Over the last two decades, New Zeland has created a real reputation for itself relative to its wines. In short, when wine loving people look or wish for precise, fresh, varietally accurate wines that are clean and well made, not to mention usually devoid of high alcohol levels, New Zeland’s wines are amongst the first to come to mind. Clearly, the country has had almost unparalleled success with its unique Sauvignon Blanc wines, and more recently Pinot Noir wines too, but in fact it is by now readily apparent to everyone, or should be, that New Zeland’s cool-climate reality is such that other grape varieties excel there. And while the success of New Zeland Chardonnay and Riesling wines was and is easy enough to predict, it is remarkable just how good the country’s Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and even Grüner Veltliner wines can be. Indeed, I sometimes think that new Zelanders themselves aren’t as aware as they might be of just how good their wines made with these last three varieties are. Given that the world is awash with Chardonnay wines especially and likely doesn’t really need that many more, it behooves New Zeland’s wineries to look at grape varieties that not only very clearly perform well there, but that also happen to give generally lower alcohol, food-friendlier wines that are usually less oaked to death as well.
Even better, it is increasingly apparent that more and more of the country’s wines are showcasing its many different viticultural terroirs, with wine lovers no longer speaking of “just” Marlborough or Hawke’s Bay, but now speaking of, and tasting, in terms of much more finite New Zeland’s wine subregions, such as for example the Wairau or Awatere Valley origins. And as vines age and the wines gain in complexity and nuance, New Zeland will only skyrocket further up the echelons of the world’s greatest wine making countries.
It all adds up to many interesting and even memorable drinking experiences for wine lovers everywhere. New Zeland offers a bevy of extremely well-made wines from many different grape varieties and terroirs, so much so that the country really does offer something for everything. Refreshing acidities and crisp fruit and floral aromas make for wines of beautiful translucency and filigree. Wine lovers everywhere tend to like New Zeland wines, and frankly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. They really are that good.
A primer on some of New Zeland wine regions and subregions
Do you like Sauvignon Blanc and its wines? Well then it’s very unlikely you have not yet tasted such a wine from New Zeland. The country has earned a justified reputation for its unique Sauvignon Blanc wines, that come to as close as a “country wine brand” as there is anywhere. The Malborough region, in the northern part of the South Island, is the largest and most famous producer of the country’s unique Sauvignon Blanc wines (do note that it’s actually important to specify the “Blanc” in the grape’s and wine’s name, because New Zeland also has plantings of Sauvignon Gris, another Bordeaux variety that gives slightly different wines from Sauvignon Blanc’s). Marlborough is characterized by low rainfall and high sunshine hours, not to mention all-important noteworthy large diurnal temperature variation during the ripening period which helps create wines that are brightly perfumed, fresh and very flavourful. But as mentioned previously, it is no longer accurate nor useful to speak of “Marlborough Sauvignon” generically, because there are obvious differences in nuances of aromas and flavours to the region’s wines. For example, the Awatere Valley subregion produces Sauvignon Blanc wines that are generally more herbaceous (think of thyme, tomato leaf, rosemary, nettle) and mineral in style as compared to the riper, tropical style that typifies Sauvignon Blanc wines from the main section of the Wairau Valley or the more citrus- and gooseberry-accented wines from the Southern Valleys. There is real value in such diversity. But Marlborough is about a lot more than “just” Sauvignon Blanc: for example, abut half of all the Pinot Gris planted in New Zeland is found in Marlborough, where the generally cooler climate makes for beautifully chiseled, taut, fruit and mineral expressions that are remarkably food-friendly.
Also located at the top of the South Island, but on its western side opposite to Marlborough, the area gives highly interesting wines that are more often than not intensely aromatic combining both ripe tropical fruit elements and more classic cool-climate herbal notes.
Another cool climate region, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone then that white varieties here do remarkably well. North Canterbury is actually where the majority of New Zeland’s Riesling vines are planted, though Marlborough boasts almost as many. Pinot gris also thrives here, and though the planting lag much behind those of Riesling, North Canterbury’s Pinot gris wines are well-worth seeking out, given their aromatic complexity and delicious crisp fruit flavours (fresh pear and stone fruit especially). I quite like this region’s spicy and darker fruited Pinot Noir wines too, and I’m in good company.
Call this region “Pinot Noir Central”, and you won’t be wrong. There are fewer world wine areas that have become as intrinsically linked to a wine grape in such a short period of time as Central Otago and Pinot Noir; maybe Oregon, but that’s about it. The beauty of Central Otago’s crisp yet luscious Pinot Noir Wines is that they can be remarkably different depending on where the grapes grow. For example, Bannockburn and Lowburn, two warmer subregions, tend to give more sturdy, tannic wines, with riper and darker fruit aromas and flavours, compared to the fruitier (strawberry, raspberry) and delicately herbal Pinot Noir wines of Gibbston or the more herbal ones of Alexandria (thyme, coriander, cumin). And even though Pinot Noir is most definitely the name of the game in Central Otago, I would point out to readers that the region’s Riesling wines, though few and far between, are also delicious and deserve to be searched for. Differently from Marlborough’s lime and lemon-dominated wines, or the spice and apricot-accented Riesling wines of Nelson, Central Otago’s are more about mineral and green apple aromas and flavours. Hopefully, more plantings of Riesling will take place in the region: but clearly, it’s hard to do so when Central Otago’s Pinot Noir fetches the prices it does.
Hawke’s Bay in the central and eastern portion of the North Island benefits from a warm climate that allows Bordeaux’ red varieties to ripen fully. It is in fact New Zeland’s best source of Cabernet-Merlot blends not to mention standout Syrah wines as well. Not surprisingly, the region’s white wines are also rounder and riper in style, with usually lower acidity levels but rich tropical fruit aromas and flavours. But even in warmer Hawke’s Bay, where there exists a large diversity of soils, there can potentially be noteworthy differences between wines, simply depending on where the grapes grow. It usually surprises people to learn that there’s actually quite a bit of Pinot Gris planted in Hawke’s Bay, and this region’s wines are certainly something to behold: fatter, even oily. These texturally appealing Pinot Gris wines have a lot in common with the wines of Alsace, so what’s not to like? For sure, they are completely different from the Pinot Gris wines made in Marlborough or Nelson, and all of the cooler South Island. One white variety that does remarkably well in Hawke’s Bay is Gewurztraminer: granted, given the small plantings, it’s not as if you are about to find a Gewurz wine from Hawke’s Bay at every street corner, but the wines, that tend to be the heaviest and most opulent of any of those made in New Zeland, have luscious, layered mouthfeels and tropical fruit- and sweet spice- personalities that are impossible to resist.
Gisborne, north of Hawke’s Bay, is another wine region blessed with plenty of sunlight and generally much warmer weather, such that the styles of its wines generally tend towards the richer and riper, with orchard fruit that can exude baked and candied nuances: think of ripe yellow peach, baked pear and apple, sweet spice and golden apples, even raisins and figs. I find Gisborne’s Chardonnay wines are often delicious, brimming with approachable stone fruit flavours that are easy to like and delicious. But the variety that I think performs best in Gisborne is Gewurztraminer, a variety that gave famous wines there already in the 1970s. To be crystal-clear, Gewurztraminer is a highly underrated Gisborne, and New Zeland, wine.
Overall, 2022 is a vintage of good but uneven wines throughout the country’s many wine regions. Following the 2021 vintage, where frosts and poor weather hampered flowering, the 2022 growing season was mostly uneventful, save for some wet spells in February that had some eyebrows furrowing and led wineries into harvest worried. But the weather behaved after that, with a very long, warm and dry harvest season allowed for long hang times making for complex but also fresh wines given the noteworthy diurnal temperature shifts. In fact, 2022 was characterized by the warmest weather on record in New Zealand, which as a sign of possible climate change is not necessarily as great as it sounds. But it is what it is.
The 2021 vintage in New Zeland was generally thought of as a good but small-volume one. This was mostly because after the earlier than usual budburst following a warm winter, flowering took place in wet conditions greatly reducing fruit set and ultimate crop volumes. Hail got into the act too, and so yields were reduced by as much as 30% in some areas. For example, in the Wairau the 2021 growing season saw a wet and cold spring which continued into the start of summer. However, what followed was one of the warmest and driest summers on record, so wines turned out very well indeed. The grapes were few, small and thick-skinned, often making for some very concentrated and complex wines that are not as luscious or round as the best of 2020 but will likely live longer; I guess the best thing I can say about the 2021 wines is that no one variety really stood out, just about everything I have tasted was quite good, from Sauvignon to Pinot Gris to Pinot Noir.
While most people speak well of the 2020 vintage, not all agree and it really depends on which wine region you look at. In Marlborough, things were more difficult than elsewhere. Wet weather lasted well into late spring, meaning wineries often pulled the trigger on picking grapes too early in an effort to hold on to the natural acidity in the grapes that was a sore point in previous years and to avoid excessive dilution of the berries; but at the same time, it meant that many wines turned out green and with noteworthy vegetal streaks, because the grapes failed to reach full phenolic ripeness. Still, those who like their Sauvignon Blanc wines on the pungent, herbal side will take a shine to this year’s clean, fresh wines. In other regions things went better, with many people even going as far as speaking of yet another “vintage of the century”; the dry but not hot conditions meant making elegant wines characterized by lower alcohol levels. Wines have good structures and are generally good to drink early, and many boast plush fruit that is easy to like.
If one recent New Zeland vintage really does stand out, that has to be 2019. It’s an incredible vintage for Hawke’s Bay, where the growing season was very warm with a total heat summation (1,425 Growing Degree Days) well above the annual long-term average. January and February were warm and dry, and this is of paramount importance, given that those two months are key for achieving proper complete ripening. There was virtually no disease pressure and it stands to argue that the vintage was one of the best ever, if not the best of them all, in both Marlborough and Gisborne, but winemakers in other regions were singing similar tunes.
The wines in this tasting report
Abel Tasman 2022 Chardonnay Nelson 94
Bright pale straw yellow. Perfumed nose of lemon, apple, nectarine and hazelnut with hints of quince, flint and mint in the background. Vibrant and very well delineated, this boasts harmonious but laser-like acidity that really lifts and extends the fresh orchard fruit flavours on the long zingy finish. Beautiful cool climate-like Chardonnay wine that is nothing like the over-oaked and frankly tiring oak bombs that were once (mistakenly) all the rage. Well done here. This 100% Chardonnay will prove very food-friendly. Grapes were picked in the very high-quality Chardonnay terroir of the Moutere Hills in Nelson, this was barrel-fermented with indigenous yeasts. Twenty-five years old or so vines (clones 15, 95 and Mendoza) planted on Moutere clay soils near the Tasman Sea, an area known for cooling maritime influences and plenty of sunshine hours. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild / Rimapere.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild / Rimapere 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Single Vineyard Marlborough 93
Luminous straw-green. Lemon, thyme and lanolin on the nose, with hints of kiwi, grapefruit and gooseberries. Juicy white peaches and mineral flavours are refined and light on their feet. Closes crisp but not hard, with very good intensity and balance overall. A beautifully refined Sauvignon Blanc wine of uncommon complexity and density. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild / Rimapere 2019 Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Marlborough 91
Medium red. Slightly smoky aromas and flavors of blackcurrant, spices and underbrush. Sweeter in the mid-palate than the nose suggests, with fleshy cherry and currant fruit. The aftertaste is nicely long and very juicy. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Bilancia 2022 Chardonnay Hawke’s Bay 91
Bright pale yellow-gold. Captivating aromas of peach, ginger, banana and pineapple. Glycerally sweet and round, with broad but intense perfume to the flavours of yellow peach, orange nectar and stem ginger. Finishes very rich and ripe, tactile and long, with buttery and gentle oaky notes. The grapes were sourced from the well-known Trellinoe (60%) and La Collina (40%) sites in Hawke’s Bay; the latter is especially famous for its Syrah but plenty of high-quality Chardonnay grapes come from there too. Barrel-fermented in new and sued oak barrels, this is aged eleven months in oak as well. The Bilancia project (bilancia in Italian means the scales you weigh things on, and one such contraption is pictured on the wine’s label; and bilanciato means well-balanced, which this wine, though rich and ripe, certainly is) was started in 1997 by winemakers Lauren Leheny and Warren Gibson. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Black Cottage 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 90
Bright straw yellow. Freshly cut grass and herbs dominate lime zest and kiwi on the nose. Juicy and fresh, with clean flavours similar to the aromas. Medium-long on the delicately flinty finish. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Black Cottage 2022 Rosé Marlborough 90
Bright pink. Aromas and flavours of watermelon, pomegranate and red cherry. Then showcases lovely inner-mouth perfume and very good lift and concentration to the red fruit flavours. Closes juicy and fresh and not entirely dry (4.8 g/L r.s.) but the 6.6 g/L in total acidity (and 3.3 pH) go a long way in making this seem like it’s classically dry. Winemaker David Clouston knows a thing or two about making pink wines given his stints in Corsica and southern France, two places where Rosé wine is taken very seriously and is a way of life. And it clearly shows with this effort: made from multiple grape varieties, it’s way above in depth and charm than many other Rosé wines that have more in common with sweet water than they do with wine. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Black Cottage 2020 Syrah Hawke’s Bay 88
Vivid purple-ruby. Black pepper and sweet spices provide needed lift on the very ripe, almost baked, nose of plum and dark cherry. Nicely fleshy and round in the mouth, with flavours of blackberry compote and blueberry jam that are kicked up a notch thanks to peppery herbs and earthy undertones. Finishes medium-long and quite round and ripe. Those who enjoy big fleshy ripe round wines will like this more than I. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Brightwater 2022 Pinot Gris Nelson 93
Bright straw-green with golden highlights. Lovely, nuanced nose combines ripe peach, honeysuckle, pear, white flowers and stony minerality. Fat and rich with generous, pliant orchard and stone fruit flavours that are nicely framed by harmonious acidity and supported by a delicate flinty edge. This delicious, juicy, succulent wine finishes long and tactile. Gary and Valley Neale established the winery in the early 90s and it’s fair to say they and their wines have known quite a bit of success since then. This delicious wine is 100% Pinot Gris grown on gravelly alluvial soils and stainless steel fermented. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Butterworth 2021 Dry Riesling Julicher Te Muna Martinborough 95
Pale golden-tinged green straw colour. Complex, fresh aromas of tangerine, lichee, lime, flint and white flowers. Then also very complex in the mouth, with dense and concentrated flavours of orchard fruit given shape by firm, juicy acidity and nicely framed by a powerful mineral underpinning. Closes very long and elegant boasting marvelous acid-fruit balance. Knockout Riesling wine: really bravo!. The wine’s name might seem strange, but it is the vineyard’s name, and this is a single-vineyard wine. The Butterworth family ahs along sailing tradition, and the J knot depicted on the label (the strongest knot you can tie), is a tribute to the vineyard’s founder, Dutchman Wim Julicher. Drinking window: 2023-2033.
Butterworth 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 93
Pale golden-green. Aromas of grapefruit peel, thyme, sage, yellow melon and quinine, plus an obvious buttery note. Rich but suave and fine-grained, with exotic flavours of tropical fruit and orange peel. Offers compelling intensity of fruit buffered by firm acid lift on the long close. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Churton 2018 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 89
Bright straw-green. Aromas of apricotys and lemon balm are complicated by iodine, green figs and rosemary. Then just as nuanced in the mouth, with crisp citrus fruit and apricot flavours. Closes long and easygoing. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Cirro 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 91
Pale green-tinged yellow. Very typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc nose of green herbs, gooseberry and flinty minerality on the nose. Then similar flavours with nothing aggressive, this is best today on the mounting finish, which saturates the palate with iodine, cilantro and Kaffir lime notes. Strikes me as being much better than the 2021 Sauvignon wines from Cirro, which were disappointing, too metallic and green for my taste: and given that 2022 is a better vintage, it should be so. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Cirro 2021 Pinot Noir Marlborough 88
Bright ruby-red. Hints of wild, even funky nuances of beef jerky, wet underbrush and game dominate the ripe dark fruit aromas and flavours. Finishes medium-long and crisp, but a little simply. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Craggy Range 2019 Pinot Noir Martinborough 93
Good deep red-ruby. Aromas of blackcurrant, dark plum, minerals, licorice, smoke, and violet. Nicely delineated if a bit tight and ungiving, with a floral topnote contributing to the wine’s high-pitched character. Finishes with a firm tannic edge and an elegant austerity. Maybe I would have liked a bit more pliancy, but it’s hard to argue with this wine’s elegant, refined personality. This was the first year for Australian winemaker Julian Grounds at Craggy Range as its new winemaker. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Craggy Range 2019 Syrah Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay 93
Good full dark ruby. Expressive aromas of plum, violet, mocha, cinnamon and cracked black pepper. Sweet, broad and pliant, with good weight to its dark fruit and spicy oak flavours. The persistent finish features silky tannins and offers lingering notes of ripe but juicy dark fruit and spicecake. Drinking window: 2023-2029.
Craggy Range 2018 Merlot Single Vineyard Hawkes Bay 89
Good ruby-red. Very ripe poached plum, blueberry, mocha and dark chocolate on the showy nose. Creamy-sweet on the palate, with soft, fleshy fat, plummy fruit to support exotic oak nuances. Finishes with dusty, wood-driven tannins and more ripe fruit notes. Ant an especially elegant wine but a very good result in a difficult vintage made with grapes culled from twenty-two different plots of vines. Drinking window: 2024-2028.
Elephant Hill 2019 Syrah Reserve Hawkes Bay 89
Good bright ruby. Nicely primary aromas of black fruits and sweet spices, with a strong dose of black pepper. Ripe blackberry and blueberry flavours show a delicate chocolatey quality and a much more noteworthy peppery one. Closes smooth, medium-long and simply. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Elephant Hill 2018 Syrah Stone Hawkes Bay 94+
Dark ruby-red. Black cherry, blueberry, earth tones, spices and grilled beef on the perfumed, complex nose. Densely packed, with still brooding flavours of roasted plum, blackcurrant and mocha. Not much in the way of minerals or herbs as I often find in Hawke’s Bay Syrah wines, but stylish given the excellent vintage for the area. A rather suave Syrah wine that closes classically dry, with substantial but noble tannins that will benefit from a couple years of cellaring. Drinking window: 2025-2029.
Elephant Hill 2017 Syrah Airaveta Hawkes Bay 93
Deep red-ruby. Savoury, earthy aromas and flavours of smoky blackberry, mocha, tobacco, brown spices, and herbs. Supple on entry, then a tad disjointed in the middle, with some slightly edgy acidity that extends the flavours on the long back end. Finishes with noble tannins and a light peppery and repeating smoky element. This is really a lovely Syrah wine. Drinking window: 2024-2030.
Escarpment 2021 Pinot Noir Noir Martinborough 89
Crimson-ruby. Savoury herbs and porcini dominate the nose, with plum and dark cherries emerging with aeration. Then similar flavours on the palate, with Martinborough’s tight and youthfully tough tannins showing to a lesser degree than in the winery’s other bottlings. And while this can be enjoyed now, it will age well for a few more years. The grapes were picked from thirty-four different parcels, indigenous yeasts were used for fermentation, and the wine aged for eleven months in older barrels. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Escarpment 2020 Pinot Noir Martinborough 91
Good full ruby-red. Wild aromas and flavours of blackberry, smoked meat, licorice and violet. Silky and dense with harmonious acidity nicely extending the savoury and sappy fruit character on the long finish. The tannins are quite refined, making this good to go now but will likely improve with another three years spent in a good cellar. Made from a selection of the best grapes across a range of vineyards the majority of which were sourced in the Te Muna district. Aged in French oak barriques (22% new) for eleven months followed by another seven months in stainless steel tanks. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. Drinking window: 2025-2028.
Escarpment 2019 Pinot Noir Te Rehua Martinborough 92
Deep ruby-red. Surprisingly open-knit aromas of briary dark berries, licorice and black pepper, plus a whiff of leafy underbrush. The delicate vegetal nuance follows through on the palate, with broad, easy-going, pleasant flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and minerals. Extremely long on the finish, which saturates the palate with a fine dusting of tannins. A really lovely New Zeland Pinot Noir that holds plenty of promise. Made from roughly thirty years old Pinot Noir vines of the Barton Vineyard in Martinborough characterized by the famous deep alluvial gravels the Martinborough Terraces, this was open top-fermented using native yeasts, then aged in 40% new French oak barriques for eighteen months. Differently from the 2020 Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir that was bottled unfined and unfiltered this was fined, but bottled unfiltered. Drinking window: 2025-2030.
Felton Road 2021 Riesling Bannockburn Central Otago 90
Translucent straw-green. Delicately musky nuances to the aromas of white peach, green apple, pear, ginger, lime, mint and minerals. Gentle and suppler in the mouth, but also with excellent cut to the seamless orchard and stone fruit flavours. Quite sweet (58 g/L residual sugar) such that rather than “off-dry” this is more like “off-sweet”, it closes long and smooth, so mellow in fact that practically no single feature stands out. Famous for its Pinot Noir wines, Felton Road actually makes a pretty good Riesling wine too, that will match very well with Asian cuisine but that at least in this vintage may just be too sweet for some people. I liked it, though I will also say I prefer this beauty with an extra year or two on it from the vintage. Made with organically grown grapes from Blocks 2 and 4 of The Elms vineyard in the Bannockburn subregion, and is fermented with indigenous yeasts. It offers a boatload of flavour and very little in the way of alcohol (9% or so). Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Framingham 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 89
Bright straw-green. Elderflower, grapefruit and lime dominate the expressive but slightly wild nose. Then slightly more reticent on the palate, but with similar flavours to the aromas, with a hint of floral underbrush adding complexity. The aftertaste is clean and vibrant. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Framingham 2021 Riesling Classic Marlborough 92
Bright medium-pale yellow-green. Clean, pure aromas of lime, green apple, caraway seed, minerals, jasmine, honeysuckle and a touch of honey. Also clean and fresh on entry, then supple in the middle, with sneaky acidity giving the fruit more grip. The lemony aftertaste is long and nicely textured. This pliant Riesling wine should give early pleasure, but will last another five to eight years without problems. This is not the first time that I drink a Riesling wine from Marlborough and wonder if all the attention lavished in the region on Sauvignon Blanc, which I certainly understand, isn’t a bit much: true, Framingham is lucky to own some of Marlborough’s oldest Riesling grapes, but this is not the only outstanding Riesling wine coming from there, so there’s real potential. Framingham’s 19.5-hectare estate vineyard in the Wairau Valley is characterized by alluvial, well-draining soil has been certified organic since 2014; its Riesling vines were planted back in 1981. The grapes for this wine were picked in a whopping seven different passes. This was mostly fermented in stainless steel tanks (about 7% fermented on the skins), and aged in oak. Launched in 1994 with one Riesling wine, the Framingham label, one of my favourites from New Zeland as I find it to be a top source of quality, dependable wines, was later expanded to include wines made with Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. This was the first complete vintage for Andrew Brown, who joined Framingham as head winemaker in January 2020, replacing Dr Andrew Hedley, whom he had trained under previously. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Framingham 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Old Vine F-Series Marlborough 93+
Dark good full straw yellow with golden highlights. Complex, enticing aromas of ginger, lime peel, buttery popcorn, vanilla, quinine and a complicating touch of honey. Concentrated and powerful, with rich and ripe flavours of yellow fruit. Impressively long on the aftertaste, this was barrel-fermented in 225- and 500 liters French oak and acacia barrels. As the oak presence is not shy, I’d say this very promising wine will likely be even better after 2025. Drinking window: 2025-2030.
Framingham 2020 Riesling Old Vine F-Series Marlborough 93+
Golden-tinged straw yellow. White flowers, lemon and a whiff of banana on the nose, plus hints of lime and crushed rocks. At once generous and brisk, this classically dry Riesling wine offers penetrating flavors of lemon curd and pink grapefruit on entry, but with aeration, showed a more glyceral quality and a hint of sweetness that helps leave the impression of a smoother texture. The finish is long and clean. The F-series of wines at Framingham are meant to push the envelope, hence the grapes are picked after longer hangtimes, to the point that some nuances of noble rot are present in this very pretty wine on the long, fresh, minerally back end. Made with certified organic old vine Riesling grapes grown both in front of the cellar door building and at the back of the winery, on soils characterized by fairly large sized stones of greywacke (a hard, dark type of sandstone streaked with quartz and feldspar), mixed alluvial gravel and silt in the warm and relatively dry heart of the Wairau Valley. About 90% of the grapes were immediately whole bunch pressed whilst the rest were destemmed and spent twelve hours on the skins. Fermentation took place in a mix of stainless-steel barrels and seasoned acacia puncheons (20%). Give this a couple of years in a good cellar to develop more complexity; try after 2025. Drinking window: 2025-2030.
Framingham 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough 88
Bright medium red-ruby. Smoky aromas of blackcurrant, tobacco and spices, but factoring out the oak, this is ultimately a simple nose. Enters spicy, round and juicy, with good structure in the middle and finishing medium long with a savoury medicinal reserve and hints of smoked beef. Tactile wine, with building, youthfully chewy tannins. The grapes were picked in four different sites (Dry Hills, West View, Eversley, and Lawrence) in the Conders Bend, Southern Valleys, and Waihopai subregions of Marlborough; 10% whole bunches were used, and the wine was aged in French oak barriques for ten months (20% new). Given the smokiness of the wine, my guess is that they are not just partly new, but likely rather well toasted too. Drinking window: 2024-2027.
Framingham 2019 Pinot Noir F-Series Marlborough 94
Good full ruby-red. Inviting aromas and flavors of blackberry, dark plum, clove and mocha. Rich and dense dark fruit flavours show an impressively still youthfully chewy texture and are complicated by hints of baking spices and vanillin oak. Echoes lengthily on the juicy, noble back end. The grapes represent a variety of Pinot Noir clones (roughly 60% Abel, 20% Clone 5, and 20% Clone 777) growing on heavy clay soils of the Dry Hills Lane in the southern part of the Wairau Valley at the foot of the Wither Hills. About 15% whole bunches were used in 2019 and the wine was aged in French barriques (20% new) for 14 months. Drinking window: 2023-2029.
Gladstone Vineyard, founded in 1986, is in Gladstone, the central sub-region of the Wairarapa valley, hence its name. Its vines are planted along the river terraces of the Ruamahanga River, on soils that are mostly clay over stony-silt loams. In 2018, Eddie McDougall, nicknamed ‘The Flying Winemaker’ (whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently in Shanghai), bought Gladstone Vineyard and instituted collaborations with several premium vineyards and growers across the Wairarapa and Hawkes’ Bay. From there it sources grapes to make a range of interesting wines including a very good Pinot Gris and even a Viognier wine.
Gladstone 2021 Rosé Wairarapa 90
Very pale pink, as is today’s fashion with Rosé wines. Gentle if simple aromas and flavours of rosehip, apricot and cranberry are crisp and juicy. Fresh and medium-long, with plenty of juiciness that makes for a relaxing tipple. Ready to drink and enjoy over the summer. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Gladstone 2020 Pinot Noir Wairarapa 91
Good bright medium red-ruby. Ripe aromas of blueberry, raspberry, smoky plum and milk chocolate. Creamy, rich and broad, with enough harmonious acidity and good spice character to help buffer its ripeness. Finishes with very good dense, lively length. Ready to drink now, but a few years in bottle may help it develop more personality. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Greywacke 2021 Sauvignon Wild Marlborough 93
Luminous straw yellow with green tinges. Smoky Oolong tea, guava, grapefruit and yellow melon on the enticing nose. Hints of cumin and curry complicate the tropical fruit flavours on the long, layered and nicely textured finish. This is really excellent. Fermented in old barrels using wild yeasts. “Greywacke’ is a sedimentary rock made of layered sandstone and darker mudstone; it’s also the name of the first vineyard, in Rapaura, of winemaker Kevin Judd who was for twenty-five years at Cloudy Bay where he was the winemaker behind many of that winery’s iconic Sauvignon Blanc wines. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Greywacke 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough 92
Vivid medium straw-green. Quince vanilla and even strawberry on the nose and mouth. Fresh and juicy, but also layered and nicely textured, with bright acidity lifting the sweet, supple flavours on the zippy long finish. A super interesting, off-dry Pinot Gris wine made with three clones (Ovaille and Mission from the Wreckin Terrace Vineyard in the Brancott valley and the French 52 clone from Riverbrook Vineyard in Rapaura, this was mostly barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts, but a part was stainless steel-fermented. Drinking window:
Greywacke 2019 Chardonnay Marlborough 92
Vibrabnt straw yellow. Aromas of apple, nutmeg, hazelnut and minerals. Fairly large-scaled and rich but classically dry and lifted, with deep flavors of orange, banana, minerals and quince. Nicely structured for a slow evolution in bottle but not hard, this finishes ripe and long, with leesy nuances. A superb Chardonnay wine that is somewhat Burgundian in style. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Greywacke 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough 91
Good bright red-ruby. Musky, perfumed, high-pitched and exotic aromas of blueberry, dark plum, violet, ginger, soy sauce and cloves. Dense but light on its feet, with lovely acid-tannin balance supporting the floral and dark fruit flavours. Finishes long, with wonderfully fine-grained tannins if a bit simply. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Hãhã 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 90
Straw yellow colour. Lychee and grapefruit dominate on the nose and the palate. Fresh and easygoing, but with sneaky texture and concentration on the long zingy finish that features a complicating note of passionfruit. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
J Hipi/Unison Vineyard.
J Hipi is Unison Vineyard’s exclusive brand for the Chinese wine market. It’s a range of wines that are estate-grown, produced and bottled on site, such as from the Gimblett Gravels.
J Hipi 2019 Pinot Noir North Canterbury 88
Palish red-ruby. Aromas of redcurrant, smoke, licorice and plum. Then nicely supple with subtle flavours of musky blackcurrant and earthy underbrush that show moderate precision and lift. Finishes with plenty of dusty tannins and decent grip. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
J Hipi 2019 Syrah Gimblett Gravels 88
Ruby-purple. Exotically perfumed but simple, hinting at dark berry preserves, licorice and spicecake. Easygoing blackberry and boysenberry flavours are quite primary, picking up a spicy quality with air. Finishes smooth and saline with good clarity but inly average persistence. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
J Hipi 2016 Riesling Late Harvest North Canterbury 91
Bright pale golden yellow. Subtly aromatic nose combines orange liqueur, apple jelly and spring flowers, plus a touch of acacia honey. Gentle but at the same time rich and mouthfilling, with sweet ripe flavours of peach and lime lingering nicely on the suave finish. Fairly developed, I’d drink this up relatively early, but it’s so much fun right now, it shouldn’t be so hard to defer gratification. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
J Hipi 2015 Gewurztraminer Late Harvest Hawkes Bay 90
Vivid deep golden yellow. Nuanced but varietally accurate aromas of honeyed yellow tropical fruits, ginger, grapefruit nectar and sweet brown spices. Enticing flavours of superripe peach and apricot, but shows a bitter twinge on the medium-long back end, though I like the pretty aromatic persistence. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Kumeu River 2020 Pinot Noir Rays Road Hawke’s Bay 92
Good bright, medium ruby. Pungent mineral and soil tones complement aromas of dark plum and noble herbs. Then sweeter and fuller in the mouth, with medicinal dark cherry and savoury herb flavours complicated by Oriental spices. Solid but harmonious acidity extends the fruit that is nicely supported by substantial but ripe tannins on the long black cherry, licorice and minty finish. From a north-facing vineyard in warm Hawke’s Bay, the wine was aged for twelve months in French oak (10% new). Drinking window: 2023-2027.
“Main Divide” is the local name used to describe New Zeland’s Southern Alps in the country’s South Island. The wines of Main Divide are made by the Donaldson family of the famous Pegasus Bay winery, that integrates Main Divide within its range. Like at Pegasus Bay, Main Divide is committed to sustainable vinegrowing.
Main Divide 2020 Gewurztraminer North Canterbury 94
Bright golden-tinged yellow. Rose petal and sweet spices on the nose complement gorgeously pure aromas of grapefruit, rose petal, mango and honey. Distinctive saline and smoked meat flavors, with a firm mineral underpinning give a rather powerful quality to this round, shapely wine brimming with sweet tropical fruit and honeyed flavours. Nicely detailed and off-dry on the finish. This delicious wine will match splendidly with most Thai and sweet chili-containing dishes you can tink of. Every time I drink a Gewurz this good from New Zeland, and it is by far more often than not, I can’t help but think the country really should be producing a lot more wines with this variety. To be crystal-clear, this is a wonderful wine. Grapes are sourced mostly but not just from the Main Divide Te Hau vineyard located on the Glasnevin Gravels (a mix of greywacke stones, silt and loam) in Waipara valley (grapes also come from other selected ideal North Canterbury vineyards). Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Main Divide 2020 Pinot Noir North Canterbury 90
Good bright, full red. The nuanced nose offers black cherry, raspberry, underbrush, and loam. At once juicy and bracing, with lively acidity giving precision to the youthful, juicy pomegranate, smoky plum and mineral flavors. Excellent energy on the firmly but noble and long tannic finish. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Misha’s Vineyard 2019 Riesling Lyric Central Otago 92
Straw-green. Perfumed aromas and flavours of green apple, orange blossom, jasmine, and lemon sherbert. Closes long with hints of tangerine and minerals in a gently, off-dry style (about 4 g/L residual sugar). Fresh and flavourful if still youthfully imploded, this will benefit from some extended cellaring to showcase all it has to offer, which is plenty. Drinking window: 2024-2032.
Misha’s Vineyard 2019 Pinot Noir Cantata Central Otago 91
Deep red ruby. Perfumed aroams of dark plum and violet complicated by charcoal and herbs. Juciy and fruity on the slightly saline finish. Ready to drink, this is a lovely Pinot Noir wine. Made in the Bendigo subregion of Central Otago from a complex mix of clones [clone 114 (46%), Clone 5 (13%), clone 4 (10%), clone 667 (9%), clone Abel (7%), and clone 777 (4%)]. Drinking window: 2024-2028.
Misha’s Vineyard 2019 Pinot Noir The High Note Central Otago 93
Medium dark bright ruby red. Complex, concentrated violet, plum, dark cherry, soy sauce, sandalwood and coffee on the complex nose. Then at once rich and light on its feet, with good juicy cut to the precisely delineated dark fruit and cocoa flavours. Finishes with a dusting of powdered minerals and excellent length. This ought to develop nicely in a good cellar. ‘The High Note’ was inspired by Misha’s opera-singing mother and her early life spent in the theatre. Drinking window: 2024-2032.
Misty Cove Wines.
Misty Cove Wines 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Estate Series Marlborough 90
Lively straw-green colour. Crisp, fresh notes of lime and gooseberry with a sprinkling of freshly cut grass on the nose and in the mouth. The aftertaste is zippy and nicely long. The Sauvignon Blanc was sourced in the Wairau and Waihopai Valleys and stainless steel fermented. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Misty Cove Wines 2022 Pinot Gris Estate Series Marlborough 92
Pale color golden-tinged straw yellow. Subtle, pure aromas of pear, peach, citrus peel, and white flowers and buttery apple pie. Juicy but nicely soft and ripe, with an enticing orchard fruit and pineapple flavours that linger nicely on the long lively finish. Very easy to drink but there’s sneaky complexity here. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Misty Cove Wines 2021 Grüner Veltliner Landmark Series Marlborough 90
Vivid straw-green. Nectarine, lemon peel, white pepper and a sprinkling of crushed rocks. Finishes a little simply and sweet, but with good mineral lift. Perfect for summer sipping with uncomplicated foods that have a slightly spicy edge to them. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Misty Cove Wines 2021 Riesling Landmark Series Marlborough 92
Green-tinged straw yellow. Complex floral and exotic aromas of jasmine, fruit cocktail, and flint. Then very pretty in the mouth too, with delicately juicy flavours of apricot, peach and honey, with a hint of lemongrass. Nicely focused and vibrant on the long lively finish. Really good stuff. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Misty Cove Wines 2021 Waihopai Limited Release Marlborough 93
Straw-green with golden highlights. Lime, peach and a peppery nuance to the aromas and flavours. Nicely textuired and long on the well-delineated close. First made in 2019 from the Waihopai vineyard (hence the wine’s name) but it has since been morphed into a blend of different fruit sources and grape varieties too so that the wine represents the best possible blend every year. The 2021 is a 70% Grüner and 30% Riesling blend. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Misty Cove Wines 2021 Rosé Landmark Series Marlborough 88
Bright pink-red. Aromas of redcurrant, iron and violet. Supple redcurrant and persimmons flavours with suggestions of exotic fruits on the slightly short finish. Nicely plump Pinot Noir rosé but very simple. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Mud House 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Sparkling Marlborough 88
Pale straw. Juicy melon and arugula aromas and flavours have hints of lime for added complexity. Bright and clean on the medium-long, clean finish. Easy to like, this is a good example of the uncomplicated, slightly pungent and slightly obvious Marlborough-type entry-level Sauvignon Blanc wine that has taken the world by storm. Very inexpensive, at this price, what’s there to quibble about? Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Nuala was created in 2010 by French businessmen who had long worked in the wine trade and who were looking to create and export high-quality New Zeland wines. Not surprisingly, they began their venture by producing Sauvignon balnc wines from Marlborough, alter expanding the operation to include a Pinot Noir wine from Gladstone and a Riesling from Central Otago.
Nuala 2021 Riesling Central Otago 90
Pale straw-green. Expressive aromas of apple, stone fruit, grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle are marked by a strong note of flint. Then slightly less complex in the mouth, with simpler apple and fresh citrus fruit flavours lingering nicely on the fresh juicy finish. The first certified organic wine of the Nuala range, this is made in a slightly off-dry style that will have many fans. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Nuala 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 88
Bright straw-green. Subtle yellow melon, lime and pineapple aromas and flavours are camouflaged by a very strong pyrazinic (bell pepper) and herbal personality. I think this wine’s personality clearly speaks of the difficult 2020 vintage, that followed on the heels of consecutive drought years and was marred by wet weather that lasted until late spring, meaning that estates often picked too early in an effort to hold on to the natural acidity in the grapes that was a sore point in previous years; but at the same time, it means that many wines such as this one turned out green and with noteworthy vegetal streaks. Still, those who like their Sauvignon Blanc wines on the pungent, herbal side will take a shine to this clean, fresh wine. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
OTU/ Otuwhero Estate.
Otu 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 88
Pale straw colour. High-pitched herbaceous nuances to the aromas and flavours of stone fruit, gooseberry, and white flowers. Fresh and fine-grained, with intense green nuances on the saline back half. Features a nicely bracing, rising finish. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Otu 2022 Pinot Gris Marlborough 91
Luminous straw green. Aromas of ripe stone fruits, pear, honeysuckle and butter. Fresh but dense, layered and with very good flavor precision to its notes of lime, vanilla and custard cream. A stony quality contributes to the impression of structure and grip. About 5 g/L residual sugar and 6 g/L total acidity, but tastes classically dry, with an impression of sweetness left behind thanks to glyceral heft. Lovely wine, that provides uncomplicated delicious summertime sipping. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Otu 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Otuwhero Estate Limited Release Marlborough 90
Golden-tinged straw colour. Lime, green apple and tomato leaf on the nose. Then bright and bold flavours of pink grapefruit and lime linger nicely on the tactile fresh finish. Clearly more concentrated and less green than the 2022 Otu “classic” Sauvignon wine. From grapes sourced in the Top Block, OTU Estate vineyard near the Otuwhero River that gives a typical expression of Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc wine. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Otu 2022 Pinot Rosé Mesh Marlborough 88
Bright medium pink. Peach, pear, and spice on the nose and in the mouth. Finishes with a soft touch and gentle acidity, but not much in the way of complexity or flavour concentration. A blend of Pinot Noir mostly with some Pinot Gris, this is simple but easygoing. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Paddy Borthwick Paper Road 2022 CPR Wairarapa 91
Bright straw colour. Lemon, apple and pear on the nose and in the mouth. Fresh and zippy, but with an increasingly textural mouthfeel on the long close. A blend of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Paddy Borthwick 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Wairapa Valley 90
Vivid straw yellow. Ripe apple, nectarine, peony and baking spices on the nose. Rich but lively, with sound acidity lifting the very good lemon and lime flavours, along with late hints of walnut and anise. Finishes crisp and long. The grapes grow in the Borthwick vineyard, situated on stony river terraces overlooking the Ruamahanga River in the Wairarapa. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Paddy Borthwick 2021 Riesling Wairapa Valley 91
Green-tinged yellow. Flinty, smoky nuances complicate apple and pear on the perfumed nose. Then zingy and pure in the mouth, with bright energy and focus to its floral and orchard fruit flavours. Closes long with building complexity. The vines bordering the Ruamahunga River grow on stony, free draining, alluvial soils, with cool nights and low rainfall making for a perfect habitat. Drinking window: 2023-2024.
Paritua 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 90
Pale yellow-green. Crystallized lemon peel and gooseberry with a hint of spearmint and thyme on the nose. Juicy and fruity, conveying a bright herbal set of flavours enlivening notes of guava and fresh citrus fruits. Closes long and fresh. Paritua’s first organic wine, this offers a pleasant glyceral nuance as a result of being partly barrel-fermented. The Sauvignon Blanc grapes were sourced from the Bridge Pa Triangle vineyard, and the wine fermented in stainless steel. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Paritua 2021 Chardonnay Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 89
Pale straw yellow. Aromas and flavours of nectarine, peach, canded lemon and nougat. Closes linear and easygoing on the fresh medium-long finish. Chardonnay grapes from clones 15 and 95 are sourced from the most western part of the vineyard, fermented with selected yeasts (fifty percent was barrel-fermented). Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Paritua 2020 Syrah Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 88
Good full ruby. Simple and easygoing aromas and flavours of juicy blackcurrant, violet and cracked black pepper. Nicely approachable, with hints of allspice emerging on the uncomplicated, plush medium-long finish. From the Triangle vineyard, where two different clones of Syrah are planted on gravelly-silty-loam soil, the wien was aged for twelve months in 20% new oak. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Paritua 2020 Cabernet Franc Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 91
Bright ruby. Varietally accurate aromas of blackcurrant, violet and noble cocoa. Then more minerally, with hints of aromatic herbs complicating the red and dark fruit flavours. Finishes long and saline, with mouthcoating texture. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Paritua 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 89
Good moderately saturated ruby red. Very ripe nose combines blackberry jam, cassis, underbrush and a floral nuance. Bright acidity gives a sappy quality to the very herbal dark fruit and floral flavours. Stands out for its combination of very ripe fruit and herbal nuances. Finishes with a firm but smooth tannic spine. Those who prefer their Cab Sauv wines on the fruitier than herbal side might like this less. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Paritua 2016 Scarlet Stone Paddock Hawkes Bay 91
Deep ruby. Bright dark berry and cherry aromas and flavours are complicated by hints oif cedar and coffee. Lovely harmonious acidity provides lift. Smooth and long with sneaky concentration and complexity on the close. This is really pretty good blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Nicely done. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Paritua 2015 Twenty One Twelve 20.12 Hawkes Bay 93
Good full ruby. Blackcurrant, graphite, minerals, cardamom and bitter chocolate on the nose. Sweet, sappy and very precise, with lovely clarity and cut to the dark berry, chocolaty and herbal flavours thanks to nicely integrated acidity. Very smooth, clean and long, this is an absolute winner of a wine that will be loved by anyone you serve it to. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc aged in 50% new oak for twenty-four months. Drinking window: 2023-2029.
Paritua 2016 Semillon Late Harvest Isabella Vineyard Hawkes Bay 92
Luminous golden yellow. Deep smoky aromas of mango, peach and beeswax on the perfumed nose. Then slightly simpler on the palate, with ripe orchard and tropical fruit flavours and nuances of honey that leave a soft, glyceral, mouthcoating finish. The medium-long aftertaste is luscious and fruity. A lovely wine that is just fun to drink and will be enjoyed by everyone at the dinner table, but it tastes like there’s quite a bit of Sauvignon Blanc in here, which, while probably providing freshness also unfailingly diminishes complexity. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Pegasus Bay 2020 Dry Riesling Bel Canto Waipara Valley North Canterbury 94
Bright straw green with some golden highlights. Pure, floral nose hints at orange, honeysuckle, lemon verbena, ginger and minerals, with complicating hints of lemony botrytis. Rich and broad in the mouth, with an exotic quality to the ripe peach and mandarin flavours. Very horizontal on the palate but lifted by harmonious acidity on the fruity, stony, very long finish, where it leaves behind a trace of sweetness (almost 7 g/L residual sugar) and noble rot-induced complexity. The Riesling grapes were late harvested such that some were partly hit by noble rot; the grapes were very carefully handled so as to have them retain some of their natural carbon dioxide, so that the wine has a slight spritziness that adds freshness. This layered, complex wine is quite different from all other wines I have tried from Pegasus Bay over the years, and it may well be the best wine I have ever had from this winery. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Pegasus Bay 2020 Pinot Noir Waipara Valley North Canterbury 91
Good deep red. Slightly reduced, earthy nose cleans up with aeration showing notes of raspberry, musk, cloves and smoke. Then more savoury, with flavours of truffle, tar and licorice complementing dark blue fruit. Finishes with very fine, sweet tannins and excellent length. From roughly thirty years old vines, many of them ungrafted, the vineyard benefits from a unique geographical location, in the lee of the Teviotdale range such that it is protected from the easterly winds coming in from the Pacific. The Glasnevin gravel soils (greywacke stones plus silt and loam) and the combination of warm days and very cold nights further contribute to the type of wines made in this specific area. About 40% whole bnches were sued and the wine aged fifteen months in 40% new French oak barriques. Pegasus Bay was founded by Ivan Donaldson and his wife Christine in 1986, but in fact Donaldson was the first to plant a vineyard in Canterbury already back in 1976. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
There are undoubtedly more famous wineries in New Zeland, and certainly many that receive much more press. But I have been a big fan of the Riverby wines for quite some time (feel free to read my tasting notes and scores on the wines reviewed last year: see TerroirSense Wine Review 2022) and believe they deserve more recognition, given just how tasty varietally accurate and relatively inexpensive they are. The noble Riesling is excellent, for example, but so are all the classically dry wines (especially all those of Germanic origin such as Gewurz, Grüner and Riesling, that are truly noteworthy). Riverby takes its name from the Opawa River and its tributaries, which meandered through the property, but was diverted to avoid repeated flooding of the nearby city of Blenheim. Riverby the estate is actually better-known as a grape growing farm, but don’t miss out on its wines: situated on Jacksons Road, with vineyards close to those of the famous Cloudy Bay winery, Kevin Courtney runs things smoothly while the wines are made by Dr. John Forrest at his nearby winery. Last but not least, given that I am one of the world’s most avid trout fly fishermen (I’m not kidding) I cannot help but mention the lovely rainbow trout depicted on this estate’s labels.
Riverby 2022 Grüner Veltliner Marlborough 90
Bright yellow. Zesty crystallized lemon peel, white pepper, lime, grapefruit and a stony note on the nose. Broad, quite sweet and a bit youthfully unforthcoming, vibrant acidity keeps the orchard and pineapple fruit flavours humming along. With its gentle, soft texture and noteworthy residual sugar content, this clearly avoids coming off as hard or as stony as Austrian Grüner wines can often be, but at the same time this offers only good rather than excellent focus and complexity. I’m a fan of this wine, that I think will taste great with spicy Indian or Thai food, but on its own I find it a little monotonal currently. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Riverby 2022 Pinot Gris Marlborough 92
Now we’re talking! Yet another in a long line of excellent New Zeland Pinot Gris wines (a variety the country should be planting more of), this gently off-dry wine (about 7 g/L residual sugar) may prove too sweet for those who like their whites bone dry but it’s hard to argue with this beauty’s gorgeous fresh pear and apple aromas and flavours, that are complicated by spicy tropical fruit notes aplenty. Almost tastes like a little Gewurz found its way into the vat, but you’ll get no quibbling from me here. This is just plain delicious. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Cicada (Riverby) 2022 Gewürztraminer Marlborough 92
Bright golden-tinged straw yellow. Spicy aromas of cinnamon, lichee and tropical fruit, with a honeyed nuance. Enters layered and supple, then even creamier in the middle, but with bright acidity extending the tropical and spicy fruit flavours while lifting lovely inner-mouth perfume. A little residual sweetness hides the Gewürztraminer tannins, leaving a gentle quality on the long close. This pretty wine is made with bought rather than estate-grown grapes, and so Riverby’s name does not appear on the label; and neither does its iconic rainbow trout, but rather an insect the name “cicada” refers to. But the trout theme remains: unlike mayflies and stoneflies that are born on the water, cicadas are terrestrial insects (such as crickets and grasshoppers) but all are juicy tidbits for hungry trout (especially the bigger fish, when it comes to cicadas) and fly fisherman know this only too well. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Riverby 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 92
Luminous pale straw yellow. Very pure aromas of orange, lemongrass, gooseberry and minerals. Juicy and densely packed, with pristine soft citrus and herbal flavours nicely lifted by harmonious acidity. Long and clean on the sneakily concentrated, complex close. Straightforward in its delivery of juicy, perfumed aroams and flavours, this is really a cut above in complexity and density with respect to many Marlborough Sauvignon wines. Well done. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Riverby 2020 Chardonnay Old Vines Reserve Marlborough 93
Bright medium deep straw colour. Flint, apple, banana, white flowers and a whiff of menthol on the nose. Rich, sweet and creamy, with captivating flavors of peach, pear and spicy white chocolate. Finishes with lovely sweetness and length but also terrific grip. This is excellent and showcases the great 2020 vintage in the area to full effect. This pretty wine is made with grapes sourced from thirty years old vines, which certainly qualifies for ‘Old vine” status in Marlborough. Impressive stuff, really. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Riverby 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough 91
Palish red. Perfumed, easygoing aromas of dark cherry, blackberry, iron and violet. Tangy and nicely delineated, but with juicy, sweet red and blue fruit flavours, this shows terrific cut and focus on its sappy, long finish. Not a blockbuster but gentle and charming, this is a delicious, easygoing, gently oaked Pinot Noir wine. Drinking window: 2023-20287
Rongopai 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 89
Golden-tinged straw colour. Ripe, soft peach, melon and lime on the nose are complicated by a touch of smoke. Then ripe and fleshy in the mouth too, with similar flavours to the aromas. Closes juicy and ripe, but not especially long. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Rongopai 2022 Pinot Noir Marlborough 90
Lively red-ruby colour. Aromas and flavours of brambly dark fruit and herbs. Nicely juicy and ripely sweet in the mouth, with very good energy and focus on the bright long finish. Aged briefly in both new and used barriques. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Stanley Estates Stanrock.
Stanley Estates 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Stanrock Marlborough 91
Bright straw yellow. Vivid aromas of citrus peel and kiwi are complicated by quinine and gooseberry. Juicy but tight, with penetrating acidity and cool minerality giving the middle palate and long aftertaste a high-pitched quality to the stone fruit and herbal flavours. Lovely acid-fruit balance here for what is a very refined New Zeland Sauvignon wine. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Stanley Estates 2016 Lagrein Stanrock Single Vineyard Limited Edition Awatere Valley Marlborough 96
What a knockout! Good opaque, fully dark red-ruby. Complex, deep aromas of dark cherry, plum, sweet spices, sassafrass and black tea leaf are perfumed and lifted. Then supple, sweet and ripe, but with no excess weight to its concentrated and complex, soil-driven flavors of dark cherry cola, black pepper, tar, licorice and black olive. Finishes very long and vibrant, with subtle rising perfume and noteworthy power. I repeat, what a drop-dead gorgeous, knockout of a wine: I was literally floored. Sourced from the Riversun nursery and intelligently felt to be a good grape variety for the cooler Awatere Valley, this is not just a knockout red wine, it may just well be the best ever Lagrein wine made outside of Italy I have ever tried. And you can believe me when I tell you I have tried a few. What else can I say, but congratulations: you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be visiting this winery on my next trip to New Zeland. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Stanley Estates Stanrock 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Noble Harvest Marlborough 92
Pale yellow-gold. Deeply pitched aromas of tropical fruit, caramel, honey, lemongrass and flint, plus hints of spicy botrytis. Then fatter and more glyceral on the palate, with superb richness and depth to its flavours that echo the aromas. At 180 g/L residual sugar an 10 g/L total acidity (3.4 pH), with practically all botrytised grapes used, this showcases excellent balance and is still very young and lively for an almost ten years old late harvest Sauvignon Blanc wine. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Honestly, what a story: for all the bad that was Covid, and it really was bad, there was some minimal good that came out of that worldwide mess. But Tiraki is a feel-good example of the good that can be born from the bad. Three siblings and a fourth partner returned to their home region of Marlborough in early 2020 to weather the pandemic; during the national lockdown, like everybody else they tried hard to avoid going stir-crazy and fermenting stuff seemed like a good idea at the time. After tasting and liking their first batch of home-made, home-distilled quince schnapps, starting a wine label was the next step. And so Tiraki was born, a name that pays homage to the local Maori name for Marlborough, “Kei Puta te Wairau” or “Hole in the sky over Wairau”. Given their Maori heritage and longstanding family connection with the region, the name seems like an apt choice. And as the quality of the wines being made, it’s safe to say this is a label and wine name that does the region proud. Count me amongst those who have been impressed by the wines from Tiraki so far.
Tiraki 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 93
Good pale yellow-green. Complex nose and palate combine, lemon, peach, nettle, ginger and guava, plus a light thyme quality. Well-balanced and classy, then nicely dry in the middle palate, this turns mineral on the long back end, finishing with unexpected but welcome grip (spending five months on the lees certainly didn’t hurt any). A lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, this is an excellent wine that offers more complexity and depth than the average of some of the more stereotypical wines of the region. Nicely done here. Grapes were sourced from the 12-30 years old Oddstone vineyard planted on free draining alluvial soils. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Tiraki 2021 Pinot Noir Marlborough 91
Good deep red-ruby. Fresh, pure aromas of blackberry, dark spices and menthol. Harmonious acidity intensifies the black fruit and spice flavours, providing very good cut and precision to the middle palate. The long aftertaste features smoky nuances for added perfume and silky tannins for structure. These Pinot Noir grapes were sourced from roughly eight years old vines planted in the clay-rich soils of the Longfield Farm Hill Block in the Southern Valleys of Marlborough. A small percentage of whole bunches were used, fermentation took place in four ton open top fermenters, and aging was in French oak (20% new) for eleven months. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Tohu Rewa 2016 Blanc de Blancs Methode Traditionnelle 92
Bright straw colour with a persistent mousse. Apple and fresh citrus fruits are complemented by crème brulée and a hint of freshly baked bread. Bright and juicy on the long satisfying finish. Total acidity at 6.2 g/L and residual sugar at 2.3 g/L means this finishes classically dry, very much like an Extra Brut. The Chardonnay grapes for the Rewa Blanc de Blancs are grown on the Rothay vineyard in the Rapaura sub-region of Marlborough. This 2016 spent 54 months on the lees. I point out that Tohu winery is the world’s first Māori-owned winery. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Tohu Rewa 2017 Rosé Methode Traditionnelle 92
Salmon pink colour with a fine bead of small bubbles. Strawberry, red currant, violet, almonds and licorice on the perfumed nose. Then lovely acid-fruit balance (6.4 g/L total acidity and 6.1 g/L residual sugar) and a slightly toasty nuance (this spent at least fifty months on the lees) to its small red berry and herb flavours. The glyceral aftertaste is long, suave and fresh and leaves an impression of mellowness. Tastes more like a Brut than an Extra Brut. The Pinot Noir grapes for this wine are sourced from the high river terrace blocks that surround the winery located in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley. The wine’s pink colour results from a little Reserve Pinot Noir being added to the wine. By the way, Tohu winery is the world’s first Māori-owned winery. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Two Paddocks 2021 Pinot Noir Estate Central Otago 91+
Bright full ruby-red. Wild, brooding aromas of blackberry, dark plum, flinty minerality and pungent spices. Delivers noteworthy power and palate-staining richness, with pure flavours of dark cherry fruit complicated by hints of mushroom and underbrush. Complex and complete, if youthfully taut presently, but the tannins are noble and the finish is long and clean. Better in a few years, the “Estate” Pinot Noir is the winery’s flagship bottling, made from organically Grown Pinot Noir grapes that in the 2022 vintage were sourced from the four Neill family Central Otago vineyards (“Neill as in Sam neiil, famous actor that most everyone will remember from the Jurassic Park series of movies, though he was in many others). Indigenous yeasts and 46% whole bunches were used; aging took place in new (18%) and older French barrels for eleven months. Beware that most tasting notes you will read about a “Two paddocks Pinot Noir” refer to their wine called “Picnic” (which is often forgotten when the wine’s name is written up or transported over to websites or fliers), while this is a different wine. Drinking window: 2025-2030.
Villa Maria 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 89
Bright straw green. Tropical and tangy, with kiwi and gooseberry lifted by white flowers. Finishes with echoes of thyme and rosemary, plus a dusting of quince. Sharp and crisp on the long very Marlboorough Sauvignon-like finish. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Villa Maria 2020 Sauvignon Blanc Southern Clays Marlborough 92
Bright straw yellow. Gooseberry and elderberry are complemented by thyme, rosemary and nettle on the perfumed, penetrating nose. Then smooth and mouthcoating, but with good acid lift providing focus and energy to the orchard fruit and lime flavours. Closes long and rich. The Southern Clays is a sunny, sheltered subregion located on the dry eastern foothills of the Wairau Valley in Marlborough with a mostly clay-rich soil that gives much richer, textured wines that those made with grapes grown on the alluvial valley floor. Stainless steel fermentation helps maintain and lift the classic crisp Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc expression. Drinking window: 2023-2027.
Villa Maria 2020 Chardonnay Keltern Hawkes Bay 90
Pale golden yellow. Strong notes of toasty oak, butterscotch and grilled nuts dominate, with very ripe sweet apple, pear and banana aromas and flavours somewhat camouflaged by the matchstick, vanilla and sweet spices. Rich, round and very smooth in the mouth, this is rather shapely but not flat or over the top, though the oak will undoubtedly prove a tad too much for some. Very long and powerful on the back end. This is a single vineyard wine, planted in 1999 with a mix of Chardonnay clones on gravel; the juice was barrel-fermented with indigenous yeasts in French oak barriques (40% new), but only 60% went through malolactic, helping ensure freshness. Aged for eleven months in barrel. Drinking window: 2024-2028.
Villa Maria 2019 Pinot Noir Earth Garden 88
Dark red. Blueberry, boysenberry and dark cherry nuances are complemented by earth tones and spices on the nose and in the mouth. The underlying acidity makes the sturdy, chewy tannins stand out even more, and turns almost drying on the medium-long back end. Part of the line of organic wines of Villa Maria. Try cellaring for another year or two, but will the fruit outlive those tannins? Drinking window: 2024-2028.
Villa Maria 2016 Pinot Noir Taylors Pass Vineyard Marlborough 91
Good full medium red. Musky, reduced aromas of smoky blackcurrant, strawberry, violet, grilled meat, game, earth and baking spices. Big, broad and rich without coming off as heavy, but showing very savoury, even funky earth and game flavours that clear slowly wth prolonged aeration. This very savory, reduced wine expands to fill the mouth, and lingers nicely on the gently textured finish. This is quite a positive result in a difficult vintage: 2016 was characterized by cool weather during spring months and a later than usual harvest, because grape ripeness wasn’t there when it normally is. From the cool, seaside Awatere Valley subregion, many people are fooled into expecting that kind of cooler-climate wine but that is not the case with Taylor’s Pass. Located in southern Marlborough and lying on the northern bank of the Awatere River, which runs east to west through the Awatere valley towards the Clifford Bay in the Pacific Ocean, the Taylors Pass Vineyard is warm and sheltered from the cool southerly kathabatic (downward) breezes that flow through the valley down from the mountains. For this reason, fruit from the Taylor’s Pass Vineyard Taylors Pass is usually intensely ripe and not at all typical of the Pinot Noir commonly found in the cooler Awatere Valley. Furthermore, the vineyard’s range of alluvial soils, from silt over gravel to deep gravel, lead to very different fruit sensations that typify this wine (gravels and stone that give more floral, red fruited wines, as opposed to the silty loams that give darker fruit and more textured, earthier, even gamy wines). Open top stainless steel fermenters with native yeasts, this was aged in 35% new French oak for fourteen months and bottled with minimal fining and filtration. Make sure you decant at least an hour or two ahead before you drink. Drinking window: 2023-2028.
Vinoptima 2011 Gewurztraminer Ormond Jubilee Reserve 93
Full yellow-gold. Deep, high-toned nose of mirabelle and peach fruit complicated by sweet spices and grapefruit nuances. Ripe, seamless and spherical, boasting clean and pure yellow fruit flavors and a degree of finesse that’s rare for Gewurztraminer at a similar level of ripeness. Closes long, thick and perfumed, but with an enticing fresh quality. Vinoptima no longer exists, but this wine is atestament to one man’s passion and talent. From the east coast of New Zeland’s North island, the Vinoptima estate was founded by pioneering winemaker Nick Nobilo (he sold Nobilo Wines, then the second largest public wine company in New Zealand to BRL Hardy in 2000) who was very devoted to the Gewurztraminer grape (over the years, the winery also released Pinotage and Rosé wines, for example). Nobilo founded Vinoptima in 2000, making his first Gewurztraminer wine in 2003 and his first Reserve in 2005 vintages. Located in the Ormond district of Gisborne, the Vinoptima Estate vineyard from were these grapes were sourced (9.7 hectares divided into two blocks of roughly equal size) was divided between the original South block planted in 2000 and the newer North block planted in 2007. The Vinoptima Estate vineyard was planted with five different clones of Gewurztraminer that Nick Nobilo selected during more than twenty-five years work with the variety. A gorgeous still lively wine like this one is proof-positive that more people in New Zeland should be planting and making wine with Gewurztraminer, given how generally excellent these wines are. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Waipara Hills 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 88
Pale, green-tinged yellow. Fresh citrus fruits and a strong note of anise and mint on the nose. Quite racy, with terrific energy and cut to the herbaceous flavours of lemon, lime and quinine. With its bracing, youthfully sharp finish, this really makes you salivate on the medium-long finish. Not the most complex wine you’ll ever drink, but easygoing and approachable. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2021 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 91
Medium yellow. Cool aromas of pink grapefruit, yellow melon, minerals and caraway seed, plus whiffs of lime and quinine. Juicy and fresh, with an attractive creaminess in the middle palate to its orchard fruit and lime flavours. The aftertaste is at once bright and creamy, and lingers nicely. A well-balanced New Zeland Sauvignon wine that is neither too green nor too pungent, this is excellent. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2021 Riesling Marlborough 91
Pale straw-green colour. Subtle, musky aromas of peach, apple and wet stone. The stone fruit flavours are nicely framed by ripe acids. A very fresh version of Riesling wine with a clean finish. Serious, long minerally Riesling wine that will find many fans, and that made in an off-dry style (14.4 g/L residual sugar) will allow it to match with a large range of foods. But the 8.8 g/L total acidity and a whoppingly low pH of 2.88 make it seem less sweet than it really is. Drinking window: 2023-2026.
Whitehaven 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough 92
Pale straw yellow. Delicate, juicy aromas of peach, pear, herbs and acacia flower. Nicely ripe but lifted flavours of orchard fruit and cloves are framed by harmonious ripe acidity. A plump, easygoing wine that’s really hard not to like leaving behind a fruit cocktail nuance. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Mansion House Bay 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough 89
Bright straw green. Slightly muted nose hints at pear and apple, with hints of nougat and almond. Then brighter and more intense in the mouth with flavours similar to the aromas but that are all kicked up a notch or two in the mouth. Closes long and bright. Mansion House Bay is owned by Whitehaven, a company that makes a ranmge of different wines under a diversity of names (including Whitehaven). The co-owners of Whitehaven are Greg White and his wife Sue, who co-founded it soon after Greg proposed at the Mansion House Bay. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2020 Pinot Gris Marlborough 90
Bright, pale yellow. Peach, sweet spices, flowers and flint on the nose. Supple and sweet but with limited complexity and comes across as a bit sweet today on the slightly short finish. But this easygoing, nicely approachable and juicy wine is hard not to like. 100% Pinot Gris from the estate vineyard on Pauls Road that was whole bunch pressed, then 90% was fermented in stainless steel, while 10% was warm fermented in an old oak barrel. This was left on the lees for approximately 5-6 months. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2020 Chardonnay Marlborough 88
Vivid straw yellow. Delicate aromas and flavours of stone fruit and pineapple, with hints of almond and flinty minerality are slightly camouflaged by a strong lashing of oak. Round and mellow, but the oak-dominating element persists on the medium-long finish. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2019 Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 90
Good full pale straw colour. Musky lemon peel, orange and apple on the nose, complicated by herbs and flowers. Broad, dry and a little oaky, with a slightly phenolic edge to the orchard fruit and lemony flavours. A nicely sophisticated Chardonnay wine with lovely length and grip. Closes long with rising hints of butter and more oak, but the oakiness is manageable and not over the top. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Whitehaven 2020 Pinot Noir Marlborough 89
Medium-dak red. Aromas of red plum and spices show a fresh, approachable quality. Fresh if simple red fruit flavours are nicely framed by harmonious acidity and complemented by hints of cola and coffee. Very uncomplicated, it closes fresh and sweet. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Wither Hills 2022 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 91
Luminous green-tinged yellow colour. Delicately musky aromas of pineapple, peach and menthol. Straightforward in its delivery of clean flavours similar to the aromas, this fills the mouth without leaving any impression of heaviness. Seriously saline, finishing with piquant notes of grapefruit, pineapple and quinine. This is easygoing but has sneaky complexity and very good balance, so it’s actually quite good. Established in 1994, Wither Hills winery lies near the imposing Wither Hills, part of Marlborough’s southern landmark range in the Wairau Valley subregion. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Wither Hills 2017 Pinot Noir Marlborough 92
Bright full, deep red-ruby. Sexy, vibrant aromas of crushed dark fruits, earth tones and sweet spices. Sappy, concentrated and well-balanced, boasting wonderful inner-mouth tension and precision to its dark berry and spice flavours. The resounding finish lasts and lasts. Given a very inexpensive price, allow me: more than wine, this qualifies as a steal. Drinking window: 2023-2025.
Wrights 2018 Chardonnay Reserve Organic Gisborne 91
Medium straw yellow with some gold. High-toned lemony, tropical fruit and peachy nose, with hints of hazelnut and oaky spices. Elegant and flinty, with pliant, slightly bittersweet flavours of citrus peel and white stone fruit. Bright but harmonious acidity contributes to an impression of elegance, but also heightens a hint of bitterness that detracts slightly from my score. Perhaps a combination of vintage and Mendoza clone Chardonnay (known for smaller berries and thicker skins and more concentrated fruit flavours) favoured the bitter nuance, I don’t know. Better with food, where the slight building bitterness won’t be as noticeable. Made with certified organic grapes from the Ormond valley, characterized by very hot days and very cool nights and clay-limestone soils. Barrel aged in new French oak for 8 months. Drinking window: 2023-2025.