Why, when the talk turns to New Zealand sparkling wines, must people be reminded of those produced by Morton Estate, a winery which has made as big a contribution to the popularity of home-grown fizz than just about any in the country?
There are several reasons:
An explosion in the number of sparkling wines now being made in New Zealand.
The large scale production and promotion of bubblies made, not in the traditional French way (by the methode traditionelle) but different, cheaper methods.
The appeal of New Zealand methodes at the middle and upper end of the scale with more exotic labels.
In short, Morton Estate, which once led the way, has become a victim of its own success in an arm of the industry that was largely untapped in New Zealand when Australian John Hancock became chief winemaker in the 1980s.
Hancock, who later founded Trinity Hill in Hawke's Bay, spotted a gap in the market and convinced owner Morton Brown to build an underground cellar and to invest heavily in specialised equipment for the production of methode traditionelle at its Katikati winery.
To make the wines Hancock employed Steve Bird, who produced a traditionally fermented non-vintage bubbly that in 1985 won Morton's first sparkling gold medal.
Such was the demand for this, and for other early bubblies produced by Morton, that Bird says they sometimes struggled to keep up.
Fortunately, when Morton Brown later sold up the winery was bought by Mildara Blass, an Australian company which had already demonstrated its interest and expertise in bubblies with the Yellowglen range of wines.
The only hiccup came when an investment company then took over, with predictable results. To the rescue came businessman John Coney, who reputedly bought Morton Estate for a song and, encouraged by former chief winemaker Evan Ward, expanded the range of sparkling wines. And continues to do so.
There are now at least 10 different wines on the list and with just one exception (Nikau Point Sparkling Wine, $16.95) they are made using the methode.
Included on the list:
Non Vintage Premium Brut, about $22
Fresh, fruity and creamy , slightly fuller flavours. Also available in a magnum and 375ml bottle.
Non Vintage Reserve Sec, $22
A crisp, apples-and-lemons bubbly in a slightly sweeter style. Also available in a magnum.
IQ3 Methode Traditionelle, $27.95
A sweetish blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier that has lived on lees for three years and smacks of creme brulee.
IQ 5 Methode Traditionelle, $29.95
A softer blend of the three traditional varieties that has been matured for five years.
IQ7 Methode Traditionelle, $31.95
After seven years in the bottle, it is bigger richer, with nutty, toasty characters.
2002 Blanc de Blanc Methode Traditionelle, $29.95
A rich and fruity bubbly made almost entirely of chardonnay grapes. Classic stuff.
Black Label 2004 Methode Traditionelle, $33.95
The blend is dominated by pinot meunier. The 2005 is available by the magnum.
2005 Blanc de Noir, $27.95
A pinot meunier/noir blend that is white but has the power and the flavours of the reds from which it is made. Different.
Non Vintage Rose Methode Traditionelle, $27.95
A reasonably bold and fruity pink wine.
Mimi Methode Traditionelle, $18.95
A cheaper and very cheerful pinot-dominant blend. A fun party wine.
- © Fairfax NZ News