Best winter wines to enjoy in front of the fire

by Michael Cooper / 15 June, 2018
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A selection of local and international wines to enjoy as winter arrives and the nights get colder.

Refreshing, light, appetisingly crisp wines are all the rage in summer, but robust, richly flavoured and well-rounded wines hit the spot in winter. If you are a sauvignon blanc fan, now is the time to explore chardonnay and fuller-bodied styles of pinot gris. Pinot noir lovers should try Hawke’s Bay merlot and Australian shiraz.

Whites

Auntsfield Single Vineyard Southern Valleys Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 •••••

Estate-grown on a site where the region’s first wines flowed in the 1870s, this classy wine is lemon-scented and mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), with rich, vibrant, citrusy, peachy flavours. It’s showing excellent intensity, with hints of butter and toast, fresh acidity and a long, finely balanced finish. $36

Domaine De Pellehaut Gascogne Chardonnay 2016 ••••

From Gascony, south-east of Bordeaux, this is a highly drinkable French wine with a fragrant, slightly buttery bouquet. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and dry, it has strong, ripe, peachy flavours, enough acidity to keep things lively and a well-rounded finish. $25

Elephant Hill Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 •••••

This elegant, distinctive wine was estate-grown at Te Awanga and barrel-fermented. A highly complex style, it is fragrant and vibrant, with mouthfilling body (13% alc/vol), a strong surge of grapefruit and peach flavours, and biscuity, mealy notes that add complexity. It has a good acid spine and a tightly structured, rich finish. $54

Forrest Marlborough Pinot Gris 2017 ••••½

Flourishing with a bit of bottle age, this full-flavoured wine comes from sites north and south of the Wairau River and was fermented in an even split of tanks and old oak barriques. Attractively scented, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with rich, peachy flavours, hints of pears and spices, and an off-dry, finely balanced finish. $22

Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Gris 2017 •••••

Estate-grown in the northern Wairarapa, this partly barrel-fermented wine is invitingly scented, weighty (13.5% alc/vol) and fleshy, with ripe, stone-fruit flavours to the fore. It is rich, fresh and vibrant pinot gris with a slightly oily texture and a dry finish. $27

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

Based mostly on vines planted in 1976, this certified-organic, hand-harvested wine was fermented and matured for over a year in seasoned French oak barrels. Weighty (14.3% alc/vol), fleshy and finely poised, the wine has concentrated, vibrant, citrusy, peachy flavours showing excellent complexity and a fully dry, slightly creamy finish. $36

Hans Herzog Marlborough Viognier 2015 •••••

Certified organic, this sturdy wine (14% alc/vol) was estate-grown in the Wairau Valley and fermented and matured for 18 months in French oak puncheons. Pale straw in colour, the wine has concentrated, peachy flavours, hints of spice and apricots, good complexity and a rich, dry finish. $49

Huntaway Reserve Gisborne Chardonnay 2016 •••½

Looking for an affordable chardonnay with strong, toasty, buttery notes? This wine is a real crowd-pleaser; it is full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), peachy, creamy and soft. $20

Hunter’s Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 ••••

Full of youthful vigour, this barrel-fermented wine has a fragrant, flinty bouquet. Fresh and full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it has grapefruit and peach flavours with biscuity, smoky notes adding complexity, and a dry, crisp finish. $25

Māori Point Grand Reserve Pinot Gris 2013 ••••½

Ensconced in a heavy, punted bottle, this still-lively wine was fermented and matured in French oak barrels. It is a robust wine (14.1% alc/vol) with rich stone-fruit flavours to the fore, wood-derived complexity, fresh, balanced acidity and a long, bone-dry finish. $38

Mills Reef Elspeth Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015 •••••

Mills Reef’s flagship chardonnay is a classic regional style. It’s a barrel-fermented, pale-straw-coloured, full-bodied and fragrant wine (13.5% alc/vol), with rich stone-fruit and toasty oak flavours, mealy notes adding complexity, and a long, very harmonious finish. $40

Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Côtes du Rhône 2016 ••••

If you enjoy chardonnay, try this. A blend of four traditional Rhône Valley grapes, it is softly mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with fresh, well-ripened citrus and stone-fruit flavours, gentle acidity, a creamy texture and a dry, lingering finish. $28

Petane Station Esk Valley Pinot Gris 2017 ••••½

Already highly enjoyable, this hand-harvested wine was mostly fermented in tanks with 30% of the blend oak-aged. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and fleshy, the wine has ripe, stone-fruit flavours showing a distinct touch of complexity, a slightly oily texture and a dryish, well-rounded finish. $27

Quartz Reef Bendigo Central Otago Pinot Gris 2017 •••••

Certified biodynamic, this very classy wine is richly scented and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with beautifully vibrant, well-ripened pear, lychee and spice flavours. There’s excellent intensity, finely balanced acidity and a dry, lingering finish. $33

Selaks Reserve Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2017 •••½

Very easy to enjoy, this is a fragrant, full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol) with fresh pear and lychee flavours, hints of peach and spice, and a smooth, off-dry finish. It’s fine value at $13.

Seresin Marlborough Chardonnay 2016 ••••½

A top buy, this certified-organic, barrel-fermented wine is fragrant and full-bodied (14% alc/vol), with peachy, citrusy, slightly biscuity flavours. There is excellent depth, freshness and complexity and a crisp, dry finish. $24

Summerhouse Marlborough Chardonnay 2017 •••½

Priced sharply, this is an attractive, fruit-driven style of chardonnay (meaning not obviously oaky), with mouthfilling body (13.5% alc/vol), strong, fresh, peachy flavours, a touch of complexity and a smooth finish. $17

Te Mata Cape Crest Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016 •••••

Who says you can’t make top-flight sauvignon blanc in Hawke’s Bay? Barrel-fermented, it is highly fragrant wine with good weight (13.5% alc/vol), concentrated, ripe, tropical fruit flavours, showing excellent vibrancy and complexity, and a dry, lasting finish. $30

Toi Toi Brookdale Reserve Marlborough Pinot Gris 2017 ••••½

This bargain-priced, fragrant, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and vibrant wine was made in an off-dry style. Light lemon-green, it is finely poised with fresh, strong pear, lychee and spice flavours, showing excellent delicacy and depth. $22

Tony Bish Heartwood Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2017 •••••

This stylish, barrel-fermented wine was grown in the upper Dartmoor Valley and on the coast at Bay View. The bouquet is fragrant and complex and the palate is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), fresh and vibrant, with finely balanced acidity. There are ripe grapefruit and peach flavours, and mealy, toasty notes that add richness and complexity. $35

Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 •••••

This skilfully crafted wine was fermented and matured for a year in French oak puncheons. A model of refinement, it is fresh and full-bodied (13% alc/vol), with strong, grapefruit-like flavours. It is gently seasoned with biscuity oak and has lovely poise, delicacy and length. $40

Reds

Babich Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet 2016 •••½

Looking for a good, affordable, Bordeaux-style red? Fresh and full-bodied (13% alc/vol), this is an easy-drinking wine with lots of lively plum, berry and spice flavours and a smooth, dry finish. $17

Bosco del Grillo Governo All’Uso Toscano 2015 ••••

Very easy to enjoy, this Tuscan red was made by the old governo technique of adding dried grapes to the fermentation to enhance smoothness. Deeply coloured, it is full-bodied, (13% alc/vol) with generous, plummy, spicy, slightly raisiny flavours. $25

Brick Bay Martello Rock 2014 ••••

This characterful Matakana blend of malbec, cabernet franc and merlot has the fullness of body (14% alc/vol), ripeness and slight earthiness typical of Auckland reds. Fragrant and supple, it is vibrantly fruity wine, with strong, berryish, plummy, spicy flavours and lots of current-drinking appeal. $30

Burn Cottage Burn Cottage Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This enticingly perfumed, very refined red was estate-grown in the Cromwell Basin. Deep ruby in colour, it is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and savoury, with rich, ripe cherry and plum flavours. Spicy and nutty notes add real complexity, and there is obvious cellaring potential. $65

Castello di Radda Granbruno 2016 ••••

This characterful Tuscan red is a blend of merlot and sangiovese that is sturdy (14% alc/vol) and firmly structured, with good concentration of fresh, berryish, plummy, spicy flavours, showing some savoury complexity. $22

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Tempranillo 2015 ••••½

From the star grape of Rioja, in Spain, this powerful, dark red was estate-grown in the Bridge Pa Triangle and barrel-matured. A strapping wine (15.5 % alc/vol), it is rich and smooth, with deep blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours and a well-rounded finish. $28

Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

Grown on the cooler, more clay-influenced south side of the Wairau Valley, this barrel-aged red is fragrant and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with generous, ripe, plummy, spicy, nutty flavours, showing very good complexity and the structure to mature well. $42

Debussy Reverie Pays d’Oc Cabernet/Syrah 2016 •••½

Drinking well now, this full-bodied (13% alc/vol) red from the Mediterranean south of France has fresh, lively blackcurrant and plum flavours, with hints of spice and dark chocolate, and very good depth. $23

Doctors Flat Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 •••••

This lovely, single-vineyard red was grown at Bannockburn. Refined and harmonious, it is fragrant, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and savoury wine with sweet fruit, concentrated cherry, plum and spice flavours, showing real complexity, and a finely textured, lasting finish. Fully a match for many, far-higher-priced Central Otago reds. It’s already drinking well. $49 

I am George Cabernet/Merlot 2015 ••••½

Offering fine value, this South Australian red from Wyndham Estate is robust (14.7% alc/vol), but retains freshness and vibrancy. Barrel-aged for nearly two years, it is dark and fragrant, with rich blackcurrant and plum flavours, hints of herbs and chocolate, good tannin backbone and a lasting finish. $23

Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz 5th Vintage ••••½

This bold, two-year-old red was aged in old whisky barrels, which allows more oxygen into the wine and softens its tannins. Dark and powerful (14.8% alc/vol), it is fragrant and sweet-fruited wine, with loads of plummy, peppery flavour and a rich, smooth finish. $25

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Shiraz 2016 ••••½

This is a steal at this price. It’s a fresh and peppery red with strong varietal characteristics. Fragrant and sturdy (14.6% alc/vol), with generous ripe, plummy, spicy flavours. It is showing considerable complexity and a smooth finish. $16

Jacob’s Creek Reserve Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ••••

Fragrant and full-bodied (14.5% alc/vol), this generous Australian red has cool-climate, herbal notes mingled with cabernet’s classic blackcurrant-like flavours, and hints of plum and spice. Already enjoyable, it offers great value. $16

Man O’ War Ironclad 2013 •••••

This powerful blend of cabernet franc, merlot and other traditional Bordeaux varieties is grown at the eastern end of Waiheke Island. From a top season, the wine is densely coloured, with substantial body (14.5% alc/vol), highly concentrated blackcurrant and plum flavours, good tannin backbone and a long life ahead. $50

Māori Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

This single-vineyard, Cromwell Basin red is a graceful, rather than powerful, style of pinot noir. It’s ruby hued, perfumed and sweet-fruited, with mouthfilling body (13.9% alc/vol), generous cherry, plum and spice flavours, good complexity and a seductive, silky texture. $40

Mt Difficulty Single Vineyard Long Gully Bannockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 •••••

This outstanding red was hand-picked from vines planted in 1992 and matured for 16 months in French oak barrels. Enticingly perfumed, it is ruby hued, savoury and supple, in a full-bodied style (14% alc/vol) with delicious plum, spice and nut flavours that build to a silky-textured, long, harmonious finish. $110

Muddy Water Pinotage 2016 •••••

This impressive Waipara wine tastes like a cross between pinot noir and syrah. It’s a strapping red (15% alc/vol), but not heavy, with a fragrant, plummy, spicy bouquet. Rich, savoury and soft, it has gentle tannins and dense, youthful berry, spice and slight liquorice flavours. $60

Oyster Bay Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2016 ••••

From Delegat, this red accounts for a huge slice of New Zealand’s exports of Bordeaux-style wines (merlot and/or cabernet sauvignon). Fragrant and full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), fresh and vibrant, with strong plummy flavours, a hint of herbs, and loads of drink-young appeal. $20

Paul Jaboulet Parallele 45 Côtes du Rhône 2015 ••••½

Offering great drinkability, but also well worth cellaring, this blend of grenache and syrah has a fragrant, slightly raisiny bouquet. From vines averaging 35 years old, it is sturdy (14% alc/vol), with strong, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, a hint of liquorice, and a finely balanced, smooth finish. $28

Pegasus Bay Merlot/Cabernet 2016 •••••

Who says you can’t produce classy, merlot-based reds in the South Island? This Waipara red is dark and weighty (14% alc/vol), with complexity from lengthy barrel ageing. There are concentrated ripe blackcurrant and plum flavours and lovely depth and harmony. $32

Peter Lehmann The Barossan Barossa Shiraz 2016 ••••½

Fleshy and smooth, this instantly appealing red is boldly coloured, fragrant and robust (14.5% alc/vol), with deep, plummy, spicy flavours, hints of liquorice and mint chocolate and a well-rounded finish. $25

Poggio Nicchiaia Filetto Chianti 2015 •••••

Delicious now, this is a refined Tuscan red, dark and full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), with generous, vibrant blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak and a very harmonious, silky-smooth finish. $30

Puriri Hills Estate 2011 ••••½

Estate-grown at Clevedon, in South Auckland, this is a stylish, merlot-based blend. Fragrant and mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with full, fairly mature colour, it is leathery, nutty and savoury, with hints of herbs and spices, fresh acidity and excellent complexity and richness. $45

Pyramid Valley Growers’ Collection Howell Family Vineyard Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Franc 2015 •••••

This classy red is from 30-year-old vines in the Bridge Pa Triangle. It is sturdy (14.5% alc/vol) and deeply coloured wine with lovely depth of ripe blackcurrant and plum flavours, buried tannins, and excellent vigour and harmony. $45

Selaks The Taste Collection Silky Smooth Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2016 •••½

This is a good, gutsy (13.5% alc/vol) red, although not really “silky smooth”. Full-coloured with satisfying depth of ripe berry, plum and spice flavours, the wine has earthy, nutty notes adding complexity and a fresh, fairly firm finish. $22

Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 •••••

Certified organic, this classy red was hand-harvested from mature vines and matured for over 18 months in French oak barrels. Dark and still purple-flushed, it is fragrant, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and supple wine, with fresh, ripe, concentrated blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, finely integrated oak and gentle tannins. It is a wine that is well worth cellaring. $45

Theory & Practice Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2016 ••••

A drink-young charmer, this is a floral, softly mouthfilling red (13% alc/vol), with a strong surge of vibrant, berryish, peppery flavours. If you love pinot noir, this wine will appeal. $25

Two Paddocks Proprietor’s Reserve The First Paddock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This stylish red was hand-picked at Gibbston from vines planted in 1993. Deeply coloured, it is an enticingly fragrant, full-bodied wine (13% alc/vol), with a delicious array of cherry, plum, spice and herb flavours and a supple, sustained finish. $85

Wooing Tree Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 •••••

This single-vineyard Cromwell red is drinking well now, but still unfolding. Fragrant and full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it is savoury and smooth, with ripe cherry, plum, spice and nut flavours, revealing excellent complexity and depth. $48

This article was first published in the June 16, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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