ShelfLife Special Tasting: New Zealand

New Zealand wine exports rising by 14% in 2015. Here, Helen Coburn gets to grips with what NZ winemakers have to offer



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18 February 2016

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New Zealand’s annual tasting generally kicks off Ireland’s wine year; as well as commanding premium prices for its wines, New Zealand knows how to pitch its publicity tent in the best position. Its fresh styles always make a great transition from the heavier stuff of the winter season and get one thinking about wines for spring and summer.

It’s clear that for the next couple of years, New Zealand will nail its colours to the pinot noir mast.  Almost every grower showed at least one pinot at the recent tasting and there were colourful posters for it on view. New Zealand will stage a special pinot noir event in Wellington in late January 2017. It would make an appealing add-on for anyone planning a trip to that part of the world at that time; details can be found at

New Zealand wine exports rose by 14% in 2015, to around €900m. All key markets increased value. Pinot noir now accounts for 5,509 hectares of vineyard; a good deal less than the 20,029 hectares of sauvignon blanc, but still growing. It now exceeds the 3,346 hectares planted to chardonnay, a grape which, at its best, yields the finest white wine in the world. Much of New Zealand is very suited to chardonnay and, for my own part, I’d like to see more of it from there. But such is fashion. A lot of sometimes thoughtless commentary about oaked chardonnay drove a fashion for unoaked wine which, to my mind, has gone much too far and has affected sales of chardonnay. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back soon.

Vineyard in New Zealand: Still commanding top prices for its wines

Vineyard in New Zealand: Still commanding top prices for its wines

But back to the tasting. Most of the pinots here were from Marlborough- not unexpected, as it has the largest amount of plantings. Marlborough is strong on aroma and often has plumpish fruit. There are some top end wines but lots are easier drinkers offering good value for money; there is something for all the fans here.  Elsewhere, Wairarapa pinots can achieve a very juicy ripeness, while cooler Nelson and Waipara often show great elegance with lengthy fruit.

The premium pinot region is considered to be Central Otago which has a shorter summer and cooler spring than Marlborough. Wines here aspire to rival Burgundy and prices generally reflect that. They are not, however, as consistent as Marlborough. Often complex and long lived, they can also show green character and fruit which lacks aroma; vintages matter here. Those prepared to pay for the finest, should go to tastings and discover the vintages and estates most to their taste.

Bordeaux varieties are not as important to New Zealand as some thought once they would be; merlot plantings are now back to what they were in 2003 and cabernet plantings have halved. Hawkes Bay is now one of the best regions for Bordeaux blends. There is increasingly good syrah in New Zealand, often in styles closer to southern France than to Australia. This tasting also offered a good range of whites; after sauvignon and chardonnay they are what you’d call a mixed bag, but none the worse for that.

Here are some of the highlights of the day – prices approximately retail.

Pinot noir

Esk Valley Marlborough 2014 (Barry & Fitzwilliam, independents, €16). Lightish style but with plenty of fresh summer fruits; delivers well at this price.

Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough 2014 (Barry & Fitzwilliam, independents, some multiples  €15). Lively summer fruits and very good value for money.

Oyster Bay Marlborough 2014 (Delegat, independents, many multiples €15). Again, easy fruit and value for money are the keywords here.

Saint Clair Vicars Choice Marlborough 2014 (Findlaters, good availability €17). Soft summer fruits make this a decent value easy drinker.

Framingham Marlborough 2013 (Le Caveau, independents, €24). Quite elegant, smooth summer fruits, making excellent drinking now.

Matua Marlborough 2014 (Findlaters, widely available €15). Fresh summer fruits, tasty and good for the money.

Nautilis Southern Valleys Marlborough 2013 (Cassidy, good availability €29). Tasty fruit with a decent bit of structure. Delivers on price and blossoms nicely in the glass.

Huia Hunky Dory Marlborough 2014 (Classic Drinks, good availability €22). You know how turquoise is one of the hot colours of the moment for interior decor? Well here’s a wine to tone in beautifully, boasting, as it does, an eye catching turquoise label. It’s not all about label either as what’s inside has very decent fruit and intensity for its price. Good value.

Lawsons Dry Hills Reserve Marlborough 2013 (Febvre, good availability €25). There’s also a standard bottling at €23 but I think this one is more than worth the extra couple of euro. Good weight and well defined summer fruits make this decent value for money.

Cloudy Bay Marlborough 2013 (Dillons, independents €43). This is tasty but just a little simple for the price, with its oak a tad overt.

Felton Road Calvert Central Otago 2014 (JN Nicholson, independents, restaurants €54). This vintage has an approachable style with tasty fruit. Is there enough length of finish for the price? I am not sure. The last one I tasted was 2011 and I think it had the edge.


Huia Pinot Gris Marlborough 2013 (Classic Drinks, independents €21). Dry style with a good twist of citrus and tropical fruit.

Huia Chardonnay Marlborough 2014 (Classic Drinks, independents €26) Expensive but with very good length and balance with subtle lemon and toast flavours.

Lawsons Dry Hills Riesling Marlborough 2014 (Febvre, good availability €20). Tasty green fruit with nicely balancing acidity.

Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 (Liberty, independents €25). Slightly ripe this vintage with juicy green fruits and tasty finish.

Nautilis Chardonnay Southern Valleys 2014 (Cassidy, independents €24). From a sub-region of Marlborough, this is a very elegant wine, with subtle citrus flavours and long finish.

Saint Clair Gruner Veltliner Marlborough 2012 (Findlaters, good availability €18). Firm apple fruits, decent finish and well balanced alcohol and acidity. A little expensive but you won’t be disappointed.

Seifried Riesling Nelson 2014 (Classic Drinks, independents €18). Zesty citrus and green apple with decent length. Lovely with white fish.

Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 (Barry & Fitzwilliam, independents €15). This is left on its fine yeast for a bit to give a faintly toasty undertow to the rather delicate green fruit flavours.

Whitehaven Greg Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015 (O’Briens €20). Delivers on price with its firm green fruits, intensity and length.

Oyster Bay Merlot Hawkes Bay 2014 (Delegat, widely available €14). Easy drinking, redcurrant and plum style; would go well with roast pork.

Villa Maria Gimlet Gravels Cabernet Hawkes Bay 2013 (Barry & Fitzwilliam €19). Nicely put together Bordeaux style and a decent food wine.



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