Rising stars

by Keith Stewart / 31 December, 2005

2006 will be a good year for wine, and I don't mean the vintage: it is far too early to make predictions about the wines yet to finish growing in time for the 2006 harvest. What will be good about 2006 will be the continued development of another couple of wine producers destined to become permanent features of our premium wine landscape.

This is not to say that these producers are currently unheard of, or even recent arrivals. Indeed, some have been around for a long time. But if recent performances are any measure of what is yet to come, make 2006 the year when you try something from at least one of them. Become acquainted, as it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

A very well-established rising star is Rippon, one of the Central Otago originals that under recently returned winemaker (and owner's son) Nick Mills has got to grips with the concept of crafting elegance as well as fruit into vinous substance. Pinot noir and riesling of uncommon style and poetry should be your reward for seeking out this label.

Also from the deep south, and also one that has been around for some time, is Quartz Reef, legendary winemaker Rudi Bauer's baby. One of the best sparkling wines anywhere is under his name, as are the intelligent, beautifully textured pinot noirs, all made to shape in your own cellar over a few years.

Sticking with pinot noir, keep your eyes peeled for Stratford, a little-known Martinborough label that is one of the most impressive from this impressive region. As well as being finely made, these wines have an air about them - as though owners Strat Canning and Carla Burns actually love wine: making it, growing it, drinking it.

Waipara's Muddy Water is another that is really hitting its straps, making wines with flavour and panache, with its pinotage fast becoming the insiders' wine - the one you like to be seen drinking if you fancy your reputation as a connoisseur, or simply if you like lusty reds.

Karikari Estate from the Far North is leading what looks to be the sort of pioneering development of an unfashionable winegrowing region that was once the preserve of the deep south. Again, pinotage is a star, but this could be the perfect opportunity to taste something from the real home of New Zealand wine, Northland.

But the surprise of 2006 might just be the company formerly known as Montana. Top management has already delivered the best yet from this giant producer under the Allied Domecq New Zealand name, but now with a French owner and a chance to revel in its leadership role it could be the talk of the wine year.

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