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Nelson and Waipara wine regions are more than just one-hit wonders

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The South Island regions are noted for specific varietals, but there's much more out there.

Pinot noir, riesling or something else? You could make a fortune, taking bets with Christchurch wine lovers about which grape variety is the most widely grown at Waipara, in North Canterbury. It’s sauvignon blanc.

Sauvignon blanc is No 1 in Nelson, too. Together, the South Island’s two smallest wine regions have 7% of the national vineyard area, but 15% of the country’s wineries.

A versatile region, Nelson succeeds with several varieties: sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, chardonnay and pinot noir. Further south, riesling and pinot noir are the two greatest strengths in Canterbury, where almost 90% of the vines are clustered at Waipara.


Ataahua Waipara Riesling 2017 ••••½

Invitingly scented, this is a gently sweet, medium-bodied (12% alc/vol) wine. Citrusy and peachy with a hint of honey, it has balanced acidity and excellent flavour intensity. $26

Blackenbrook Nelson Pinot Gris 2018 ••••

This floral, finely textured wine is an off-dry style, fresh and full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with pear, lychee and spice flavours, showing delicacy and depth. $25

Bronte Nelson Pinot Gris 2018 ••••

From Rimu Grove, this off-dry style is freshly scented, mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and smooth, with strong peach, pear and spice flavours, showing excellent complexity and harmony. $25

Greystone Waipara Valley North Canterbury Pinot Gris 2018 •••••

This powerful, off-dry wine is already drinking well. Sturdy (14.5% alc/vol) and concentrated, it has generous stonefruit flavours, with hints of honey and oak adding complexity, and strong personality. $29

Dunnolly Estate Reserve Waipara Valley Chardonnay 2017 ••••

Showing obvious potential, this refined wine was matured in French oak barriques. Fresh and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), it has excellent delicacy and depth of grapefruit, peach and pear flavours. $32

Greenhough Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ••••½

Certified organic, this refined, full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol) has strong, vibrant, tropical-fruit flavours to the fore, a distinct touch of barrel-ferment complexity, and a dry finish. $22

Kaimira Estate Brightwater Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ••••

Certified organic, this estate-grown wine is freshly herbaceous, with strong, ripe, tropical-fruit flavours. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it has subtle, toasty notes adding complexity and a dry, crisp finish. $21

Mischief Waipara Pinot Gris 2018 ••••

Drinking well young, this is a fragrant, full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol), with generous, peachy, vaguely honeyed flavours and a fresh, off-dry, smooth finish. $22

Mud House Single Vineyard Home Block Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2018 ••••½

This classy wine is very fresh and vibrant. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), it has generous pear and peach flavours, gentle spicy notes, a slightly oily texture and an off-dry, lingering finish. $26

Pegasus Bay Sauvignon/Semillon 2016 •••••

This North Canterbury standout is a blend of sauvignon blanc (70%) and sémillon (30%). Still youthful, it is fragrant and weighty (14% alc/vol), with concentrated, ripely herbaceous flavours, a subtle seasoning of toasty oak and a long, dry finish. $32

Old House Vineyards Kaho Nelson Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ••••½

Elegant and age-worthy, this Upper Moutere wine is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with vibrant, well-ripened peach, passionfruit and lime flavours, fresh acidity, integrated oak and good complexity. $30 

Saving Grace Dry Riesling 2018 •••••

From Waipara Hills, this classy wine is sold in restaurants. Fragrant and finely balanced, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with rich citrus and apple flavours, a minerally thread, a strong sense of youthful drive and a dry, lasting finish. 

Pyramid Valley Orange 2018 ••••½

Copper-coloured, this distinctive Waipara wine is full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and complex, with strong strawberry, watermelon and peach flavours and hints of spices, apricots and oranges. $35

Sherwood Waipara Valley North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ••••

Drinking well now, this vibrantly fruity wine is medium- to full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with fresh, strong, ripely herbaceous flavours and a crisp, finely balanced finish. Priced right. $19

Waimea Estates Nelson Riesling 2017 ••••

Balanced for easy drinking, this delicious wine was made in a lush, gently sweet style. Medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it has rich, citrusy, peachy, limey flavours, a hint of honey and a fragrant bouquet. $18

The Crater Rim Waipara Chardonnay 2016 ••••

This age-worthy wine is fragrant and full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with good intensity of youthful, grapefruit-like flavours, slightly buttery and toasty notes and obvious potential. $30 

Sweet whites

Bellbird Spring Muté Les Epices 2016 •••••

This Waipara blend of riesling, gewürztraminer and muscat was fortified with the estate’s brandy. Sturdy (17.5% alc/vol), rich and rounded, it has pear, peach and spice flavours that are sweet, complex and harmonious. (375ml) $35

Seifried Winemaker’s Collection Sweet Agnes Nelson Riesling 2018 •••••

This is Seifried’s most celebrated wine. Rich and finely poised, it has excellent concentration of citrusy, peachy, gently honeyed flavours, with a sweet, crisp, finely balanced finish. (375ml) $25


Brightwater Vineyards Sophie’s Kiss Nelson Rosé 2018 ••••½

Floral and bright pink, this mouthfilling wine (13% alc/vol) is instantly attractive. Slightly off-dry, it has excellent weight and depth of watermelon, strawberry and spice flavours. $22

Mount Brown Estates North Canterbury Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 •••½

Priced sharply, this bright pink charmer is freshly scented and smooth. Medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), it has vibrant, delicate strawberry and watermelon flavours, with a sliver of sweetness adding to its appeal. $16

Terrace Edge North Canterbury Rosé 2018 •••••

Showing unusual depth, this delicious Waipara rosé is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with a strong surge of fresh berry, plum and spice flavours. Fractionally sweet, with a very persistent finish, it’s certified organic. $22

Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ••••

Pale pink, with vivacious watermelon and spice flavours, this is a scented, medium-bodied wine (12.5% alc/vol). An off-dry style, it offers great value. $17


Main Divide North Canterbury Merlot/Cabernet 2017 ••••

Offering good value, Pegasus Bay’s red is fragrant, full-coloured and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with plum, spice and blackcurrant flavours, showing excellent ripeness and depth. $21

Black Estate Damsteep North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This outstanding, full-bodied red (13% alc/vol) is very savoury and concentrated, with lovely plum, berry, spice and nut flavours. Likely to flourish for a decade, it’s full of personality. $45

Leo Nelson Pinot Noir 2017 •••½

Enjoyable young, this is a bright ruby, freshly scented wine, with very good body (13% alc/vol) and depth of vibrant, plummy flavours showing a touch of complexity. $20

Mt Beautiful North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2017 ••••½

This classy red from Cheviot is fragrant and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with concentrated, ripe, plummy, gently spicy flavours and a hint of herbs. Savoury and complex, it has good ageing potential. $32

Neudorf Tom’s Block Nelson Pinot Noir 2016 ••••½

Ruby-hued, perfumed, savoury and supple, with an array of cherry, spice, herb and nut flavours, this complex, softly mouthfilling Moutere red (13.5% alc/vol) is already drinking well. $33

Renato Nelson Pinot Noir 2017 ••••

Priced right, this bright, ruby red is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with cherry, plum and spice flavours, nutty and savoury notes adding complexity, and a very harmonious, finely textured finish. $25

This article was first published in the April 6, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.