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Master of Wine Emma Jenkins is presenting at Winetopia this winter, and she sat down with What's Hot New Zealand to talk grapes, wine regions and excellent bubbles.
Can you tell us about a lesser-known wine region that’s captured your heart? Well, I kind of hope there are no lesser known wine regions in New Zealand these days! But if I had to nominate somewhere that people often overlook, it’s the sub-region of Alexandra, in Central Otago. It’s a little bit further-flung and there aren’t as many well-known names as its mostly very very small producers, but the unique and sometimes extreme conditions can produce some of the region’s most expressive fruit. Worth having on your radar, plus it’s a lovely place to visit.
What interesting things are coming out of the big-hitting regions this year? We’ve just had two fantastic vintages, so both 2020 and 2021 will deliver some excellent wines to the shelves this year. As well as great examples of the usual favourite varieties, we’re seeing an increase in the so-called ‘alternative varieties’ as well as less-common wine styles, such as skin contact wines et cetera. If you haven’t already, then this is as good a time as any to dip your toe in those waters – wine should be fun and interesting, so explore all that 2020 and 2021 have to offer. It’s been a tough 12 months for wineries, with the borders closed and hospitality turned upside-down worldwide, and I urge people to get out there and support their favourite wineries – drink their wine, visit them… it’ll help ensure they’ll still be there come the next harvest.
How much do you need to spend for a bottle of New Zealand méthode traditionelle that goes toe-to-toe with a French Champagne? I would say $40 onwards will get you some pretty smart fizz, and if you’re willing to pay around $80-100 a bottle then you will get wines of great depth and character that would easily beat the equivalently priced Champagne. New Zealand sparkling wine is definitely an underrated wine style and I wish people would drink more of it.
Does a méthode have to be made with the traditional three grape varieties or is there room to mix it up? No they don’t, but I do believe the most complex and interesting examples are made from the classic varieties in the manner perfected in Champagne. However, these wines can be from a number of origins – for example New Zealand, Australia and California all produce excellent MT wines. That said, there are plenty of other decent sparkling wines made from other varieties so there’s no need to limit yourself to these styles.
What other varieties make for a good bottle of bubbles? I’m not sure it’s a variety thing so much as a quality thing. I can think of lots of pretty average MT wines, including plenty of Champagne. It’s more about quality of the base wines and the balance and harmony of the sparkling wine. The world of sparkling wine is pretty broad - think of Prosecco (made from Glera grapes), Cava (typically Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo) or numerous French Crémant styles – there’s lots of good stuff to explore.
‘Pinot Gris-Viognier-Riesling-Gewürztraminer’ is both a mouthful and a hard sell. How can we get past the hurdle of naming and marketing lesser-known but delicious grape blends in New Zealand? Big question! I think some producers with multi-variety blends have done well to create a specific name for the wines which gets around this, for example Te Whare Ra’s ‘Toru’ blend, but I’m not sure the issue is so much about the names as it is about helping wine drinkers feel confident to get out of their comfort zones and try new wines, no matter what they’re called. I’m always amazed by how many people will drink the same wine over and over – you wouldn’t do that with food so why limit yourself with wine? This is where events like Winetopia can be really helpful, allowing people to explore new varieties and styles in a low-risk and fun setting.
What’s your favourite up-and-coming wine variety being produced in New Zealand? I think the Spanish white variety Albariño has shown a lot of promise. It seems to work well with our climate and vineyard conditions and the crisp fruity style is one that is familiar and popular here, plus suits a lot of our food.
Are there any varieties you’d consider a failed experiment in New Zealand? Maybe Viognier? It can be a tricky grape to get right and many producers seemed to struggle with finding a comfortable style fit and getting balance right in their wines. I think a few who have persisted make some good wines but overall Viognier doesn’t really seem to have settled that well into NZ.
Can you name one budget wine and one top shelf wine you’re loving at the moment? My friend Jane Skilton MW recommended the 2018 Main Divide Merlot Cabernet and she was spot on – it’s both delicious and a steal at $20. I love great Central Otago Pinot, which is not inexpensive though I still think it delivers excellent value for money.
What’s a 2020 wine that’s worth cellaring for a few years? Good quality 2020 Hawke’s Bay reds and Chardonnays will definitely reward patience.
You’re only allowed to drink one wine for the rest of your life – what is it? My worst nightmare! It would be like having only one book to read for the rest of one’s life. Can I choose a wine style? That’s a little bit more bearable. Sparkling wine – versatile and satisfying.
What’s one thing people probably don’t know about the wine industry? How small New Zealand’s production really is on a global scale – we produce less than 1% of the world’s wine, which makes our global reputation ever more impressive.
What’s the most common misconception about wine? That it’s intimidating. Don't be afraid – it’s just wine! Ask questions, try new stuff, have fun. Most wine people are pretty friendly and eager to share wine knowledge and info about wines they love.
What are you looking forward to at Winetopia 2021? Engaging with consumers, talking about a topic I love, seeing familiar and unfamiliar producers, and learning new stuff.
Bob Campbell MW is a bit of a legend in New Zealand wine. We understand you work closely with him – can you tell us a bit about what he’s like? He’s great. Passionate about wine, super knowledgeable, generous with both attributes, and he has a great sense of humour. Bob is someone from whom I learned a lot when I first started out in wine, and still do. He encouraged me to do my MW. He’s not afraid to voice an opinion on things and I always look forward to his company. Read What's Hot New Zealand's Q&A with Bob Campbell here.
What can we expect to learn from yourself and Bob at Winetopia? Hopefully how to broaden your wine horizons and become more confident about navigating the world of wine, plus plenty of tips on how to get more enjoyment from wine.
Do you have favourite wine-drinking music? I don't listen to music when working – tasting and writing – as I find it distracting, but when I am cooking dinner and pour a glass I usually have some combo of Talking Heads, Violent Femmes, Gorillaz, The Clash, Pixies and a few others that put me in a good mood on my playlist.
What’s the best advice your mum ever gave you? Smile.
One day I’ll… Have time to get my garden in order and read the millions of books and magazines lying about the place.