One of the highlights of a trip to the South Island several years ago was visiting Johanneshof Cellars (near Picton in Marlborough at the top of the South Island) and going underground. Yes, underground - into a rock cave. Not a natural cave but a man made adit in the rock face leading to an underground cellar. It was the skill of some of the South Island's west coast coal miners that engineered the 50 metre long tunnel 20 metres below the surface of the hill. It is here in this underground cellar that Johanneshof's sparkling wines mature until ready to be riddled for disgorgement of the yeast lees, the by product of the secondary fermentation in the bottle that gives so much character to this style of sparkling wine. The maturing bottles, with crown caps like on beer bottles, rest quietly on their sides on racks in the cave for several years and then they are transferred to riddling racks. Riddling is where the bottles are turned a fraction of a turn a day with a tiny tilt of the bottle at the same time, until such time when the bottles are completely upside down and the yeast sediment has accumulated in the neck. The neck of each bottle is frozen so the blob of sediment can be removed and when the sediment has ejected, a top up 'dose' of a grape brandy is added before the cork goes in and is secured with a wire cage called a muselet. Then the bottle is stored again until ready for labelling.
Even when standing outside the cellar you wouldn't know it was there. It's hidden from view by the arch framed medieval-like wooden doors that could be hiding any sort of room. It's only when the wooden doors are opened that you see the wrought iron gates and the darkness of the tunnel and sense the cold cold air within.
When you go underground your skin pricks with the cold and you lose sense of place; you could be anywhere in the world. It's a little spooky until the candles are lit and it's then you see the puffy-like mould that coats the ceiling like a newly shorn coloured sheep fleece. Stretched out cotton wool-like mould drips hang from the ceiling like stalactites. A-frame riddling racks filled with bottles in various phases of the process are space up along the length of the tunnel. At the end of the tuinnel, a wine barrel is set up for a wine tasting.
This cellar is one of the gems of Marlborough and is well worth a visit.
This weekend we opened a bottle of Johanneshof Cellars EMMI Methode Traditionelle NV and the memories of that visit came flooding back. Perhaps this non-vintage wine was one of the bottles maturing with under crown cap, on the day we visited.
In my room at home, in daylight, the wine in the glass is bright yellow gold with moderately fine bubbles. The aromas are fragrant and floral but also remind me of caramel and lemon meringue pie. There's a creamy almost luscious mouthfeel with acidity that cuts right through it and the florals of the bouquet - honeysuckle perhaps - comes through. Some very appealing peach-like notes too and then caramel cream takes over. This seems a big rich creamy style that's reminiscent a little of a peaches and cream Chardonnay but just when you are thinking that, a wave of acidity ripples through the palate again. It dispels any notion of sweetness and reminds you that the wine is dry. All the while a lovely yeasty savouriness gives it an aura of class and sophistication.
This tasty bubbles is made from a blend of 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay with a percentage aged in French oak barrels and the alcohol clocks in at 12.5%.
We matched this wine to salmon pizza - the recipe is on my blog - click here.
The most frustrating thing about EMMI is that it has one of those Diamant supercritical corks, and gosh, in this particular bottle here was no worry about it popping out unconrollably. Neil had to get a 'power opener' out of the drawer to help loosen the cork.
Now the problem with reviewing non-vintage wines is that a new disgorgement comes out from time to time and they will not be the same wine. The makeup/ percentage of individual components could be different and the harvest years could be different but how do we know? All I know is the wine reviewed here is the disgorgement made closest to the end of 2009 but before the end of November that year.
If you want to find out more about EMMI, including where to buy, then check out the Johanneshof website. You'll also find the price, which is about NZ$35 a bottle.
© Sue Courtney
11 Jan 2010