Taste magazine’s annual Sparkling Wine awards
To help you choose the best in sparkling wine season I tasted a massive collection of wines from New Zealand and Australia. I’ve chosen a couple of winners in six different classes. If only the best will do you’ll find my short list of superior sparklers in the vintage, non-vintage and Rosé Méthode classes. I’ve also explained exactly what Méthode means and why fermenting wine in the bottle makes the world’s best sparkling wines. These bone-dry bubblies can be enjoyed on their own but they are also great food wines that will brighten up any meal. If you’re wondering what to match with crayfish, crab and many other seafood dishes you’ll find the perfect partner in a serious sparkler. My favourite with salmon is Rosé Méthode.
Anyone who likes Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc will love it even more with bubbles. Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is the latest taste sensation and there’s plenty of choice. I’ve tasted most of them and heartily recommend my top two wines. These are the perfect wines for serious social sipping over summer.
If you want a wine to beat the heat and still match steak and sausages served sizzling from the barbecue I suggest you try sparkling burgundy. The best are serious, oak-aged red wines – with bubbles. To taste them is to love them. I can still recall my first sip of an Australian sparkling Shiraz – I became an instant fan of these big, bold, robust bubblies.
I fell in love with sweet sparkling wines during a camping holiday in the north of Italy. A well chilled glass of Asti Spumante was the perfect antidote to soaring temperatures and crushing humidity. Try the Australian version of the Italian original to find a truly refreshing wine this summer.
The meaning of Méthode
The Champagne region in northern France produces the world’s best sparkling wines. Many countries, including New Zealand and Australia, use the same time-consuming and expensive winemaking process to make their own best bubblies. These are allowed to be called “Méthode Traditionnelle” to distinguish them from the usually less expensive wines that short-cut the process. If champagne is the world’s best bubbly then wines labelled Méthode Traditionnelle are next in line.
This is how champagne and Méthode Traditionelle wines are made. The grapes are typically picked by hand, pressed very gently and fermented to make a dry white wine. Champagne can only be made from one or more of three grape varieties: Chardonnay and the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Most Méthode Traditionnelle, and certainly all the wines featured here, use only the permitted grape varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. By pressing red grapes gently it is possible to make white wine from them.
Wines from different vineyards and grape varieties are then blended together to achieve the desired style and quality. That blended wine is bottled with a measured amount of yeast and sugar. The yeast feeds on the sugar producing bubbles giving just the right amount of pressure. The yeast cells then slowly decompose adding flavour and extra body to the wine. Champagne is required to spend at least 1½ years in contact with the yeasty sediment.
When the wine is ready to be cleared of the sediment it is “riddled” by man or machine to slowly work the sediment into the neck of the bottle. The wine in the neck is then frozen trapping the sediment in a plug of ice. The cap is removed from the bottle so that the yeasty plug ejects. The bottle is topped up with wine and often a small amount of sugar before being sealed, usually with a cork. After a few months the wine can be released for sale.
And the winners are …
Category: Vintage Méthode
Deutz 2006 Marlborough Cuvee Blanc de Blancs (tastings) scored first place last year and it was little surprise to me that the latest vintage won this year. In the last decade I have consistently rated this classy wine as the country’s best sparkler. In second place is a brand new label from the same stable. Deutz 2005 Prestige Cuvee Marlborough (tastings) is made from a selection of small parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with the aim of producing a truly top wine. They’ve certainly hit the jackpot in 2005.
Deutz 2007 Marlborough Cuvee Blanc de Blancs Marlborough $40.95
Pure citrus and mineral flavours with hints of toasty yeast autolysis. Quite a weighty sparkler with attractive varietal characters. Long and layered – a wine that delivers impressive power with great subtlety. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Deutz 2005 Prestige Cuvee Marlborough $40.95
A brand new flagship label that’s a blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir. Taut, flavoursome wine with lovely purity and acidity-driven length. Powerful wine with layers of citrus, toast and mineral flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Category: Non-vintage Méthode
“Non-vintage” aim at offering a consistent house style year after year while “vintage” sparkling wines are the expression of a single year. Vintage wine is often regarded as being superior to non-vintage wine although that is not necessarily the case in this country.
Australia earned top billing this year with an exceptionally good wine by that country’s top sparkling maker. Chandon (tastings) was established by champagne house Moet & Chandon and is owned by the LMVH group. No.1 Family (tastings) scored second with a wine that’s 100% Chardonnay.
Chandon NV Brut $28
Quite a complex and appealing wine in a truly dry style. Layers of citrus, mineral, chocolate box and bready yeast autolysis flavours. Integrated, ethereal and long. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Number One Family NV No.1 Cuvee Blanc de Blancs $35
Fresh, tangy wine with attractive citrus, toast and mineral flavours seasoned with subtle bready autolysis characters. Bone dry and with a lengthy finish. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Category: Rosé Méthode
I love rosé sparkling wine, It not only looks great but often has more flavour and richness than other sparkling styles. Both wines are particularly good. No.1 Family Rosé is a tad more sophisticated with more obvious bottle development while Deutz Rosé is a fresher, livelier and slightly more charming wine.
No 1 Family Estate No. 1 Rose Marlborough $44
A sophisticated Rose with impressive purity and power although delivered with subtlety. Good nutty autolysis characters. Very stylish. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Deutz 2006 Marlborough Cuvee Rose Marlborough $40.95
Pretty pale pink. Explosive bubbles. Light, fresh citrus-like flavours with a hint of sweetness balanced by crisp, fruity acidity. The wine has a good bready yeast autolysis character. Moderately powerful yet subtle sparkler. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Category: Sparkling Burgundy
Syrah (or Shiraz, as it is known in Australia) is the favoured grape variety for sparkling burgundy – a wine that’s literally a full-flavoured and gutsy red with bubbles. If you’re not familiar with the wine you must try it. The best examples are world class wines.
A New Zealand wine, from Marlborough, beat Australia at its own game – sparkling burgundy is a quintessentially Aussie wine style.
Forrest 2006 The Doctors Bubbles for Beth Syrah $35
Fresh and fruity wine in a pleasantly dry style. Perhaps lacking the richness and weight of the supreme Aussie labels but with good energy and purity. – view on bobcampbell.nz
The Potts Family NV Bleasdale Shiraz $26.50
Soft, moderately rich red with plenty of sweet fruit and mellow Christmas cake flavours. Good wine that lacks the concentration and energy of the Forrest Syrah.
Category: Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
A couple of years ago there was really only one example of this wine in New Zealand (and possibly the world). Now it’s becoming a crowded market as more and more winemakers market some of their spare wine by adding bubbles to it.
It’s hardly surprising to see Saint Clair at the head of the field, they’ve dominated the quality Sauvignon Blanc market for years with a myriad of labels.
Saint Clair 2010 Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough $18.95
Rich, weighty wine with plenty of flavour in a medium/dry style. Attractive, appealing wine with classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc flavours. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Kim Crawford NV First Pick Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand $16.99
Creamy wine in a moderately varietal style. Slightly sweet but with a good balance of acidity helping to promote a dry-ish finish. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Category: Sweet sparklers
Serve well chilled for the most refreshing drink imaginable. Low alcohol levels and the lifted scents of luscious ripe fruits make these the perfect wines for summer.
Jacob’s Creek NV Moscato $15.95
Pale and almost luminescent pink. Pure, delicious and delicate wine that has a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. – view on bobcampbell.nz
Brown Brothers NV Zibibbo Rosa $16.99
Rich, flavoursome Muscat – very luscious and appealing. Soft-textured and long. Simple wine that should be served well chilled. – view on bobcampbell.nz
First published in Taste Magazine NZ – Dec 2010.