For Richard Riddiford of Martinborough’s Palliser Estate “there are some occasions where only bubbles will do” and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Over the last twelve months I’ve immersed myself in surfeit of sensational New Zealand sauvignon blanc at the Wine Marlborough Weekend, tantalised my tastebuds with lashings of luscious, lime-laden rieslings at the Summer of Riesling events and at the end of January I soaked up extreme amounts of jaw-droppingly good pinot noir at the superbly-organised Central Otago Pinot Celebration. New Zealand even used to have its own International Chardonnay Challenge where we relished in the rich and ripe right through to the lean, mineral-driven examples of this gorgeous grape.
We have the Hot Red Road Show where our regional reds are held up as examples of the worlds best and even an International Aromatics Symposium to showcase those delicate, spicy, floral wines we do so well – but our sparkling wines are just left to quietly sit outside with the cat. Why?? I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to taste sparkling wines from around the world on a fairly regular basis for my job, and there’s absolutely no question that our bubbles are up there with the best. Our climate is perfect for growing those classic champagne varieties, our winemakers are highly skilled and as a general rule, the sparklings we produce here are brilliant so why don’t we celebrate them more? The second someone instigates some sort of Festival of Fizz I’m in!
With complicated processes involving secondary fermentation in the bottle, guiding the bottles toward a vertical position then freezing the neck area in order to dislodge (or disgorge) the plug of spent yeasts in order to insert the cork and ready the bottle for sale; producing great sparkling wine isn’t the easiest trick in the book. Geoff Wright from Gisborne found out the hard way. “I made my first Methode around 2000 and it was made from Feijoas. I was freezing the necks by hand and accidentally dropped the first one in the glycol tank – oops!” After that Wright’s méthode was made from “only the finest Gisborne chardonnay” he laughs. Geoff and his wife Nicola have been producing their organic sparkling wine “Entity” since 2001; however they’re due to release a mere 80 magnum’s of a vintage méthode traditionnelle, (aged in barrel for a year and bottle matured for 4 years) in the near future. But while you’re waiting, next time you’re floating around Gisborne you may wish to pop into one of Wright’s Wines fortnightly, super-casual Paper Bag tastings where everyone (and everything) is welcome.
“We’ve also planted Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier which will go into our Entity Blanc de Noirs style” adds Geoff, “What I love about about a good méthode, with it’s aromas of a fresh sea breeze, is that these wines take you to a place you love to be”.
40 minutes northwest of Hastings, out on the Matapiro Road is Corozo Estate. Owner Sarah Shand first learned how to make sparkling wine in the late 1970’s. “Dad worked at Vidals back when they were first making méthode and I would get to help out” she says, “for special occasions Dad still manages to find the odd bottle of that original brew”. After much hunting, Sarah and her late husband John finally found a vineyard site for her father to impart his knowledge and experience. “When we found this site my dad said “this will do because the trees grow straight”. Following a visit to France’s Champagne region for her OE where she became hooked on the style, Sarah was given some Pinot Meunier plants which were the first plants planted on their Matapiro Road site. “They were described to me as the pearls of the méthode technique” she said, “and no matter what frost or drought hit, these vines survived.
When Corozo began, Sarah had the concept of keeping it all very simple, hence the crown cap. She also enlisted the help of a young Frenchman named Julian who constantly commented on how like his home in Rheims her vineyard was… “I was discussing disgorging with him and the difficulty of getting the appropriate machinery” said Sarah, “Julian says ‘who needs a machine I can do 200 bottles per hour by hand? I will get my parents to send me the tool’, and so this is how we do it” she says.
In addition to running Corozo and contract growing for Sileni Estate, Sarah is also a single mother of two boys, so necessity dictates working fulltime teaching at a local secondary school, “I’d love to have a boutique winery complete with a cookery school and one day I will!”
Made entirely from chardonnay, this is an organically produced Blanc de Blanc from Gisborne’s Ormond Valley, and if you’re expecting something frilly and feminine – forget it. This fizz reflects the ‘chaos factor’ of family life for Geoff and Nicola Wright as they work hard to maintain their organic vineyards, their busy winery and three energetic young sons. The wine has complex yeasty, nutty, biscuit-based aromas followed by crisp acidity and a smoky, mineral note on the finish. It is also New Zealand’s only certified organic méthode on the market and it’s brilliant with grilled calamari sprinkled with lemon juice and fresh herbs. www.wrightsvineyard.co.nz
Exceptional value for money. Elegant. Enduring and absolutely one of the most excellent examples on the market. Aromas of rising dough, lemon mousse and toasted brioche are followed by pinprick acidity, clean, delicate texture and amazingly robust, nutty, mineral notes on the finish. Amazing. For info on where to buy email firstname.lastname@example.org
Fête is French for ‘party’ apparently and a splash of pinot gris injects a fruity, tropical, nashi pear note into this wine which will definitely please the crowds. It also has an interesting nutty, textural finish. Following on from the legendary 1963 ‘Fontanella’, the ‘Fête’ was designed to commemorate their 160th birthday. www.missionestate.co.nz
Made entirely from chardonnay, I really like the aromas of salty, sea breezes and preserved lemon. In the mouth it is rich, tangy and quite unique. Only the second sparkling I’ve seen from Waiheke Island and signs for the future are solid – hooray! www.manowarvineyards.co.nz
With tiny, beaded bubbles, creamy, bouncy foam and beautiful texture, this sparkling has classic breadcrust, biscuit and intrinsically elegant dry citrus flavours which leap out of the glass. Superb with freshly shucked oysters or tender, stir-fried prawns. www.palliser.co.nz