With so many great deals on French Champagne in Australia at the moment, looking beyond the French for a bubbly may seem like a hard ask. But for good value vintage sparkling, New Zealand is seriously worth considering. Unlike their French counterparts, top-rated vintage New Zealand vintage sparklings can be found for less than $50 a bottle.
Take the Deutz Marlborough Cuvée range for example. Three of their vintage releases – the 2008 Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle Blanc de Blancs, the 2009 Cuvée Prestige Cuvée, Marlborough and the 2006 Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle Rosé – scored 97, 96 and 95 respectively in Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Top 100 New Releases for 2013. The three offerings retail for around $44 a bottle. (You’d be certainly hard pressed to find a vintage Champagne for under $100 a bottle!)
Why buy vintage Champagne/sparkling?
Fortunately, the rest of the world has followed the Champagne example of only making vintage sparkling in years when growing conditions are exceptional. Typically, the Champagne houses prefer to blend across vintages, as it insures a consistent house style.
But the point of making a vintage sparkling is to showcase the special attributes of an excellent vintage. These wines are individual examples to be judged in their own right rather than displays of a house style. In creating these special wines, Champagne houses and wineries usually lavish the wines with special attention.
Vintage Champagne/sparklings, for example, are typically aged longer than non-vintage wines before disgorgement. This is important because Champagne/sparkling wines owe their nuances of flavour and savoury definition to the time they remain in contact with dead yeast lees, which gather on the underbelly of the bottle while the wine is lying in the dank chalk cellars of Champagne or the new world cellars of the sparkling makers.
Bottle ageing is also a great substitute for dosage – the sugar traditionally added just before final bottling – because the ageing softens or rounds out Champagne/sparkling wine’s leaner characters. For the most part, vintage Champagnes/sparklings are drier than non vintage wines, and capable of developing in the bottle for years and even decades afterward.
Deutz is a famous, centuries old Champagne House now owned by Louis Roederer. In 1988 it formed a partnership with New Zealand’s Montana Wines to make sparkling wine in the Marlborough region. Winemakers and viticulturists from Deutz spent 10 years guiding Montana in the art of making sparkling wines in the traditional way. Much of the equipment used, including a specialised Champagne press, was imported to New Zealand from France.
The venture has proved extremely successful and in 1998 the Deutz Marlborough Cuvee Brut NV was named Sparkling Wine of the Year at the London International Wine Challenge.