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NZ's less-familiar white wines are well worth checking out

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From albariño to verdelho, there are so many more varietals in the world of white wine than pinot gris.

The fascination of wine is partly due to its variety. About 30 different grapes are grown commercially in New Zealand for white-wine production, but four – sau­vignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris and riesling – account for nearly 98% of our output. So, that’s what we see stacked in the stores and crowding restaurant wine lists – and that’s what we usually drink.

Why not try something else? The wines reviewed here are based on traditional varieties of north-west Spain and Portugal, the island of Madeira, the Rheinhessen, Alsace, the Loire Valley, the Rhône Valley, Bordeaux, Campania and Piedmont. Planted in New Zealand soils, these less-familiar varieties yield wines that can taste excitingly different.


Smith & Sheth Cru Heretaunga Albariño 2018 ••••

Currently compelling, this is a powerful albariño, weighty (14% alc/vol) and highly fragrant, with fresh, deep, citrusy, peachy flavours that build to a dry, resounding finish. Still youthful, it’s full of personality. $28

Left Field Gisborne Albariño 2018 •••••

This strongly varietal wine is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with good intensity of fresh, citrusy, slightly spicy flavours and a racy, dry, appetisingly crisp finish. Top summer drinking from Te Awa. $18

Terrace Edge North Canterbury Albariño 2017 •••••

A wine of real presence. Hand-picked at Waipara, then barrel-fermented, it is fragrant and full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), crisp and intense, with fresh, citrusy, slightly appley flavours, a minerally thread and a dryish, lasting finish. $25


The Hunting Lodge Marlborough Albariño 2018 ••••½

Albariño offers “the best parts of a riesling and viognier, but with none of their hang-ups”, according to The Hunting Lodge. Invitingly scented and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), it has strong, vibrant, peachy flavours, hints of spices, apples and ginger and a dryish, mouth-wateringly crisp finish. $26


Coopers Creek Gisborne SV The Little Rascal Gisborne Arneis 2017 ••••½

This fleshy, full-bodied wine (14% alc/vol) has strong, vibrant, peachy, slightly spicy flavours. Scented, with excellent intensity and harmony, it’s an ideal, all-purpose wine that offers delicious drinking from now on. $22

Chenin blanc

Forrest Marlborough Chenin Blanc 2017 ••••

Offering easy drinking, this medium-bodied wine (12.5% alc/vol) has ripe, distinctly pear-like flavours, a sliver of sweetness balanced by moderate acidity and excellent freshness, vigour and harmony. $25

Astrolabe Wrekin Vineyard Marlborough Chenin Blanc 2017 •••••

This great-value wine was hand-picked in the Southern Valleys and partly barrel-fermented. A fully dry style, it is scented and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with a real sense of youthful drive, strong, lemony, slightly appley flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak and a tight, lingering finish. $25

Queensberry Gardens Central Otago Chenin Blanc 2018 ••••

This youthful wine was grown between Cromwell and Wanaka and barrel-aged. Medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it is vibrantly fruity, with vigorous, peachy, citrusy, appley flavours, showing good varietal character, and a dryish, lengthy finish. $28

Millton Te Arai Vineyard Gisborne Chenin Blanc 2017 ••••½

Certified organic, this is one of New Zealand’s best-known chenin blancs. Pale gold, it is a medium to full-bodied (12% alc/vol), dryish wine, with rich, peachy flavours, hints of honey and toast, moderate acidity and pronounced varietal character. $32


Jenny Dobson Hawke’s Bay Fiano 2017 •••••

Well worth discovering, this rare wine was grown in the Bridge Pā Triangle and handled in stainless-steel barrels and tanks. Highly distinctive, it is medium to full-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with concentrated, peachy, slightly spicy flavours and a long, dry, finely textured finish. $35


Hunter’s Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2018 ••••

Estate-grown in the Wairau Valley, this perfumed, buoyantly fruity wine is full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with strong pear and lychee flavours, fresh acidity and a distinctly spicy, slightly gingery, fully dry finish. $25

Askerne Hawke’s Bay Gewürztraminer 2016 ••••½

Full of personality, this is a weighty (14% alc/vol), medium-dry style, partly barrel-fermented. Bright, light yellow/green, it is fragrant and full-bodied, with fresh, strong, peachy, spicy, slightly gingery flavours, which show excellent ripeness and complexity, and a well-rounded finish. $23

Dry River Botrytis Bunch Selection Lovat Vineyard Martinborough Gewürztraminer 2018 •••••

A magical wine, this sweet but not super-sweet style was made from botrytis-infected (nobly rotten) grapes. Light gold, with a beguiling fragrance, it is medium-bodied (11% alc/vol), with rich, peachy, gingery, spicy, gently honeyed flavours. Hard to resist. $59

Johanneshof Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2018 •••••

This beauty is consistently one of the country’s finest gewürztraminers. Sturdy (13.5% alc/vol), with an exotic fragrance, it has intense, peachy, spicy flavours, gentle sweetness and a slightly oily richness. Complex, very satisfying gewürztraminer. $30

Lawson’s Dry Hills The Pioneer Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2016 •••••

This stunner is a weighty (14.5% alc/vol), fleshy, Alsace-style wine from 35-year-old vines “with trunks as thick as thighs”, according to the winery’s tasting notes. Powerful and packed with peachy, spicy flavours, gently sweet, finely poised and lasting, it’s a truly memorable mouthful. $35

Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Vineyard Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2018 •••••

Hand-picked from mature vines and oak-fermented, this is an arresting wine. Powerful (15% alc/vol), bold and youthful, it has lovely depth of citrus-fruit, peach, pear and spice flavours that show notable delicacy, richness and harmony. Oily textured, with a sweetish but not cloying finish, it’s already irresistible. $33

Misha’s Vineyard The Gallery Central Otago Gewürztraminer 2016 ••••½

Delicious now, this wine was estate-grown and barrel-fermented. Floral, full-bodied (14% alc/vol) and smooth, it has deep, peachy, spicy, slightly citrusy and appley flavours, showing good complexity, gentle acidity and a well-spiced, off-dry, harmonious finish. $32

Villa Maria Private Bin East Coast Gewürztraminer 2018 ••••

This regional blend typically offers great value. A 2:1 blend of Waipara and Hawke’s Bay grapes, this is an instantly attractive, strongly varietal wine, perfumed and full-bodied (14% alc/vol), with good depth of spicy, slightly gingery flavours and an off-dry finish. $16

Whitehaven Marlborough Gewürztraminer 2018 ••••½

Already drinking well, this is a fleshy, full-flavoured, smooth wine. The bouquet is fragrant and well-spiced; the palate fresh and mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), with strong peach, pear and spice flavours, a gentle splash of sweetness, soft acidity and a well-rounded finish. $23

Grüner veltliner

Jules Taylor Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2017 ••••½

This distinctive, single-vineyard wine was hand-picked and partly oak-fermented. It is fragrant, full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and bone-dry, with good intensity of vibrant, peachy, citrusy, slightly spicy flavours, gentle biscuity notes and a crisp, lingering finish. $25

Nautilus Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2017 ••••½

Showing strong personality, this full-bodied wine (14% alc/vol) is bright, light lemon/green, with deep, vibrant, citrusy, peachy, slightly spicy flavours, which are dry and lingering. Already drinking well, it should also repay cellaring. $30

Pinot blanc

Rock Ferry Orchard Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Blanc 2015 •••••

This powerful, single-vineyard wine was partly barrel-fermented. Sturdy (14.5% alc/vol), fleshy and soft, it has rich, ripe, stonefruit flavours to the fore, slightly toasty notes adding complexity, gentle acidity and a fully dry, well-rounded finish. Certified organic. $30

Greenhough Hope Vineyard Nelson Pinot Blanc 2015 •••••

Based on vines planted in 1976, this impressive wine was handled in seasoned French oak casks. Maturing well, it is weighty (14.3% alc/vol) and fleshy, with concentrated, vibrant, citrusy, peachy flavours, showing excellent complexity, and a dry, slightly creamy finish. Certified organic. $32

Sauvignon gris

Loveblock Marlborough Sauvignon Gris 2014 ••••

Probably now in peak form, this distinctive Awatere Valley wine was bottle-aged for several years before its recent release. Medium to full-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it has deep, ripely herbal, slightly toasty flavours, which show good complexity, and a finely textured, dry, lingering finish. $22


Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Verdelho 2018 ••••

Fresh and lively, this youthful, full-bodied wine (14% alc/vol) was partly barrel-fermented. It has strong, vigorous, citrusy flavours, a vague suggestion of sweetness, mouth-watering acidity, minerally notes and lots of youthful impact. $20


Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier 2017 ••••½

Okay, it’s not from New Zealand, but this Aussie white is worth grabbing. An ideal introduction to viognier, it is floral and softly seductive, with substantial body (14.5% alcohol) and fresh, strong flavours of peaches and apricots. Easy, delicious drinking. $25

Gladstone Vineyard Viognier 2018 ••••½

A floral tease, this highly fragrant wine was hand-picked in the northern Wairarapa and partly barrel-fermented. Softly mouthfilling (14.2% alc/vol), it has strong, vibrant, citrusy, peachy flavours, with a subtle seasoning of oak adding complexity, and a long, fully dry, creamy-textured finish. $27

Leveret Estate Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2016 ••••

Ready to roll, this bright, light lemon/green wine offers easy drinking, with a touch of class. Full-bodied (14% alc/vol), it has generous, ripe, stonefruit flavours, enriched by a delicate oak influence, and a harmonious, smooth finish. $23

Staete Landt State of Surrender Marlborough Viognier 2015 •••••

This outstanding, estate-grown wine was handled in old barrels. Bright, light lemon/green, it is highly scented, with substantial body (14% alc/vol), rich, vibrant stone-fruit flavours, a slightly creamy texture and an off-dry finish. A wine with a powerful presence, it’s delicious now. $39


Seifried Nelson Würzer 2018 ••••

This attractive wine has a floral, musky perfume. Fresh and medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), it is slightly sweet, with strong, lively, citrusy, spicy flavours and loads of drink-young charm. $18

This article was first published in the March 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.