It’s been said before and wine writers and enthusiasts alike will keep on saying it: New Zealand wines are only on the brink of true discovery.
Recently, I attended the New Zealand Wine Growers trade tasting event in Toronto, and it was quite a welcome back party. After all, it’s been over two years since we’ve all been back together in the same room, sipping wine with our fellow industry and media members, networking about. There’s a lot to catch up on!
If there was anything one could gather from this particular showcase it’s that New Zealand’s wine industry has been on a mission to prove that they’re not some one or two trick pony – although most wine enthusiasts have known this for years. It was plainly obvious that many of the producers were almost making it a point to bring anything but sauvignon blanc. Instead choosing to highlight the vast selection of varieties that the country’s regions also do extremely well with. (That said, there were some delightful bottles of sauvignon blanc brought over and I’ve highlighted four of the best ones I tasted below.)
It was refreshing to see that New Zealand winemakers are not resting on the laurels of their success with sauvignon blanc, and have embraced innovation, looking towards a future that includes other impressive grape varieties.
My one major takeaway from this year’s tasting has certainly been that New Zealand as a wine region is at the top of its game, and that its best wines are – quite possibly – still yet to be discovered. The below selections are 15 wines that had me feeling fired up about this country’s awesome potential. Who knew that discovering New Zealand’s true winemaking prowess was going to feel like this?
The Toronto tasting featured over 80 wineries from the North to the South Islands, many of which have never been shown in the Canadian market before. Wines represented 10 growing regions, including Marlborough, Central Otago, Canterbury, plus many of the sub-regions within, each showcasing the diversity of winemaking styles, varieties and typicity of place throughout New Zealand.
Aside from some (expected) superb sauvignon blanc wines, find some crazy good pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, chenin blanc, pinot gris, viognier and a very impressive sparkling in this list of highlights:
Hans Herzog Estate 2016 Mistral
From one of New Zealand’s most treasured artisan wineries and Hans Herzog one of its most respected winemakers comes this delightful blend of 50% viognier, 30% marsanne and 20% roussanne. Its floral aromatics are seducing, with its whiffs of jasmine and lavender. The mouthfeel is soft, light and refreshing, with stone fruit flavours and a mineral-like mid palate that turns slightly salty towards the finish.
Hans Herzog Estate 2016 Pinot Noir
Another pick from this premium producer is this pinot noir, displaying aromas of red cherry, raspberry, drying herbs and just a whiff of funk. The palate is soft, juicy and savoury, with those drying herbs blending with subtle earth. There is a balance and purity about this wine, with firm acids still holding it all in place. Made to age for years to come.
Greywake 2017 Chardonnay
A major kick in the face… in a good way! Check out this bouquet: flint smoke, volcanic rock, crushed minerals, drying fruit. Very extensive, complex and concentrated aromas. The mouthfeel is soft, yet muscular with tight and intense flavours of toasted pineapple, burnt peach and an assortment of spices. There’s a woody element that lingers from the well-integrated oak. Grapefruit and lots of spice on the finish. One heck of an expressive wine. Superb.
Mohua 2021 Sauvignon Blanc
Concentrated aromas of fresh cut lime, passionfruit and a touch of red currant combine with a textured, sweet and salty fruited and very succulent palate, with mango, ripe lemon, and loads of pink grapefruit flavours. A classic New Zealand sauvignon blanc from the famed Central Otago region. (11.5% ABV, 8 g/l residual sugar). Bravo.
Cuvee No. 1 Sparkling
From the only winery in New Zealand committed exclusively to producing premium traditional method sparkling wines, this blanc de blancs was held on lees for two years, encouraging full yeast autolysis. The resulting wine displays complex, Champagne-like characters. Baked stone fruit, delightful bakery scents, lemon zest and brioche envelope the nose. The palate is soft, with fine mousse and stone fruit flavours, almond and hints of citrus in all the right places. A beautifully textured sparkling that was a real highlight during this event.
Lawson’s 2018 Dry Hills Riesling
A single vineyard stroke of genius from a vineyard block in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys. Flint, lime zest, orange blossom and subtle notes of white peach and honey result in an attractive, aromatic nose. The palate is concentrated, crisp and dry with mouth-watering acidity and wonderful balance.
Valli 2018 ‘Waitaki Vineyard’ Pinot Noir
This is a standout pinot from the Central Otago region – a favoured area among so many New World wine enthusiasts. Vivid fruit aromas of wild strawberry, morello cherry, rose petal, and cedar. This wine has layers of flavour, with fruit, spice and mineral notes wonderfully integrated with silky tannins and a fresh acidity that gives the wine tremendous energy.
Rapaura Springs 2019 ‘Bull Paddock Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc
Vibrant aromas of passionfruit, guava and tropical fruit that follow through to the palate. The flavour intensity is complemented by an intriguing saline minerality and vibrant acidity. This wine is immediately expressive but will continue to drink well for the next half decade or so.
Giesen Group ‘The Fuder Clayvin’ 2015 Chardonnay
Matured in 1,000L German oak füder, this chardonnay represents a unique expression of Clayvin, Marlborough’s first significant hillside vineyard. This expression has a gorgeously lifted nose of honey, and the palate is brimming with soft, ripe peach, apricot, honey, lemon and marzipan notes. There’s saline and crushed gravel on the elegant, textured finish.
Wild Rock Estate 2017 Pinot Gris
Sourced from Marlborough vineyards, this shows yellow straw colour and aromas of canned peaches, ginger and honey. A flavoursome and generous palate of delicious white and golden fruits and a lovely, lingering finish.
Millton Vineyards & Winery 2020 Chenin Blanc
From the Demeter certified Biodynamic estate that also dry farms their land, this chenin is expressive with its aromas of fresh lime zest and wildflowers. The wine’s honeyed pear flavours stand out the most. There’s no hurry to drink this. It’s built for aging about 10 years.
Saint Clair Family Estate 2020 Sauvignon Blanc
Light bodied and fresh with typical Marlborough flavours of passionfruit, gooseberry and grapefruit. There’s a subtle herbal thread to this with salty mineral notes and bracing acidity that brings on a lemony element. The finish is extra long.
Pegasus Bay 2017 ‘Bel Canto’ Riesling
Waxy and citrusy nose, with lemon meringue and green apple accents cloaked in a spicy mineral underlay. The palate experience is also multi-layered, displaying a charming sweetness that’s backed by refreshing acidity and vibrant tension.
Black Estate 2017 ‘Netherwood’ Pinot Noir
Aromas of vibrant red cherry, deep red rose, and hints of earth. The palate is silk-like, with a well-structured mid palate, consisting of luscious red fruit and softening tannins.
Nautilus 2021 Sauvignon Blanc
Dry and medium weight, the nose is tight at the moment, but this is a wine that builds through the palate with its complex and delicious concentration of flavours that include gobs of passionfruit and grapefruit and lively acidity to hold it all in place. The finish is outstanding.