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Top wine picks from Nelson and Canterbury

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Lying to the north-west and south of Marlborough, the less wine-saturated regions of Nelson and Canterbury are far smaller in terms of their vinous output, but they certainly hold their own in terms of quality.

The two regions have just 7% of the national vineyard but 15% of the wineries. In both regions, sauvignon blanc is the major white-wine variety and pinot noir heads the reds.

Pinot gris is also extensively planted in both, but whereas Nelson has a strong reputation for chardonnay, in Canterbury, riesling shines.

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Chardonnay

Blackenbrook Nelson Chardonnay 2016 ••••

This sturdy wine was matured in American and French oak casks. Full-bodied (14% alc/vol), it has generous, vibrant, peachy, slightly toasty flavours, showing considerable complexity, and a well-rounded finish. Delicious now. $25

Moutere Hills Sarau Reserve Chardonnay 2015 •••••

This powerful, fragrant wine was grown in Nelson and barrel-fermented. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and fresh, it has vibrant, citrusy, peachy flavours, showing excellent concentration and complexity, balanced acidity, and a lasting finish. $55

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2016 •••••

Certified organic, this multifaceted wine was handled in French oak barriques. Richly fragrant, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with ripe, peachy, slightly toasty flavours, threaded with appetising acidity, and lovely vibrancy, complexity and depth. $74

Richmond Plains Nelson Chardonnay 2015 ••••

Lemon-scented, this fresh, elegant wine was handled in barrels and tanks. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it has vibrant, citrusy, slightly buttery flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak, and good length. Certified organic. $25

Albariño

Aronui Single Vineyard Nelson Albariño 2015 ••••½

This impressive wine was grown in Upper Moutere. Aromatic and full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it is an intensely varietal wine, with strong peach, grapefruit and spice flavours, dryish, crisp, finely balanced and long. $25

Pinot gris

Mount Brown Estates North Canterbury Pinot Gris 2017 •••½

Priced sharply, this mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) wine is fresh and smooth, with a gentle splash of sweetness and very good depth of ripe, peachy, spicy flavour. A slightly gewürz-like wine, it is already drinking well. $17

Renato Nelson Pinot Gris 2017 ••••

Estate-grown on the coast, this wine offers good value. Fragrant and full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it has ripe, peachy, gently spicy flavours, a sliver of sweetness and a slightly oily richness. $18

Terrace Edge Waipara Pinot Gris 2016 ••••½

Delicious now, this sturdy, Alsace-style wine was fermented in French oak barrels and tanks. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and soft, it has deep stone-fruit and spice flavours, gentle sweetness, and a rich, rounded finish. $25

Tiki Estate Waipara Pinot Gris 2016 ••••

Attractively scented, this is a weighty (13.5% alc/vol) wine with generous, peachy, vaguely honeyed flavours, gentle acidity and an off-dry, smooth finish. Fine value. $20

Waipara Hills Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2017 ••••½

Bargain-priced, this is an off-dry style, fragrant, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and finely textured. Vibrantly fruity, it has generous peach and pear-like flavours, hints of spices and ginger, and a well-rounded finish. $22

Sauvignon blanc

Greystone Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Fermented 2017 ••••½

This North Canterbury wine was fermented in old French oak casks. It is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with strong, ripe, tightly structured, vaguely honeyed flavours, showing excellent complexity. $25

Kaimira Estate Brightwater Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••

Certified organic, this estate-grown Nelson wine is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with crisp, ripe pineapple and lime flavours, generous and still youthful, and a dry, finely balanced finish. $21

Mount Beautiful North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ••••½

Estate-grown at Cheviot, north of Waipara, this is a weighty wine (14% alc/vol), with excellent vigour and concentration of ripe passionfruit/lime flavours, finely balanced, dry, crisp and long. Fine value. $24

Sherwood Estate Stratum Waipara Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2017 •••½

Priced right, this fresh, tangy, medium-bodied wine (12% alc/vol) is full of vigour. It offers good depth of tropical fruit and herbaceous flavours, with a crisp, finely balanced finish. $18

The Boneline Riverbone Waipara Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ••••½

Maturing gracefully, this distinctive wine was fermented in French oak casks. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it is tightly structured, with vibrant, ripe, tropical fruit flavours, showing good complexity, a minerally streak and a long, dry finish. $30

Riesling

Brightwater Vineyards Nelson Riesling 2017 ••••½

Grown on the Waimea Plains, this is a youthful, off-dry style. Medium-bodied (11.5% alc/vol), it has strong, lively, lemony flavours, hints of limes and apricots, good acid spine and a long finish. $22

Georges Road Block Three Waipara Riesling 2014 ••••½

Still unfolding, this is an invitingly fragrant wine, medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with good intensity of lemony, slightly appley flavours, hints of honey and toast, and a slightly sweet, appetisingly crisp finish. $25

Sweet white

Seifried Winemakers Collection Sweet Agnes Nelson Riesling 2017 ••••½

This is Seifried’s most celebrated wine. Still very youthful, it is light-bodied (9.5% alc/vol), with rich, peachy, honeyed flavours, abundant sweetness and crisp, steely acidity. $25 (375ml)

Rosé

Bellbird Spring Pinot Noir Rosé 2017 ••••½

This is a “serious” flavour-packed rosé from Waipara, fermented in barrels and made in a dry style. Pale pink/slight orange, it is medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), with fresh, peachy, spicy flavours, showing unusual depth and complexity. $27

Merlot

Ataahua Waipara Merlot 2014 ••••

Delicious now, this North Canterbury red was matured in French oak casks. Fragrant and full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), with velvety tannins and a strong surge of fresh plum/blackcurrant flavours. $30

Pinotage

Muddy Water Waipara Pinotage 2016 •••••

Tasting like a cross between pinot noir and syrah, this is a powerful red (15% alc/vol) but not heavy. Rich, savoury and soft, it has dense, youthful berry, spice and slight liquorice flavours, gentle tannins and obvious potential. $65

Pinot noir

Black Estate Damsteep Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This classy Waipara red was bottled unfined and unfiltered. Deeply coloured and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), it is very savoury, ripe and concentrated, with finely balanced tannins and lovely plum, berry, spice and nut flavours. $45

Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 •••••

This is one of Nelson’s greatest reds. Certified organic, it is deep ruby, with a fragrant, complex bouquet. A powerful (14% alc/vol) but elegant, sweet-fruited wine, it has deep, youthful plum, spice and nut flavours; firm, savoury and lingering. $46

Bronte Nelson Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

Made for early enjoyment, this is a deeply coloured, fragrant, full-bodied red (14% alc/vol). It has strong, fresh plum, cherry and spice flavours, some savoury complexity and a seductively smooth finish. (From Rimu Grove.) $24

Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir 2013 •••••

From its oldest vines at Waipara, Pegasus Bay’s top red is deeply coloured, ripely scented and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with lovely depth of plummy, spicy flavours, velvety tannins, and notable complexity and harmony. $95

This article was first published in the April 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.