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The Listener's 50 Best Champagnes and Bubblies of 2019

Put the fizz into the festive season with our sparkling selection steeped in the traditional method.

Who doesn’t enjoy a chilled glass of wine with bubbles in it? As one wit put it: “Champagne’s involved? I’ll be there in a prosecco.”

Here, Marlborough produces many stylish sparklings, and classy bubblies are also flowing from Central Otago and other regions. This year, we imported more than 6.5 million bottles of fizz,  one-third of it champagne – the real stuff, from that most famous of wine regions.

A stimulating aperitif, sparkling wine can also be a great partner for seafood. The wines shown below as ‘NV’ are non-vintage, meaning they are blended across different years to achieve a high level of consistency.

New Zealand

Alpha Domus Cumulus Méthode Traditionelle 2017 •••••

This “blanc de blancs” style was made entirely from Hawke’s Bay chardonnay. Vivacious, with a fragrant, yeasty bouquet, it has intense, lemony, slightly biscuity flavours, excellent complexity and a dry, crisp, lasting finish (12.5% alc/vol). $30

Amisfield Central Otago Méthode Traditionelle Brut 2015 •••••

This classy, pinot noir-based bubbly has a complex, yeasty fragrance. Crisp and lively, it has excellent vigour and depth of citrusy, yeasty and biscuity flavours. Dry and persistent (12% alc/vol). $45

Brancott Estate New Zealand Brut Cuvée NV •••½

There’s a lot to like about this blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, including its sharp price. It is typically pale pink and lively, with fresh peach and strawberry flavours, biscuity, yeasty notes adding complexity and a smooth, dryish finish (12.5% alc/vol). $14

Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV •••••

Designed as an aperitif, this instantly appealing Marlborough bubbly is a chardonnay-dominant style, with 30% pinot noir. The sample I tasted recently is invitingly scented, very elegant and tightly structured, with penetrating, citrusy, yeasty flavours. Crisp and lively (12.5% alc/vol). $37

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Rosé NV •••••

Pink/very pale red, this classy wine is a blend of pinot noir (mostly) and chardonnay, partly oak-fermented and matured for more than two years on its yeast lees. “Serious” yet vivacious, it has strong, strawberryish, peachy, yeasty flavours and a complex, dryish, very harmonious finish (12.5% alc/vol). $46

Daniel Le Brun Méthode Traditionnelle Brut NV ••••½

This bottle-fermented Marlborough blend of chardonnay and pinot noir is lees-aged for at least two years. The batch I tasted recently is fresh and lively, with very good intensity of citrusy, peachy, appley, slightly nutty flavours (12.5% alc/vol). $30

Daniel Le Brun Méthode Traditionnelle Rosé NV ••••½

This pale-pink wine is made from pinot noir hand-picked in Marlborough. Lively, with gentle strawberry, watermelon and peach flavours, it has yeasty notes adding complexity and a finely balanced, very harmonious finish (12.5% alc/vol). $30

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Brut NV ••••

Bottled-fermented and matured on its yeast lees for two to three years, this non-vintage wine has reserve wines added to each batch, contributing consistency and complexity to the final blend. It has smooth, citrusy, biscuity, yeasty flavours showing excellent balance and vivacity (12% alc/vol). $20-$27

Gold Digger Frizzante Naturally Sparkling Rosé NV ••••

From Central Otago, this wine comes in a 330ml bottle. Instantly appealing, it is bright pink, light and lively, with vibrant strawberry and watermelon flavours, yeasty notes, and a crisp, off-dry, lingering finish (12% alc/vol). (330ml) $12

Hãhã Brut Cuvée NV ••••

Offering good value, this non-vintage wine is blended from Marlborough-grown chardonnay and pinot noir. It is an elegant wine, fragrant and lively, with fresh, strong, citrusy, appley, yeasty flavours and a dryish, crisp finish (12.5% alc/vol). $22

Hãhã Brut Rosé NV ••••

Priced right, this blend of chardonnay and pinot noir was grown in Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay. Pale pink, it is vivacious, with strong peach, strawberry and spice flavours and a dry, gently yeasty, crisp finish. Very lively and likeable (12.5% alc/vol). $22

Hans Herzog Cuvée Therese Rosé Méthode Traditionelle Brut 2014 •••••

This highly distinctive Marlborough wine was barrel-aged for 18 months, bottle-fermented and produced in a bone-dry style. Light red, with a fragrant, complex bouquet, it is crisp and very lively, with strawberryish, slightly spicy flavours showing excellent intensity. Well worth discovering (12.5% alc/vol). $64

Hunter’s MiruMiru Reserve 2015 •••••

Full of personality, this Marlborough marriage of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier (the classic champagne varietal recipe) was matured on its yeast lees for more than three years. Fragrant and complex, it has excellent richness and vigour, with peachy, yeasty flavours. Crisp, dry and lasting (12.5% alc/vol). $40

Hunter’s MiruMiru Rosé NV ••••½

This pale-pink Marlborough sparkling is blended from pinot noir and chardonnay, with a splash of pinot meunier. Fresh and lively, with a sense of lightness, it has gentle strawberryish, peachy flavours, with yeasty notes adding complexity and a slightly off-dry, smooth finish (12.5% alc/vol). $35

Johanneshof Cellars New Dawn Marlborough Brut 2010 •••••

This classy, deliciously smooth bubbly was made from Marlborough pinot noir and matured for a minimum of five years on its yeast lees. Very pale pink, it is highly scented with strawberry, peach and spice flavours and shows lovely delicacy, complexity and harmony (12.5% alc/vol). $39

Johner Estate Wairarapa Méthode Traditionnelle Brut 2016 ••••½

This characterful blend of pinot noir and chardonnay (45%) was oak-matured, then bottle-fermented and lees-aged. Bright, light yellow, it is crisp and lively, with peachy, citrusy, yeasty flavours showing excellent vigour, complexity and intensity and a finely balanced, dryish finish (12% alc/vol). $36

Kahurangi Estate Vintage Reserve Blanc de Blancs 2016 ••••½

This crisp, elegant sparkling was made from Nelson chardonnay. Bright, light lemon/green, with fragrant, citrusy, yeasty aromas, it is very lively, with strong, lemony, gently yeasty flavours showing excellent intensity and vigour (11.5% alc/vol). $38

Leveret IQ Premium Brut NV ••••

This vivacious Hawke’s Bay sparkling is a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier, disgorged after at least 18 months on its yeast lees. Bright, light yellow, it is invitingly scented, with fresh, lively grapefruit and peach flavours, biscuity, yeasty characters adding complexity and a crisp, finely balanced finish (11.5% alc/vol). $24

Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ••••

This great-value wine is made from Gisborne chardonnay and bottle-fermented. Very pale straw, with a yeasty fragrance, it is lively and lemony, with very good intensity and a finely balanced, dryish finish (11.5% alc/vol). $15

Lindauer White Moscato NV •••½

“Perfect for lunching with the girls”, says its maker, this asti spumante-like bubbly is from muscat grapes grown in Gisborne. It is perfumed, frothy, very lively and light, with fresh, ripe, peachy, slightly appley flavours and a sweetish finish (9% alc/vol). $14

LV by Louis Vavasour Marlborough Méthode Traditionelle NV •••••

Rich but refined, this blend of pinot noir (principally) and chardonnay spent more than two years on its yeast lees. Light lemon/green, with a powerful, yeasty fragrance, it has strong, peachy, complex flavours and a smooth, very long finish. Full of personality (12.5% alc/vol). $49

Mission Fête NV ••••

Here’s something different – a “serious”, but delicious, Hawke’s Bay bubbly made from pinot gris. Bright, light lemon/green, it is crisp and lively, with a sliver of sweetness and strong, peachy, gently yeasty flavours (12.5% alc/vol). $20

Morton [Black Label] Brut NV ••••

Priced sharply, this chardonnay/pinot noir blend was grown in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. Pale straw, it is fresh, yeasty, crisp and dry, with strong, biscuity, toasty flavours showing good complexity and a sustained finish (12% alc/vol). $20

Nautilus Cuvée Marlborough Brut NV •••••

The sample I tasted in October was – as the back label indicates helpfully – bottled in October 2015 and disgorged in May 2019. A blend of pinot noir (mostly) and chardonnay, it was blended with 12% older, reserve stocks. Refined and complex, it has intense, citrusy, peachy, yeasty, nutty flavours and a smooth, finely poised, notably long finish (12% alc/vol). $33-$43

Nautilus Cuvée Marlborough Vintage Rosé 2016 •••••

This vivacious sparkling was made entirely from pinot noir, disgorged after two and a half years on its yeast lees. Pale pink, it is elegant and tightly structured, with intense, strawberryish, peachy, yeasty flavours, showing excellent complexity, a dryish finish and a very inviting fragrance (12% alc/vol). $49

Nikau Point Gold Méthode Traditionnelle NV •••

Priced sharply, this pale straw sparkling is crisp and slightly sweet, with a touch of complexity and plenty of citrusy, peachy, gently yeasty flavours (12% alc/vol). $12-$16

Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvée Rosé NV ••••

This pale-pink wine is blended from Hawke’s Bay chardonnay (mostly) and Marlborough pinot noir. Lively, it has strong, strawberryish, peachy, spicy flavours, gentle yeasty notes adding complexity and a dryish, finely balanced finish (12% alc/vol). $20

Palliser Estate The Griffin Martinborough Méthode Traditionnelle 2015 •••••

This elegant, bottle-fermented blend of pinot noir and chardonnay has a highly scented, yeasty bouquet. A vivacious wine, it has citrusy, slightly appley, distinctly yeasty flavours. Very harmonious, racy and long (12.5% alc/vol). $52

Pask Declaration Gimblett Gravels Méthode Traditionelle 2010 ••••½

Still on sale, this mature, but still extremely lively, wine is closed with a crown seal. A blend of chardonnay (80%) and pinot noir (20%), it was disgorged after seven years ageing on its yeast lees. Pale straw, it is fragrant and full-bodied, with very toasty, biscuity aromas and flavours. Rich and complex with a smooth, lingering finish (13% alc/vol). $30

Quartz Reef Méthode Traditionnelle Vintage Blanc de Blancs 2013 •••••

A wine of great presence, this vivacious Central Otago bubbly is a blend of chardonnay (91%) and pinot noir (9%). Pale straw, it has very intense, citrusy, yeasty, biscuity flavours, crisp acidity and a lasting, dry finish (12.5% alc/vol). $75

Rock Ferry Blanc de Blancs 2012 •••••

This classy sparkling was made entirely from Marlborough chardonnay. A distinctive wine, it is crisp and intense, with penetrating, lively, lemony, yeasty flavours, slightly toasty notes adding complexity and an unusually dry, lasting finish. Certified organic (12.5% alc/vol). $45

Sileni Estates Sparkling Cuvée Brut NV •••

Simple but enjoyable, this Hawke’s Bay wine was made from chardonnay. It is fresh and lively, with plenty of citrusy, peachy flavour and a finely balanced, dry, crisp finish (12% alc/vol). $20

Soljans Fusion Sparkling Moscato NV ••••

This “asti-style” bubbly was made from muscat grapes grown in Gisborne. Perfumed and light, it has vivacious, crisp, sweetly seductive flavours. Simple but full of charm (8.5% alc/vol). $15

Te Hana Reserve Cuvée NV ••••

Offering top value, this Gisborne sparkling is blended from chardonnay (mostly) and pinot noir. Pale straw, with a yeasty fragrance, it is vivacious, with strong, citrusy, biscuity flavours, good complexity and a crisp, dryish finish (12.5% alc/vol). $17

Te Hana Rosé Cuvée NV ••••

Bargain-priced, this fragrant Gisborne bubbly is bright pink, fresh and lively. It has strawberry and watermelon flavours, yeasty notes adding complexity and a finely poised finish (12% alc/vol). $17

Tohu Rewa Marlborough Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionnelle 2015 ••••½

This attractive, very fresh, elegant sparkling was made from chardonnay and disgorged after 27 months on its yeast lees. Fragrant, crisp and lively, it is a tight-knit, complex wine with lemony, slightly appley, yeasty flavours showing good intensity and harmony and a lingering finish (12% alc/vol). $34

Tohu Rewa Marlborough Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2015 ••••½

Made from pinot noir, disgorged after two years on its yeast lees, this bright, light-pink bubbly is fragrant, fresh and vivacious with crisp, strawberryish, yeasty flavours showing excellent delicacy, harmony and length (12% alc/vol). $34

Toi Toi Marlborough Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc NV •••

Priced right, this simple but attractive wine is fresh and lively, with vibrant, ripely herbaceous flavours showing good delicacy and depth (13.5% alc/vol). $17

Toi Toi Sparkling Rosé NV •••

Offering very easy drinking, this pink/pale-orange blend of riesling and merlot is crisp, lively and simple, in a gently sweet style with strawberryish, slightly peachy flavours showing good vigour and depth (12% alc/vol). $14-$18

Italy

Divici Prosecco NV ••••

This “extra dry” prosecco was grown organically in the north of Italy. Pale lemon/green, it is fresh, light and vivacious, with strong, lemony, appley flavours. Uncomplicated but delicious (11% alc/vol). $26

Vino dell‘Amicizia Prosecco NV ••••

Prosecco, Italy’s favourite fizz, made from the glera variety, is hot around the world. Very fresh and lively, this is a classic example that is light-bodied with crisp, citrusy, appley flavours. Strong and vigorous (11% alc/vol). $27

Graham Norton’s Own Prosecco NV •••½

Billed as “an essential addition to your next picnic, party or pizza by the tele”, this gently sparkling wine is an aperitif style with strong, citrusy, appley flavours. Crisp, lively, dryish and refreshing (11% alc/vol). $17

France

Aimery Crémant de Limoux Grande Cuvée 1531 NV ••••½

This characterful, bottle-fermented fizz is a blend of chardonnay, mauzac (a traditional grape of south-west France) and chenin blanc. Lively, it is medium-bodied, with citrusy, slightly toasty flavours showing good intensity and complexity and a crisp, dry, sustained finish (12.5% alc/vol). $26

Aimery Crémant de Limoux Grande Cuvée Brut Rosé NV ••••½

Bright pink, this blend of chardonnay, chenin blanc and pinot noir was grown in southern France and bottle-fermented. Full of personality, it is medium-bodied, with vivacious, strawberryish, slightly peachy and spicy flavours, yeasty notes and excellent complexity and harmony (12.5% alc/vol). $26

Billecart-Salmon Champagne Brut Rosé NV •••••

One of the most famous of all rosé champagnes, this richly fragrant wine has strawberryish, yeasty aromas and flavours showing lovely vigour, harmony, complexity and depth (12% alc/vol). $100-$130

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV •••••

This classic, pinot noir-dominant champagne is matured for three years on its yeast lees and blended with reserve wines up to 15 years old. Invitingly scented, it is full-bodied, with a strong surge of biscuity, complex flavours. Appetisingly crisp, lively and long (12% alc/vol). $79 – $110

Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2007 •••••

For a truly magical rosé champagne, try this. Grown almost entirely in grand cru vineyards and fully barrel-fermented, it is deeply coloured, amber-hued and enticingly fragrant, with an explosion of strawberryish, yeasty flavours. Crisp, dry and lasting (12% alc/vol). $315

Champagne Cristian Senez Cuvée Renoir NV ••••½

This is a good, easy-drinking champagne, priced right. A 50/50 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, disgorged after three years on its yeast lees, it is attractively scented, with peachy, citrusy, yeasty flavours showing good complexity and a lively, smooth finish (12% alc/vol). $45

Australia

Jacobs Creek Reserve Prosecco NV •••½

Offering very enjoyable summer sipping, this Aussie wine is made from glera grapes. Gently sparkling, it is pale and slightly sweet, with vibrant, appley, lemony flavours. Crisp and refreshing (11% alc/vol). $13-$18

Taylors Pinot Noir/Chardonnay Brut Cuvée NV ••••

This lively, pale-straw sparkling is distinctive. Grown in the Clare Valley, South Australia, it is very fresh, with lemon and stonefruit flavours, yeasty, biscuity notes adding complexity and an appetisingly crisp, bone-dry finish (12.5% alc/vol). $19

This article was first published in the December 14, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.