Tasting Panel – Sparkling

From issue #75.November 20, 2017
Tasting Panel – Sparkling

Pop the cork and try these on – Dish’s Tasting Panel have discovered the top 12 New Zealand sparkling wines to make your festive season bubbly and bright.

Here at Dish, we are completely obsessed with finding our readers the most fabulous local fizz in good time for Christmas. It’s like being in perpetual Depeche Mode, we “just can’t get enough”.
So a few weeks ago, we called for entries, gathered our expert judging panel together at AUT and they preceded to plough through and hunt out the best bubbles this country has to offer.

In a never-before-seen occurrence in a Dish tasting (which are always conducted blind and under competition conditions), the top three wines were from the same brand and made by the same person. This absolutely proves that Jane De Witt is a winemaker wunderkind and that Lindauer is a label we should be celebrating at every level. A “national treasure” as Yvonne Lorkin points out.

From a whopping 72 entries, eight wines were awarded gold medals, 10 earned silver and 15 scored bronze, which is a brilliant result, and reflective of the world-class quality of our sparkling wines. It also highlighted the superb quality of New Zealand’s blanc de blanc styles (sparkling wines made solely from chardonnay, as opposed to the usual combination of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier). Our judges were also impressed by the calibre of the “vintage” entries.

Just like Champagne, most of the famous examples are created from a blend of base wines from different years to make their signature style year after year and has “NV” or “non-vintage” written on the label. However, occasionally, if the resulting wine from one year’s harvest proves to be exceptional – then the winemaker may declare a “vintage” and that year is printed on the label. Five of our top 12 wines were “vintage” examples.

We also managed to squeeze a few words from our extremely busy, star winemaker just before we went to print. Now Jane De Witt would easily rank as the most highly awarded sparkling winemaker New Zealand has ever seen. With roles spanning across Corbans, Montana, Allied Domecq, Pernod Ricard and Lion, there isn’t much about this business that Jane isn’t experienced in.

“When I first started in the industry I never envisaged that I would have a career that has spanned so many years as a sparkling winemaker,” she shrugs. “But I’m not your classic New Zealand winemaker in that I don’t live in a classic wine region. I live in Mangawhai 1½ hours north of Auckland on a small farm, where my family inspires me to be the best I can be and the ocean provides the calm I need.”

Jane still finds the evolution and intricacies of creating a sparkling wine exciting and deeply rewarding. “The blending process is both time consuming and satisfying. I get to use both science and my creative side, which I love. It ticks both boxes. It takes time and patience to reap the rewards of a sparkling wine. How it evolves and the impact on taste that the time on lees has in the bottle never fails to amaze me. Being able to capture this under cork at the right time is crucial.”

De Witt is the winemaker for Lindauer Classic, Lindauer Special Reserve, Te Hana, Verde and Morton, so maintaining the style of each brand is very important, much like a Champagne House. “What inspires me, is making a good wine,” says Jane, “good wine that’s affordable, accessible and enjoyed by many.”

And with that, from our judges and the Dish team, we wish you a very sparkly Christmas.

Style/varietal: Sparkling Wines
Tasting date: October 8th
Entries: 72

Yvonne Lorkin (Dish drinks writer)
Andrew Parkinson (National on premise sales manager, Negociants NZ)
Colin Ford (CEO WineWork Solutions)
Sachindri (Sachi) Rana (Wine Science graduate and cellar hand at Pernod Ricard)

Rating System
Gold ★★★★★ – ​Superb. Strongly recommended.
Silver ★★★★ – A cut above the rest in quality.
Bronze ★★★ – A good quality crowd-pleaser.
Best buy – Wines which retail for $20 or less and earned 5 star and Gold medal status.

(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)


1. Lindauer
Special Reserve Brut Cuvee NV ($15.99)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

​​It’s probably getting to that stage where this wine should be given “national treasure” status. Its diamante-like appearance in the glass, pretty, meringue-like foam, delicate bead and sophisticated, deliciously dry mouthfeel and lovely acidity make it sexy stuff indeed. “Lovely richness, complexity, balance and length,” agreed Colin, while Andrew noted it’s biscuity characters, fruit saturation and a hint of Campari-like complexity on the finish. It was the standout wine of an outstanding top tier, and it just goes to show that world-class bubbles can be yours for under $20.

2. Lindauer
Classic Brut Cuvee NV ($12.99)
★★★★★ Gold Medal
“Quite beautiful to look at in the glass and it absolutely bursts with nougat, lemon and brioche bodaciousness,” urged Yvonne.  Our judges agreed, with Andrew adding he loved the broad, rich palate, cracked wheat character, shortbread, white chocolate and soft, yellow fruits. Sachi was seduced by the caramel undertones and freshness on the finish. This wine has masses of personality, is pillowy-textured, elegant and finely tuned – and amazing value for money.

3. Lindauer
Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ($15.99)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

Crafted solely from chardonnay fruit, this pretty, pale, lovely has persistent bead and cloud-like mousse and complex biscuity aromatics. “It shows delicious depth,” noted Yvonne. “Persistent toasty, toffee notes and excellent lemony layers,” added Colin. This is such a stylish wine and when yeast autolysis, fig and breadcrust are stitched in, the result is a rich, sumptuous wine indeed. “It has an expansive palate and real energy,” noted Andrew.

4. Daniel Le Brun
Blanc de Blanc 2011 ($39.99)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

“This wine has great length and line,” commented Andrew. “It’s poised and well educated, with lifted almond aromas, macadamia and lemony loveliness.” This chardonnay-centric fizz is wonderfully rounded with a satisfying, creamy, mid-palate and it’s maturing beautifully, according to Yvonne. The honey toast and hints of lemon herbal tea add to its weighty, fruity mouthfeel and flinty, zesty finish.

5. Deutz
Marlborough Blanc de Blanc 2014 ($32.99) 

★★★★★ Gold Medal
This younger vintage example is an absolute stunner. “Sophisticated, stylish, nutty, full, creamy and loaded with personality,” noted Yvonne. Colin and Sachi were both seduced by its pretty, pale hue, strong, persistent bead and subtle, smoky complexity. “It’s a nicely balanced wine,” offered Andrew, “with lovely autolysis, subtle honey, lemon, shortbread and tonic water nuances.”

6. Akarua
Central Otago Brut NV ($34)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

There were no surprises to see this wine in our gold medal line-up because it’s a classic and classy example of how Central Otago is absolutely geared toward turning out world-class fizz. Perfectly pale, lemon scented, and showing a firm, yet delicate mouthfeel. Andrew enjoyed its almond and citrus intensity and rich, Weetbix-like layers on its deliciously dry finish. Akarua again prove they have serious talent. 

7. Quartz Reef
Methode Traditionnelle Vintage 2012 ($49)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

Winemaker Rudi Bauer has crafted a crystal clear methode from 2012, which boasts superfine bead, breadcrumb and brioche characters and a very pretty, biscuity, beautifully balanced mouthfeel, according to Yvonne. That caramelised brioche character was evident to all our judges, who also each wrote “zesty” in their notes. Central Otago does it again and this really is the whole package; complete, stylish and sexy.

8. Deutz
Methode Traditionnelle Brut NV Marlborough Cuvee ($26.59)
★★★★★ Gold Medal

There’s so much going on in this wine. A smoky, funky nose, pillowy, marshmallow bead, a softly developing palate and a complex, truffle-infused style. “It’s like drinking a cloud,” announced Yvonne. Sachi referred to it as “flirty” and ever-so-slightly smoky. Both Colin and Andrew loved its fullness, complexity, fruit concentration and depth of flavour. Deutz has been a star on our sparkling shelves for decades, long may it continue.

9. Akarua 
Vintage Brut 2011 ($48)
★★★★ Silver Medal

​This is Akarua’s second appearance in our top 12 and it’s easy to see why. “Light honey from the comb and ripe lemon on the palate,” noted Andrew, while Yvonne highlighted its creamy mouthfeel and nutty elements. “The palate is very dry, with yeast and mineral complexity,” added Colin. “It has excellent bead, balance and proportion.” Six years on from harvest and this wine is maturing very nicely indeed.

10. Lindauer
Classic Rosé NV ($12.99)
★★★★ Silver Medal

There hasn’t been a Dish sparkling wine tasting where this wine did not feature prominently. It stood out among a very strong rosé class because it’s an incredibly well-made example, complete with a perfect pink salmon hue and soft palate of cherry, cranberry and toast. It’s youthful, rich, almost marmalade-like nose and fresh, snappy palate had all our judges nodding in agreement.

11. Morton Estate
White Label Brut NV ($19.99)
★★★★ Silver Medal

“Nutty and rich on the nose with nougat notes, it’s creamy and fresh and beautifully structured,” commented Yvonne. But it was the attractively oxidative, biscuity caramel and apple characters that sealed the deal for our judging team. “The fruit profile is great and it shows lovely freshness on the palate and excellent length,” added Andrew.   The Morton White Label definitely holds its place in the “fabulous fizz” class.​

12. No. 1 Family Estate
​Cuvée Virginie 2009 ($85) 

★★★★ Silver Medal
Deeply coloured and showing pretty lemon, apple and breadcrust aromas, this is a creamy, nougat-edged example from No. 1 Family Estate, which is full, balanced and maturing beautifully, according to Yvonne. “It’s a very pretty wine with persistent, finely tuned bead and pillowy mousse. It’s rich, golden, toasty and has elegant flirtatiousness on the finish and has years in it yet.


Look for the Dish Tasting Panel selection sticker, which can be worn by our top wines. 

With thanks to Janet Blackman from the Professional Wine Studies Department and the AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism. For more on the programmes in hospitality, food and beverage, and hotel management, visit aut.ac.nz. Water kindly supplied by Antipodes and glasses by Spiegelau.