Joelle Thomson

Words on wine

Category: Italy (page 2 of 3)

5 of the best wines of the week… top drops

Every week I publish 5 top drops which are the peaks of the mountain of wines that come my way as a wine writer, which has been my job for the past 23 years. Or is it more of a flash hobby than an actual job, as Master of Wine Stephen Wong once suggested? After 23 years of writing weekly columns for nearly every major daily newspaper in New Zealand, I am now a regular contributor to Capital magazine in Wellington, NZ WinegrowerDrinksbiz and Good magazine. I also work as wine programme director at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington. The 5 top drops usually go to ‘press’ on this site each Friday. Last week became a little busy so, without further ado, here are last week’s top 5 drops.


Pink with a difference…  

2017 Silver Wing Nada Syrah Rose Waipara $24, 11.5% ABV, 17.5/20

Hand picked Syrah grapes were whole bunch pressed and settled in tank (a portion of the juice was frozen and added back at bottling to produce a spritzy wine with a little cloudiness). The majority of the juice was then racked to barrels where it went through wild yeast fermentation and spent five months in elevage. This is a pale salmon wine with a cloudy appearance, a refreshing spritzy bubble and a dry taste, which makes it my kind of rosé from a small, adventurous producer in North Canterbury, New Zealand.


Best Wild Sauvignon yet… 

2015 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Marlborough, $30, 14% ABV, 18.5/20

This is an outstanding wine that shines a new light on Sauvignon Blanc, thanks to Kevin Judd who trademarked the Greywacke brand in 1993 when he was still working at Cloudy Bay Wines.  He later trademarked the name Wild Sauvignon, which is the flagship wine for his Greywacke brand – “It’s our interpretation of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc out of left field and it’s a style of wine that I personally think is pretty tasty,” said Kevin, who was in Wellington recently to taste every vintage of his Wild Sauvignon Blanc. This version was made with grapes grown predominantly in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, but for the past four years, Kevin has also bought grapes from the Awatere Valley.  The first year it was made was in 2009 and the winemaking has remained consistent to a formula, which Kevin tweaks in response to the year’s weather. That formula always includes 100% barrel fermentation, 100% wild yeast and about two thirds of the wine going through malolactic fermentation to soften the acidity. The finished wine spends about 11 months in barrel and remains in tank for another six months where it goes through battonage (the French name for stirring the lees – the decomposing yeast cells left over in the wine). The oak is kept at 10% new oak (or less). This latest Wild Sauvignon is, in my view, the best yet.


Powerful Pinot

2015 Mammoth Pinot Noir Moutere Hills Nelson $60, 13.5% ABV, 18.5/20

Michael Glover likes to push boundaries but it hasn’t always been that way. A winemaking stint in Italy many moons ago opened new doors of flavour and showed him unconventional ways of making wine. He now grows grapes without irrigation in the Moutere Hills, outside Nelson, New Zealand, which he treats to 100% whole bunch fermentation with no acid, yeast or enzyme additions and then produces this outstanding, full bodied South Island Pinot Noir as a result. It’s rich in flavour but not entirely all about fruit, which is what makes this wine so good, to me. It’s the earthy depth, the dark fruit flavours and the silky mouthfeel that give this wine its powerful but somehow elegant voice. You’ve heard the expression an iron fist in a velvet glove, well, here it is because it drinks well now but clearly has aging potential too; for up to a decade in a good cellar.


That southern Pinot… 

2014 Chard Farm Mata-Au Pinot Noir, $39, 13.8% ABV, 18.5/20

Otago Pinot Noirs seem to be a dime a dozen in New Zealand right now, so it’s worth searching for the goodies and here’s a bottle that stands head and shoulders above the crowd, without its producers charging like wounded you-know-whats for the privilege of enjoying it. This wine is made from two vineyards – the Tiger Vineyard at Lowburn and the Viper Vineyard at Parkburn (not that there are any vipers down that way). The name Mata-Au (pronounced martar-o) refers to the nearby Clutha River and this wine is all about silky mouthfeel, intense bright pretty red fruit flavours, characteristic high acidity which is balanced by a rounded full body.


Italian stallion… 

Umani Ronchi Vigor Sangiovese Merlot IGT $26.99, 17.5/20

What’s the main thing about a good Italian red? I often think it’s the dark, ripe flavours of the fruit. I’m thinking blueberries, black plums, ripe peaches and liquorice; and that’s what this big Central Italian red is all about, thanks to being grown at elevation to benefit from more intense sunshine than flat vineyards would allow. In this case, those vineyards are in the municipality of Osimo, 150 metres above sea level on a south east facing hillside in the Marche region in central Italy. It’s a blend of 75% Sangiovese with 25% Merlot for its softening effects; and it works a treat. This is a lovely smooth, spicy red with firm acidity adding a nervy edge to a drink-me-now wine from a consistently outstanding producer.

Wine of the week… Top Sardinian drop under $40

2014 Montessu Isole dei Nuraghi $40 to $45

It may not sound like objective wine writing, but here goes: I love this wine.

It’s a total head turner, a delicious drink and it says far more about Italy’s earthy charms than it does about Cabernet’s usually astringent ones. And that’s why I like it so much because its earthy, spicy notes and nicely integrated background of fruit makes it far more complex, to me, than so many of the fruit bombs that dominate  red wine production right now. 

This top drop combines the heady charms of Cabernets Franc, Sauvignon and Syrah with the hedonistic ones of the big black Carignano grape. Meet Montessu – also known as Baby Sass’ – which is a quirky Sardinian red wine from a collaboration that includes the makers of the famous and unconventional Tuscan red, Sassicaia.

Montessu speaks more about Italy than it does of its makers’ unconventional blend of beautiful big red grapes. It’s a winning wine from an unlikely corner of the Earth, which is all about savouriness, earthy flavours and clean, complex aromas of spice, a note of pepper and dark, ripe fruit flavours. It’s dry, full bodied, dark in style and long on flavour. A lovely drink now – in a large glass since it begs to be decanted – and a wine that will come into its own in 4 to 5 years, possibly longer.

The stats…

Montessu is made from Carignano (60%), Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; all 10%.

It’s made on the Isola dei Nuraghi (Sardinia) and qualifies as an IGT wine because it falls outside of any conventional Italian wine DOCGs on the island. Like Sassicaia, Montessu is made from non Italian wine grapes, using highly regarded French grapes instead. Montessu is made via a joint venture between the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia Group, Sardinian winery Cantina di Santadi, Santadi’s President Antonello Pilloni and the Tuscan consulting oenologist Giacomo Tachis, who first thought that Sardinia and Carignano might be a match made you know where when he visited the island in the 1980s. 

In 2002, Agripunica was formed to bring together Tuscany and Sardinia and to make a red wine that celebrated both places. The first wine was called Barrua and Montessu is the second label – it’s a pretty stellar red for a so-called second wine. The grapes are fermented between 25 and 30°C with regular pump overs to facilitate the solubilisation, malolactic fermentation to provide roundness to the wine and then 12 months of maturation in used French oak barrels.


For Heaven’s sake…

Pizza and wine can be a match made you know where, so why is decent  quality wine often in short supply at many pizzerias?
“It often seems like an after thought but it doesn’t have to be because it’s easy to create a drinks list that is fun and low key without being pretentious or overly complicated,” said Daniel Dew of Regional Wines & Spirits, when he launched a new wine list he had curated at Heaven Woodfire Pizza in Wellington last Monday.

He launched the new wine list at the Cuba Street pizzeria because the venue has new owners and is having a refresh.

Dew is the go to guy at Regional Wines & Spirits for the restaurant and bar trade. He is charged with the task of creating interesting wine and beverage lists for cafes, bars and restaurants around town, as well as providing information to them.

It sounds like a fun job, but ticking the boxes of affordability, availability and appealability can be an extremely challenging one, so Dew’s role is, like most jobs, part creative solution, part pragmatic reality.  He invited me to co host last Monday’s tasting, at which we talked about taste, personal preferences and classic matches.

Pizza and wine stand outs

Fresh green flavours, refreshing high acidity and a medium body made the Soho Reserve Stella Sauvignon Blanc a sublime match with the fresh green herb flavours in the seafood marinara pizza.

Montepulciano and meat…

The 2010 Tenuta Ulisse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a velvety, full bodied red from central Italy, which proved popular with the regulars at Heaven last last month; it also matched beautifully with the pancetta and pepperoni pizza – the meaty flavours worked well with the crisp savoury wood fired pizza base and its slivers of savoury-sweet protein on top. I personally enjoyed this wine and the pizza it was matched to, but it also matched because of its complementary flavours.

Chardonnay with salmon and cream cheese…

The 2016 Tony Bish Fat n Sassy Chardonnay is a big, buttery, full bodied wine that matched decadently well with the salmon and cream cheese pizza – a hedonistic, richly flavoured dish. It was a case of like with like, and it worked, for those who love the creamy intensity of the dish. I found this incredibly rich and found myself opting for the vegetable pizza, preferring its savouriness with the other red wines that Dan included on the new list.

The new Heaven Woodfire Pizza wine list will launch this month:

Beach House Merlot Cabernet Franc

Soho Stella Sauvignon Blanc

Greystone Pinot Gris

Tony Bish Fat n Sassy Chardonnay

Te Tera Kiritea Pinot Noir

Tenuta Ulisse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Blackenbrook Pinot Rosé


 The cellar wine list is made up entirely of Italian vino and features:

Pieropan Soave Classico

Punset Barbera d’Alba

Leone di Castris Salice Salentino

Maretti Langhe Rosso

Rocca delle Macie Tenuta Sant’Alfonzo Chianti Classico

Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva

Lamborghini Campoleone Umbria IGT

Need new wines on your list?

Contact Dan Dew at Regional Wines & Spirits, phone 027 250 0009

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