Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

It's that time of the year when virtually every wine retailer in the country seizes on some winewriter's sleepy moment,  and tries to tell us that some little-known or el cheapo bubbly is absolutely the bees' knees.  This whole dilemma is not helped by the fact that the bubbly class has traditionally not been critically assessed / judged in New Zealand.  All too often we see entrained sulphur characters marked up as autolysis complexity,  whereas in fact such smells and tastes are negatives.  

At literally the opposite pole,  winemaker judges can be too intolerant of developed autolysed characters,  the consequence being developed wines much liked around the world such as Bollinger can be dismissed as showing aldehyde influences.  Winemakers are not necessarily the best wine judges,  some being overly technical and less aware of the concepts of beauty and enchantment in wine.  

Another problem in New Zealand assessment of the bubbly class is the national sweet tooth,  a commercial / factory-beer legacy,  I guess.  I mean,  Deutz Marlborough still presents their non-vintage but in effect premium wine with 12 g/L residual / dosage,  for heaven's sake.  When will we grow up ...

In bubbly,  I seek first of all cleanliness,  then qualities of yeast autolysis ideally reminiscent of the baguettes from Le Moulin bakery,  Upper Willis Street,  Wellington.  When I go to Auckland,  and beseech contacts for the source of quality baguettes there,  the offerings verge on abysmal.  Crumb of bread is not enough:  fine bubbly shows crust of fresh-baked bread,  and more particularly thoughts of classic baguette-crust.  So the sub-text to this story is,  when in Wellington,  visit Le Moulin and shout yourself one of their baguettes.  They may well be the best in New Zealand.  But in addition to positive yeast complexity,  good sparkling wine must have some presence and substance,  a function of cropping rate,  yet not be "fruity".  We went though a long phase of endorsing sparkling chardonnay in New Zealand.  Above all,  good bubbly is infinitely more-ish and companionable.

In the following skimpy tasting (while loading this review notice came in of Josh Raynolds' "more than 300 new Champagnes from 131 producers" just posted on Stephen Tanzer's website – yes ... we are a small country),  only one of the wines seems seriously Brut,  which I define as around 8 g/L,  wine for enthusiasts.  Most give the impression to taste of starting at around 10 g/L dosage,  and some are more than that.  My goal was wines under $40,  but Maxim's at $50 crept in,  since it seemed idle to ship a case of 2010 Rhone wines from Auckland with one slot empty.  The tasting was strictly blind.

As always for bubbly,  which is a subject lending itself to more pretension in wine writing than any other class of wine,  I concentrate on smells and tastes.  Yes,  some had finer bubbles than others,  but it is smell and taste and texture in mouth that matter.


   nv  Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Perle de Vigne Grande Reserve Brut
   nv  Bouvet Methode Traditionelle Brut
   nv  [ Caves de Marsigny ] Saint-Meyland Methode Traditionelle Brut
   nv  Champagne Charles Courbet Brut
   nv  Charles de Fere Blanc de Blancs Methode Traditionelle Brut Reserve
   nv  Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Brut Methode Traditionelle
     nv  Champagne H Garnier & Co Brut
   nv  Champagne H Lanvin & Fils Selection Brut
   nv  Lindauer Blanc de Blancs Special Reserve
   nv  Champagne Maxim's Brut Reserve
   nv  Champagne Moutard Pere & Fils Grand Cuvee Brut

nv  Champagne Maxim's Brut Reserve   18  ()
Chigny les Roses,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $50   [ cork;  PN & PM 75%,  Ch 25;  tirage unknown but more than most in this bracket,  likewise one of the few to show appropriate bottle-age before sale;  made by the Champagne house Cattier;  dosage likely to be 10 g/L;  distributed by Paul Mitchell,  The Wine Importer;  www.maxims-sapp.com ]
Lemonstraw,  pleasant bubble.  Bouquet on this wine is the most complete in the set,  with a degree of complexity setting it apart.  Isn't it a bugger when the most expensive wine in the blind tasting comes out on top ...  Bouquet shows plenty of crumb of bread autolysis,  and clear suggestions of crust of baguette,  plus a particularly appealing mushrooms-on-toast complexity note.  Palate shows good body,  the autolysis continuing well,  attractively subtle phenolics bespeaking not too much pressing,  and it is one of the dryer wines in the set.  It tastes like a harmonious blend of meunier,  noir and chardonnay,  none dominant.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 12/12

nv  Champagne Charles Courbet Brut   17 ½  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $29   [ cork;  this is one of the more than 100 labels (including Lanson) which emerges from the house of Marne et Champagne;  life is too short to track down info in a reasonable time,  but the cepage might be along the lines of Black Label at PN 50%, Ch 35, PM 15;  tirage unknown but more than most in this bracket,  like the Maxim's one of the few to show appropriate bottle-age before sale;  no website found;  distributed by Glengarry Wines ]
Straw,  a wash of pinot noir flush,  not the finest bubble.  Bouquet is good,  clear autolysis,  clear pinot noir dominance,  hints of citrus and good support from the blending varieties,  with a certain delicacy suggesting flowers,  rather lovely.  Palate shows beautifully handled phenolics,  attractive champagne flavours,  no pressings here,  a good bubbly with food,  not as rich as the Maxim's,  but not much in it.  Being in the ubiquitous Lanson Black Label family of wines certainly helps quality and value here,  and gives one confidence for buying a case.  From memory,  it is sweeter than Black Label,  though.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  VALUE  GK 12/12

nv  Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Perle de Vigne Grande Reserve Brut   17  ()
Nuits-Saint-Georges,  Burgundy,  France:  12%;  $24   [ cork;  PN,  gamay,  Ch,  aligoté;  tirage at least 9 months;  at least a year in bottle (and the cork confirms);  distributed by Negociants NZ;  www.louis-bouillot.com ]
Straw,  the faintest flush.  One sniff and this wine reminds of nv Lindauer Reserve,  showing a predominance of strawberry and cherry-like pinot noir,  and moderate autolysis.  Palate is crisp,  the lowest dosage in the set,  cherry fruit very evident,  yet the wine is not fruity in the way so many New Zealand "sparkling chardonnays" (not labelled as such) are.  Because it is so dry,  the phenolics show a little,  and the wine can taste a little 'tinny' with some kinds of food.  I'd like to see this wine alongside Lindauer Reserve with say three years of age,  though the Lindauer would be sweeter.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 12/12

nv  Champagne H Lanvin & Fils Selection Brut   17  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $38   [ supercritical 'cork';  PN 40%,  PM 40,  Ch 20;  MLF;  time on lees not known,  ambiguous reference to 18 months in bottle but that may include post-disgorgement,  cork evidence suggests latter minimal;  RS 9 g/L given,  seems doubtful;  distributed by EuroVintage;  www.champagne-lombard.com ]
Lemongreen,  one of the youngest hues.  Bouquet is intriguing,  showing clean autolysis in a petite way,  good crumb,  faintest crust of bread.  Additionally,  there is an appealing suggestion of apple blossom,  highlighting the cleanliness of the wine.  Palate is delicate initially,  then broadens on a sweetness level which explains why so many lesser New Zealand judgings persist in awarding this sound but not benchmark wine a gold-medal rating.  That said,  this is a better example of the methode champenoise style than the last Lanvin I tried.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 12/12

nv  Champagne Moutard Pere & Fils Grand Cuvee Brut   16 ½ +  ()
Aube / La Cote des Bar,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $35   [ cork;  PN 100%;  it seems likely from Galloni's review that the current stock is based on the 2009 vintage,  suggesting a longer tirage than most here,  with 30% reserve wines and 10 g/L dosage;  disgorged late September 2012,  and the cork amply confirms;  a Glengarry wine;  www.champagne-moutard.fr ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet shows good crust of bread autolysis,  on a fruit quality hinting at pinot noir dominance [ confirmed ].  The favourable impression on bouquet is let down somewhat by the palate,  which shows phenolics suggestive of more pressings.  This introduces a slightly 'tinny' quality into the palate which can make food-matching a problem,  the only remedy being another mouthful.  This is quite a common phenomenon in second-tier champagnes,  worth keeping an eye out for.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 12/12

nv  Lindauer Blanc de Blancs Special Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gisborne mostly & Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  price ranges from $10 (rarely now) to $20;  this bottle 2008 release;  Ch 100%,  full MLF;  some reserve wine use;  said to be c.24 months en tirage; 12 g/L dosage;  www.lindauer.co.nz ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is pleasant,  some suggestions of crumb and crust of bread on a blanc de blancs base,  all clean and sound but lacking excitement.  Given the bottle age,  there is a trade-off between freshness and complexity,  the autolysis being more apparent now.  Palate likewise shows clean fruit,  the hint of button mushrooms on the aftertaste is pleasant,  but the dosage is tending unsophisticated,  with a hint of caramel creeping in.  It is past time that Lindauer Reserve lowered the dosage,  to cater to a more discriminating purchaser than the standard mass-market Lindauer wine.  Perhaps with new ownership this will be achieved ?  Already cellared 4 years,  will hold but not improve further.  GK 12/12

nv  Champagne H Garnier & Co Brut    16 ½  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $35   [ supercritical 'cork';  PN 40%,  PM 40,  Ch 20;  MLF;  this wine comes from the same firm as Lanvin,  and is likewise imported into New Zealand by EuroVintage,  but seems to be retailed only via Advintage,  Havelock North;  it is understood to have a longer sur latte time (up to 24 months) than Lanvin;  RS not known;  www.champagne-lombard.com ]
Lemonstraw,  about in the middle,  the bubble tending coarse.  Bouquet is down a notch,  just a trace of entrained sulphur,  giving the spurious autolysis complexity noted earlier.  There is some pinot noir cherry fruit,  and crumb of bread autolysis.  Palate shows pleasant fruit,  but there are some phenolics showing through,  with dosage a little higher to cover that.  Pleasant enough commercial French bubbly,  scarcely brut though,  cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 12/12

nv  Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Brut Methode Traditionelle   16  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $28   [ cork;  price ranges from $20 not infrequently in supermarkets (but is it the same wine ?) to $36 in some wine shops;  understood to be PN dominant,  balance Ch,  hand-harvested;  said to be at least 2 years en tirage;  RS 12 g/L;  www.deutz.co.nz ]
Lemon more than straw.  This is another wine with spurious autolysis complexity,  some entrained sulphur adding cardboardy notes to crumb of bread only,  no crust.  Fruit seems more chardonnay than pinot noir,  quite rich,  the dosage more apparent than some,  but the whole thing palls in the mouth,  lacking the excitement good method champenoise should provide.  Some Lindauer Reserve bottlings are better than this offering,  for the $20 pre-Christmas price bracket.  You get the impression not all batches of Deutz Marlborough are equal – certainly if the thought is to grab a case of the wine when on special,  tasting of that batch is essential.  Similarly there is a disconnect between what the website has to say,  and comparative taste evaluation.  For this wine for example:  Deutz Marlborough Cuvée, establishing a new benchmark for New Zealand wine excellence …  For the non-vintage,  this is simply fanciful.  If this release has had two years en tirage,  something is amiss.  And as noted earlier,  the dosage at 12 g/L is pathetic.  Not worth cellaring,  even at the reduced price.  GK 12/12

nv  Bouvet Methode Traditionelle Brut   15 ½  ()
Saumur,  Lore Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $25   [ cork;  chenin-dominant with a little chardonnay,  or chenin 100%;  no details of tirage etc,  but brief;  widely distributed,  often featured by Wine Direct;  www.bouvet-ladubay.fr ]
Lemongreen,  immediately a worry in the bottle-fermented class.  Bouquet is intriguing,  there is no appreciable autolysis complexity as such,  but there is a certain hint of florality reminiscent of elderflower,  on clean apply fruit.  Palate does show some crumb of bread autolysis,  there is pleasant richness of simple fruit,  and it is clean,  none of the sulphur that used to haunt Loire bubblies.  But,  like most chenin blancs (unless complexed by botrytis) it is basically empty wine.  Dosage is higher than is pleasant,  too.  I will be interested to see what happens with bottle age.  This is another wine where the info (including reviews) in print bears little relation to the intrinsic interest in the wine.  It may be made in the highest-tech facility in France,  but clean and empty is not enough.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 12/12

nv  [ Caves de Marsigny ] Saint-Meyland Methode Traditionelle Brut   15  ()
Auxerre,  c.100 km NW Beaune,  France:  12%;  $17   [ supercritical 'cork';  cepage said to be PN & gamay,  but doesn't taste it,  likely to contain aligoté and chardonnay as other wines from this house do;  tirage may be over a year,  but again obfuscation on websites,  no differentiation between time on lees and time in bottle;  it is made in much the same way as (cheaper versions of) cremant de Bourgogne,  but since is non-appellation is classed as vin mousseux de qualité;  distributed by Glengarry Wines;  no website found ]
Lemongreen,  also a worry in the bottle-fermented class.  Bouquet is light,  clean,  faintly apply,  slightly soapy,  the merest hint of crumb of bread autolysis,  pretty well neutral.  Palate is drab,   tending phenolic (aligoté ?),  mostly white varieties,  lacking interest but drier than some.  Neutral / innocuous bubbly,  not worth cellaring.  GK 12/12

nv  Charles de Fere Blanc de Blancs Methode Traditionelle Brut Reserve    14 ½  ()
Loire Valley and elsewhere,  France:  12%;  $14   [ cork;  thought to be chenin blanc,  trebbiano,  colombard,  and maybe chardonnay,  ratios unknown;  this is the French equivalent of better Deutscher Sekt,  no appellation or location,  just grapes grown in France.  It is classed as vin mousseux de qualité.  It does undergo bottle fermentation in the same way as mainstream Lindauer,  and is said to have 9 months on lees;  a Blackmarket mainstay,  aided by effusive reviews;  www.boissetfamilyestates.com ]
Lemon,  modest bubble.  Bouquet is fruity in a chenin blanc-dominated way,  with the autolysis 'complexity' more cardboardy than bread crust.  There is a certain coarse quality too,  reminiscent of parellada / plain cava.  Baguette doesn't get a look in here.  It smells more like a better charmat wine than methode champenoise.  Palate is lightly fruity,  palely quincey,  some body,  going phenolic on the short finish,  which is further marred by being the sweetest in the bracket.  The producer's notes mention nine months sur lie,  which explains the lack of desirable autolysis characters.  Citations vary on the cepage for this wine.  Many wordings give the impression of gilding the lily by putting chardonnay first,  and referring to the lowly distilling grape trebbiano by its upmarket name ugni blanc.  Few mention the colombard at all.  Judging by the smell and taste,  the cepage seems likely to be chenin blanc,  trebbiano and colombard (given the price of the wine),  and a little chardonnay.  In its style it is clean enough (sweetness aside),  it might be slightly better in 12 months,  but two of those grapes don't keep at all.  It is a long way from good bubbly,  and nowhere near Lindauer Reserve in quality (which is often available more cheaply).  Not worth cellaring.  GK 12/12