Wines of New Zealand: New and Not So Recent Releases, Part 1: 2017-2022

by Ian D’Agata

New Zealand has rapidly made a name for itself as an excellent source of New World fruit-forward wines that speak of the country’s mostly cool climate habitat. Most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines, New Zealand makes excellent Chardonnay and Riesling wines too, as well as Bordeaux-based variety and Syrah wines from warmer wine production areas such as Hawke’s Bay (at roughly 4600 hectares under vine, it’s the country’s second largest vine-growing area). In fact, over the last few years it’s the rather amazing wines made with Pinot Gris, Semillon and Gewurztraminer, as this tasting report clearly shows, not to mention the many outstanding late harvest and noble rot affected sweet wines, that are grabbing everybody’s attention in progressively increasing fashion.

A few facts and figures

New Zealand’s wine regions extend 1,100 kilometers and cover myriad soil types, topographies, macro-, meso- and micro-climates (with the ocean influence always present, given that no vineyard is more than 120 kilometers away from the ocean), from Northland down to Central Otago. It’s mostly a cool climate environment made up of long sunlit days and moderate temperatures and cool nights, with vineyards growing on the hillside flanks of mountain ranges where they benefit from the drier conditions resulting from the shadow effect.

Numerous New Zealand wine regions have garnered an international reputation for their wines. Hawke’s Bay is best known for its red blends and Bordeaux variety-based wines, not to mention outstanding Syrah as well as aromatic and non-aromatic white wines. Chardonnay has done remarkably well too in Hawke’s Bay, with the gravelly soils of Bay View in the northern Esk River Valley area and Te Awanga in the South having produced some very good Pinot Noir wines over the years. The Hawke’s Bay Alluvial Plains, characterized by essentially gravel and alluvial soils, feature the wines of important vineyard areas such as Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle, both of which produce world-class wines sought after by winelovers everywhere in the world. Wairarapa, which means glistening waters in Maori, is a small high-quality wine production area specializing in wines made with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and aromatic varieties. Of those, Pinot Noir is the most planted variety, and Wairarapa’s are much admired for their texture and savoury depth. Wairarapa subregions are Masterton (the name of the largest town in Wairarapa), Gladstone (just south of Masterton, it’s best known for its Pinot Noir, though Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris (in a late harvest sweet style too) and aromatic varieties perform very well too) and Martinborough (boasting a soil and climate profiles not unlike Burgundy’s, its Pinot Noir is especially famous but other varieties do very well too). I find that the area’s Riesling and Gewurztrminer wines are excellent more often than not too.

Perhaps the most famous of New Zealand’s wine areas is Marlborough, that has turned Sauvignon Blanc into a brand of sorts (think green, pungent, high-acid wines): say New Zealand and wine in the same sentence and everybody’s mind races to this white variety (or perhaps Pinot Noir). But with 2800 hectares planted to Pinot Noir, 1300 hectares of Pinot Gris, and 1000 hectares of Chardonnay, Marlborough offers so much more than just Sauvignon Blanc wines. Even better, the range of Marlborough’s climates and soils have allowed the identification of specific subregions, each of which express its own style of wine. These include the Southern Valleys, Wairau Valley (generally speaking, characterized by more gravel and less clay in its soils than the Southern Valleys) and Awatere Valley (just south of the Wairau Valley, this area generally boasts higher altitudes and a cooler, windier and drier climate). Central Otago has become synonymous with Pinot Noir, and is often cited, along with Oregon, as the best source of high-quality Pinot Noir wines in the world outside of Burgundy. However, Central Otago also makes wonderfully perfumed wines from the likes of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling.

New Zealand’s wine grapes by wine region

Sauvignon Blanc

At 72% of New Zealand’s total wine production and 85% of its exports, no variety dominates the country’s wine scene as does Sauvignon Blanc. It is a unique, very country-specific interpretation of the variety, with an immediately recognizable expression that is exceptionally green, pungent, and aromatic in its bell pepper, gooseberry, passionfruit, sage, rosemary and tropical fruit notes. Given how popular these wines have become all over the world, it might surprise to know that New Zealand’s Sauvignon’s burst on the world wine scene is a relatively recent one, given that Marlborough’s first Sauvignon Blanc plantings date back only to the 1970s. Thanks to a variety of different terroirs including winemaking choices (such as degree and length of lees contact, use of natural yeasts or not, absence or presence of barrel fermentation, and use of oak for aging or not) the range of New Zealand Sauvignon wines can be quite broad, though the country’s hallmark of pungent greenness is never absent in this wine. Climate is the true defining factor of the Sauvignon wine style you’ll get in your glass: generally speaking, the northern wine regions have a warmer, milder growing season and therefore their wines are riper and richer (with melon and orchard fruit notes dominating) while the Sauvignon wines of the southern regions, with their longer, cooler growing conditions are marked by greater vibrancy of fruit and higher acidity levels, with more pungent (bell pepper ahoy!), and crisp organoleptic profiles. The vast majority of New Zealand’s Sauvignon is planted in Marlborough, where you’ll find close to 25,000 hectares of the grape (of the country’s total 29,000 hectares of Sauvignon). To help put those numbers in perspective, just consider that the next regions in order of Sauvignon planting size are Hawke’s Bay and Nelson, with about 1,000 hectares and 600 hectares to their name, respectively.

Pinot Gris

Pinot Gris may well be New Zealand’s best kept wine secret, though happily this may not be true much longer, thanks to the number of delicious wines made with this variety that are ever-increasing. The variety extends over 2800-plus hectares (Marlborough has 1238 hectares and Hawke’s Bay 676; but Gisborne’s 288; Central Canterbury’s 215; Central Otago’s 172, and Nelson’s 111 hectares show that Pinot Gris is becoming seriously grown all over the country). True Pinot Gris rather than Pinot Grigio wine in style, New Zealand’s interpretations are usually luscious and relatively full-bodied but with very good cool climate-derived freshness and lift, offering plenty of orchard fruit, butter, honey and spice aromas and flavours. Just like it happens with the Sauvignon wines, the Pinot Gris wines from the country’s north are the fatter and oilier ones in style. Interestingly, New Zealand’s Pinot Gris wines seem capable of aging exceptionally well, perhaps even more so than New Zealanders themselves realize. But given the wine’s fruity charm and easy-going, approachable nature it’s admittedly hard to cellar it and defer gratification for too long. Still though, I have had six and eight years old New Zealand Pinot Gris wines that are smashingly great, with layers of complexity and depth.

Riesling

Not surprisingly, most of New Zealand’s Riesling is grown in the cooler South Island where long, cool dry autumns and high diurnal temperature shifts ensure production of high quality, classically dry and late harvest sweet Riesling wines. Still, production remains small, representing less than 1% of New Zealand’s wine production and less than 1% of all New Zealand wine exported. However, it is now the country’s fourth most planted grape, and so things are looking up: the lion’s share of the country’s roughly 650 hectares planted to this grape goes to North Canterbury (271 hectares), followed closely by Marlborough (230 hectares). Central Otago, Nelson and Wairarapa hold other significant plantings.

Chardonnay

Unlike many other New World countries that have been somewhat unfortunately taken over by Chardonnay, in New Zealand its presence remains small, comprising roughly only 6% of the country’s wine production, and only 2% of its wine exports. Of the roughly 3200 hectares planted, most are in Marlborough (1,100 hectares), but as there are another 1,050 hectares in Hawke’s Bay and almost 600 in Gisborne, Marlborough does not quite have the leading role it does with Sauvignon. For the most part New Zealand Chardonny wines are made in the style of Puligny or Chassagne, and not that typically associated with the majority of, for example, California.

Gewurztraminer

Given how difficult it is to make world-class Gewurztraminer wines outside of Alsace in France and Alto Adige in Italy, the high level of quality reached by New Zealand’s Gewurz wines ought to be cause for jubilation. Still, plantings and exports of this beautiful grape and wine remain small (less than 1% of the country’s wine production and less than 1% of its wine exports). In general, while the variety’s telltale trademark aromas and flavours of rose petals, grapefruit, lichee, sweet spices and ginger are found in New Zealand’s wines too, these are most often expressed in a gentler, less bombastic fashion that is commonly found in Alsatian and Alto Adige examples of the wine. Most of the New Zealand Gewurz grows in

Marlborough, followed by Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Nelson, North Canterbury and Central Otago, for a total of 200 hectares planted throughout the country.

Pinot Noir

If you stop to consider that New Zealand’s first commercial bottling of Pinot Noir was in the 1980s, and the world-class reputation these wines have developed in such a short span of time, you can’t help but come away impressed. There are almost 6000 hectares of Pinot Noir planted in New Zealand, with Marlborough (2,700 hectares-plus) and Central Otago (about 1700 hectares) leading the way. Wairarapa , North Canterury and even the rather warm Hawke’s Bay  have noteworthy plantings too (but all less than 1000 hectares each), though clearly cool climate-loving Pinot Noir is best suited and mostly found in the country’s cooler southern regions such as  Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Central Otago.

The wines in the tasting.

The wines in this tasting report were tasted either in my office in Shanghai or at various tasting events organized throughout the country from July to October 2022. This is only part 1 of the New Zealand wine report, with part 2 that will be published in the last week of this November. More wines, including those from top producers such as Felton Road and Kumeu River (for example), will be included then.

Abel New Zealand.

Abel 2020 Chardonnay Tasman Nelson                                      92

Green-tinged yellow. Fresh citrus and stone fruits on the nose, with floral and herbal notes. Sharply focused, and with good inner-mouth perfume, this is awash in tangerine, peach, green banana and lime flavours, complicated by dusty minerals. The aftertaste is long and brisk. Made from roughly twenty-five years old vines of Chardonnay Mendoza clones 15 and 95 planted in two sustainably farmed vineyards of the Nelson-Tasman area on Moutere clay soils that tend to give fresh, lifted wines. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Abel 2018 Methode Cider                                                      92

Bright straw-green. Green apple and lime on the fresh, floral nose. Then vibrant and zingy in the mouth, with very good salinity and freshness to the apple, pear and lemon ice flavours. Classically bone dry on the long zippy finish. This very pretty cider is made by fermentation in the bottle in the manner of Champagne, and is characterized by very refined mouthfeel and a small bead. It will prove extremely food friendly. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Astrolabe.

Astrolabe 2020 Albariño Kēkerengū Coast Marlborough                91

Straw-green with golden highlights. Musky peppers and smoky herbs mingle with grapefruit and lemon peel on the nose and in the mouth. Dense and brisk, with vibrant flavors of pineapple, apricot, green tea and rock salt. The finish is long and crisp, not to mention nicely saline, but rounder than you might expect given it is partly fermented and aged in oak barrels. Albariño is a late arrival to New Zealand shores, with the first plantings at Astrolabe (with a Galician clone) occurring in 2009 and the winery’s first vintage dating back only to 2013. The grapes for this wine were sourced from the Sleepers Vineyard planted on a mostly limestone soil on a terrace overlooking the Kēkerengū river, an area with a strong maritime influence. Not surprisingly, given how well Albariño does in cool, wind-swept and maritime northwest Portugal and Galicia in Spain, the variety has also taken very well to New Zealand’s coastal, temperate climate. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Astrolabe 2020 Pinot Gris Kēkerengū Coast Marlborough                    92

Bright straw yellow. The perfumed, rich nose is dominated by poached pear, baked apple, fresh citrus and grilled hazelnut aromas. Then rich, round and full in the mouth, with ripe acidity nicely framing the sweet nut and peach flavors. Closes long, seamless, and shapely: this is a really good Pinot Gris wine that is classically dry and very food-friendly. Pinot Gris in Marlborough does extremely well, and this is but one of many excellent such wines I have tasted over the years from this part of New Zealand: Marlborough’s cooler climate allows the low cid variety to hang on to its natural acidity better while guaranteeing long hang time by which to make much more complex wines than is the worldwide norm. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Astrolabe 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Taihoa Vineyard Kēkerengū Coast Marlborough       91

Vivid straw yellow. Pungent aromas of gooseberry, grapefruit, thyme and wet stone. Herbal, juicy and nicely piercing, with finely etched flavours of grapefruit, fennel and minty herbs. Closes long and gripping, with vibrant, juicy citrus fruit flavours that are neither hard nor austere. This age-worthy Sauvignon Blanc is made with grapes grown on the limestone soil of Marlborough’s southerly Kēkerengū Coast. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Ata Rangi.

Ata Rangi 2019 Sauvignon Blanc Te Wa Martinborough                94

Pale yellow. Perfumed, penetrating lemon, orange and guava aromas are complemented by dusty talc and fresh white flower notes. Soft and round, with concentrated and juicy pineapple and orchard fruit flavours and an expansive back half that features a rising note of lime. Closes long and juicy with noteworthy intensity and typical Sauvignon Blanc pungency: this is really quite good, and even better, it is ripe, not green. I also find this has a typical Martinborough texture that some local winemakers describe as chalky, even though I am told this characteristic is not due to limestone in the soil. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Ata Rangi 2017 Chardonnay Craighall Martinborough                         92

Light yellow-gold. Tangerine, orange, creme brulée, white peach, white flowers, and smoke on the nose, with notes of vanilla bean and musky lees adding complexity. Rich, ripe and round yet focused, with ripe citrus and orchard fruit flavours expanding nicely with aeration, picking up deeper papaya and marzipan qualities though the vanillin oak presence remains in the forefront at all times. The very long finish repeats the vanillin and ripe citrus notes and persists impressively. As good as this is, I find it a tad oakier than usual: maybe I caught this at an awkward time, but there’s noteworthy depth and balance here, and plenty of stuffing to repay another four or five years of patience, which will allow the oakiness to mellow somewhat. Still, this is an outstanding New Zealand Chardonnay that just needs a little more time in the cellar to show all it has to offer. Unfortunately, the Craighall vineyard has since had to be replanted. Drinking window: 2023-2027.

Ata Rangi 2018 Pinot Noir Crimson Martinborough                        91

Vivid ruby-red. Expressive, intensely fruity aromas of blackberry, wild strawberry and crushed violets, with smoky and spicy notes for added interest. Deep-pitched red and blue fruit flavours are lifted by tangy minerality. At once juicy and suave on the finish, with repeating red berry and spicy qualities buffering a hint of minerality and lingering fresh nuances of violet, cinnamon and strawberry. Maybe not the last word in complexity, but this is a really very good Pinot Noir wine that is both approachable and affordable: I especially like its clarity and cut. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Ata Rangi 2015 Pinot Noir Martinborough                                93

Vibrant medium ruby-red colour. Deep, complex aromas of plum syrup, blackcurrant, boysenberry and violet, complicated by hints of cola, soy sauce and herbs. Round and fresh, with excellent breadth and compelling sweetness of fruit flavours (plum, blueberry), plus subtle suggestions crushed minerals, smoke and tobacco leaf. Finishes long with rising polished tannins providing the generous fruit with plenty of backbone. This has developed very nicely over the last few years. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Ata Rangi 2015 Riesling Botrytis Kahu Martinborough                         93

Deep yellow with golden tinges. Exotic aromas of mango, papaya, honey, orange zest, lichee and smoke, plus a whiff of marmelady botrytis. Tactile and chewy but luscious in the mouth, with rich pit fruit and pear skin, crystallized ginger and orange rind flavours that are at once concentrated and complex. An impressive sweet wine that manages to be powerful without conveying any excess weight. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Auntsfield.

Auntsfield 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard Southern Valleys Marlborough              92

Medium straw yellow with green tinges. Ripe, musky aromas of lemon drop, kiwi, passionfruit, oatmeal and grapefruit, plus a whiff of pungent minerality. Broad and tactile, with penetrating flavours similar to the aromas. The finish is long, clean and floral. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Auntsfield 2020 Sauvignon Blanc South Oaks Barrel Fermented Southern Valleys Marlborough              91

Bright straw with golden tinges. Pure, high-pitched aromas of lemon drop, tangerine and gooseberry; Fresh flavours of lemon, lime, jalapeño and ginger are rounded out by hints of vanillin oak. Nicely persistent on the rich, round and citrus fruit-accented finish. From deep clay soils, a powerful rendition of Sauvignon Blanc wine that was fermented in French oak (20% new) and aged ten months on the lees in French oak barriques. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Auntsfield 2019 Chardonnay Single Vineyard Southern Valleys Marlborough             88

Deep yellow. The oak-dominated nose combines nectarine, pineapple and flowers. Fruity, intense and round, this is at once mouthfilling, ripe and gripping, but its stone fruit and banana flavours are camouflaged by an intrusive oak presence. Closes long and tactile. Fermented in French oak barriques, this also underwent extended barrel aging with lees contact, but I find all that oak is currently too dominating. Will it resolve? Well… Drinking window: 2024-2027.

Auntsfield 2018 Chardonnay Cob Cottage Southern Valleys Marlborough              89

Bright straw yellow with gold highlights. The nose offers strong aromas of tropical fruit and vanilla, with more oak-derived notes of butterscotch, caramel and clove emerging with aeration. Then nicely concentrated and rich in the mouth, with pineapple, papaya, citrus and spicy oak flavors, along with a hint of minerality. Finishes clean and with noteworthy length, but a bit dry-edged from the wood. From Chardonnay grapes grown on dense Loess soil, the wine is aged eleven months on the lees in French oak barrels, but I find this is another wine from Auntsfield that might be better with a subtler oak presence. That much said, all those who like big buttery tropical Chardonnay wines will undoubtedly like this more than I.  Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Auntsfield 2021 Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Southern Valleys Marlborough          91

Full, fresh ruby. Spicy black cherry, dried herbs (mint, thyme) and violet on the rather perfumed nose. Then riper and deeper than the nose suggests, with dark fruit flavours of fresh blackcurrant and musky black cherry nicely framed by polished tannins. Made in a silky style, but with good stuffing and palate presence, this boasts a lovely long and precise finish. Aged ten months in French oak barriques. Drinking window: 2024-2029.

Babich Wines.

Babich 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough                       86

Straw-green. Pungent herbs and ripe fruit on the nose and in the mouth, with a sweet and sour quality that may not be for everyone. Very green and herbal on one side but then very sweet on the other, this is really not my ideal of Sauvignon wine. Drinking window: 2022.

Babich 2022 Pinot Gris Marlborough                                   90

Light straw-yellow with green tinges. Delicate nuances of pear, peach and floral honey on the nose, complicated by hints of ginger and sweet butter. At once fresh and round in the mouth, with fresh orchard fruit flavours brightened by minerals and subtle lemony echoes. Finishes long and round, with good focus and freshness, but at the same time also with an impression of mellowness (the wine is partly barrel-fermented) and of residual sugar. The numbers (2.8 g/L r.s. and 6.6 g/L total acidity) say this is technically completely dry, but it doesn’t taste that way, possibly because of the barrel fermentation. Still, it’s a lovely, refreshing Pinot Gris wine, made with sustainably farmed Pinot Gris grapes sourced in the Waihopai and Wairau valleys. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Babich 2021 Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay                               90

Green-hued straw yellow colour. Aromas of green and yellow apple, peach, and fresh citrus fruits. Then more of the same in the mouth, with precise, subtle flavours of stone fruits, minerals and lime. The medium-long finish offers very good clarity, turning delicately flinty with air. Made with grapes grown in two estate-owned Chardonnay vineyards in the Fernhills district and the Gimblett Gravels; the wine underwent partial malolactic so as to increase complexity somewhat but is completely unoaked otherwise. This may not be the last word in complexity but offers a simple easygoing drink full of charm. Drinking window: 2023-2025.

Babich 2019 Pinot Noir Reserve Marlborough                                  92

Medium ruby. Complex, high-pitched perfume of redcurrant, plum, spices, orange peel and soy sauce.  At once dense and juicy, with a seamless texture and rich, deep flavours of blue fruits (plum, blackberry) and anise. Finishes very long and suave. From grapes sourced in the Waihopai and Waipara Valleys, this spent nine months on the lees in 35% new oak barrels. Drinking window: 2023-2025.

Babich 2017 Syrah Single Vineyard Winemaker’s Reserve Hawkes Bay     90

Good medium ruby. Forward aromas of dark plum, blackberry, smoked meat, cracked black pepper and minerals. Good sweet dark fruits here, with harmonious acidity framing the supple middle palate. Nicely ripe and balanced, this lovely Syrah wine finishes with late reminders of iron and coffee nicely supported by tannins that are firm but not hard. The medium-long finish features a rising floral note. The grapes were sourced from the St. John vineyard in Hawke’s Bay and the wine spent eight months in new (25%) and old French oak barrels. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Babich 2017 Riesling Late Harvest Reserve Marlborough               91

Luminous deep yellow-gold. Lemon, lime, mango, honey and crystallized ginger aromas are lifted by floral botrytis. Juicy and round in the mouth, with soft lime and tropical fruit flavours that are luscious and sweet. Boasts plenty of creamy length and sweetness, but is fresh enough to stay light and lively on the palate. The aftertaste is very suave and honeyed but not especially complex. The Riesling grapes grow in the Cowslip Valley: only the most botrytised were chosen to make this late harvest Riesling wine, a small portion of which (16%) was barrel fermented in new and used oak barrels, and assembled prior to bottling with the rest of the wine that was left in tanks. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Bell Hill.

Bell Hill 2017 Pinot Noir Canterbury                             94

Medium red-ruby. Musky, penetrating nose offers scents of redcurrant, black cherry and crushed violet, with an inviting minty minerality adding interest. Then more nuances of stony minerality and cool mintiness intensify on the middle palate and give the wine a slight firmness. Closes nicely persistent and a bit youthfully tight with earthy and spicy notes. The Bell Hill Pinot Noir is a barrel blend of various vineyard plots (the Shelf parcels, the Shelf West, and Quarry); the grapes were completely destemmed, indigenous yeasts only were used and the wine was aged for twelve months in 100% new oak. Even though this is a 2017 wine, it is the estate’s current release, as it matures three and a half years at the winery prior to going on sale. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Bell Hill 2016 Pinot Noir Canterbury                             95

Good full red-ruby. Vibrant, inviting aromas of red berries, violet, white pepper and mint. At once dense and tangy, with brisk acidity and a sandalwood element giving shape and grip to the flavors of cherry, berries, licorice, herbs and flinty minerality. The aftertaste is nicely juicy, long and complex. Differently from the 2017 Bell Hill Pinot Noir, the 2016 is a selection from the entire Bell Hill vineyard holdings: the Shelf, Quarry, Slope (a small portion only), Roadblock, and Shelf West and was vinified partly with whole bunches (14% in total). Like the 2017, it was aged for twelve months in 100% new French oak. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Black Cottage.

Black Cottage 2022 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                    88

Moderately saturated ruby. Ripe aromas of redcurrant, plum, mocha and spices. Chunky yet vibrant, but not especially complex, this offers a light, easily accessible touch to its blackberry and spice flavors. Finishes savory, with sweet tannins and good persistence. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Black Cottage 2019 Merlot Hawkes Bay                                            90

Medium ruby. Perfumed nose combines blueberry, peppery spices, smoke, and coffee. Broad and supple, with good sweetness of fruit nicely buffered by pepper and herbal notes. Closes broad and long, with hints of earthy underbrush. The Merlot was sourced from the Crownthorpes subregion of Hawkes Bay. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Blank Canvas.

Blank Canvas 2018 Pinot Noir Anthem Central Otago                                  94

Good dark red-ruby. The inviting nose hints at red cherry, orange peel and resin. Nicely seamless and taut, this saturates the palate with pure, primary fruit flavours of black cherry, raspberry and pomegranate. Rather more expressive in the mouth than on the nose, with a polished mouthfeel and excellent cut on the long vibrant finish. From the Gibbston Valley of Central Otago. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Blank Canvas 2018 Pinot Noir Una Volta Central Otago                               93+

Very deep ruby: much deeper in colour than the Anthem Pinot Noir from this winery. Sexy, soil-driven aromas and flavours of strawberry, blackberry, cassis, cinnamon, mace, violet and iron make for fairly dark-fruited Pinot Noir wine. Dense, spicy and taut on the long finish, with noteworthy tannic heft, despite the fact that only free-run juice was used. The very fine tannins won’t stand in the way of tasting this today, but it will be better with a couple more years spent in a good cellar. Then name of “one time” (“una volta” in Italian) refers to this being a wine made just the one time from grapes culled in a single vineyard located in the Queensberry subregion between Wanaka and Cromwell in Central Otago. This is yet another very impressive New World Pinot Noir wine from Blank Canvas. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Borthwick.

Paddy Borthwick 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Wairarapa                               92

Pale straw-yellow. Fresh, spicy high tones complement gooseberry, grapefruit, sage and apple. Fresh and juicy but also dense, with soft citrus flavours complicated by exotic fruit hints. Closes lively and lemony. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Church Road.

Church Road 2020 Chardonnay Grand Reserve Hawkes Bay                      93+

Bright medium-dark straw yellow. Deep aromas of lime, peach, baked apple, minerals, macadamia and hazelnut. Ripe but classic in the mouth, with round but refined flavours of white peach, lime and tropical fruit; lovely sweetness buffered by harmonious acidity. Rich but firm, this lingers impressively on the mellow suave finish nicely lifted by a brisk citrus element. I especially like the deft use of oak here, which is very well-integrated with the fruit, rather more successfully than it is in the 2019 Chardonnay Grand Reserve. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Church Road 2019 Chardonnay Grand Reserve Hawkes Bay                      88

Good full straw yellow colour. Ripe but oak-dominated nose and palate of butter, brioche, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg and grilled hazelnuts. Then rich and pliant but with the texture that owes as much to the oak as it does to the ripeness of fruit. A rather big boy that boasts a long, mounting finish and that will appeal more to those who like their wines ripe and on the tannic side. For me, the oak is just not well-integrated enough to warrant an outstanding score. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Church Road 2019 Syrah Grand Reserve Hawkes Bay                                 90

Good medium-deep ruby. Nuanced aromas of plum, strawberry, grilled beef, black pepper, smoke and eucalyptus. Juicy and bright but supple, with flavours similar to the aromas, and noteworthy density. Finishes with firm but polished tannins. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Church Road 2019 Syrah 1 Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay                      92

Fully saturated purple-red. Sweet but lower-toned aromas of dark plum, mocha, peppery spices and balsamic oils, with a bright violet topnote. Powerful, broad and rich, with a plush texture to the flavours of plum, coffee and mocha. Vaguely old school and Old World in its flavour palette. Finishes long with suave, building tannins that reach the front teeth. Offers more (deeper and more balanced) than the Grand Reserve Syrah. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Church Road 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot Grand Reserve Hawkes Bay          89

Bright ruby-purple. Musky, very high-toned aromas of blackberry, blueberry, tobacco and coffee. Round, broad and lush; very forward, with a low-acid impression to its porty dark fruit and chocolate flavours. Finishes with soft tannins and a hint of pepper on the medium-long back end. Those who look for big, very ripe red wines will like this more than I. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Cirro.

Cirro 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough                                     90

Pale yellow-green. Captivating aromas of orchard fruit (apple, pear) citrus peel, white peach and spice. Sweet and pliant but with a firm juiciness and hints of a mineral undercurrent giving shape and lift to the flavors of apple, peach and herbs. Fresh and accessible if not especially complex, this will make a wonderful easygoing summer sipper. About 20% was barrel-fermented. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Cirro 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough                                 87

Pale, bright straw color. Stony, rather austere aromas of grapefruit, lime, and jalapeno, but with a very green edge. Then fresh and juicy but also very green on the palate, with lively, steely flavours that echo the aromas. Closes medium-long bright and slightly metallic. A very typical Sauvignon wine from New Zealand that is all about green notes and freshness but ultimately this freshness comes at the expense of ripeness of fruit. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Cirro 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Organic Marlborough                         90

Pale yellow color. Nicely ripe, this gently combines tropical fruit salad, grapefruit, wild fennel and licorice on the nose and in the mouth. Surprisingly dense but shapely, with nicely building flavours of grapefruit, pineapple, and flint on the palate-cleansing finish. This strikes me as being much better (more precise, more focused) than the “normal” 2021 Sauvignon from Cirro. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Cloudy Bay.

Cloudy Bay 2020 Sauvignon Blanc   Marlborough                                 91

Pale straw yellow. Aromas of ripe pear, grapefruit, flowers and lime. Enters fairly round, then a little lean but spicy in the middle, with diffuse, slightly loosely-etched flavours of white grapefruit, lime and tropical fruit. Clean and well-made, but the medium-long finish hints at a trace of dilution. I’m a big, long time fan of Cloudy bay’s wines, but this left me a little disappointed. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Cloudy Bay 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Te Koko Marlborough                    92

Very pale straw-yellow colour. Peach, citrus skin and herbs on the nose. Nicely ripe, fruit-driven Sauvignon, with white peach and mineral flavors complicated by rosemary and thyme. Silky and classically dry, even a bit youthfully austere, but boasts excellent underlying breadth and richness. Finishes round, ripe and long. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Cloudy Bay 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                 91+

Saturated red-ruby. Briary dark and red berries are complicated by chocolate and smoky soil tones on the rather big nose. Then very rich, ripe and creamy, but not especially nuanced in its superripe, youthfully chunky small red berry and smoke flavours. Excellent balance and plenty of class, but this is currently folded onto itself. The aftertaste is long and very saline. Should this develop more nuance in the years to come it’ll be a very impressive Pinot Noir, but its current chunkiness is a little too obvious presently. My + sign on the score indicates that I think this will come round and make for a very interesting drink. Drinking window: 2024-2028.

Craft Farm.

Craft Farm 2016 Gewürztraminer Bunch Selection Hawke’s Bay         93

Bright pale golden yellow colour. Restrained, pure aromas of lichee, mango, grapefruit jelly, cinnamon, and white flowers. Supple, full and gently spicy, with flavours of honey, ginger and tropical fruit. Finishes long, full and gently smoky but not at all heavy. Not exactly the last word in complexity and showing a little more flavor on entry and on the finish than it does in the mid-palate, but this is a fairly irresistible, luscious yet light on its feet late harvest Gewurz that it’s impossible not to like. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Craggy Range.

Craggy Range 2018 Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough              92

Good full red-ruby. Inviting nose offers raspberry, dark cherry, violet and blood orange. Juicy and sappy, with very good focus to the richly fruity and lightly saline flavors of red berries, sweet spices, earth and flowers. Finishes long, with supple, sweet tannins and noteworthy lift.  Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Elephant Valley.

Elephant Valley 2018 Syrah Reserve Hawke’s Bay

Bright purple-ruby with a pale rim. Brooding aromas of cassis, smoke, chocolate and black pepper. Rather easygoing and pliant but displaying good density and depth to its blackcurrant and licorice flavours nicely framed by a soft acid spine. Finishes long with youthfully chewy tannins and with plenty of Syrah character. This absolutely delicious, good to drink now red is made with100% Syrah fruit sourced from Gimblett Gravels (48%), Bridge Pa (40%) and Te Awanga (12%), and aged twenty-four months in oak barrel (35% new). Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Esk Valley.

Esk Valley 2016 The Terraces                                        92

Deeply saturated ruby-purple. Exotic aromas of black cherry, boysenberry, licorice, mint and vanillin oak. Then dense, thick and chocolatey in the mouth, but with noteworthy vibrancy to this large-scaled wine’s black fruit and herbal flavours. Finishes with serious, polished tannins and excellent length. A blend of Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc sourced from a single vineyard wine sourced from the Heipipi vineyard, a steep, terraced, north-facing hillside flanking the winery at Bay View. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Felton Road.

Felton Road 2019 Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago                    92

Good full, bright ruby. Pretty, pure aromas of blackcherry, blueberry, mushrooms and flowers, lifted by nuances of graphite and mint. Sappy and bright in the mouth, with moderately thick red and blackcurrant and spice flavors lifted by sound acidity and a silky tannic spine.  Lovely inner-mouth perfume here. The savory, long finish offers excellent grip. Made with grapes sourced in four different vineyards, with 20% whole clusters, and aged in oak barrels (27% new oak). Drinking window: 2023-2026.

Framingham.

Framingham 2021 Riesling F-Series Marlborough                            92

Luminous straw green colour. The fragrant, pretty nose combines apple, lemon verbena, crushed stone, baking spices and shiso leaf. Rich, broad, fresh and slightly sweet, with inviting notes of fresh orchard fruit cocktail, stone, mint and shiso. Bracing and long on the aftertaste, offering plenty of flavour. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Framingham 2019 Sauvignon Blanc F-Series Marlborough                   90

Pale, green-tinged straw colour. Pungent grassy naunces accent the aromas of lemon, grapefruit, peach pit and bell pepper. Lively and zingy, but with an underlying roundness to the varietally accurate flavours of citrus skin, green pineapple, bell pepper and herbs. Finishes broad, long and satisfying, with peppery grapefruit peel and white flower notes. This sees a bit of skin contact and a short time in oak prior to bottling. Drinking window: 2023-2026.

Framingham 2019 Pinot Gris F-Series Marlborough                        92

Bright straw yellow. Smoky, complex nuances to the nose of pear, red apple, flowers, nougat, butter and orange jelly. Rich and creamy, with a gentle texture but also lovely cut thanks to harmonious acidity that also helps extend the musky flavours of ripe orchard fruit, and exotic spices on the long back end. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Framingham 2018 Pinot Noir Marlborough                               89

Good bright red-ruby. Sappy aromas of red and black fruits with hint of spiciness adding complexity nd depth.  Juicy and precise, with bright acidity giving clarity to the black cherry and spice flavors. Closes long and perfumed with plenty of spicy bite. A very good Pinot Noir bottling that is slightly marked by its oak. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Gladstone Vineyard.

Gladstone Vineyard 2019 Pinot Gris Wairarapa                               91

Bright straw. Per, peach and apple mingle with herbs on the fresh nose. Then delicately creamy and very clean flavours similar to the aromas. Finishes long and fresh. Not exactly the last world in complexity but highly satisfying. Gladstone Vineyard, planted in 1986, is located in Gladstone; the central sub-region of the Wairarapa valley. The vineyards are planted along the river terraces of the Ruamahanga River, which has a unique free-draining soil profile of clay over stony silt loams. In 2018 the winery was bought by Eddie McDougal, known as the “flying winemaker”. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Gladstone Vineyard 2020 Rosé Wairarapa                                 88

Pink. Bright aromas and flavours of red berries, apricot and flowers. Simple and fresh on the medium-long finish. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Gladstone Vineyard 2018 Pinot Noir Wairarapa                              90

Deep red-ruby. Black cherry and spices on the fresh nose. Then light and lively, with a polished tannic frame that provides ample support to the creamy dark fruit flavours. Finishes medium-long and very clean. Aged for one year in French oak casks (20% new). The estate also made a top-end bottling from the Dakins Road Vineyard in 2018. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Greystone.

Greystone 2019 Pinot Gris North Canterbury Waipara Valley                     91

Straw colour. Delicate aromas of orchard fruits, white flowers and butter. Then crispy and fresh flavours of pear, apple, flowers and spice, plus a touch of yeasty lees. Closes long and fairly creamy, but bright. There’s sneaky concentration here. Made with organic grapes. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Greywacke.

Greywacke 2015 Pinot Gris Marlborough                                         91

Straw yellow. Musky aromas of pineapple, flowers and nut oil. Classically dry in the mouth, but with a glyceral texture that conveys an idea of mellowness to the orchard fruit and spice flavours. Closes long nd zippy. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Greywacke 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                         91

Good bright red-ruby. Smoky nuances complement highly perfumed aromas of red and blue fruit, herbs and spices on the nose. Dense and deep, leaving an impression of solidity to the ripe fruity flavors of cherry, spices, cola and earth.  Finishes with smooth tannins and excellent length. Drinking window: 2023-2027.

Kumeu River.

Kumeu River 2018 Pinot Noir Ray’s Road                                 89

Good deep ruby-red. Strongly leafy and delicate smoky nuances dominate the red fruit aromas. Then a bit dry-edged, with herbal flavours of dark cherry, dry flowers, forest floor, licorice and earth spices. The aftertaste features dusty tannins and very good length with repeating nuances of underbrush and loam. I’m a huge fan of Kumeu River and find this estate’s wines to be not just among the best New Zealand has to offer but to rank along the best examples of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines made anywhere in the New World, but I found this wine’s briary, leafy, loamy notes to be a little too rustic for my taste. Made with grapes planted in 2008 by the previous owners of the vineyard on limestone-rich soil: the majority of the grapes are used to make the regular Kumeu Village Pinot Noir, with only about 20% of the grapes from the vineyard’s best section used to make this Ray’s Road bottling. The wine was aged twelve months in French oak barrels (10% new). Drinking window: 2023-2027.

Little Beauty.

Little Beauty 2021 Gewurztraminer Marlborough                           93

Bright yellow. Aromatic nose of grapefruit, tropical fruit salad, cardamom, cinnamon and rose petal. Rich and spicy but lifted by vibrant acidity, this already displays compelling inner-mouth perfume. Lovely ripe acidity give this supple, fruit-filled wine terrific finesse and extends the bright well-delineated flavours on the long and spicy finish. Knockout little Gewurz here that tastes classically dry. This lovely wine is made by former Cloudy Bay winemaker Eveline Fraser; the grapes are sourced from a single vineyard that was planted in 2002 in the prestigious Southern Valley in Marlborough. No blockbuster but rather a paragon of finesse, it’s one of the best New World Gewurzes I have had recently. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Misha’s Vineyard.

Misha’s Vineyard 2020 Sauvignon Blanc The Starlet Central Otago            91

Pale straw color. Lime, lemon peel, gooseberry, peach, guava and thyme on the nose. Juicy and fresh but also rich and expansive for New Zealand Sauvignon, with very little of the typical greenness passed off as “freshness”, this has bright citrus zest and peppery-herbal quality but nicely rounded out by tactile, oily notes of passion fruit and fresh citrus. Finishes nicely floral and mineral on the long back end. I like this Sauvignon’s level of ripeness and yet fresh palate weight and grip. Like all of this estate’s wines, I think it I will also age well. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Misha’s Vineyard 2020 Pinot Gris Dress Circle Central Otago                     92+

Pale straw color. White flowers, yellow apple and a hint of pear on the nose. Nicely concentrated but also brisk, with bright acids nicely farming and extending the orchard fruit and fresh citrus flavours. Crisp and long on the lively aftertaste. A very impressive but still quite young Pinot Gris wine with the potential to age some: I’d cellar this for another year at least to allow it to show you all it has to offer, which is plenty. Drinking window: 2023-2028.

Misha’s Vineyard 2015 Pinot Gris Dress Circle Central Otago                     95

This is marvelous. Pale, green-tinged golden color. Baked apple, poached pear, white flowers, nuts and vanilla on the nose, complicated by hints of marmelady botrytis. Boasts compelling sweetness of fruit and impeccable balance thanks to a captivating sugar/acid ratio and wonderfully pure, concentrated flavours similar to the aromas. Wonderfully rich and luscious Pinot Gris wine with captivating oak spices and outstanding finishing depth and complexity. I have written about this exceptionally superb wine and vintage before, and this second sample was just as good as the first: make no mistake about it, this is practically as good as anything you can drink from Zind Humbrecht or Domaine Weinbach, with a New World air about it , and is without any doubt whatsoever one of the best New World Pinot Gris wines I have ever tasted (and not by small margin, either). Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Misha’s Vineyard 2016 Pinot Noir The High Note Central Otago          91

Pale, luminous medium red. Cool, precise aromas of medicinal cherry, strawberry, mint, minerals and herbs. Then sweeter and juicier in the mouth, with more concentration than the nose suggests, with an enticing sugar/acid balance giving lift to the red berry, red cherry, herbal and mineral flavors.  Finishes brisk, with a fine tannins, outstanding inner-mouth perfume and lovely verve.  A really lovely Pinot Noir wine that’s not made in a fleshy style but I like this wine’s solidly stony, floral personality. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Mission Estate Winery.

Mission Estate Winery 2021 Gewürztraminer Hawke’s Bay                          93

Pale yellow. Pure, vibrant nose offers delicate pineapple, guava, lichee, Turkish Delight, and sweet spices, with a rose character emerging with aeration. Slightly sweet, deep and very fine, with building complexity to its floral and spice flavours and lovely sugar/acid balance. I especially liked the long, subtle, rising finish, where the wine’s purity really manifests itself. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mission Estate Winery 2020 Gewürztraminer Hawke’s Bay                          90

Good pale color. Inviting, soft nose offers yellow plum, gingery spices and peach. Bright and fresh in the mouth, offering nicely lush but politely-styled flavours of tropical fruit and spice. Finishes floral in the and vibrant, if not particularly long or complex. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mission Estate Winery 2018 Cabernet Franc Barrique Reserve Hawke’s Bay          91+

Saturated ruby-red. Raspberry, violet, cocoa and exotic oak on the nose, complicated by notes of black olive and mint. Fresh, deep and intensely flavored, with good lift nd excellent delineation to the black and red fruit, spice and cedar flavours. Finishes with building but smooth tannins, excellent length and noteworthy purity. This is an extremely successful Cab Franc bottling with a very judicious use of oak. Ewell done here. Drinking window: 2023-2027.

Mission Estate Winery 2018 Cabernet Merlot Barrique Reserve Hawke’s Bay  90+

Deep ruby-red. Cassis, black cherry, cedar, chocolate and coffee aromas are lifted by a floral note. Supple, sweet and densely packed, with savoury notes complementing nicely the smooth dark berry flavors.  Youthfully medicinal on the big, broad finish that features smooth tannins and repeating flavours of dark fruits and licorice that dust the entire palate. A big wine, but with plenty of stylish elegance. Drinking window: 2023-2028.

Mission Estate Winery 2014 Jewelstone Antoine Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay     92

Deep red-ruby with a pale rim. Aromas of red and dark berries, earth, toasty oak and herbs. More balsamic than fruity, but with outstanding balance to the red fruits, tobacco and spice flavours. Sweet, dense, boasting very good freshness and a smooth tannic structure on the long finish. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mission Estate Winery 2010 Syrah Reserve Hawke’s Bay                       90

Good deep, bright ruby with a garnet rim. Aromas of cassis, licorice, bitter chocolate, peppery spices and violet. Then pliant and smooth, with healthy acidity nicely extending the dark berry and spice flavours on the long and classically dry finish were it really spreads out to coat the entire palate. An aged wine that’s hard to beat at this price. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mission Estate Winery 2020 Late Harvest Hawke’s Bay                                92

Golden straw-yellow color. Exotically ripe aromas of honey, guava, Key lime pie and cloves. At once dense but lively, with sweet and balanced flavours of crystallized ginger, dried apricot, marzipan and honey. The finish is long and smooth, though perhaps not as complex or lifted as I might have hoped. A delicious sweet wine tht will pair well not just with desserts but cheeses and pates as well, I am told this is a blend of Riesling and Viognier. Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t find any info regarding the varieties used to make this wine on the estate’s website: f I may, I respectfully suggest to the winery to make that information available (after all, they do for the 2012 Noble Harvest wine), because most people I know buy wine on the basis of the grapes they are made with, and not because of some other reason. If I like Syrah, I want Syrah, and not Cabernet Sauvignon; similarly, if I like Gewurtz and Riesling, I look for wines made with those varieties but if neither labels nor websites give me any such information, I (and not just I in fact) am less likely to buy and will look elsewhere. Just an idea. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mission Estate Winery 2012 Noble Harvest Reserve Hawke’s Bay         91

Medium bright yellow gold colour. Pure, lush nose combines orange zest, honey, smoke, butter, custard cream, and marmelady botrytis notes. The strong botrytis character is clear on the palate too, which offers plenty of volume and sweetness, with good but not outstanding acidity framing and carrying the orange, honey and crystallized orchard fruit flavours. Finishes with ample volume and glyceral richness, but with less aromatic lift than I might have liked. A blend of 72% Chardonnay, 20% Semillon and 8% Viognier noble rot-affected grapes, I wonder if a little Gewurz or Riesling might not have helped add further interest to what is a very pretty wine. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mount Edward.

Mount Edward 2018 Riesling Central Otago                       91

Straw green. Brisk nose of yellow apples, grapefruit and lemon verbena. Dense, rich and off-dry, with building flavors of ripe lemon and grapefruit, this is nicely tactile and long on the stylish close. Delicious Riesling wine made in an off-dry, fresh style from organically farmed grapes from the Morrison vineyard. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mount Edward 2017 Gruner Veltliner Central Otago               90

Light green-tinged gold. Pure aromas and flavours of lemon drop, pineapple and wet stone are complicated by hints of white pepper. Closes medium-long and rich. Drinking window: 2022-2023.

Mount Edward 2020 Pinot Noir Ted Central Otago                  88

Bright red-ruby. Aromas and flavours of plums coffee and herbs, with smooth tannins providing support. Medium-long on the lively finish. From organic grapes, I normally like the Ted bottling easy drinking charm, but this 2020 strikes me as having too much of a bitter twinge that is not to my liking. So maybe try giving this another six months to settle down some and see what happens. Drinking window: 2023-2025.

Mount Edward 2019 Pinot Noir Central Otago                          90

Good full medium red. Aromas of dark cherry, redcurrant, menthol and black pepper have a very strong earthy and gamey nuance. Then nicely lush and suave on the palate, with savoury, sinewy flavors of plum, red berries, spices and pepper. Finishes chewy and persistent, with youthfully chewy tannins and some lingering oakiness. The warm 2019 vintage accentuates some of this wine’s savoury and herbal qualities. Made with grapes sourced from three estate vineyards (Morrison, Pisa Terrace and Muikirk) in the Bannockburn and Lowburn subregions, this was vinified with 20% whole bunches by using open fermenters, natural yeasts, and was aged eleven months in French oak (20 % new) Drinking window: 2023-2027.

Mount Edward 2017 Pinot Noir Muikirk Central Otago                        91

Deep ruby-red. Perfumed aromas and flavours of mulberry, boysenberry, herbs and smoke. Generously textured and supple, with the flavours lingering nicely on the long precise finish. I find this pretty wine showcases rather well the darker fruit of Bannockburn and the savoury qualities of Central Otago. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Mount Edward 2016 Pinot Noir Central Otago                                 90

Medium ruby. Aromas of raspberry, black cherry and resiny oak. Juicy and penetrating, with good primary berry character and complicating notes of spices and herbs. Refined and approachable on the smooth, long finish. Another pretty, easygoing Pinot Noir from Mount Edward that is ready to drink now, with little to gain by holding on to it for any longer. The grapes are sourced from the usual three estate vineyards (in 2016 it was 40% Muirkirk, 30% Morrison, and 30% Pisa Terrrace) and aged eleven months in 15% new French oak barrels. Drinking window: 2022-2023.

Mount Riley.

Mount Riley 2021 Riesling Marlborough                             89

Vivid straw-green. Subdued but pure aromas of lime, apple, white flowers and minerals. Juicy and slightly easygoing in the mouth, with fresh acid backbone and hints of honey and herbs to the orchard fruit flavours. Finishes with decent grip and length in a very approachable, uncomplicated style. Makes a flexible food wine ideal for carefree moments like brunches and summer parties. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mount Riley 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough                         91

Now this is really very good. Medium straw yellow. Fresh, piercing nose of pear, apple, and soft citrus fruits, with substantial hints of honey and sweet spice. Juicy, classically dry and intensely flavored for a wine for a wine with a similarly lowish price tag, but with enough minerality and freshness to balance the mellow, ripe apple and pear flavours. Finishes fairly dry and persistent. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mount Riley 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough                            89

Pale, green-tinged colour. Moderately pungent aromas of peach, flowers, and herbs, plus a suggestion of tropical fruits. Fresh and juicy, with an impression of good extract and clarity to its flavours of grapefruit, herbs and jalapeño showing good cut. Slightly tart medium-long finish hints at white grapefruit. Made with a blend of grapes from the Awatere and Wairau valleys. Drinking window: 2022-2023.

Mount Riley 2018 Pinot Noir Limited Release Waitaki Valley Otago            90

Medium red-ruby. Expressive aromas of blueberry, strawberry, smoke, clove and underbrush. Sweet, supple and rich, building impressively on the suave long back end, with saline mineral nuances accompany ripe and delicately spicy dark and red berry fruit flavours. Made with grapes culled from the Doctors Creek area of North Otago (the label actually says only “Otago”) in a very warm growing season, but this pretty wine doesn’t seem tired or heavy. Aged for ten months in French oak barriques. Drinking window: 2022-2026.

Muddy Water.

Muddy Water 2019 Skin Ferment Waipara                                92

Hazy bright yellow-orange colour. White peach, orange peel, grapefruit pith and spice aromas. Then very clean and precise flavours of orchard fruit, herbs and spices, complicated by orange peel. Possesses very good fruit and very noteworthy clarity and cut, finishing long, clean and slightly chewy. This is really very good for a skin ferment wine, with none of the off-odours or bitterness of many such wines. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Muddy Water 2017 Riesling Sugar Daddy Waipara                         90

Bright medium-dark straw green. Subdued aromas of yellow apple, licorice, spice, honey and cloves. Rather soft and smooth, in a gentle style offering moderate orchard fruit intensity and structure. The finish displays sound acidity and good length. Approachable and on the light side, and easy to drink. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Muddy Water 2016 Pinotage Waipara                                        93

This is excellent. Luminous red-ruby. Very fruity, precise flavours of raspberry, red cherry and red currant are complicated by hints of spices and red flowers. A hint of pepperiness adds complexity to flavours that are very similar to the aromas and that linger very nicely on the effusively fruity, crunchy, slightly smoky-mineral finish. There’s something vaguely Gamay-like about this really lovely red wine that offers sneaky concentration and noteworthy purity of fruit. Well done. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mud House.

Mud House 2021 Pinot Noir Central Otago                                90

Bright medium deep red-ruby. Subtle aromas of raspberry, red cherry, cola, cinnamon, and earth. At once silky and juicy, offering good intensity and a light touch to the flavours of red fruits, herbs and peppery spices. Very pretty on the close, with lovely vinosity and a savory herbal nuance. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mud House 2021 Pinot Noir The Narrows Marlborough                        90

Dark ruby-red. Blueberry and boysenberry aromas are sexed up by smoky oak on the nose. Offers juicy and ripe red and blue fruit flavours in a generous, thick almost chunky style. The long aftertaste is suave and thick. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Mud House 2019 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                         89

Medium dark ruby-red. Smoke and earth complement red berry aromas on the nose. Supple but lively, with good purity to its red fruit and herbal flavors. Savory and long on the mushroom and earthy aftertaste, with easygoing, ripe tannins. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Neudorf.

Neudorf 2020 Riesling Dry Single Vineyard Moutere Rosie’s Block Nelson              90

Pale bright straw-green. Lime, honey, spring flowers and licorice on the nose. Supple and juicy, with good stuffing on the palate to its orchard fruit, honey and sweet herb elements. Not quite as brisk or as complex as I might have expected, but possesses very good texture and good length and it may yet develop more complexity, so I’ll be generous with my score. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Sileni Estates.

Sileni Estates 2019 Semillon Late Harvest Grand Reserve Hawke’s Bay             93

Pale golden-yellow colour. Captivating aromas of orange peel, honey, crystallized ginger, roasted mango and lemon curd, complicated by delicate hints of cumin and powdered stone. Creamy, superconcentrated and deep, with an unctuous texture nicely buffered by harmonious acidity. Wonderfully luscious and sweet on the long complex, rising finish. Only 9.5% alcohol and a ton of flavour here. Sileni was one of the first NZ producers to start making classically dry Semillon wines back in the 2000s (their “Circle” bottling is an excellent dry Semillon wine), but this knockout sweet version shows they know a thing or two, and then some, about making Semillon wines with a boatload of residual sweetness too. Very, very well done, bravo! Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Sliding Hill.

Sliding Hill 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough                 91

Bright straw-green. Perfumed aromas of grapefruit, lime, mint, tarragon and gooseberry. Juicy and bright but not hard, with savoury flavours of underripe pineapple, Gala apple and pink grapefruit, plus strong suggestions of herbs. Nicely balanced, layered and long, with good finishing herbaceousness. This is really pretty good. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Sliding Hill 2019 Pinot Noir Marlborough                            86

Bright ruby. Aromas and flavours of red and black fruit, but a pervasive, dominating earthy note detracts from this wine’s pleasurability. Not for me. Drinking window: 2022.

Starling Estate.

Starling Estate 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Stanrock Awatere Valley            90

Vivid straw-green. Subtly complex aromas of exotic fruits, sage, quince and bell pepper. Nicely ripe and fruit-driven but with lifting limey acidity to provide harmonious balance. On the long, nuanced finish, the sweet green fruit is perked up by a refreshing limey flavor. Neither a peppery nor ultra-green style of Sauvignon Blanc wine like most other New Zealand examples, this has a bit more of a Euro feel to it. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Tinpot Hut.

Tinpot Hut 2019 Riesling Turner Vineyard Marlborough                      94

Medium straw-yellow with a green tinge. Intriguing mix of Germanic and New World Riesling aromas of fresh lime, ginger, tropical fruit, minerals, and lemon verbena. At once vibrant and juicy, with bracing limey acidity giving sharp definition to the round, ripe but lifted flavours of ginger, peach, apricot, pink grapefruit and wet stones (the latter a signature of the Blind River subregion where the grapes grow). Very well balanced (27 g/L residual sugar and 8.2 g/L total acidity), the brisk, harmonious acidity really cleanses the palate and extends the flavours on the long back end. This quite delicious and easy to drink off-dry Riesling wine boasts sneaky concentration and complexity, while packing a ton of flavour with only 9.5% alcohol: it really is a very impressive showing, and is easily one of the best New World Riesling wines I have had in some time. Made with Sustainable Growing practices. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Tinpot Hut 2017 Grüner Veltliner McKee Vineyard Marlborough                     91

Pale vivid straw-green. Expressive aromas of white peach, wild fennel, white pepper and crushed stone. Dense, juicy and fairly concentrated, with lovely purity and restraint to the orchard fruit, oatmeal and peppery herb flavours. Quite tactile in the middle palate, then builds impressively on the suave back end, finishing very supple but nicely refined. A lovely, classically dry and well-balanced wine (1 g/L residual sugar and 5.2 g/L total acidity), this may not be the last word in complexity but it is oh-so enjoyable. The grapes for this single vineyard wine were grown by the McKee family in the Blind River sub-region of the Awatere Valley. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Tinpot Hut 2019 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                         88

Saturated full red-ruby colour. Delicately smoke and minty nuances complement blackberry and dark plum, but today with underlying hints of pungent potpourri and herbs. Then deeper and richer in the mouth, with slow-to-emerge flavours of plum, blackberry, and wintermint. Ultimately fresh and gutsy, with good inner-mouth energy, finishing with fine-grained tannins and good grip but a rising green nuance too. The 2019 vintage’s growing season was characterized by wet and cold spring conditions, especially during flowering and early summer. The rest of the summer was one of the driest and warmest on record, but still, I can’t help but think the Pinot Noir didn’t ripen as fully as it might have otherwise. Maybe I just caught this at an awkward moment, so try cellaring it for another year at least and see if it has rounded out some by then. The Pinot Noir was picked in two low-yielding vineyards in the Blind River and the Omaka Valley subregions. The grapes from each vineyard were kept separate in small open top fermenters and cold-soaked, while fermentation was carried out using native yeasts and the wine aged in a mixture of new and used French oak and stainless-steel tanks. Drinking window: 2024-2027.

Tinpot Hut 2017 Pinot Noir Marlborough                                         91

Deep ruby-red. Nicely perfumed, with Chambolle-like aromas of dark cherry, raspberry, plum, minerals, and smoke, with a bright violet topnote. Tangy, fairly rich and deep, with vibrant acidity giving the red and black fruit flavours both a sappy and juicy quality. Closes long and pure, with excellent lingering floral perfume and offering a rare combination of generosity of fruit, supple texture and vibrancy. This is really a nice, easy to like and approachable  Pinot Noir wine, but with above average concentration and complexity. Differently from the 2019 Pinot Noir, the 2017 was made with grapes sourced in three low-cropped vineyards in the Blind River, Omaka Valley and Dashwood sub-regions. The wine was fermented and aged partly in French oak barrels and stainless-steel tanks, which helped it maintain its attractive, crisp freshness. Drinking window: 2022-2027.

Tinpot Hut 2017 Riesling Late Harvest Marlborough                       96

Medium deep, bright golden-yellow colour. Tropical fruit salad aromas are complicated by smoke, honey, crystallized ginger, mango, caramel and concentrated by very pure marmelady botrytis. Beautifully suave yet tactile, and also quite sweet yet remarkably light on its feet (159 g/L residual sugar, 3.3 pH, and 9.3 g/L total acidity), this boasts highly complex, deep and rich flavours of lemon curd, lichee, honey, apple pie, Asian spices and tangerine oil. Finishes extremely long, bright and luscious, with repeating flavours of lemon curd, tangerine, and lichee. This is an absolutely marvelous sweet wine and a world-class example of late harvest Riesling wine boasting layers of complexity. The grapes were picked in the Upper Awatere Valley and were partly hot by noble rot. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Two Rivers.

Two Rivers 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Convergence Marlborough                    89

Good straw colour. Very pungent, green aromas of citrus fruits and yellow melon, along with peppery herbs. Laser-like acidity provides zing to the herbal and flavours of nectarine, pineapple, bell pepper and wintermint. Finishes rich but firm-edged and with lingering green-tinged pungency. A take-no-prisoners style of Sauvignon Blanc typical of many in New Zealand, but this may not be for those who prefer a little more ripe fruit and little less grass in their Sauvignon Blanc wines. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Two Rivers 2020 Pinot Noir Tributary Marlborough  `             90

Good full ruby-red. Aromas of dark berries, cherry, tobacco and flint. Sappy and serious, with nicely delineated flavors of blueberry, spices and flinty herbs.  Closes persistent, juicy and savoury on the persistent finish. Drinking window: 2022-2025.

Waipara Hills.

Waipara Hills 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough                   92

Luminous green-tinged yellow. Fresh citrus, Thai basil, bell pepper, guava  and mint aromas are very intense and precise on the highly perfumed nose. Classically dry and penetrating in the mouth, with sneaky concentration to its mineral and herbal elements. A supple, laid-back Sauvignon Blanc but with very good weight and focus on the smooth finish that hints at an intelligent use of residual sugar. Very nicely done here. Drinking window: 2022-2028.

Valli.

Valli 2020 Pinot Gris Waitaki Vineyard North Otago                90

Bright straw yellow. Delicate aromas of candied tangerine, orange nectar, minerals and spices on the nose. Then offers a nice combination of lightly honeyed nuances and racy acidity lifting the succulent orchard fruit flavours on the long very mellow easygoing finish. Drinking window: 2022-2024.

Wither Hills.

Wither Hills 2018 Pinot Noir Rosé                                         89

Medium pink colour. Simple fruity and sweet on the nose and in the mouth, offering hints of red berries, flowers and col. Closes brisk and soft. Drinking window: 2022-2023.

Wither Hills 2017 Pinot Noir Marlborough                          90

Medium-deep ruby-red. Fruity aromas and flavours of blue and black fruit are complemented by smoke and sweet spices. The finish is clean and precise. Not the most complex red wine you’ll ever drink but clean and very approachable in the focused and energetic fruit it offers. Drinking window: 2022-2023.

 

Ian D'Agata

Editor-in-Chief of Terroir Sense Wine Review
President of Terroir Sense Academy
Vice President of Association Internationale des Terroirs
Chief Scientific Officer of TasteSpirit

Ian D’Agata has been writing and educating about wines for over thirty years. Internationally recognized as an distinguished expert, critic and writer on many wine regions, his two most recent, award winning books Native Wine Grapes of Italy and Italy's Native Wine Grape Terroirs (both published by University of California Press) are widely viewed as the "state of the art" textbooks on the subject. The former book won the Louis Roederer International Wine Awards Book of the Year in 2015 and was ranked as the top wine books of the year for the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times and the New York Times, while the latter was named among the best wine books of the year by Food & Wine Magazine and the NY Times.

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Ian D'Agata