Prior to Winey Little Bitch encouraging me to taste, taste, taste, my overall experience with sparkling wines was that they’re either too sweet or too dry, unbalanced. I just plain didn’t like them.
A dear friend of mine loves sparkling wines, it’s her drink of choice. At her Christmas party last year we had the entire Lindauer range to choose from – and not a red wine in sight.
In the most recent Cuisine magazine they’re ‘celebrating the success of Kiwi sparklers’, of which the Lindauer Classic Brut Cuvee NV and the Lindauer Classic Rosé NV both made it into the top five. Bob Campbell regularly scores the Special Reserve Lindauer range in the mid-to-high 80s. I can recognise that these wines aren’t terrible, but I can also recognise that they’re really not for me. That’s usually the distinction – there are wines that are well made and wines that you like – the two are not mutually exclusive.
Excuse my brief technical interlude as I clarify that all champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are champagnes. Champagne is a region in northeastern France where the champagne sparkling wines were first made. Most places in the world, including New Zealand legally reserves the word champagne to describe sparkling wines from the Champagne region, made in accordance with the rules of the appellation. Wines made in the same style as champagne outside of northeastern France are labelled as Methode Traditionelle.
Sparkling wines are made in different styles, include cuvée de prestige, the producers top range, blanc de noirs, a white wine produced entirely from black grapes and blanc de blancs, a sparkling made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.
A few other words you’ll find associated with sparkling wines are Brut, Extra Brut and Brut Natural (or Brut Zéro), which translates to sweet, less sweet and dry. Or more precisely, wine with less than 12, 6 or 3 grams of sugar per litre respectively.
All of the sparklings I mention below have sat on their lees for several months. Lees are the dead yeast cells of the residual yeasts that remain in the bottom of a vat after the fermentation and aging. The process of aging a wine on lees is known as sur lie, this process can lend a yeasty aroma and taste to the wine. This lees flavour can be enhanced by giving the lees a swirl. This was a revelation for me as the yeast fermentation can lend a distinctive bready/toasty note that is familiar to most sparkling wines made in the traditional fashion.
Over time my Lindauer loving friend has been rubbing off on me as when spending time in her company I’m exposed to bubbles – the end result is that I’ve actually started to find sparkling wines that I would happily spend an evening with.
As I continue to relearn: a wine is a wine is a wine. You’re forever looking for structure, balance and varietal expression. The best wines, still or sparkling, are produced with finesse and care.
Liking one, doesn’t mean you’ll like them all. Just as disliking one (or a few) doesn’t mean you’ll dislike them all. Here are a few reasonably priced New Zealand bubbles that have helped to change my mind about sparkling wine.
Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Brut NV 2010
Made in the traditionally method the Quartz Reef Brut is fresh and dry. With slight notes of sweet and crisp apples, there is also the traditional toasty aromas and flavours. A hand-picked selected blend of 58% Pinot Noir and 42% Chardonnay from the Bendigo Estate Vineyard. Bottle fermented and aged on lees for 24 months. 12.5% alc with 8 g/L rs RRP $30.00
The Doctor’s Bubbles for Beth Sparkling Syrah 2006
This really is a syrah that sparkles with plenty of dark cherry and plum fruits, hints of chocolate and even a touch of pepper. A hand-picked blend of 80% Syrah 20% Malbec. Bottle-fermented and aged on lees 30 months. 13% alc with 15 g/L rs RRP $30.00.
Man O’ War Blanc de Blanc Methode Traditionelle ‘Tulia’ 2009
Clean, fresh and positively bone dry with lovely notes of citrus and stonefruits, this wine made an excellent aperitif, enticing the appetite. 100% Chardonnay from the Pururi vineyard, Waiheke Island and on lees 9 months. 11.9% alc., with 6 g/L rs. RRP $44.90
Vynfields Bliss Sparkling Riesling 2011
An off-dry sparkler with delicious notes of lime and honey. This aromatic wine has a gorgeously long finish and a crisp acidity. Made from 100% Riesling fruit from 20 year old vines from the Vynfields’ vineyard, carbonated, and on lees 6 months. 12.5% alc. with 21 g/L rs. Certified organic. RRP $29.50