NWWA – Meet the Judges: Kyle Thompson

After studying food science, Kyle Thompson began his working life in the dairy industry in microbiology and sensory evaluation. Always passionate about wine, his interest in the industry began in earnest while living overseas. After vintages in Bordeaux and Tuscany, and further winemaking study, Kyle returned to his native New Zealand and joined Saint Clair Family Estate in 2006 – just as the new winery was being built. He has a particular affinity for judging right here in his homeland as it puts his expertise to the test and allows for a good look at the quality and diverse range of New Zealand wines first-hand.

How old were you when you had your first wine ‘moment’?

“For me it wasn’t so much one moment as a series of moments which led me to fall in love with wine – the absolute clincher was while backpacking around Europe trying amazing wines from France, Italy, Spain etc.”

What does your own wine cellar look like and what is your most recent addition?

“Never enough, my most recent additions were Albarino from Rias Baixas and some Muscadet Sur Lie from the Loire Valley. We just opened some Kumeu River Cremant for an important birthday, so that’ll be my next purchase.”

In the last 12 months, which grape have you drunk the most of?

“Chardonnay is variety that doesn’t seem to last long in our house. I just love white Burgundy for its complexity through to a funky flinty Marlborough Chardonnays. There’s just such a spectrum of Chardonnay styles that there’s something for every occasion.”

In the last 12 months, what’s the most exciting region you’ve discovered or re-discovered?

“I’m rediscovering Rias Baixas in Spain, especially Albariño. I think Albariño it’s a beautiful variety, it can be highly aromatic and perfumed or rich ripe and textural, it lends itself to a multitude of techniques to achieve the desired outcome. The acidity of this wine is bright and racy, and it works perfectly with all types of food or just as an aperitif or early afternoon wine. Albariño is a relatively new variety to New Zealand and perfectly suited to our cool climate winemaking. What is currently being produced here in New Zealand is very exciting.”

What has been your most memorable wine and food moment?

“There has been many but some of my most memorable combinations were during my time at Chateau Baduc in Bordeaux especially the home cooked Pauillac Lamb with a perfectly decanted bottle of Chateau Lynch-Bages, everything in this dish was from the region.”

Wine styles continue to fluctuate. Where do you think the wine-style pendulum is swinging?

“Pinot Noir in New Zealand is an interesting variety and one that has fluctuated over the years. The vines are getting older and we’re finding the places that are best suited to grow Pinot Noir with some exciting sub-regionality. At Saint Clair, we keep the fruit from our sub-regions separate so they can be a true expression of terroir, or the place from which they come, for example letting the darker southern valley fruit shine through in a delightful contrast to the bright red fruit spectrum of the Awatere Valley.

The wine style pendulum is swinging towards consumers wanting wines that speak of where they come from. Pinot Noir of New Zealand is definitely coming of age in this way. It’s like a perfect marriage of mature vines, understanding the best places to grow Pinot Noir, and an ever-increasing knowledge of how to capture these flavours from the vineyard in the bottle.”

What do you enjoy most about judging at the NWWA?

“Chair of judges Jim Harre sets a tone for a really top-notch judging event. It’s an honour to be amongst an incredible bunch of professionals that Jim brings together and leads every year. It’s also a pleasure to see a broad spectrum of styles and varieties in the under $25 range – it’s inspiring.”