I feel considerable pride and more than a little awe at the progress New Zealand wine has made since I started my formal wine tasting database more than 30 years ago. In a single generation, vineyard area has increased eight times, the number of wine producers has risen from just over 100 to nearly 700 while export revenue has increased from NZD $1.3 million to NZD $1.7 billion. Thirty years ago, nearly three-quarters of all table wine produced were bag-in-box and Gisborne was our largest wine region.
It’s exciting to note that our top seven wineries are based in six different regions. The country’s diverse range of climate and soil types provides the potential for excellence in a remarkable range of wine styles, while the passion and drive of our top winemakers has converted potential into reality.
Pinot noir is one of the country’s greatest successes. Wines such as the taut, powerful Ata Rangi 2015 Pinot Noir; the mineral-laced Bell Hill 2014 Pinot Noir; the complex, opulent Craggy Range 2015 Aroha Pinot Noir; the remarkably perfumed and evocative Blank Canvas 2015 Pinot Noir; and the vibrant Akarua 2015 Kolo Pinot Noir are exciting expressions of this challenging variety that would have been undreamt of a decade ago.
Chardonnay has also gone through a major makeover to reach new heights of quality. The intense and flinty Vidal 1888 Chardonnay 2014 is a masterful example, while the taut and elegant Neudorf 2016 Moutere Chardonnay, Sacred Hill 2016 Riflemans Chardonnay and Elephant Hill 2016 Salome Chardonnay are celebrations of both place and winemaking skill.
Anyone who doubts that New Zealand is now making world-class syrah is unlikely to have tasted Trinity Hill’s truly heroic 2015 Homage Syrah, Craggy Range’s supremely elegant 2015 Le Sol or Sacred Hill’s dense, powerful Deerstalkers Syrah. We’ve come a long way since Allan Limmer rescued a few syrah cuttings from the Te Kauwhata vine research station and re-launched the variety in this country.
Framingham earned the top place with the help of their wonderful range of botrytised rieslings created by the master of riesling, winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley. The Framingham 2017 F-Series Beerenauslese and 2017 F-Series Trockenbeerenauslese have extraordinary concentration and power together great purity and exquisite balance, while Framingham 2017 Select Riesling is the latest in a long line of wines that define the variety with minimal botrytis influence. The Felton Road 2017 Block 1 and 2017 Bannockburn Riesling offer further evidence that the variety can be a high-performer in this country.
Blended reds, or so-called “Bordeaux blends,” is another of this country’s strengths. The Te Mata 2015 Coleraine has won well-deserved iconic status for a string of elegant and complex wines that first appeared in 1982, blazing a trail for others to follow. The Vidal 2013 Legacy Series Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot demonstrated power and finesse, while Destiny Bay’s 2014 Magna Praemia is an example of elegance on a grand scale. The Craggy Range 2015 Sophia is another super-smooth red with layer upon layer of intriguing flavours.
These are just a handful of high points. There are many more.
(Featured Image courtesy of Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro: http://www.vintagewinebarbistro.com/what-to-look-for/how-to-pick-out-the-right-bottle-of-wine/)