Wine Guide – The Game Changers

While the Burgundy region stretches across eastern France, where wine is made from several grape varietals, it is the wines often referred to as the ‘Burgundies’ that are the most famous. The white wine most common in the Chablis region of Burgandy is predominantly Chardonnay, and the red wine from the region is predominantly Pinot Noir. Both varietals thrive here in this part of the world too, and with our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs tending to be a lot more fruit-forward and having less minerality than their French cousins, they are starting to get a lot more attention in the world markets.

Pinot Noirs

Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2106 –Awatere Valley, Marlborough

Peter Yealand has a reputation for doing things differently. When he set out to establish this vinyard just a few years ago, people thought he was mad. The land is exposed coastline with some of the toughest growing conditions in Marlborough. But it is the high sunshine and wind, cool nights and low rainfall at the Seaview Vineyard in the Awatere Valley that the string of accolades Yealands has achieved in a very short time are attributed to. The unique microclimate produces a smaller, thicker-skinned berry with intense fruit flavours and, it would seem, a Pinot Noir with consistently good structure and flavour.

The seaview vineyard also has the added benefit of being vast. In fact, this single vineyard is one of the largest in the country. This means they can grow the vines in areas most suitable and select only the best grapes for these single vineyard wines.

The wine is earthy and savoury. As with a classic Marlborough Pinot Noir, the nose is dominated by notes of dark cherry, violets and spice. Luscious dark cherries come through on the palate, balanced with a lovely minerality that seems to come through with wines from the Yealands Range.

RRP $26.95

Villa Maria Single Vineyard ‘Southern Clays’ Pinot Noir 2014
Villa Maria is an icon of the New Zealand wine producing industry. Under the guidance of Sir George Fistonich, this winery has become a global phenomenon. For a phenomenal 55-plus years, Sir George has been at the helm as CEO and is now retiring to focus more on his role as an ambassador for the company. Full credit to Sir George, though, for having steered this company into becoming one of our largest wine exporters and our most award-winning winery – pioneering the way for the New Zealand wine industry.

While Villa Maria has a large range of Pinot Noirs in their selection, with the newly launched organic range promising to be a hit, it was this particular ‘Southern Clays’ Pinot Noir that captivated our attention. Rich and complex, with purity and finess, the wine seduces the olfactory sensors with aromas of ripe red fruits, gentle spice and violets – a hallmark of a classic Marlborough Pinot Noir.

The grapes come from their Rutherford vineyard situated in Ben Morven Valley at the southern end of the Wairau Valley – an area renowned for the vivacious fruity notes the grapes produce. Layers of dense red and black fruits intertwine with subtle oaky tannins to form a long, balanced and silky, yet powerful, finish.

RRP $54.99

Rockburn Pinot Noir 2016 –Central Otago

My first experiences with Pinot Noir were the Central Otago Pinots. Quite distinct in flavour and style from the cousins further north, often these Pinot Noirs are quite a bit darker and more robust than you generally get with a Pinot. I recall one winemaker saying this may be due to the earlier positioning of the wines to appeal to the Australian tourist market seeking the more robust wines like their own Shiraz. He felt that this led winemakers to ripening the grapes a lot longer.

It could also come down to the climate, with longer days during the summer in a very sheltered valley, with lower rainfall and higher temperatures leading to more ripening hours.
This particular Pinot Noir was produced from grapes grown in the Gibbston (14 percent) and Lowburn (86 percent) Valleys, where some of our most highly acclaimed Pinot Noirs hail from.

The wine delivers an expressive nose of violets and black cherries. The palate displays vibrant notes of red and black cherry, rich mocha and silky tannins leading into an elegant, lingering finish.

RRP $45

Mills Reef Reserve Pinot Noir 2016 – Marlborough

Mills Reef is a winery that consistently impresses. It has to be one of the most awarded little wineries in the country. They produce a wide range of different wines, mostly from the Hawke’s Bay region. However, this wine is one of the very few they produce from outside the region.

Using grapes grown on low-yielding vines in Marlborough, Tim Preston and Paul Dawick have created an outstanding wine that delivers incredibly good value for money.
Harmonious in structure, this elegant Pinot Noir is delightfully approachable. Hints of blackberry and blackcurrant with spicy notes come through on the nose; and the palate exudes opulent flavours of ripe blackberry and blackcurrant intertwined with appealing leather and pepper spice notes.

RRP $24.95


Vidal legacy Chardonnay 2016 – Hawke’s Bay

The Legacy range is the top tier of the Vidal selection and a nod to the legacy of Joseph Anthony Vidal who founded the Vidal vineyards in Hawke’s Bay in 1888. To compare the growing area designated to this Chardonnay, one could comfortably use the Burgundian analogy of ‘grand cru’, since the grapes come from some of the best growing area in the country.

One of the top Chardonnays in the country, the Vidal Legacy 2016 displays a flinty minerality that sets it apart from most of the other New Zealand Chardonnays and the closest in this selection to the traditional Chablis, encapsulating concentration, freshness and restraint.

The colour is a lovely golden hue with fragrant flinty aromatics of citrus, pink grapefruit and roasted nuts on a finely styled, textured and seamless palate. Showing harmony and complexity, this is distinctive and age-worthy and deserving of the title ‘legacy’.

Dry River Chardonnay 2016 – Martinborough

The name Dry River is the name of one of the original sheep stations situated in this region of Martinborough in the late 1800s. The name was almost lost to history when it was renamed Dyerville in 1900 while the river became known by its Maori name, the Waihora river. The Dry River name was reclaimed in 1979 as the name of the vineyard located just a few kilometres from Dyerville on a very arid, gravely and free-draining site now called the ‘Martinborough Terrace’. This is aptly named Dry River due to the dry conditions – they use no irrigation and, coupled with the older vines, this means low yields and outstanding wines from this site – of which, their Chardonnay is no acception. The colour is golden straw and the nose is soft and creamy, layered with golden kiwifruit, pineapple and almond nougat; it’s opulent and energetic with characters of brioche and crème caramel and hints of freshly crushed thyme and lemon rind. The palate is almond croissant, beurre bosc pears and barely noticeable toast, a lemon sorbet character allows for a long finish.

Mills Reef Elspeth Chardonnay 2015 – Hawke’s Bay

If you have followed my column over the past year, then Mills Reef needs little introduction. With origins back in the 1980s as a kiwifruit wine producer based in Tauranga and exporting to Japan, this winery has emerged as one of the best boutique wineries in New Zealand. Producing outstanding Bordeaux-style reds and Chardonnays from the Hawke’s Bay region, this little winery has taken out a huge number of awards and regular praise for some of our leading wine writers.

The Elspeth range represents their top tier of wines, produced exclusively from grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels region, from hand-picked fruit of exceptional quality. The name Elspeth was winemaker (and son of Mills Reef’s founder), Tim Preston’s grandmother’s name.

A small percentage of this wine went through malolactic fermentation, while 100 percent went through French oak ageing, to deliver a judicious seasoning of toasty oak and a lovely rich creamy texture. This outstanding Chardonnay has striking intensity, complexity and balance. Tropical peach, fig and honey flavours abound, intertwined with hints of cashew. Already delicious, it will continue to evolve and delight with cellaring.

Sacred Hill ‘The Rifleman’ Chardonnay 2016 – Hawke’s Bay

Sacred Hill derives its name from Puketapu (sacred hill in Maori) where the winery was first established back in the 1980s. Today, Sacred Hill is one of the few large wineries in Hawke’s Bay still under the original family ownership. Renowned for their award-winning Chardonnays, produced from grapes grown in one of the best Chardonnay-growing regions in the country, the Rifleman in the icon of their Chardonnay range.

The name Rifleman was inspired by our smallest native bird of the same name. But this iconic wine is no small wine! The 2016 Rifleman is another very classical Chardonnay with an intense palate and sensational length and has received prestigious awards over multiple vintages.

The Rifleman Chardonnay 2016 is another powerful, elegant vintage with intriguing, lifted aromas of ripe mandarin peel, nectarine, hazelnut and vanilla bean with nuances of nutmeg and lemon meringue. As the experts agree, patient cellaring will be very well rewarded.