The 50 Best Champagnes of 2017

by Michael Cooper / 15 December, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Best Champagne Bubbly 2017

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Whatever you call it – fizz, champagne, bubbly, sparkling – wine with bubbles in it is widely adored, especially at this time of the year.

The range of New Zealand bubblies is not wide, because most small wineries find its production too time-consuming and costly, but the standard of the top wines is superb, pointing to an exciting future.

New Zealand’s best sparkling wines are made by a classic technique called méthode traditionnelle, in which the second, bubble-inducing fermentation takes place not in a tank, as happens with cheaper wines, but in the bottle itself, as in champagne (the real stuff, from the world’s most famous wine region). During the wine’s lengthy maturation in the bottle (anything from nine months to several years), the yeast cells gradually decompose, conferring distinctive, bready, yeasty characters on the wine that add greatly to its complexity and richness.

Akarua Central Otago Brut NV ••••

This vivacious bubbly is a 2:1 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, disgorged after at least 18 months on its yeast lees. Light lemon/green, with a fragrant, yeasty bouquet, it is medium-bodied (13% alc/vol), with lively, citrusy, slightly appley and biscuity flavours, showing good complexity, and a long, smooth, finely balanced finish. $34

Akarua Central Otago Vintage Brut 2011 ••••½

Showing excellent complexity, this is a lively Bannockburn blend of pinot noir (61%) and chardonnay (39%), matured on its yeast lees for at least three years. Fresh and medium-bodied (13% alc/vol), with a yeasty bouquet, it has excellent intensity and vivacity, with appley, citrusy, biscuity, yeasty flavours. Crisp and racy. $45

Allan Scott Cecilia Brut NV Méthode Traditionnelle ••••

A Marlborough blend of chardonnay (60%) and pinot noir (40%), this is disgorged after a minimum of 18 months on its yeast lees. It’s an elegant wine, medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with fresh, lively, citrusy, slightly appley and yeasty flavours, showing considerable complexity, and a crisp, dryish finish. $26

Alpha Domus AD Cumulus Méthode Traditionnelle 2015 ••••

Closed with a crown seal, rather than a cork, this blanc de blancs is estate-grown in Hawke’s Bay and partly barrel-fermented. It has a fragrant, citrusy, yeasty bouquet, leading into a vivacious, medium-bodied wine (12.5% alc/vol) with fresh, lemony, yeasty, dry flavours, showing very good depth and complexity, and a smooth finish. $35

Alpha Domus Beatrix Sparkling Rosé NV ••••

Well worth trying, this instantly attractive wine is made from merlot, estate-grown in Hawke’s Bay, and was closed with a crown seal. Pale pink, it is invitingly scented, crisp and lively, with medium body (12% alc/vol) and dryish, strawberryish, slightly spicy and yeasty flavours, showing excellent delicacy and depth. $20

Aotea Nelson Méthode Traditionnelle NV ••••

A non-vintage bubbly, made from chardonnay and pinot noir, this was picked in 2011 and disgorged after four years’ maturation on its yeast lees. Scented and lively, it is citrusy and yeasty, with medium body (12.5% alc/vol), moderate acidity and a fully dry but not austere, smooth, lingering finish. (From Seifried Estate.) $39

Aurum Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2008 ••••½

This is a distinctive, bone-dry style from Central Otago chardonnay, disgorged after six years ageing on its yeast lees. Medium-bodied (13% alc/vol), it is crisp and zesty, with good intensity of lively, citrusy flavours, yeasty and toasty notes adding complexity, and excellent vigour and length. $45

Brancott Estate Brut Cuvée NV ••••

A non-vintage bubbly that is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. Pale straw, with a faintly pink hue, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), lively and smooth, with citrusy, peachy, biscuity flavours, showing good complexity, and a dryish, slightly creamy finish. Fine value. $17

 

Brown Brothers King Valley Prosecco NV •••½

Made from the same variety – giera – used in Italy’s famous bubbly, Prosecco, this Aussie sparkling is a refreshing, direct, vibrantly fruity style with an appealing lightness (11.5% alc/vol) and good depth of lemony, appley flavours, crisp, dryish and smooth. $15-$18

Castillo Rocio Cava Brut NV ••••

This easy-drinking wine is a good example of cava, the famous Catalonian bubbly. Very scented and lively, it is light- to medium-bodied (11.5% alc/vol), with strong, citrusy flavours, hints of apples and herbs, gentle yeasty notes and a dryish finish. $21

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée NV •••••

Founded in 1829 and still family owned, this famous champagne house has an “elegant, understated image”, according to its importer, Negociants NZ. A pinot noir-predominant style, with reserve wines in the blend (up to 15 years old), it is richly scented and medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with intense, citrusy, yeasty flavours, hints of apples, pears and spices, and a tight-knit, crisp, lasting finish. $80-$110

Clos Henri La Chapelle Blanc de Noir NV ••••

Made entirely from pinot noir, this non-vintage sparkling was estate-grown in Marlborough, bottle-fermented and disgorged after “long” lees ageing. Pale, crisp and lively, it’s a dryish, medium-bodied style (12.5% alc/vol), with citrusy, slightly appley, yeasty, lingering flavours and an invitingly scented bouquet. $39

Cloudy Bay Pelorus NV •••••

An instantly attractive Marlborough wine that’s a chardonnay-based style (30% pinot noir), disgorged after at least two years on its yeast lees. Richly fragrant, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), fresh, lively and harmonious, with strong, citrusy, yeasty flavours, showing excellent vigour, complexity and length. $37

Cloudy Bay Pelorus Rosé NV ••••½

Bright pink/pale red, this non-vintage blend of pinot noir (mostly) and chardonnay spent a minimum of two years maturing on its yeast lees. It is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), complex and smooth, with crisp, lively, strawberry and spice flavours and a long, dryish finish. $40

Daniel Le Brun Blanc de Blancs Méthode Traditionnelle 2011 •••••

A classy, elegant wine, from beer giant Lion, that was made entirely from chardonnay and spent at least three years on its yeast lees. Pale lemon/green, with a scented, yeasty bouquet, it has strong personality, with medium body (12.5 % alc/vol), searching, vigorous flavours, citrusy, appley and slightly nutty, and a complex, lasting finish. $35-$40

Daniel Le Brun Méthode Traditionnelle Brut NV ••••

Blended from chardonnay and pinot noir, the non-vintage wine I tasted recently was pale and smooth, with medium body (12.5% alc/vol), lemony, appley, slightly biscuity flavours, showing considerable complexity, and a dryish, harmonious finish. $25

De la Terre Cuvée 11 Hawke’s Bay Méthode Traditionnelle 2015 ••••½

This stylish wine was estate-grown at Havelock North. Invitingly scented and vivacious, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol) and appetisingly crisp, with citrusy, gently yeasty flavours, showing excellent intensity, good complexity and a persistent finish. $40

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Blanc de Blancs 2014 •••••

This notably refined, chardonnay-based label has been acclaimed for many vintages. The 2014 has a highly fragrant, yeasty bouquet, leading into a medium-bodied (12% alc/vol) wine, intense, complex and vivacious, with citrusy, yeasty, slightly nutty flavours, showing lovely delicacy and harmony. $33

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée NV ••••½

A winning mix of Marlborough grapes and the champagne house of Deutz’s 179 years of experience, Pernod Ricard NZ’s long-popular bubbly is a bargain. The non-vintage sample I tasted recently is smooth, lively and finely balanced, with medium body (12% alc/vol) and vibrant, citrusy, biscuity, yeasty flavours, showing excellent complexity and harmony. $20-$27

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Prestige 2015 •••••

Well worth discovering, this outstanding bubbly is a 2:1 blend of chardonnay and pinot noir. Pale straw, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), notably complex and tight-knit, with searching, citrusy, yeasty, slightly peachy flavours that float across the palate to a crisp, lasting finish. A “complete” wine, it offers top value. $33

Deutz Marlborough Cuvée Rosé NV ••••

Offering easy drinking, this pale pink sparkling is made principally from pinot noir. Lively and finely balanced, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with peachy, strawberryish, yeasty flavours, showing good freshness and complexity, and an off-dry, crisp finish. $27

Elstree Marlborough Cuvée Brut 2010 ••••½

Still on sale, the 2010 vintage from Highfield TerraVin was made from hand-picked chardonnay and pinot noir, and disgorged after three years on its yeast lees. Lemon-scented, it’s of a slightly drier style than most, medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol) and tightly structured, with strong, citrusy, toasty flavours, punchy and vivacious. $38

En Rose 2014 ••••

This characterful Martinborough bubbly is based on pinot noir. Matured for three years on its yeast lees, it has an orange/pale red hue. Crisp and unusually dry, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with strong, strawberryish, yeasty flavours, hints of oranges and nuts, good complexity and a long finish. (From Margrain.) $45

Forrest Brigid Méthode Traditionnelle Vintage Marlborough Brut 2010 ••••½

A tight, elegant sparkling that is a chardonnay-predominant style (30% pinot noir), aged for three years on its yeast lees. It has a complex, citrusy, yeasty bouquet, leading into a medium- to full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol) with lemony, slightly appley flavours, showing excellent intensity, vigour and complexity, and a virtually bone-dry finish. $45

Gibbston Valley Méthode Traditionnelle Extra Brut NV •••••

From grapes hand-picked in Central Otago, the classy wine currently on sale was disgorged in August 2016 after 29 months on its yeast lees. Pale straw, with a fragrant, yeasty bouquet, it is complex and vivacious, in a medium- to full-bodied style (13% alc/vol) with penetrating, crisp, lemony, appley flavours, yeasty and nutty, and a long, dryish finish. $45

Gibbston Valley Rosé Méthode Traditionnelle 2011 •••••

Delicious now, this distinctive wine was made from barrel-fermented base wine and disgorged after four and a half years of maturation on its yeast lees. Pink-hued, with a hint of orange, it is a highly complex wine, medium- to full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with peach, strawberry and spice flavours, showing lovely depth, and a long, yeasty, dry, harmonious finish. It’s ready to roll. $120

Gold Digger Frizzante Naturally Sparkling Pinot Gris •••

Ensconced in a beer bottle with a crown seal, this non-vintage charmer is from Maori Point Vineyard in Central Otago. Promoted as a “prosecco style”, it is pale, with scented aromas of pears and apples. Light-bodied (11.5% alc/vol), it has a gentle splash of sweetness and fresh, vibrant, fruity flavours. Instantly gluggable. $9-$11 (330ml)

Hunter’s Miru Miru NV ••••½

“Mirumiru” means bubbles in Maori. Blended from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier – grown widely in Champagne – it spends at least 18 months on its yeast lees and is blended with reserve stock aged for up to a decade. Fragrant and vivacious, it is a medium-bodied style (12.5% alc/vol), with rich, citrusy, yeasty flavours, showing good complexity, and a dryish finish. $22-$29

Leveret IQ7 Méthode Traditionnelle NV ••••

A distinctive, non-vintage bubbly that is a blend of pinot noir and pinot meunier. It was grown in Hawke’s Bay and disgorged after seven years on its yeast lees. Straw-hued, with a fragrant, yeasty bouquet, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with good complexity and plenty of peachy, toasty, strongly yeasty flavour, crisp, dryish and lingering. Ready. $30

Leveret Mimi Méthode Traditionnelle Pink NV •••½

Bargain-priced, this is a pink/pale red, medium-bodied wine (12% alc/vol), crisp and gently yeasty. It has fresh, lively strawberry and spice flavours, a hint of apricot, gentle sweetness and a finely balanced finish. Easy to enjoy. $17

Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ••••

Priced right, this bottle-fermented sparkling is based on Gisborne chardonnay. Light lemon/green, it is a vigorous, fruity, light- to medium-bodied wine, with crisp, lemony, slightly nutty flavours, showing a distinct touch of complexity, and a lengthy, yeasty finish. $15-$20

Lindauer Special Reserve Brut Cuvée NV ••••

Disgorged after two years on its yeast lees, with a portion of reserve wine added from past vintages, this is a 70/30 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, grown in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay. Smooth, with strawberryish, yeasty flavours, fresh and crisp, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with good complexity and a finely balanced, lengthy finish. Great value. $15-$20

Morton Estate Black Label Brut NV ••••

Showing considerable development, this non-vintage bubbly is pale gold, with medium body (12% alc/vol), good intensity of mature, yeasty flavours, a hint of oranges and a dry finish that’s crisp and complex. Ready. $30

Morton Estate Premium Brut NV ••••

Showing good maturity, this straw-coloured blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier was lees-aged for at least 18 months. The bouquet is distinctly toasty, the palate medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), crisp and yeasty, with strong, dryish flavours, showing good complexity, and it has a lingering, toasty, slightly buttery and honeyed finish. $15-$20

Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV •••••

This elegant, tightly structured (but I won’t say ‘racy’) blend of pinot noir (45%), chardonnay (30%) and pinot meunier (25%) is the official champagne of Formula One. Pale, with penetrating, citrusy flavours, and hints of nuts and toast, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with excellent vigour, complexity and richness. $50-$65

Nautilus Cuvée Marlborough Vintage Rosé 2014 •••••

Made entirely from pinot noir, this delicious wine was bottle-fermented and matured for two years on its yeast lees. Pink/pale orange, it is a rich, basically dry style, medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with incisive, strawberryish, yeasty flavours, a hint of apricots and excellent freshness, complexity and harmony. $49

Nikau Point Gold Méthode Traditionnelle NV •••½

An attractive wine that’s a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. Bright yellow, it is lively, yeasty and medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with fresh, citrusy, slightly peachy flavours, showing a touch of complexity, and a slightly sweet, crisp, finely balanced finish. Good value. $17

No 1 Family Estate Assemblé NV ••••½

This non-vintage Marlborough bubbly from the Le Brun family is disgorged after at least 18 months on its yeast lees. Crisp and lively, it is tightly structured, with strong, vibrant, peachy, yeasty flavours, firm acidity and a lasting finish. $33

Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvée Rosé NV •••½

Pink/pale orange, this lively sparkling is a blend of Hawke’s Bay chardonnay (80%) and Marlborough pinot noir (20%). An off-dry style, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with generous peach, strawberry and spice flavours, fresh acidity and a finely balanced, smooth finish. $19-$22

Palliser Estate Martinborough Méthode Traditionnelle 2013 ••••½

It’s Martinborough’s best bubbly, although few are produced in the region. A blend of chardonnay (56%) and pinot noir (44%), matured for 30 months on its yeast lees, it is crisp and lively, with citrusy, appley, yeasty flavours, showing excellent freshness, complexity, harmony and length. $50

Peregrine Central Otago Méthode Traditionnelle NV ••••½

Certified organic, this classy wine is a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, estate-grown at Gibbston. Pale lemon/green, it is a lively, medium- to full-bodied style (13% alc/vol), with good intensity of fresh, citrusy, yeasty, slightly biscuity and buttery flavours, impressive complexity and a long, finely balanced finish. $50

Quartz Reef Méthode Traditionnelle 2012 •••••

Certified biodynamic, this is a striking, highly refined bubbly. A blend of chardonnay (91%) and pinot noir (9%), estate-grown and hand-picked at Bendigo, in Central Otago, it was disgorged after ageing for nearly four years on its yeast lees. Pale straw, it is a fragrant, vigorous, medium-bodied wine (12.5% alc/vol), with intense, citrusy, yeasty, slightly appley and nutty flavours. Tight-knit, complex, smooth and lasting. $45

Rock Ferry Marlborough Blanc de Blancs 2011 ••••½

This still-youthful, chardonnay-based sparkling spent four years ageing on its yeast lees. The bouquet is fresh and complex, the palate medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), appetisingly crisp and lively, with strong, citrusy, appley, yeasty flavours. It has a tight, unusually dry but still well-balanced finish. Certified organic. $45

Saint Clair Dawn Méthode Traditionnelle 2013 ••••

An elegant 2:1 blend of Marlborough chardonnay and pinot noir, this was disgorged after nearly three years ageing on its yeast lees. Light lemon/green, it is lively and medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with good intensity of citrusy, appley flavours, yeasty, biscuity notes adding complexity and a crisp, dryish finish. $45

Seresin Moana Rosé Marlborough Méthode Traditionnelle 2009 •••••

Packed with personality, this organically certified blend of pinot noir (62%) and chardonnay (38%) was lees-aged for three years. Pale orange, it is a crisp, unusually dry, medium- to full-bodied style (13% alc/vol), with rich, mature flavours of strawberries, oranges and spices. Yeasty and notably complex. $45

Soljans Legacy Méthode Traditionnelle 2012 ••••½

From a long-established West Auckland winery, this is a blend of Hawke’s Bay chardonnay (60%) and Marlborough pinot noir (40%), matured on its yeast lees for three years. Bright lemon/green, it is medium-bodied (11.5% alc/vol), rich, yeasty and smooth, with peachy, slightly toasty flavours, balanced acidity and excellent vigour, complexity and harmony. $29

Spy Valley Echelon Marlborough Méthode Traditionnelle 2011 ••••½

An elegant blend of pinot noir (59%) and chardonnay (41%), this wine spent three and a half years maturing on its yeast lees. Tightly structured, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), crisp and lively, with good intensity of citrusy, yeasty, slightly nutty flavours. Unusually dry and persistent. $37

Thomas Waiheke Island Blanc de Gris 2015 ••••

A delicious, sparkling blend of pinot gris (83%) and flora (17%), it was estate-grown and matured on its yeast lees in tanks for 18 months. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with inviting, fresh, slightly appley aromas, it is crisp and lively, with gentle sweetness, appetising acidity and instant appeal. $38

Tohu Rewa Marlborough Blanc de Blanc 2014 ••••

A fresh, lively sparkling, from chardonnay hand-picked at Rapaura, that was matured for 20 months on its yeast lees. Pale lemon/green, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with strong, lemony, appley, slightly nutty flavours, considerable complexity and a crisp, fully dry finish. $34

Twin Islands Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut NV ••••

Nautilus’s sparkling is a pale lemon/green, moderately complex wine, medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with crisp, citrusy, appley, dryish flavours, showing good vigour and intensity. $25

This article was first published in the December 9, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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