There’s a méthode to their madness
- by Sophie Preece, Winepress Magazine
MARLBOROUGH WINE producers are “seriously serious” about making great sparkling wines, says Bhatia Dheeraj, international judge at the recent Marlborough Wine Show. The head sommelier of Est. Merivale Sydney, who won the 2019 Judy Hirst Award for the Sommelier Responsible for the Best List, did two blind tastings of Méthode Marlborough wines during his visit to the region. “I personally didn’t know that there were so many great producers who are seriously serious about making great sparkling wines in Marlborough,” he says, impressed by the “unity” of Méthode Marlborough’s producers. “It was a great exercise and I was amazed with the diversity and styles that sparkling wines from Marlborough had to offer.
”The tasting was part of a fresh push from Méthode Marlborough - a cooperative of 11 sparkling producers - to showcase the quality and breadth of the bubbles in their portfolio, says new group chair Matt Ward, winemaker at Wither Hills. The society was founded in 2013, and its members work to stay engaged, ensuring Méthode Marlborough remains “energised”, he says. Recent collaborations have included events that educate consumers about the breadth of the region’s bubbles offering, and sending a mixed case to select domestic wine writers, who were encouraged to taste the wines blind. “For us that is about removing the bias and reinforcing the diversity,” Matt says.
Johanneshof winemaker Edel Everling, who worked alongside Matt to organise Bhatia’s tasting, says the group followed it with a similar tasting for Méthode Marlborough members, with everyone from winemakers to marketers gathering to try the portfolio of wines blind. “It showcases the strength of each wine best if you go by the palate and bouquet,” she says. “You do not need to be influenced by the label at that stage.
”It can also reveal some surprises, because while all Méthode Marlborough wines are made to certain stipulations - the second fermentation is done in the bottle, varieties are limited to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes, and wines are aged for a minimum of 18 months - there are plenty of differences to be discovered. “Although we follow all the same rules, we still have very individual styles and the resulting wines are quite diverse in style and taste,” Edel says. “That may be to do with growing sites, the condition of the grapes, and the influence of each winemaker.” The use of barrel aged reserve wines, malolactic fermentations, different yeasts and varying time on lees are just some of the variables at play, she says.
The variation isn’t necessarily only between different labels, because when it comes to méthode traditionelle, two bottles made the same year from the same fruit and yeast in the same winery may still produce slightly different wines, says Edel. “It’s because each individual bottle undergoes its own individual fermentation. That is what makes it so exciting,” she says. “Each little bottle is really an individual thing and should be looked at as such.”
To read the full January edition of Winepress click here.