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The best wines to drink this winter

Michael Cooper’s pick of full-bodied reds and whites for cool weather drinking.

Fresh, light white wines and rosés taste great in summer’s heat, but when the weather cools, full-bodied, richly flavoured styles taste better and better. Weighty, complex white wines, especially chardonnays, but also sturdier styles of pinot gris and oak-aged sauvignon blancs, really hit the spot.  Pinot noir is popular year-round, but in summer, more powerful reds can taste too heavy. During the depths of winter, however, when hearty, rich food is in demand, flavour-crammed reds can be the perfect partner.    

White wine

Brancott Estate Letter Series ‘O’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ★★★★

Named after the company’s Ōmaka vineyard, this powerful wine was hand-picked in the Wairau Valley and barrel-fermented. Fragrant, with a slightly smoky bouquet, it is weighty, with rich peach-grapefruit flavours, showing good complexity, finely integrated oak, and a smooth, very harmonious finish. An upfront style, it’s priced sharply.  $25

Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2016 ★★★★★

Grown principally in the Southern Valleys, this sturdy, off-dry wine was mostly fermented with indigenous yeasts in old oak barrels and then lees-aged for a year, in barrels, then tanks. Fragrant and rich, it is powerful, with stone-fruit, ginger and spice flavours, revealing true complexity, delicacy and depth.  $30

Hawkshead Central Otago Pinot Gris 2018 ★★★★★

From the elevated Gibbston sub-region, this classy wine was mostly handled in tanks, with 15% fermented in seasoned oak barrels. Already delicious, it is invitingly fragrant and fleshy, with concentrated, ripe, peachy, slightly spicy flavours and a very harmonious, dry, lasting finish.   $29

Jackson Estate Shelter Belt Single Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 ★★★★

Drinking well now, this estate-grown, hand-picked wine was 75% barrel-fermented. Full-bodied, it is fresh, citrusy and peachy, with gentle, biscuity notes adding complexity, moderate acidity, and a dry, very harmonious finish.  $24

Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ★★★★★

This classy wine was grown mostly at the western end of the Wairau Valley, and a small portion of the blend was barrel-fermented. Fresh, aromatic and weighty, it has concentrated, tropical fruit flavours to the fore, a herbaceous undercurrent, impressive complexity and a crisp, dry, lasting finish.  $23

Matawhero Church House Barrel-Fermented Gisborne Chardonnay 2017 ★★★★

This attractive wine was made in the classic regional style: fresh, rich and rounded. Bright, light yellow-green, it is full-bodied, with generous, ripe, stonefruit and toasty oak flavours, showing good complexity, and a creamy-smooth finish.  $26

Mission Jewelstone Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2017 ★★★★★

This classy wine was hand-harvested from mature vines and barrel-fermented. The bouquet is fragrant and complex, the palate already highly expressive, with full body; rich, ripe, peachy flavours, gentle acidity, a slightly creamy texture, and a very harmonious, persistent finish.  $40

Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ★★★★

Already delicious, this wine was handled solely in tanks. Mouth-filling, with excellent vigour and depth of fresh, ripe, tropical fruit flavours, a touch of complexity, and a crisp, fully dry finish, it shows how good the region’s sauvignon blancs can be.  $27

Mount Riley Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ★★★

Sharply priced, this fragrant, full-bodied wine has generous, citrusy, peachy flavours, with slightly buttery and toasty notes adding complexity, and lots of current-drinking appeal.  $16

Nobody’s Hero Marlborough Pinot Gris 2018 ★★★★

Framingham’s wine is fresh, weighty and dryish, with peachy, slightly spicy flavours, showing good richness. A strongly varietal wine, it’s already very open and expressive.  $20

Smith & Sheth Cru Wairau Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ★★★★★

Maturing impressively, this powerful wine was harvested from mature vines at Renwick, in the Wairau Valley. Highly concentrated, it has excellent weight and depth of ripe, tropical fruit flavours, with a dry, resounding finish.  $28

Te Mata Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ★★★★★

This barrel-fermented Hawke’s Bay savvy is weightier and more complex, with slightly softer acidity, than the standard Marlborough model. The bouquet is fragrant and ripely herbal, the palate full-bodied and sweet-fruited, with a strong surge of passionfruit-lime flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak, and loads of current-drinking appeal. $30

Thornbury Gisborne Chardonnay 2018 ★★★

From Villa Maria and made in an upfront style, this is a typical regional style: fresh, mouth-filling and smooth, with very good depth of ripe, peachy, slightly toasty flavours. Ready to roll.  $16

Vergence White by Pegasus Bay 2016 ★★★★★

Highly distinctive, this weighty, fleshy, dry white is based on Waipara semillon, barrel-aged for two and a half years, and blended with lesser amounts of chardonnay, muscat and gewürztraminer. Pale straw, with a fragrant, complex bouquet, it has concentrated, ripe, stonefruit flavours, hints of herbs, spices and nuts, and a lasting finish.  $27

Yealands Estate M2 Organic Single Block Wairau Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ★★★★

Certified organic, this single-vineyard wine was grown in the lower Wairau Valley. Drinking well now, it’s a vibrantly fruity, medium- to full-bodied wine, with strong, ripely herbaceous flavours, dry and smooth, and a welcoming fragrance.  $25

Rosés

Nockie’s Palette Georgetown Pinot Rosé 2018 ★★★★★

This strikingly packaged wine was grown at the eastern end of the Kawarau Gorge, in Central Otago. Pale pink, it is a “serious” but delicious wine, showing lovely delicacy and harmony. Mouth-filling and dry, with vibrant strawberry and spice flavours, a hint of apricot, and a long finish, it’s drinking well now.  $39

Sugar Loaf Harriet Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ★★★★

This vivacious pinot noir rosé is pale pink, with strong, peachy, spicy aromas. Very fresh and lively, it has excellent intensity, with peach, strawberry and spice flavours, as well as  a sliver of sweetness, balanced by appetising acidity, and a long finish.  $20

Reds

Askerne Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Franc 2016 ★★★★

Priced sharply, this characterful red was matured for 18 months in oak barrels. Promisingly deep in colour, it is vibrantly fruity, with strong, ripe berry, plum and spice flavours, finely integrated oak, gentle tannins and good complexity.  $23

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ★★★★

This powerful, smooth red was estate-grown in what’s become known as the Bridge Pā Triangle wine district. Densely coloured, it is robust, with bold berry, plum and spice flavours, a hint of coconutty oak, and ripe, supple tannins.  $28

Domaine-Thomson Explorer Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018 ★★★★

This single-vineyard Lowburn red – classy yet affordable – was barrel-aged for eight months. Ruby-hued, it is fragrant and mouth-filling, with strong, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, nutty and savoury notes adding complexity, and finely balanced tannins. A top buy.  $29

Graham Norton’s Own Shiraz 2015 ★★★★

Delicious now, this South Australian red is deeply coloured, sturdy and vibrant, with rich, ripe plum and spice flavours, a hint of licorice, and a smooth, long finish. Fine value.  $19

Hāhā Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2018 ★★★

This instantly appealing and vibrantly fruity red is full-coloured and smooth, with very gentle acidity, a restrained oak influence, and fresh, generous berry, plum and spice flavours to the fore.  $18

Lawson’s Dry Hills Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 ★★★★

This great-value red was grown at two adjacent vineyards in the Waihopai Valley and matured in French oak barriques (25% new). Deep ruby, with a fragrant, complex bouquet, it is full-bodied, with a powerful surge of ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, fairly firm tannins and the structure to mature well. Best drinking: 2021 and beyond.  $30

Morton Estate [Black Label] Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2016 ★★★★

Priced right, this full-coloured, mouth-filling red has generous, ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, savoury and nutty notes to add complexity, and a smooth finish.  $20

Mt Beautiful North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2017 ★★★★

This is a classy young red, worth cellaring. Estate-grown at Cheviot, it is deep ruby, fragrant and full-bodied, with plummy, gently spicy and herbal flavours, concentrated, complex and savoury.  $32

Quarter Acre Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2017 ★★★★★

From “hillside and old riverbed” vineyards, this invitingly perfumed red is silky-smooth. Less overtly peppery than many of the region’s syrahs, it has deep, plummy, spicy, slightly nutty flavours, with a finely textured, lasting finish.  $40

Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate Single Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 ★★★★★

Certified organic, this refined, full-coloured red is highly perfumed. Already drinking well, it is sweet-fruited, with strong cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing good complexity, and a rounded finish.  $49

Redmetal Vineyards Bridge Pā Triangle Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2016 ★★★★

A good buy, this deeply coloured, vibrantly fruity red has strong, ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, with a well-rounded finish. Finely balanced for current consumption, it also has some ageing potential.  $22

Rocky Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 ★★★★

Estate-grown at Bendigo, this fragrant, full-bodied red is drinking well now, but age-worthy too.  Bright ruby, it has strong cherry, plum, spice and dried herb flavours, with nutty, savoury notes adding complexity and lovely harmony.  $29

Stonecroft Crofters Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2018 ★★★★

Designed for early drinking, this is a vibrantly fruity and medium-bodied, supple syrah. Deep ruby, it has fresh, plummy, spicy aromas and flavours, with savoury notes adding complexity, and very good depth and harmony.  Certified organic.  $24

Taylor Made Clare Valley Shiraz French Oak 2015 ★★★★

If you like powerful Aussie reds, this is for you. Matured for 20 months in American and French oak barrels, it is dark and robust (15.7% alc/vol), with rich, vibrant flavours of dark fruits, licorice and spices. Delicious drinking, both now and onwards.  $25

This article was first published in the June 2019 issue of North & South.

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