Joelle Thomson

Author, journalist, writer

Category: Chardonnay (page 2 of 9)

Top 5 drops… best wines of the week and a 50 year old German ‘white’

The cork from a 1971 German Riesling tasting at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington on 30 November 2017… 12 wines were all drawn from Geoff Kelly’s cellar; he is holding the shrivelled bit of tree bark that kept one of these wines ‘alive’ (relatively) over the past 46 years.

Here are my 5 top drops of the last 7 days – the wines that I can say, hand on heart, are the absolute best that I have tasted from my work as a wine writer and wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. Not that it’s been easy to pick just 5.

The week has been full of wine from sales reps who highlighted local (Martinborough), national (Marlborough, North Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay) and international wines (where do I begin?). And then there was the 1971 German Riesling tasting I paid to attend last night at which 12 wines surprised us all. Not a single bottle was tainted by cork’s worst trait – TCA (trichloranisole), also known as cork taint. Then again, not a single bottle was unaffected by cork because all had, to one degree or another, a level of oxidation due to being sealed with cork. One of the corks is pictured above and it’s not a pretty sight. You get that it’s a bit of wood and it doesn’t do wine any favours after a year in the neck of a bottle, let alone nearly 50.

Speaking of which, last week seems like a while ago now, so without further ado, here are my top 5 drops from this week.

I hope you enjoy the four that you can buy – and the fifth one is purely voyeuristic. How could I not share an incredible wine from my birth year (ouch, 50, guilty as charged).

 

Great white

2015 Pegasus Bay Riesling $32 to $37

Rating: 19/20

A hot night and an old friend’s birthday party last week called for all sorts of interesting wines but as I scoured the wine list for something refreshing, this wine stood out in neon to me – and its succulent, refreshing flavours made it my wine of the night. Pegasus Bay Riesling is North Canterbury’s best known wine and is, in my view, the rock star white of the region, thanks to the Donaldson family, who are among the earliest pioneers of high quality wine in that region. This wine consistently reaches high quality peaks with its rich concentration of flavour and juicy high acidity, which is balanced by lemon honey flavours and a long finish.

Where to buy: Specialist wine stores, Victoria Park New World in Auckland, Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington or www.pegasusbay.com

 

Gem Riesling

2017 Giesen Gemstone Marlborough Riesling $19.99, 10% ABV

Rating: 18.5/20

Speaking of Riesling, we were, weren’t we? Gemstone from Giesen is more than about alliteration; it’s a seductively tasty new wine made entirely from one vineyard in Marlborough – called Eden Valley Vineyard, in the Lower Waihopai Valley. Winemaker Nikolai St George fermented this wine in an interesting combo of granite tanks (made from a giant slab of volcanic rock), French oak barrels and stainless steel tanks. That’s no mean feat for a wine that costs $20. The granite retains its core temperature, allowing for a slower fermentation while the other two vessels contribute diverse flavours (softer fruit, warmer ferment from the oak; fresher crisper brightness from the stainless portion). This wine is 10% and noticeably rich in flavour with a medium dry style, balanced by crisp acidity, which provides a long, flavoursome finish.

Where to buy: widely available in supermarkets.

 

Fresh as a daisy Chardonnay

2016 Fromm La Strada Marlborough Chardonnay $31

Rating: 18.5/20

La Strada means the way in Italian and refers to the way that Chardonnay responds to the Marlborough region; which is another way of saying that this wine is all about freshness, powerful ripe citrus flavours and purity of fruit rather than oaky bells and buttery whistles. That said, all those intense citrusy flavours are nicely balanced by 10% new oak, which adds body, weight and a creamy soft appeal.

Where to buy: specialist stores or Fromm Wines.

 

2015 Sacred Hill Brokenstone Hawke’s Bay $64

Rating: 19/20

Merlot, Malbec and Syrah rub shoulders with two Cabernets in this staunch but smooth Hawke’s Bay red – Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc add backbone to the dark spice in this seductive full bodied wine, which was one of my top three wines of the dozen ‘best’ box of 2015 Gimblett Gravels reds sent to me this year. The top 12 selection are chosen blind by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, and it’s a great privilege to then be allowed the privilege of tasting the entire 12 wines for myself (the wineries send them out to wine writers).

More to come on this top 12 selection in future weeks. Watch this space. In the meantime, grab a bottle of Brokenstone; it’s not cheap but it is outstanding.

Sealed with a cork.

Where to buy: specialist stores or Sacred Hill Wines.

 

German aged Riesling

1971 Reichsgraf von Kesselstaff Josephshofer Trockenbeerenauslese QmP Mosel 

19/20 

This was my top wine of one of the most outstanding tastings held in New Zealand this year – Wellington wine writer and collector, Geoff Kelly (who has an amazing cellared collection of wines), proposed calling this tasting Does Riesling Age?
It sold out in two hours and was held last night with 10 wines from the 1971 vintage, one Cru Classé Sauternes thrown in for good measure and one 1967 beerenauslese, which was my third favourite wine of the night, but more on that next week.

All wines were tasted blind – Geoff had previously decanted them into numbered bottles so that the actual bottles were empty and lined up in age order in front.

This wine was one of the freshest in the lineup, despite its medium amber colour, which suggested it may have faded, but talk about incredible concentration of flavour – rich dried apricot flavours reminded me of the intensity of Central Otago dried apricots; the wine’s high acidity was still present and counted, and balancing the flavours of liquid honey, leaving this wine with a long finish and juicy drinkability which was remarkable to taste in a wine that is now 46 years old.

Where to buy: you can’t, but it’s inspiration to collect and keep Riesling because there is no question that it can age exceptionally well.

Creme de la creme… Gisborne’s best big buttery Chardonnays

If you’re a sucker for a big buttery Chardonnay, Gisborne was the place to be this Labour Weekend.

Steve and Eileen Voysey, winemakers, founders and owners of Spade Oak Wines

And not only in Gisborne but on board the W165 – the last train of its type in operation in New Zealand today. If you haven’t heard of the W165, you’re not alone  because it’s usually safely ensconced under cover of darkness to protect the massive restoration job done by a group of Gisborne train spotters. This Labour Weekend (last month), the W165 was wheeled out, renamed The Chardonnay Express and commandeered by a bunch of Gisborne Chardonnay makers, who hosted over 100 people who paid to enjoy eight Big Buttery Chardonnays (let’s call them BBCs) with eight matching morsels of food on a half day ride that took us from the centre of town across the airport runway out to Muriwai on the coast.

It was the first time the Chardonnay Express has run, but hopefully won’t be the last.

The ride was the highlight of a Chardonnay-themed weekend, which was a collaboration between winemakers, tourism operators and Air New Zealand – which came on board, if you’ll excuse the pun, to subsidise flight packages to lure as many people as possible to Gisborne for the event.

Gisborne winemaker Steve Voysey hopes this wine tourism package will prove successful enough to take place again, hopefully several times a year. It’s partly about attracting more people to Gisborne; partly about upping the profile of the region’s wines. Production of which has declined significantly over the past decade, as statistics highlight – there were 2,142 hectares of grapes planted in the region in 2008 compared to 1,371 hectares today. That’s a pretty big drop, by anyone’s measure.

It’s a balance between making money from selling to a defined market and over production, which does no one any favours, says Voysey, who has a foot in both camps. He makes wine for his own relatively small volume wine brand, Spade Oak, when he founded and co-owns with his life and work partner, Eileen Voysey. And he is also a consultant to Indevin and LeaderBrand; two large volume wine production companies based in Gisborne.

Like most of New Zealand, Gisborne has a maritime climate, but its northern location means that sunshine hours are not only long, but the climate is generally warmer, which, in turn, means grapes tend to have lower acidity than they do further south. This means Gisborne Chardonnay can taste very ripe in flavour, full bodied and soft. And, when treated to a little malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid in grapes into softer lactic acid), it can taste very rich and creamy.

These styles of Chardonnays remain extremely popular in New Zealand today, despite a strong swing, by some winemakers, towards crisper, lighter bodied, less creamy dry whites made from the Chardonnay grape. And while that can be potentially confusing for lovers of BBCs, variety is the spice of many of life’s best things, including wine, so, in my view, Chardonnay has never been better. Modern Chardonnay offers wines at both stylistic extremes, with many welcome shades of grey in between.

Speaking of which, Gisborne has other strings to its wine bow nowadays too. It’s true that its overall volume has declined, but there’s never been so much diversity, thanks to unusual varieties such as Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Marsanne and Vermentino, which are all made in Gisborne today thanks to Riversun Nurseries – New Zealand’s biggest vine nursery which just so happens to be the gateway to New Zealand for new and improved as well as experimental grapes, which winemakers have embraced with enthusiasm.

Chardonnay remains numero uno in Gisborne and it is what this region does best.

About that train… The Chardonnay Express

The W165 is the last remaining train of its type in operation in New Zealand. It was the first of 11 WA Class locomotives to be built in Dunedin in 1897 and put into service in 1898 it was put into service in Wellington, later transferring to Palmerston North, Taihape and Napier, with stints of shunting duties in Putaruru, Huntly, Te Kuiti and Frankton, before being finally retired to Gisborne in 1960. It spent decades rusting in Young Nick’s Playground in Awapuni Road, Gisborne, before being restored by a group of Gisborne rail enthusiasts in 1985. Their aim was to restore the train to its original condition and in 1999 they put it back on the track in a fully restored condition.

 

Gisborne Chardonnay Group

Oak Barrel Fermented Chardonnay production is a must for those who belong to this group because they highlight the strongest wine style for this region – “We are focussing on what Gisborne does best at a premium but affordable level.”

Oak adds a significant cost to wine production but also adds a tangible taste to the wines.

The list… Big Buttery Chardonnays from Gisborne

The BBCs served aboard the W165 for its inaugural journey as the Chardonnay Express this year were:

In the interests of appealing to those who would like to buy BBCs and are keen on ratings, mine are out of 20 and appear beside each wine.

 

2016 Matawhero Irwin Chardonnay 18.5/20

The new flagship wine from one of Gisborne’s oldest wineries, which has a new lease of life thanks to Kirsten and Richard Searle who bought the brand from wine pioneer Denis Irwin.
This is nice and nutty, big on body, balanced on the oak front (a combo of 30% new American and Hungarian, both of which provide plenty of spicy taste appeal).
It’s named after both the late Bill Irwin (Denis’ father) and Denis – a homage to both these wine pioneers, whose Matawhero Gewürztraminer was one of the first modern wines to make drinkers sit up and take notice of Gisborne as a region capable of high quality wine.

 

2016 Waimata Vineyards Cognoscenti Chardonnay  17.5/20

Full bodied, dry and, more importantly, big and buttery with softness, smooth texture and strong creamy flavours.

 

2015 Bushmere Estate Classic Chardonnay 16.5/20

If you’re a fan of a little crisp freshness with your creamy Chardonnay, then here it is – a modern buttery number that successfully straddles vibrant freshness with softness too.

 

2015 Stone Bridge Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 17/20

As its name implies, this wine was fermented entirely in oak barrels and it’s a soft, big buttery wine with loads of spice flavour too.

 

2015 Le Pont Chardonnay 16.5/20

Soft, creamy, medium bodied and buttery; this wine was made from hand harvested grapes then fermented with wild yeasts, which add a lovely savoury complexity to the wine.

 

2015 Spade Oak Vigneron Chardonnay 18.5/20

This “vigneron” label is the top range of Spade Oak wines and in this case it was made from hand harvested grapes, wild yeast fermented and went through 100% malolactic fermentation. It’s full bodied, has a beautiful balance of big smooth creamy roundness, tempered by vibrant acidity which adds a sense of freshness and length to the wine.

 

2015 Wrights Reserve Chardonnay 18.5/20

Geoff and Nicola Wright’s full bodied Chardonnay has organic certification from AsureQuality and did exceptionally well in Cuisine magazine’s tasting this year, cruising into the top five. This is smooth with pronounced fruit concentration – think ripe yellow fruit flavours with nutty, yeasty and creamy aromas and long finish.

 

2014 TW Reserve Chardonnay 17.5/20

Big, buttery and noticeably oak-influenced, thanks to an equal combo of French, American and Hungarian oak barrels, in which the wine was aged. This is a great style for those who like bigger-is-better Chardonnays…

Bravo, Gisborne Chardonnay producers… bring them on.

Taste Champagne Lallier in Wellington tonight… free

If you’re wandering around Wellington tonight between 5pm and 7pm, pop into Regional Wines for a free taste of an exceptional range of bubbles from Champagne Lallier…

My blog on Champagne Lallier…

Talk about modest. I’m talking about the price, not the big, beautiful taste of Champagne Lallier, which over deliver for the $50.99 you’ll spend on this wine. And the trio of Lallier bubbles will be open for a free tasting tonight at Regional Wines at the Basin Reserve in Wellington from 5pm to 7pm.

Our team here at Regional had the tasty pleasure of checking out Lallier Champagnes this afternoon and, while we’ve all got our faves, we agreed the rosé was the pick of this beautiful bunch, which range from $23 for a half bottle up to $50.99. That’s no mean feat, given the hefty resources of time, reserve wines and grand cru vineyards (the highest quality land) that go into making Lallier Champagne.

When, where and what…

Champagne Lallier is based in… the village of Ay (one of the 17 Grand Cru villages) in the Champagne region.

It was founded in 1906 by… Rene Lallier and the business was sold in 2004 to Francis Tribaut who is the current owner and also the winemaker. This makes Lallier the only champagne brand where the owner is also the winemaker.

The bubbles are made in two locations… in Maison D’Ay and  in the new Cellier D’Oger, 10 kms outside of Ay on the Cotes des Blanc; a modern facility built in 2012.

Lallier Champagnes only contain the two most respected grapes… namely, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The wines go through malolactic fermentation, which varies… depending on the vintage and the acidity in the grapes as a result of the vintage.

Dosage varies from zero up to… 18 grams per litre.

 

The champagnes

Champagne Lallier Ay Brut R012 $46.45

Very fresh, very flavoursome and very affordable; this is made from a blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 38% Chardonnay and 81% of the wine comes from grapes grown in 2012 (hence the R012 – ‘recolte’ means year) and 19% reserve wines. It’s also drier than many champagnes with a dosage of 8 grams per litre and the wine is made from 85% Grand Cru vineyards.

Champagne Lallier Blanc de Blancs Ay $53.80

This is 100% Chardonnay and all from vineyards that are classified as Grand Cru; 60% from Ay and 40% from Cote des Blancs. The wine spent 36 to 88% wine of the year, 12% reserve wines, aging on lees 36 to 48 months, dosage 9 grams.

Buttered croissant aromas, very strong yeasty flavours, high acidity, great concentration with strong citrus flavours, a full body and a long finish.

Champagne Lallier Rose Grand Cru $50.99

Wine of the year 92%, reserve wines 8%, grand cr vineyards only; 65% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay. Pale salmon colour, savoury aromas, yeasty flavours, high acidity, very long finish. Very pronounced mushroom aromas with an explosion of beautiful red fruit flavours in the mouth…

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