way of saying it’s made the same way as champagne – and using the same type of grapes. In this case, the bubbles is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir, all handpicked at low sugar levels (brix of 18-19°) to retain refreshing acidity and keep the wine at a modest alcohol of 12% ABV. The grapes were whole bunch pressed and went through malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity, which provides creamy flavours in the wine, which was then bottled for its secondary fermentation where the carbon dioxide dissolves into the wine. It was aged on lees for 22 months, developing secondary, savoury notes over that time. It’s a deeply refreshing, citrusy fresh, creamy, full bodied bubbly. Every sip lingers – and it only costs a fraction of the price of a comparable champagne.

(I realise that last sentence is likely to provide a talking point but in the course of my work as wine adviser to Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington, New Zealand, I do taste an enormous range of sparkling wines – and am lucky enough to drink many of them too.)