Focus on New Zealand wine

I think we’re all happy with New World Wine now, right? Supermarket shelves have been groaning for years under the weight of well-marketed big brand names. Whatever you think of them, the likes of Jacob’s Creek, Blossom Hill and Hardy’s are now household names bringing Australian and Californian wine making direct to our door. Argentinian Malbec has also fallen assuredly into vogue in the last two years as well. And of course, most people will happily be able to name Marlborough as one of New Zealand’s most successful wine making regions. 

However, it’s not all Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, although that is not to deny the obvious skills that kiwi vintners have with these varietals. While we were at the Birmingham Foodie Festival recently I got a couple of opportunities to broaden my knowledge of what New Zealand wine had to offer and it would be rude not to share!

We started off with a guided tasting in the Drinks Tent led by the highly experienced and knowledgeable Charles Metcalfe. Co-founder of Wine International magazine and the International Wine Challenge – literally the most well respected wine awards in the world – I knew that I was going to get to sample some interesting wines. 

He was showcasing the New Zealand ‘Family of Twelve‘ group, a coalition of 12 fine wineries committed to bringing wine education and enjoyment to their domestic community as well as beefing up the export potential of their wines. It’s been going since 2005 so clearly they are finding benefit in it!

Typically, I disagreed completely with Charles’ summation of the first wine. I suppose this is the time to restate how wine is all about your own personal taste and palate … And of course having opened this piece by saying it’s not all Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, this was a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. At least I am consistent in my inconsistency. Anyway, this was the Nautilus 2014. It was fruity and punchy on the nose, with notes of melon. However in the mouth I found it to be poorly balanced – brash and overbearing acidity which clashed terribly with the almost sour fruit flavours. I wonder if it was served a little too cold to be at its best, but as you can tell I shan’t be bothering with a second taste.

We went uphill very quickly after this. Our next sample was the Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay 2014 . This I absolutely loved, from the appealing bread and cream on the nose, with fruit totally absent, to the silky butterness and fantastic balance in the mouth. Great acidity, a dash of lemon and tropical fruit with some lovely toasty elements, this is a blend made from 6 small vineyards and I would totally agree with Charles’ Metcalfe’s assessment that it is ‘coming pretty close to a fine white burgundy’. Easily 9 out of 10 from me and at around £15 to £20 a bottle the price is definitely right.

On to a biodynamic Viognier 2014 from Millton Vineyards. A little closed on the nose it delivered with lots of cucumber, violets, green flavours – it was delicate, open and really quite exciting. Another 9 out of 10, perhaps unsurprising as it was a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer. This would make a magical match with a variety of delicious foods – lobster, mango, perhaps even roast fennel? Flexible and subtle, I really loved it.

The Felton Road Pinot Noir 2014 was next to grace our table. Not quite as revelatory as the previous two wines, but still a great 8 out of 10 – it was full of complex flavour; blackberry, orange, perhaps plum and cherry too as well as lots of silky tanins. Delicate and deep.

I started to get myself in muddles with the next wine because I’d already had 8 and 9 scores and now I needed something in the middle, so 8.5 out of 10 it is for the Fromm La Strada Pinot Noir 2014. Fermented in steel and aged in oak this was a ‘proper Pinot’ on the nose – great balance of fruit and acetone. This was full of velvety tannins which gently melt away in the mouth. The silky textural experience was definitely the winner here as well as the black fruit fading away to a light black pepper on the excellent finish. Delicious.

And finally, the Villa Maria Reserve. This was the wine of the tasting for me. An expert blend of ripe blackcurrant flavours with a little green, vegetal and pepper notes in the background. Youngish, but complex with really well developed tannins which faded away to a smooth, light almost creamy finish.

Our appetite thoroughly whetted, after the tasting, we spent a fun time hanging out with The Antipodean Sommelier‘s stall, sampling some more kiwi greats. At just over £10 a bottle I loved, loved, loved the Bushmere Estate Gewurztraminer 2014. The super pale colour and light nose belied the melon and citrus fruit flavours of this rounded, floral wine. It says “delish” in my notes and the marks out of 10 system had fell apart yet further with an uncharacteristic 9.1 out of 10. Nuanced. Also a surprising price point given that the Egan family are a truly boutique producer, making just 500 cases a year. A real gem.

The Pisa Range Black Poplar Block 2014 didn’t quite float my boat as much, only reaching the dizzy heights of 8.9 out of 10. This was another great Pinot Noir with a beautiful garnet colour. Super concentrated blackberry flavour with a medium tannin made for a smooth wine which still had great structure.

We finished with a couple from Terra Sancta. Their 2014 Pinot Noir had a really savoury nose which promised deep things to come. This wine was a little cloudy for my taste, but the fine tannins gave tea notes, dark fruit, hawthorn blossom and plum – the deep, aromatic fruit of a cool climate wine from Central Otago. Not quite as mind blowing as the wines we had already been treated to but still a 7 or 8 on the scoreboard.

My new favourite wine person, Marcus. Fun times.

It would have been rude to finish without seeing what New Zealand has to offer in the dessert wine stakes, and so the Terra Sancta Mysterious Diggings 2011 was the perfect end to our day. This dessert Riesling had a surprisingly green colour (but it is a Riesling I guess) and was super rounded in its sweetness. The herbal notes were faint, but recognisable and it was a nice refined, slightly vegetal wine – a real difference from dessert wines I have tried in the past.

What a day!


Bestselling author and freelance drinks writer. Champion of pubs and breweries. Occasional printmaker.

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