The best of Marlborough's wineries

by Michael Cooper / 16 June, 2017

Photo/Getty Images

The best of the region’s wineries pay attention to the visitor experience at the cellar door.

Cruise liner the MS Oosterdam, with 1800 passengers aboard, dropped anchor in the Marlborough Sounds a couple of years ago. At a ceremony to mark its first voyage into Picton, Alistair Sowman, then the region’s mayor, learnt why the giant ship was there. “The captain had lobbied to get Picton on the itinerary,” reported Sowman, “because he’s partial to a Marlborough sauvignon blanc.”

Marlborough wines are exported to about 100 countries, but when you visit the winery cellar doors, you can try before you buy (sometimes for a small fee, which will be redeemed if you buy), get access to rare wines and take advantage of sharp prices. Sampling wine in the middle of a beautiful vineyard while chatting with the owner can be a magical experience. Many swear that wine always tastes best at the cellar door.

Brancott Estate

On a knoll overlooking the site of the region’s first sauvignon blanc plantings in 1975, the very stylish Brancott Estate Heritage Centre has a restaurant and offers vineyard bike tours and tutored tastings.

Brancott Estate Living Land Series Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••

Certified organic, this is an intensely aromatic wine, medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol) and vibrantly fruity, with rich, incisive, ripely herbaceous flavours. $20

Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••

This huge-selling wine is full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and highly aromatic, with a punchy bouquet, pure, incisive tropical-fruit and herbaceous flavours, good acid spine and a long, dry finish. Bargain-priced. $17

Cloudy Bay

In the heart of the Wairau Valley, Cloudy Bay’s cellar door has floor-to-ceiling windows, views of the atmospheric barrel hall and an open fire in winter.

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••

Delicious young, this is a weighty wine (13.5% alc/vol) with concentrated, tropical-fruit flavours, showing a distinct touch of biscuity, oak-derived complexity. A sophisticated wine, rich, lively and long, it’s now in full stride. $37

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2014 ••••½

Still youthful, this is a deep-ruby red, with substantial body (14% alc/vol), strong, ripe plum, cherry, dried-herb and spice flavours, and a seasoning of nutty oak adding complexity. $45

Hans Herzog

Swiss immigrants Hans and Therese Herzog offer a stimulating array of wines from rare and popular grape varieties, cellar door-only releases, vineyard and winery tours, and an acclaimed on-site restaurant.

Hans Herzog Marlborough Riesling 2013 •••••

Certified organic, this is a highly characterful, mouthfilling (13.6% alc/vol), vibrant wine, with intense grapefruit and lime flavours, a very subtle seasoning of oak adding richness, inconspicuous sweetness and excellent harmony. $44

Hans Herzog Marlborough Tempranillo 2013 •••••

From a classic Spanish variety, this is a distinguished red, deeply coloured, sturdy (14% alc/vol), savoury and firm, with concentrated blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, slightly nutty and leathery notes adding complexity, and obvious potential. $64


Owned by Jane Hunter, our best-known woman of wine (although overseas wine buffs often assume Kim Crawford is a woman), Hunter’s offers tastings, a lunch cafe, a resident artist and tranquil native gardens.

Hunter’s Marlborough Pinot Gris 2016 ••••½

Partly barrel-fermented, this is an aromatic, fleshy, sturdy wine (14.5% alc/vol), with strong, peachy, spicy flavours, a vague hint of honey, a dry finish and plenty of personality. $21

Hunter’s Marlborough Riesling 2016 ••••

This wine is consistently impressive. An off-dry style, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with good intensity of lively, citrusy, slightly spicy flavours, youthful and tangy. $20

Nautilus Estate

With a striking nautilus shell sculpture at the entrance, Nautilus Estate’s cellar door offers platters of artisan cheeses, winery tours, and tastings of classy white, red and sparkling wines.

Nautilus Marlborough Chardonnay 2015 •••••

Hand-picked and barrel-fermented, this is a fragrant, rich wine, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with ripe, peachy flavours, integrated oak and excellent complexity. A classy young wine, it has lovely balance and freshness. $35

Nautilus Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••½

Ripely scented, this is a weighty, dry and punchy wine (13% alc/vol), with appetising acidity woven through its fresh, strong tropical-fruit flavours. $25

Saint Clair

At Saint Clair Vineyard Kitchen, you can taste a wide array of whites (including the much-awarded sauvignon blancs) and reds from the region’s largest family-owned wine producer.

Saint Clair Marlborough Pinot Gris Rosé 2016 ••••

Pale pink, this blend of pinot gris (mostly) and pinot noir is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and vibrantly fruity, with fresh, subtle, peachy, gently spicy flavours, showing very good delicacy and depth, and a dry, lingering finish. $22

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 •••••

Grown at the cooler, coastal end of the Wairau Valley, this is an exuberantly fruity, very pure and zesty wine. Aromatic, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), fleshy and sweet-fruited, with fresh, concentrated grapefruit/lime flavours, appetisingly crisp, dry and lasting. $34

Spy Valley

Just down the road from the Waihopai Station, which monitors satellites – hence the name – this family-owned winery offers a chance to picnic and taste some of Marlborough’s best-value whites from such aromatic varieties as pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer and sauvignon blanc.

Spy Valley Marlborough Pinot Gris 2016 •••••

Bargain-priced, this is an invitingly scented, mouthfilling wine (13.5% alc/vol), with vibrant, peachy, slightly spicy flavours, a gentle splash of sweetness, a slightly oily texture, and lovely delicacy and richness. $24

Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 •••

Showing good intensity, this partly barrel-fermented wine is crisp, dry and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with lively tropical-fruit and herbaceous flavours, showing a touch of complexity, and a lengthy finish. $19

Wairau River

On land that proprietor Phil Rose recalls once ran “a quarter of a sheep and one rabbit per acre”, the vineyard has a cellar door warmed by an open fire during winter, and a popular lunch restaurant serving Marlborough smoked salmon and mussel chowder.

Wairau River Marlborough Pinot Gris 2016 •••

This easy-drinking, full-bodied wine (13.5% alc/vol) has vibrant, citrusy, slightly peachy and spicy flavours, showing very good vigour and depth, a sliver of sweetness and a creamy-smooth finish. $20

Wairau River Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••½

Weighty, with concentrated, ripe tropical-fruit flavours, this full-bodied wine (13.5% alc/vol) is fresh and tightly structured, in a classic Rapaura-district style, with finely balanced acidity and a long, dry finish. $30

Yealand's Estate

From the Yealands cellar door in the Awatere Valley, you can take a self-guided tour through the coastal Seaview Vineyard, one of the largest in the country.

Peter Yealands Reserve Awatere Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••

Offering top value, this is a classic Awatere Valley style. Medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it has fresh melon, lime and green capsicum flavours, showing good intensity, a slightly minerally streak and a dry, tangy finish. $18

Yealands Estate Winemakers’ Reserve Awatere Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014 •••••

This powerful yet elegant red was estate-grown on an elevated, north-facing slope. Deep ruby, it is fleshy (13% alc/vol), concentrated and supple, with very generous plum/spice flavours, complex and savoury. $40

This article was first published in the June 10, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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