By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 13 July 2019
It’s just 46 years since the first Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc was planted. Since then it has propelled New Zealand to world ranking – with 23,500 hectares out of the country’s 38,000 hectares now devoted to this grape – but it is not the only white grape success story here.
Wine drinkers often remain unaware of New Zealand’s broad portfolio of white grapes – which show a similar precision, brightness and just as much vivid fruit flavour and pungency as their Sauvignon Blancs. In my opinion by far the most impressive of the white grapes here is Chardonnay, closely followed by the classic aromatic grapes: Pinot Gris (now the 4th most planted grape), Viognier, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
New Zealand has strict laws about introducing new grapes. It is very expensive to get vines into the country and it usually takes about 10 years for the process, the new plantings then need 3 years before bearing fruit and further time to mature into their new surroundings. So it is early days, but we are starting to see an influx of exciting newcomers like Iberia’s Albarino grape, Italy’s Arneis and Austria’s Gruner Veltliner showing potential in New Zealand’s cool maritime climate.
Planted in New Zealand in 1800’s, but only since the 1980’s has racy aromatic Riesling shown real potential. No surprises that this cool climate grape thrives best in sunny days, cool nights and long dry autumns of South Island – it excels in north Canterbury region.
North Canterbury: MOUNT BEAUTIFUL RIESLING 2016 ***STAR VALUE***
Oddly for a New Zealand estate, Mount Beautiful released Riesling as their first wine. Loved this off-dry, low alcohol example with its floral and lime notes, crisp green apple, honeysuckle and citrus flavours, vivid acidity and gentle sweetness; a perfect match with Thai fishcakes.
This chameleon grape has enjoyed a dramatic rise to fame, now the country’s third most planted grape. Styles vary from rich textured mouthfilling spicy oily Alsatian examples in warmer regions to crisper sleeker versions in Central Otago.
Nelson: NEUDORF PINOT GRIS 2017
(£19 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com; Woodwinters, Edinburgh, Bridge of Allan & Inverness www.woodwinters.com)
Definite nod to Alsace, but with brighter fruit character. Loved its rich rounded palate, textural weight and lingering finish. This wine has what so many Kiwi Pinot Gris often lack – a good balance of acidity and fruit weight.
Only recently planted and still little known, Viognier is showing good potential in North Island in Gisborne (Millton) and Hawkes Bay (Te Mata) – but this Marlborough example was a big hit at a recent New Zealand tasting.
Marlborough: STAETE LANDT ‘STATE OF SURRENDER’ VIOGNIER 2015 ***STAR BUY***
(£21 St Andrews Wine Co; Highbury Vintners; Roberts & Speight)
What an impressive wine – gorgeous rich apricot and mango aroma, well-structured, mineral notes and weighty alcohol (15%). This single vineyard beauty is produced from four rows in the centre of founder/winemaker Ruud Maasdam’s home block in Marlborough’s Rapaura. Staete Land was Abel Tasman’s original name for New Zealand meaning Land of the Governors.
Just 200 hectares of this spicy fragrant grape are planted; it is a tricky grape to refine with its voluptuous weight, bitter phenolics and low acid – but New Zealand is one of the few countries outside Alsace showing potential. The best examples I have tasted have been from Gisborne in North Island and Marlborough and Central Otago in South Island.
Marlborough: TE WHARE RA ‘SINGLE VINEYARD 5182’ GEWURZTRAMINER 2018
(£24 Les Caves de Pyrene www.lescaves.co.uk; L’Art du Vin, Dunfermline www.aduv.co.uk)
Lightly spiced fruity nose, but it dramatically different on the palate with explosive pear, lychee and ginger notes, sweet lingering finish, very nicely focused. Made from Te Whare Ra’s old vines planted in 1979.
Chardonnay is the third most planted grape with 7% of production – with the majority planted in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. But in my opinion the most successful Chardonnays hail from North Canterbury (Bell Hill), Nelson (Neudorf) and Auckland (Kumeu River).
North Canterbury: BELL HILL CHARDONNAY 2015 ***STAR BUY***
(£85 bt H2Vin; Armit Wines; New Zealand Wine Cellar)
Surely New Zealand’s best Chardonnay? Made in tiny quantities (only 252 bottles – hence the price) in a sheltered old chalk quarry in Waikari in true Burgundian mode; superb citric fruit concentration, brioche notes, creamy leesy, great intensity, lovely acid line and long lingering finish.
This Austrian grape is an exciting newcomer first planted in New Zealand in 2000 – there are only about 50 hectares – mainly in Marlborough. My favourite so far comes from Quartz Reef, but the best value is from Yealands.
Marlborough: YEALANDS SINGLE VINEYARD GRUNER VELTLINER 2018
(£14 Exel Wines, Perth www.exelwines.co.uk; Fine Wine Musselburgh www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk)
Honey, white blossom and celery bouquet with vivid freshness, rich zesty fruits with creamy leesy palate; made from Awatere valley fruit fermented in a combination of standard oak barrique, large oval oak and concrete egg.
A traditional grape, used to make fortified wines in Madeira, might seem an unusual choice – but Gordon Russell of Esk Valley planted it 20 years ago in northern Hawkes Bay and proved it can make excellent dry styles.
Hawkes Bay: ESK VALLEY VERDELHO 2018 ***STAR VALUE***
(£9.99/£12.99 www.nzhouseofwine.co.uk; www.luvians.com; www.thenewzealandcellar.co.uk; www.thewinereserve.co.uk; www.woodwinters.com)
Delightful light pear aromas, orange citric flavours, peachy notes with a full rich dry palate – with that vital Kiwi zestiness – to drink in its youth.
This popular Spanish grape can handle a lot of rain, as it does in northern Portugal and Spain, so it is well suited to New Zealand. There are only 27 hectares planted; the first was Coopers Creek who have grown Albarino since 2009.
Gisborne: COOPERS CREEK ‘BELL-RINGER’ ALBARINO 2017
Pear, citrus and peach notes with a light nutty undertone. Fresh vibrant fruit forward style with a hint of salinity and good texture – quite pure on the finish.
Join Rose’s New Zealand v Alsace wine tasting in Edinburgh on Thursday 17 October £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com
Rose Murray Brown MW will be hosting 'New Wave New Zealand Wine Tastings' in the Drinks Theatre at Foodies Festival, Inverleith Park, Edinburgh on Saturday 3 August and Sunday 4 August www.foodiesfestival.com