The first week of December brought the last Top 10 tasting of 2022, and the timing seemed right to finally do a session on sparkling wines. Over the last year WineFolio has expanded to include ‘the best of wines available in NZ’ as well as just wines from within our shores. I’ll still have a focus on local wines, but it is prudent to be aware of what else is out here in the wider world, and not just think that New Zealand produce is all there is.
Especially when you are looking at something like sparkling wines. While the benchmark are the wines from the French region of Champagne; there are the excellent bubbles from Italy and Spain to consider – Prosecco and Cava; as well as the Crémant styles of wines from Burgundy, the Loire and further afar. Whilst it is isn’t the first time I’ve tried one of the sparkling wines of the UK – this is the first WineFolio tasting to include one of those as well. We also had some Sparkling Shiraz, wines in cans, and various versions of sparkling XX (like Sauvignon Blanc for example).
Apart from that, one of the most common styles of sparkling wine you’ll find anywhere are the ‘Méthode Traditionelle’ wines that are made in the same method as Champagne. The final ‘usual’ style – if none of the above applies is the Charmat method – where still wine is carbonated in a sealed vessel. These are usually the cheapest sparkling wines for sale – the price reflecting the relatively simple method of production (and less complexity in the wines to be fair).
Everyone will have their preferred style – and price that they are willing to pay. It is easy for the more experienced taster to be drawn to the biscuity autolysis style of a Champagne or Méthode, but we should remember that not only do some people prefer the style of Prosecco or Cava; but these are unique types of wine – their intention is not usually to mimic a Champagne in style at all. And that simple, clean, fresh and fruity style is what some wine drinkers might want.
Our panel’s first job when we are judging all these types of wines together is to ask ourselves “Is this delicious?” “Do I like this?” “Would I immediately want another glass of this?”. Now, sitting and judging sparkling wine could be seen, in itself, as an unusual thing to do. Most sparkling wine is drunk standing up, at an occasion, in conversation with other guests. There are times of course where you will have it with a meal – typically as an aperitif with entrées – but how many people sit and “taste” champagne. How many of us really have a ‘favourite style’? I, for one, am happy with pretty much anything – I like to have a glass of Prosecco as much as I love it if someone opens a Grand Cru Vintage Champagne – and the former comes around much more often to be honest!!
Onto the wines…
Our winner is from a producer that also had success at the top of our Top 10 tasting of Riesling in January – Maude. Dan Dineen of Maude had this to say about their winning Central Otago wine:
“Our NV bubbles has always been a bit of a slow burn. The tirage is often a blend of five of our older vintages, some of these a kept in both barrel and tank and sometimes the tirage can be up to 15 -25% of these reserve wines, which makes tirage blending incredibly interesting. We started making base wines in 2004 and didn’t do out first tirage until 2012. The other thing we do which is less common, is a good chunk of the base wine is fermented in old barrels. Probably not the most cost-efficient wine we make, but it’s great fun.”
#1 Maude Méthode Traditionelle NV A little delicate aromatically at first, but blooms into an expression that is interesting and delicious. There’s a saline breeze of spritzy acidity, a touch of juicy stonefruit, and a rich depth that evolves into a plush palate chock full of lime curd, fresh hay, creme fraiche, ginger crunch and weetbix. In the end this won the judges vote by the balance of character, energy and sheer drinkability – everyone hoped there was another bottle.
#2 Idée Fixe Blanc de Blancs NV Very yeasty on the nose, with a brown butter, sourdough with umami, marmite characters. Serious, with a tight, creamy mousse of bubbles. Savoury and very dry on the palate. Some golden fruit peeps through on the second sip – apricot, peach, pomegranate and some nutty, almond marzipan notes.
#3 Lilbert-Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagne NV A really, really yeasty expression. Savoury, with an incense-laden smokiness of autolysis, cheese rind and cacao nib. This dropped a couple of points for its sheer intensity – you might struggle to settle in and enjoy this edgy, weighty statement; but for sheer force of character, it is remarkable. Great fruit, rich and juicy, with a super-long finish.
#4 Drappier Carte d’Or Champagne NV A great, classic nose of citrus, green apple, white pepper and yeasty brioche. Fine beads of bubbles. Threaded with a prickle of tart acidity and a textural, mealy sense of wheat biscuits and ground almonds.
#5 Nautilus Méthode Traditionelle NV A refined, well structured drop that was seamless from whoa to go. Some dried apple, apricot, cherry, preserved lemon and grapefruit notes. Edgy in a good way, with a distinctive crushed shell minerality backbone, as well as a waxy, textural balance. The drying finish was noted as ‘yum’ by one scorer.
#6 No.1 Reserve Méthode Traditionelle NV Tightly coiled, with a focussed, elegant nose that drew you in. Tight, dry and with consistent, fine bead of bubbles that lasted and lasted. Well-balanced with first a lime marmalade note, then a pithy nibble of tannin, and a great depth to the mid-palate and creamy finish.
#7 Lindauer Vintage Series 2017 A brassy, copper colour and golden on the nose too – perfumed with pink grapefruit, ginger, satsuma and pear. Really pithy and puckeringly astringent at first, but golden fruit notes emerge – nectarine and quince, with savoury pumpkin and spice towards the lovely long finish.
#8 Soljans Legacy Méthode Traditionelle 2019 Some funk on the nose here, with apple crumble, jasmine tea, golden apple and breadcrumbs as well. Super bubbles – hitting you right at the back of the palate. Quite plump, power-packed and rich. Transitions from a yeasty, dry beginning to a sweeter, lengthy finish.
#9 Santa Margherita Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore NV A super-bright, light and lifted wine – quite a contrast to the richer wines around it. A pure blast of granny smith and white peach with more exotic flavours of lychee and lemongrass. A fine, clean mousse of bubbles. Elegant, light-boned and subtle, with a juicy, persistent finish.
#10 Kumeu River Kumeu Crémant NV A delicious nose that is tight and shy at first, but quickly blows open to show cucumber, greengage, pear, nectarine and some savoury minerality. So fresh and lively into the palate – a wave of saline acidity carries to a measured finish.