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Our top wine picks for a sparkling Christmas

New Zealand’s stylish sparklers

Take a tasting tour of the country with Master of Wine Bob Campbell as he picks out some of the best and most interesting sparkling wine producers, so you can stock up for Christmas

Champagne may be the international benchmark for great sparkling wine but Kiwi fizz offers even greater personality and considerably more variety. The sainted editor of Taste suggested I write up a regional tour of New Zealand sparkling wine. Initially cautious about the commission I began to research the subject and became very enthusiastic about my chosen wines. Behind every bottle there is a story. Understand the story, then the wine; when you sip, it takes on a new dimension.

New Zealand has eight ‘major’ wine regions. Each is well suited to making high-quality sparkling wine. Differing climate, soils and winemaking methods means that wine styles vary considerably.

Auckland region

Kumeu River ‘Crémant’ $50
Winemaker, Michael Brajkovich MW, is world famous for his elegant, powerful chardonnay, but despite that success he has harboured a desire to make a serious sparkling wine since graduating in oenology from Roseworthy College.

He has finally achieved that goal. This wine was blended and bottled in August 2013 and disgorged (yeasts removed), topped up and bottled in May 2016. It’s a blend of 40 per cent pinot noir and 60 per cent chardonnay and is a creamy-textured wine with delicate fruit flavours and a refreshingly dry finish.

Make a prawn salad and garnish it with lemon juice, buy some crusty French bread, drive out to Kumeu (30 minutes from Auckland’s CBD) and buy a bottle of Crémant. Have yourself a summer picnic high on Mate’s vineyard across the road from the winery – you won’t regret it. Just don’t forget the flutes!

Gisborne

Spade Oak Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionnelle $34
Gisborne calls itself ‘the chardonnay capital of New Zealand’. Spade Oak owner/winemaker Steve Voysey has probably made more sparkling wine than any other local winemaker so it’s logical that he should include a 100 per cent chardonnay fizz on the list when he started his own winery.

“Do you want to know why I think Gisborne is the ideal place to make serious sparkling wine?” Steve asks. “The chalk soils in Champagne hold around 600 litres of water per square metre, an important factor in vine health and quality grapes. Gisborne’s clay soils hold around 800 litres per square metre. That helps us pick grapes for sparkling wine perfectly in balance.”

Spade Oak’s Blanc de Blancs is fermented in old oak barrels to give the wine greater texture and a savoury aspect. The wine spends a minimum of 12 months on the yeast lees and is disgorged on demand. They have just moved from the 2009 to the 2014 vintage.

Hawke’s Bay

Black Barn 2010 Blanc de Blancs $70
Black Barn is a one-stop shop for visitors to the Bay. They own 17 classy cottages in great locations around Hawke’s Bay from an eight-bedroom luxury retreat to a two-bedroom turn-of-the-century cottage in the heart of their vineyard. They also have one of the best winery restaurants in the region. Oh, and did I mention that they make a very classy sparkling wine?

The wine is made from individual hand-picked parcels of chardonnay that were lightly pressed to give the wine a very pure and gentle texture. The wine was initially fermented in a mix of tank and barrels before a second fermentation in bottle and 45 months’ rest to develop extra weight and a strong Marmite/brioche yeasty character.

Martinborough

Margrain 2013 La Michelle $45
Margrain offers great vineyard accommodation with 15 well-equipped, modern villas with views across farmland to the distant hills. I find sipping on a glass of wine as I gaze out over grazing sheep curiously relaxing.

I’m a big fan of Margrain’s 2013 La Michelle, which is a blend of 66 per cent pinot noir and 33 per cent chardonnay, according to the winemaker (who may have flunked maths as a student). The wine spent around two-and-a-half years on the yeasty sediment, which explains its smooth texture and savoury Marmite-like complexity. The pinot noir component gives an appealing chocolate box character. I particularly like the wine’s bone-dry finish, which makes it a good food wine. Try it with smoked salmon served with a liberal squeeze of lemon.

Marlborough

No.1 Assemblé Méthode Marlborough $33
Daniel le Brun’s family had been making Champagne for 12 generations before he met his future wife, Adele, and moved to Marlborough to continue producing bottle-fermented fizz on the other side of the world. He was New Zealand’s first, and for a long time, only, sparkling wine producer. No.1 Family is the only Marlborough winery specialising in producing premium Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine.

Assemblé (pronounced ASS-OM-BLAY) is a blend of 60 per cent pinot noir and 40 per cent chardonnay that has spent a minimum of 18 months on the yeast lees. Crisp, fresh méthode with a toasty chardonnay influence, together with an undercurrent of chocolate box pinot noir flavour. Perfectly balanced with a pleasantly drying finish.

Check out the winery website no1familyestate.co.nz where I particularly like Adele’s sparkling wine tips in ‘et cetera’.

Nelson

Mahana Méthode Traditionnelle NV Brut $49
Mahana is one of Nelson’s ‘must visit’ wineries. The owner is a keen collector of fine art. His vineyard is decorated with impressive sculptures that encourage a stroll through the vines. Their restaurant, Mahana Kitchen, offers lunch during weekdays and brunch on the weekend. There are winery tours Monday to Friday at 11am and 2pm or you can buy a wine and lunch package for $85 per person, which includes a wine tasting, tour, a two-course lunch with a glass of wine, tea or coffee to finish.

Mahana Méthode Traditionnelle NV Brut is a bone-dry (zero dosage) wine made from an equal blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. The wine has spent 42 months in contact with the yeast lees to produce a rich, nutty, yet refreshing sparkling wine of great character and depth.

Waipara

Alan McCorkindale 2009 Blanc de Blancs $50
Alan McCorkindale bought his limestone-laced hillside vineyard in Waipara because he thought it was the ideal spot to produce high-quality sparkling wine. His faith in the site was confirmed when a famous French vineyard soil expert said that the Waipara limestone was the same age and chemical structure as limestone found in Champagne vineyards.

His latest ‘zero dosage’ blanc de blancs has no added sugar and no addition of sulphites, which act as a preservative. “It’s still relatively experimental but it looks terrific,” Alan says. The wine is made from 100 per cent chardonnay vines that Alan imported directly from Champagne. A serious sparkler by a true sparkling wine enthusiast.

Central Otago

Quartz Reef 2010 Méthode Traditionnelle $45
I feel slightly nervous whenever I open a bottle of Quartz Reef fizz. When I uncorked the 2009 vintage half the contents splashed into my laptop and destroyed it. Very traumatic.

A blend of 93 per cent chardonnay and pinot noir that spent four years on the yeast lees before being disgorged and bottled. The world’s most southerly wine region has ideal soil and climatic conditions for producing sparkling wine and Quartz Reef produces.

Photography by: One Shot, Supplied.

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