a sparkling occasion
Champagne! Just the word brings a smile and sets the scene for wedding celebrations. But don’t feel compelled, even at the top table to serve this, the priciest of all wines. The quality of New Zealand’s own bubbly is more than good enough for the most special of celebrations.
Like a rose, Champagne by any other name, will still taste just as sweet. Sparkling wines made anywhere outside the region of Champagne cannot legally bear the name Champagne. But they can be made by the same exacting methods and be every bit as superb. This taste and quality can, here at home, be achieved at a fraction of the price of the French original. This is why my first choice for wines of celebration are sparking examples of local wine-making brilliance.
New Zealand boasts at least two world-class producers of sparkling wine, each in my opinion making wines that are a match for Champagne, but with a fresh and enervating Kiwi edge to their bubbly brilliance.
Daniel Le Brun is the most famous name in NZ bubbles, with a reputation widely and rightly known, for making consistently excellent and I think exciting, sparkling wines. The son of a Champagne family, Daniel has begun a generational legacy here in his adopted homeland. A keen hunter and outdoorsman Daniel fell in love with NZ and with a beautiful part of NZ called, Adele, whom he made his wife. Together Daniel and Adele have created our foremost sparkling wine producer, No.1 Family Estate in Marlborough.
No.1 Family Estate make only sparkling wine, unique amongst local producers, and this focus shows in their truly world-class wines. Their most popular wine No8 ($32), should be always on hand - a great value, top-class sparkling made from the traditional Champagne grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. It is as reliable as a little girl’s delight at being named flowergirl.
So often the occasions that call for bubbles also ask for elegance, for a memorable restraint. No.1 Family Estate has one wine of which I am a particular fan, the Number 1 ($43). Made entirely of Chardonnay this is at once soft and structured, like Audrey Hepburn’s cheekbones. An elegant and luxurious wine, Number1 possesses a refined and gentle charm to match its bubbly effervescence.
A similar focus is key to the success of Quartz Reef, another excellent sparkling producer found further south in Central Otago. Between Queenstown and Wanaka, Austrian-born-now-Kiwi winemaker Rudi Bauer, planted some vineyards specifically to make sparkling wines, friends from Champagne working alongside him at each vintage. This dedication and connection to authenticity and a heritage of excellence is apparent in each of the three sparklings Bauer makes.
The current Quartz Reef Brut non-vintage ($35) is as crisp as a Central Otago spring. Light and fresh in the glass, it is an aperitif style ideal for awakening a jaded mid-meal palate and ideal to toast or welcome guests to a warm and lively reception.
It may be 2013, but the current release of Quartz Reef Vintage is the 2007 ($40). Vintage sparklings should be heavier, more intense than their non-vintage counterparts and this is fine example. A wine to ponder and enjoy. I see it as a liquid equivalent of the poetry of the great Kiwi poet, Brian Turner. The work of both Turner and Quartz Reef are distinctively and undeniably born of and in homage to Otago. Like Turner’s poetry the Quartz Reef Vintage 2007 is characterful, complex and rewards contemplation.
There’s an undeniably festive character in the pink-toned hue and aromatic appeal of Quartz Reef Rose ($35). At a fraction the cost of its French equivalent, this is a wine worthy of consideration. Wherever you include it (in the wedding car, at the reception, or even to commence a perfect honeymoon) this wine is made for romance.
Choosing a Kiwi sparkling wine as the focal celebratory drink may take a little courage. Yes these wines and producers lack the brand heft and recognition of Champagne. But courage is well-rewarded. These wines are not Champagne; they are, for this wine-loving Kiwi anyway, something better. The product of labour, love and skill, they are a celebration of NZ; a unique and different contribution to the world of wine and to festive occasions.
When you consider your celebratory wines, ‘Go Kiwi’! Every love is unique, a creation, perfect in it’s individuality. Perhaps the words of Brian Turner will help sway your palate homeward. He could almost be referring to these great kiwi wines when he wrote in his poem Training on the Peninsula: “how easy it is to do something different, how hard to do it better”.
Quartz Reef and No.1 Family Estate have done both. Something different in making a Kiwi sparkling with the same methods as Chamapagne, and there is no doubt in my opinion, on my palate and for any wallet that they have also done it better.
Quartz Reef Winery
Timothy Giles is our Wine Enthusiast, not Wine Critic. He searches out wines to enthuse about. Every issue he’ll tell about the finest wines and best buys. When he’s not tasting wine, he’s gulping down air while training for triathlons. www.youtube.com/ timothygilesonwine
Daniel Le Brun