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

The quote I like best about champagne comes from the famed British economist John Maynard Keynes.  Speaking after a dinner at King's College,  Cambridge,  in the 1940s,  he commented:  My only regret is that I have not drunk more champagne in my life.

But sadly,  I do not taste a fraction of the champagne some do,  so the corollary is,  when I taste it,  I pay close attention.  Then having written the wine up,  I read what others think about it.  And all too often,  I am horrified by the standards of bubbly reporting in New Zealand.  It must be the most misjudged wine class in our country.  Time and time again,  the most insignificant bargain-bin champagne is paraded before us as a five-star wine.

Good champagne must be pure,  first and foremost.  Achieving this simple goal is not as simple as it sounds.  Secondly it has to have a measure of body and presence,  but not be fruity.  And thirdly,  it must display elegant yeast autolysis via a pure 'sweet' fragrant fresh-baked baguette quality on bouquet first,  and ideally in flavour.

At the start of the year I thought it would be fun to check a few of the affordable bubblies offered at a discount at that season.  Since then a few more interesting bubblies have come my way.  This batch covers 7 months,  so it is not directly comparative.  On occasion,  another bottle of the earlier wines has been opened,  to calibrate to a degree,  and facilitate little blind tastings.  Always the question is,  what offers actual value ?  Who for example has not wondered if nv Lindauer Reserve would maintain its quality,  once Pernod-Ricard (bizarrely ?) sold its best-known marque to a brewery (Lion).  Or wondered if nv Lanson Black Label is still worthwhile introductory champagne,  now that it is commonly seen at $45 and even less?

At the same time I looked at a couple of recent New Zealand favourites.  Our family used 2006 Hunter's MiruMiru Methode Traditionelle for a wedding in 2009,  and the (2007-based) non-vintage Nautilus Methode Traditionelle similarly in 2011.  Both wines are now marvellous with their respective bottle age.  I wonder in passing whether 2006 MiruMiru is not the best New Zealand bubbly of recent years,  it being just a little closer to the Champagne benchmark than the flavoursome Nautilus.  Both show how remarkably suited to the methode champenoise winestyle Marlborough is.  How intriguing it would be to compare such wines with both affordable Champagne examples and the now-much-discussed (and praised,  in the UK) British methodes in a rigorous blind tasting.

Then later,  thanks to Wellington wine-man (and champagne-lover) Ian McInnes,  in one week I tasted not one but three champagnes of a quality that surpasses anything sampled for a very long time.  These three wines communicate all one needs to know about champagne,  pretty well,  if one's pleasure lies in the quality of the liquid,  rather than the prestige of the label.

Pierre Peters is one of the smallest producers in Champagne,  based in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,  to the south in chardonnay country.  His wines are distinctive for being made from grand cru vineyards only.  And apart from a rosé,  they are made only from chardonnay.  Closures are supercritical 'cork' (Diam),  so there is less chance of a corked bottle.  And the complementary pinot noir-dominant Champagne Gatinois is all grand cru fruit too.  It is brought into the country by the discriminating couple of chaps running Maison Vauron,  in Auckland.

As always in my bubbly reviews,  unless there is something really odd,  I take bubbles for granted,  being weary of the pretentious nonsense spouted by so many winewriters on this topic.  The smells,  flavours and textures are what matters.  The following notes do not include much background info,  on this occasion.


   nv  Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Methode Traditionelle Brut
   nv  Champagne Gardet Brut Premier Cru
   nv  Champagne Gardet Brut Tradition
   nv  Champagne Gatinois Grand Cru Brut
2006  Hunter's MiruMiru Reserve
   nv  Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut
   nv  Champagne Lanvin Brut
     nv  Lindauer Special Reserve [ 2014 release ]
   nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs [ 2014 release ]
   nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Methode Traditionelle Brut [ 2002 Release ]
   nv  Nautilus Methode Traditionelle Brut
   nv  Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve Grand Cru Brut
   nv  Champagne Pierre Peters Grand Cru Extra Brut

nv  Champagne Pierre Peters Grand Cru Extra Brut   19 +  ()
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $90   [ supercritical 'cork';  Ch 100%;  thought to be mostly a single-vintage blend;  www.champagne-peters.com ]
Colour is fractionally paler than the Cuvée Reserve,  and perhaps a hint more lemon.  One sniff,  and having spoken so highly of the cuvée wine,  all one can say about the bouquet is the purity is sensational,  and the depth and quality of autolysis is extraordinary,  as if the wine were 50 to 100% longer en tirage.  This bouquet is simply wonderful.  In mouth the degree of yeast autolysis complexity is crust of finest baguette,  clearly of Le Moulin (Willis Street,  Wellington,  perhaps the finest baguettes in New Zealand) quality.  But the astonishing thing is,  this wine is so rich (and I'm sure this could be demonstrated with a dry extract analysis) that the virtually nil dosage (2 g/L) is invisible.  This is blanc de blancs champagne of a quality rarely encountered.  It reminds me of the quality Taittinger Comtes de Champagne used to be in the 1960s.  The depth of autolysis makes one think there has to be some pinot noir in it,  but not so,  and again there is this pure mineral / chalky underpinning.  Anybody with the slightest interest in quality methode champenoise,  and particularly in the blanc de blancs style,  needs to taste this wine.  You will not be disappointed.  Cellar 10 – 20 years or so.  GK 07/14

nv  Champagne Gatinois Grand Cru Brut   18 ½ +  ()
Ay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $55   [ cork;  PN 90%,  Ch 10;  www.champagne-gatinois.com ]
Faintly flushed straw,  in the same direction as nv Lindauer Reserve but much subtler.  Bouquet however bears no relation.  Here is champagne beauty and florality of a quality rarely encountered.  In the same way pinot noir can smell of English tea roses,  so does this wine.  This bouquet is simply exquisite.  Behind the floral notes there is pure baguette-quality autolysis,  cherry fruit,  and the faintest hint of Vogel's Wholegrain.  In mouth the pinot noir flavours cannot be ignored,  yet the wine is fresh and long.  Like the Peters wines,  the quality of fruit bespeaks a very conservative cropping rate,  and the absence of phenolics likewise suggests very gentle pressing,  and a conservative juice off-take.  Finish is quality brut,  around 8 g/L.  This is reference quality blanc de noirs,  forming an ideal complement to the Peters wines.  And as above,  in a country where too many winewriters routinely endorse every tinpot champagne with the equivalent of five stars via fulsome prose,  there is an urgent need for wines like this and the Peters two to be much more widely tasted,  discussed and understood.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  GK 07/14

nv  Champagne Pierre Peters Cuvée de Reserve Grand Cru Brut   18 ½ +  ()
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $85   [ supercritical 'cork';  Ch 100%;  a blend of 15 or more vintages;  www.champagne-peters.com ]
Colour is a superb lemon hue.  Bouquet is all one could ask of a blanc de blanc champagne,  exquisite purity,  apparent richness yet not 'fruity' (i.e. no hint of the New Zealand sparkling chardonnay syndrome),  and a quality of yeast autolysis which is benchmark,  amply justifying the descriptor baguette quality (artisan baguette,  not industrial).  Using current nv Lanson as a calibration wine in a small blind batch,  and leaving aside the obvious pinot noir that wine shows,  the critical quality the Peters wine shows is concentration of fruit,  mouth feel and presence,  yet again without being 'fruity'.  The taste of baguette-crust on palate is lovely,  with a suggestion of chablis-like chalkyness drying the fruit,  and a dosage given as 6 – 7 g/L appropriate to high-quality non-vintage champagne.  This is reference-quality blanc de blancs to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/14

2006  Hunter's MiruMiru Reserve   18 ½  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $28   [ cork;  Ch 55%,  PN 41,  PM 4;  www.hunters.co.nz ]
Bright lemonstraw.  Bouquet is remarkable,  combining a citric freshness with attractive mealy and baguette-crust autolysis of textbook quality,  just lovely.  Palate is full of flavour,  really satisfying and long,  a little toasty now,  great with savouries,  everything an affordable bubbly should be.  And the dosage at 8 g/L is superb,  setting wines like this apart from the overly sweet Pernod-Ricard (and successors) offerings.  In the simplest  terms,  there is no reputable New Zealand bubbly which is not better after two or three years bottle age after release,  and this wine vividly confirms that.  This delightful wine has body and palate weight reminiscent of fine champagne,  but is not 'fruity'.  Cellar 2 – 10 years,  to taste.  GK 01/14

nv  Champagne Gardet Brut Premier Cru   18  ()
Chigny-Les-Roses,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $50   [ cork;  PN 60%,  PM 40;  slow and pretentious website;  www.champagne-gardet.com ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is softer and broader against the bubblies in the July batch,  with a rich bouquet showing a lot of yeast autolysis,  on fruit certainly suggesting that red grapes were dominant in the cepage.    Palate is a little odd,  quite weighty,  a lot of autolysis but also a noticeable mushroomy note creeping in and becoming dominant to the finish.  Dosage is standard brut,  with good fruit richness.  The nett style is unusual,  but very food-friendly indeed.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/14

nv  Champagne Gardet Brut Tradition   17 ½  ()
Chigny-Les-Roses,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $42   [ cork;  PN 45%,  PM 45,  Ch 10;  slow and pretentious website;  www.champagne-gardet.com ]
Lemonstraw.  Bouquet is attractively champenoise,  with hints of sturmer battles bespeaking pinot noir,  and pleasant autolysis.  Palate has clear pinot noir hints of pale cherry,  some tannin structure,  good body,  and then exemplary dosage around 8 g/L.  It is a richer wine than Lindauer or Deutz Marlborough,  but not quite as exciting a wine as I had hoped.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/14

nv  Champagne Lanson Black Label Brut   17 ½  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $45   [ cork;  PN 50%,  Ch 35,  PM 15;  disgorged March 2013;  www.lanson.com ]
Good lemon,  a hint of straw.  The first impression of the pure fragrant bouquet is a higher percentage of pinot noir,  just a hint of cherry aroma in light but pleasing autolysis.  Palate confirms the pinot noir,  hints of soft skin tannin adding structure,  a more flavoursome wine than the Lanvin.  It tastes drier than the Lanvin or the Lindauer / Deutz wines.  Various sources on the Net say the dosage is 11 g/L,  but it does not taste like it.  Lanson traditionally has no MLF,  which would result in both higher TA and lower pH,  and thus a flavour which seems both drier and purer.  But appearances and statistics can both be deceptive.  It tastes like 8 g/L,  as dry as the Gardet and higher TA.  Good to know the quality is being maintained at the more affordable price.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 01/14

nv  Nautilus Methode Traditionelle Brut   17 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $36   [ cork;  PN 70%,  Ch 30,  all hand-picked;  www.nautilusestate.com ]
Light lemonstraw,  a similar weight but different hue from the Lanson,  alongside.  Bouquet is in one sense more clearly autolysed than the Lanson,  even some suggestions of crust of baguette,  but that plus point is offset by there being more flesh on the fruit than is ideal.  Palate combines this good autolysis with bigger fruit conveying hints of pale stonefruit,  so the whole wine is not as neat and taut as the Lanson.  It is however fractionally fresher.  Finish is clearly Brut,  confirmed by the 7 g/L given,  again contrasting with the Deutz and Lindauer.  The current release to the trade is the second disgorgement batch of the 2009-based wine.  This is not the first batch which won the Champion wine award in 2013 in the 2013 Air New Zealand judging.  I don't have them alongside,  but my hunch is this 2009-based wine is not quite as crisp and authoritative as the delightful 2007-based wine.  That wine however did not strike it lucky in the judging at all.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 07/14

nv  Champagne Lanvin Brut   17 +  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $38   [ supercritical 'cork';  PN 40%,  PM 40,  Ch 20;  www.champagne-lombard.com ]
Pale lemon,  a hint of straw.  The first thing to say about this wine is it is now sealed with supercritical 'cork',   so cork taint is now less likely (but not impossible,  Diam is not infallible).  The second point is,  I have been quite hard on previous bottles of Lanvin in some reviews,  so what a pleasant surprise to have it come through in the top half of a blind batch of six wines.  Even six wines blind is enough to serve the purpose of such an exercise.  Bouquet is 'sweet' and  fragrant,  no clog,  hints of pinot noir,  light but attractive autolysis.  Palate is on the light side,  reflecting the cropping rates and vineyard location of these more affordable champagnes,  but the flavours are pure,  and  the autolysis genuine.  Dosage is crisper than the populist New Zealand approach,  faithfully reflecting its given 9 g/L on the EuroVintage website.  This is the best batch of Lanvin I have seen.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 01/14

nv  Lindauer Special Reserve [ 2014 release ]   17  ()
Gisborne mostly and Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  cepage typically PN 70%,  Ch 30;  price varies $11 – $21;  new website info good;   www.lindauer.co.nz ]
Delightfully light salmon pink,  paler than a few years ago but could still pass as a genuine rosé bubbly.  And so could the bouquet,  beautifully clean pinot noir,  suggestions of baguette,  suggestions of red cherry.  Palate is fresh,  the bouquet attributes carrying through well,  but then the whole proposition is let down by the dosage (given as 11 g/L,  but now rumoured to be lower) the proprietors are persisting with,  scarcely less than the former proprietor's 12 g/L.  Surely Lion with new eyes can see that Lindauer Reserve needs to be set apart from standard Lindauer,  to appeal to a slightly more sophisticated market.  Dosage needs to be 9 – 10 g/L.  It is however good to report there appears to be no diminution of Lindauer Reserve quality under the new management.  And Lindauer Reserve when on special,  no longer sadly $10 but $11 in July 2014,  remains the best-value quality wine in New Zealand.  Cellar 2 – 6 years,  to taste.  GK 07/14

nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs [ 2014 release ]   17  ()
Gisborne mostly,  New Zealand:  12%;  $18   [ cork;  Ch 100%;  price varies $11 – $21;  new website info good;  www.lindauer.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is delightfully pure,  more crumb of baguette rather than crust,  a touch of oatmeal,   conveying the impression of fruit without the negative of being 'fruity'.  Palate is just as rich as the Lanvin,  but not quite the grape complexity naturally,  being all chardonnay.  Finish is still on the sweet side for brut,  but is better than the numbers would suggest (given as 12 g/L,  but now rumoured to be lower),  a good acid balance keeping the wine fresh.  One in fact has to taste carefully to rank these wines on dosage – a harder task than might be imagined,  even though the range is given as from 8 to 12 g/L.  This batch of Lindauer Reserve Blanc de Blancs in its new label should cellar delightfully,  gaining complexity for four years say,  and holding it a little longer.  GK 07/14

nv  Lindauer Special Reserve Methode Traditionelle Brut [ 2002 Release ]   16 ½ +  ()
Gisborne,  Hawkes Bay & Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $ –    [ cork;  PN dominant ]
Colour is faded salmon pink with hints of russet,  rather than the pale salmon pink of the 2014 release,  but still attractive.  Bubble is half the pressure and half the persistence of the younger wine.  But on bouquet,  the whole wine is simply the autumnal side of lightly autolysed pinot noir-dominant bubbly,  still recognisably  varietal,  clean,  and you can see it has had some autolysis.  It is remarkably convincing.  Palate follows naturally,  but fruit and acid are fading,  allowing the excessive dosage of Lindauer then to be even more obtrusive now.  People obsessed with youth in wine would not rate this so highly,  but it is still a perfectly enjoyable and affordable bubbly.  GK 07/14

nv  Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Methode Traditionelle Brut   16 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  12%;  $28   [ cork;  price range $20 – $36;  PN dominant;  website fails to produce tasting notes;  www.deutz.co.nz ]
Good lemon.  I was able to examine two bottles of nv Deutz in this blind tasting.  At no point did I think them the same wine.  Once the labels were revealed,  I still had 'closeness' comparisons more with other wines than each other.  Both lacked the elegance and balance of the Lanvin and Lanson,  one Deutz seeming slightly stalky,  the other seeming a bit clogged – at a careful level of examination.  They are both in style loosely speaking,  but clearly sweeter in perceived sensory terms than the Lanson Black Label.  When will Pernod-Ricard New Zealand move to a more sophisticated approach to dosage in their bubblies ?  The total winestyle is clearly minor champagne,  but on the showing of these two bottles,  one has to ask if lesser batches of Deutz are disposed of in the annual Christmas flood of Deutz at $19.99 ?  These two bottles are from such batches,  and simply did not measure up,  in the tasting.  Other Marlborough producers are demonstrating just what can be achieved with the methode champenoise winestyle in the district.  It would be good if the Deutz Marlborough label competed more on quality than price and coat-tailing on the Deutz connection.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 01/14