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

I am critical of the way both champagne (with a capital 'c') and methode champenoise wines are reported on by the wine press in this country.  All too commonly we see totally minor and undistinguished / ordinary sparkling wines being compared with some of the world's greatest examples of the art.  The New Zealand wine trade then promulgates these myopic views far and wide as gospel truth,  being interested only in 'selling product'.  This procedure sadly bestows a certain verisimilitude on such views,  which in truth misleads the consumer,  and in the long-run helps nobody.  And least of all,  certainly does not help those New Zealand winemakers working to make quality methode champenoise,  since in parts of the country we have a climate ideally suited to the winestyle.  

Thus I felt duty-bound to participate in Glengarry's seasonal non-vintage champagne round-up,  constant external referencing and fine-tuning being necessary for accurate wine-writing –  and what a pleasure it was.  When I think back to the champagnes of the '80s particularly,  when so many were nondescript,  it is hard to escape the feeling that non-vintage champagne today is so vastly improved that it is in general as good as it has ever been,  and probably better.  That is not to say,  however,  that all brands are better than previously.  One erstwhile high-flyer in particular seems to be in an extended ordinary patch.  On return home with the wines,  where the serious examination takes place,  I added a little sparkle to the tasting,  so to speak,  by adding a New Zealand methode champenoise that has lately taken my fancy.  As noted for the 'grower' champagne report,  pretentious / gratuitous comment on the quality of bubble is not included,  below.  

Stelzer,  Tyson,  2013:  The Champagne Guide 2014 – 2015.  Hardie Grant Books,  Melbourne & London,  360 p.


2010  Akarua Vintage Brut
   nv  Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut
   nv  Champagne Delamotte Brut
   nv  Champagne G H Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut
   nv  Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut LP
   nv  Champagne Louis Roederer Premier Brut
     nv  Champagne Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut
   nv  Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut
   nv  Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve
   nv  Champagne Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin
   nv  Charles Heidseck Reserve Brut

nv  Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut   18 ½ +  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $80   [ laminated champagne cork;  cepage c. one third each PN,  PM,  Ch;  extended cool fermentation of the base wine to optimise aroma;  all base wines through MLF,  20% reserve wine,  no oak;  tirage between 36 and 48 months in cooler-than-many cellars,  being 33 metres underground;  dosage c.9.5 g/L;  c. 112,000 cases;  great website,  vastly improved;  www.polroger.com ]
Lemonstraw,  one of the richer colours.  The quality of autolysis on bouquet for this wine is sensational,  simply text book,  combining crust of best baguette with the faintest hint of mealy cashew flour and even a thought of desiccated coconut,  though there is no oak.  The flavour is even better,  the baguette-crust sweetening to brioche flavours of great length and charm.  There is also a more complex autolysis component on palate too,  hinting at Vogel's Multigrain.  It is not one of the driest champagnes,  but the fine-grained elegance of the palate is exemplary.  A real charmer,  to cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut   18 ½  ()
Ay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $99   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 60%,  Ch 25;  PM 15,  c. 85% of the juice premier or grand cru vineyards;  5 – 10% of blend reserve wines fermented in oak,  held in magnum under cork for 5 – 15 years;  minimum 3 years en tirage;  dosage 8 g/l;  c.165,000 cases;  www.champagne-bollinger.fr ]
Elegant lemonstraw,  fractionally paler than the Pol Roger,  surprisingly.  First impressions on bouquet are of lovely 'sweet' notes almost hinting at strawberry character,  as if pinot meunier were high (not so).  Backing the fruit is rich mealy autolysis,  all a shade more Vogel's Multigrain relative to the baguette of Pol Roger,  but wondrously pure.  On palate there is the lightest hint of older fragrant oak from the reserve wines,  adding nuttyness to the mealy texture,  but it is vanishingly subtle.  This is not as bold as nv Bollinger used to be,  but the fruit richness is wonderful,  completely hiding the more sophisticated dosage around 8 g/L.  Glorious wine,  the real thing,  cellar 5 – 20  years.  Stelzer comments there has been a revolution at Bollinger in the last 14 years,  the style fresher than previously,  but no less substantial.  He considers the current Special Cuvée the best ever.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Taittinger Brut Reserve   18  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $90   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 35%,  PM 25,  Ch 40,  usually spanning three maybe four vintages;  tailles from Ch only,  now much reduced to a max of 10%;  MLF throughout;  en tirage 36 months or a little more;  the house has reservations about Diam,  so far;  dosage 9 g/L;  333,000 cases;  www.taittinger.com ]
One of the most lemon colours,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet here is a classic lighter nearly floral champagne bouquet,  suggesting higher chardonnay at the blind stage,  and proving to be so.  The quality of autolysis is lovely,  subtler than the top two,  paler crust-of-baguette,  some crumb.  Palate is distinctly lighter than the Bollinger,  as one would expect,  but the flavours include crumb-of-baguette and hints of white button mushrooms and palest nectarines,  lingering beautifully and belying the wine's apparent lightness.  The whole approach in this wine will appeal to 'delicacy' fans,  though the finish is on the sweet side.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Louis Roederer Premier Brut   17 ½ +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $79   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 40%,  PM 20,  Ch  40,  20% reserve wine;  moving towards a biodynamic approach;  moving away from MLF,  some fermentation in oak,  some reserve wines in large old oak;  en tirage c.36 months;  10.5 g/L dosage;  166,000 cases;  www.louis-roederer.com ]
Lemonstraw,  the second deepest,  but still good.  Bouquet shows great charm in this wine,  near-perfect pale baguette and lightest white cherry maybe,  more in the style of the Taittinger.  Below there is a suggestion of faint strawberry,  and you wonder if the pinot meunier is speaking.  Palate is a little out of kilter,  great purity but total acid seeming higher,  and hence the wine appears short,  though very pure.  It does not taste as sweet as the given residual sugar of 10.5 g/L,  the acid balance influencing that assessment.  Cellar  5 – 15 years,  on the acid,  to maybe fill out a little.  GK 11/15

2010  Akarua Vintage Brut   17 ½  ()
Bannockburn,  Central Otago,  New Zealand:  13%;  $45   [ supercritical Diam 'cork';  PN 54%,  Ch 46,  hand-picked;  a smallish % of the wine fermented in older barrels;  partial MLF for complexity;  minimum 3 years en tirage,  but the second disgorgement batch (now on sale at the winery) nearer 4 years;  dosage c.6 g/L;  www.akarua.com ]
A ring-in,  not in the Glengarry blind presentation.  However,  it was assessed blind in the Pierre Peters champagne review.  Lemon,  right in the middle – colour could not be more perfectly matched to the average of the field,  in appearance.  Bouquet is noteworthy for the quality and purity of autolysis,  clean typical baguette-crust and crumb,  on a base which smells rich but not fruity.  Palate is nearly as flavoursome as the Pol Roger,  but just a little simpler and more granular.  The key thing it achieves,  in contradistinction to many New Zealand bubblies,  is this impression of substance,  but it is not fruity.  I added the Akarua to the batch,  both because I have been impressed with it recently,  and it has just won another gold medal in the 2015 Air New Zealand judging.  It was therefore a great opportunity to have a field of nv grande marque wines to hand,  to see exactly where it best fitted in,  quality-wise.  It was fun tasting the overs and unders of bouquet and palate attributes,  against each of the 10 grandes marques.  The low dosage emphasises the quality of the base wine,  which has impressive palate weight,  some citric and stonefruit suggestions,  and an almost mineral kind of autolysis complexity.  I think this will rate more highly in three years:  there is a certain firmness to it at this stage,  reflecting no pinot meunier in the blend,  the wine therefore needing to soften.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne G H Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut   17 +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $50   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 45%,  PM 25,  Ch 30;  full MLF;  Stelzer records how this wine has been transformed in the last 20 years;  now 30% reserve wines from four vintages;  30 months en tirage;  RS moving to 8 g/L;  closure will be moving to Diam;  666,000 cases;  www.mumm.com ]
Lemon,  the second palest.  Bouquet is light,  clean and pure,  the autolysis component lighter than those marked more highly,  here crumb-of-baguette rather than crust.  In flavour this is a more petite wine,  reflecting that the base wine presumably does not have as great a percentage of the grands and premiers crus components as some of the others do.  It is softer too,  as if there were high pinot meunier,  all showing beautiful purity.  Dosage is widely given as 8 g/L,  but I suspect that it is in fact closer to the Roederer,  say 10.  Considering this wine is commonly available at $50,  reflecting the fact that understanding of its complete transformation has not yet permeated the market-place,  it is an attractive though smaller-scale champagne.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut   17  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $80   [ supercritical Diam 'cork';  PN 40%,  PM 40,  Ch 20;  c.13% reserve wines spanning three vintages;  36 months en tirage;  dosage 10 g/L;  total production for the house is c.250 000 cases,  but % this wine comprises not known;  www.perrier-jouet.com ]
Lemon,  like the Taittinger,  below midway in depth.  At this point in the ranking,  the quality of bouquet and precision and purity of the autolysis / baguette / brioche component takes a step down.  There is a reasonable volume of champagne character,  but in it there is trace damp cardboard,  letting it down slightly.   Palate is markedly better,  palest white nectarines and brioche,  good length,  fine-grained,  making you wish  you could score it higher.  Dosage is closely matched to the Pol Roger.  That's the trouble,  one wants champagne to be so beautiful,  one seeks perfection,  so little flaws become overly apparent.  Cellar 5 – 15  years,  probably to harmonise totally.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Delamotte Brut   17  ()
Le Mesnil,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $70   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 35%,  PM 10,  Ch 550;  in effect the second label of Champagne Salon,  and thus more highly regarded for its Blanc de Blancs;  MLF practised (unlike Salon),  no oak;  c.33 months en tirage;  dosage 7 g/L;  total production for the house rising towards 80,000 cases,  % this wine not known;  www.salondelamotte.com ]
Palest lemon,  the palest in the set.  Bouquet is not the palest,  however,  the wine smelling clearly high in chardonnay,  with the autolysis component more crumb-of-baguette than crust,  clean and pure.  Palate tastes even more of chardonnay,  clean,  pure,  sustained though the autolysis factor is not complex.  This is the only French wine to match the Akarua for neatness and dryness of finish / dosage,  though it is not as rich.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut LP   16  ()
Tours sur Marne,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $99   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 35,  PM 15,  Ch 50%,  may include up to 20% reserve wines spanning a couple of vintages;  MLF throughout;  viticulture tending organic;  minimum 36 months en tirage;  dosage 10 g/L;  362,000 cases;  www.laurent-perrier.com ]
Bright pale lemon,  but quite rich,  so in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet lacks interest in this company,  being clean and empty like chenin blanc,  showing virtually no autolysis complexity at all.  Flavour is even more Loire Valley-like,  slightly acid,  hints of English gooseberries,  pure as far as it as it goes but not the real thing at all.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  to hopefully gain a semblance of complexity.  Disappointing,  even once one has made excuses for the high chardonnay percentage.  GK 11/15

nv  Champagne Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin   16  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $80   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 50%,  PM 20,  Ch 30;  now 35% of blend is reserve wines (400 batches of reserve wines spanning 17 years,  held in s/s at 14°);  tiny % of oak-fermented wine in the nv,  more in vintage wines;  MLF nearly throughout;  1,125,000 cases;  Stelzer records that this label has in recent years reduced the dosage from 12 g/L to 9 g/L now;  www.veuve-clicquot.com ]
Good lemon,  fractionally above midway for depth of colour.  This is a tricky bouquet.  Tasters sensitive to complexed organic sulphurs immediately commented on a grubby note on bouquet,  whereas others thought it showed just a slightly nutty kind of mealy autolysis.  Flavours are just a bit sacky,  lacking the purity and charm of the more highly-rated wines,  the whole wine tasting very faintly sour,  though masked by the dosage.   Hard wine to come to grips with,  and not the way Veuve used to be,  at all.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  hopefully to mellow.  GK 11/15

nv  Charles Heidseck Reserve Brut   15 ½  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $95   [ laminated champagne cork;  PN 40,  PM 20,  Ch 40;  MLF,  no oak,  40% reserve wines some more than 10 years old;  en tirage around 36 months;  dosage 11 g/L;  production for house 83,000 cases,  Reserve Brut roughly half of it;  www.charlesheidsieck.com ]
Full straw,  the deepest wine by quite a margin.  Bouquet falls into the love it or mock it category,  being big,  burly,  oaky or something like it (since said to be no oak),  and full of character.  The quality of autolysis starts at Vogels Multigrain,  but seems somewhat rank,  on this unusual phenolic / tannic oak-like quality.  In mouth it is nutty in the sense that crushed walnuts are both mealy and bitter,  and like walnuts,  there is good body.  It would be good with strong foods,  but as a stand-alone aperitif wine,  it is at the outer pole of boldness and character,  saved only by the actual richness of fruit,  which does carry the phenolics quite well.  It has to be an interesting wine,  though there is much to dislike.  Can't see it being a wise cellar investment,  but it will hold its style for several years.  GK 11/15