One hundred dollars is a formidable price point for a bottle of wine. Different dynamics apply when a price tag moves from two to three digits. Cross that barrier and an expensive bottle of wine becomes a “luxury brand”. To optimise brand value and pricing power, the wine must leverage multiple brand elements such as scarcity, packaging,  craftsmanship, the ability to age gracefully and, of course, a high level of quality. 

There are 78 New Zealand wine brands with price tags of $100 or more, according to my database of tasting notes. When I did the same review in 2013, there were just 27 brands priced at $100-plus. That figure had jumped to 57 brands by 2018 and 73 brands a year later. 

A list of the wines, showing the latest vintage tasted, is presented below. This does not include such notable producers as Stonyridge and Providence simply because I have not recorded tasting notes for their wines in the past five years. 

I talked to Larry McKenna of Escarpment Wines in Martinborough, whose flagship Kupe Pinot Noir has a price of $115. I asked him if it took a lot of nerve when they crossed the $100 threshold. “No, not really. The wine had been priced at $80 for at least five years. It’s an expensive wine to make, with double the normal density of vines. We mature it in barrel for 18 months then age it for a further 18 months before release. It all adds up. We had a bit of a track record when we first made Kupe. It made the front page of the UK wine magazine Decanter and was ranked seventh in the influential US wine magazine Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the year.”

Nick Jones, owner of the Waiheke winery and restaurant Mudbrick, tells a similar story. “We’d been making wine for nearly 20 years when we first made our super-premium red, 2008 Mudbrick Vineyard Velvet. We felt the time was right – the wine was terrific. We spared no expense in production or packaging. It is only produced in exceptional vintages [2008, 2010, 2013, 2015 and 2017]. The wine is only sold locally at our cellar door and is released with a bit of a fanfare at our annual wine club dinner. Interestingly, our two $100-plus wines are the only wines we export to buyers who approach us.”

Although growth in the membership of the $100-plus club has slowed in the past year, no doubt a victim of covid-19, it promises to climb soon. With few exceptions the quality of the 2019 and 2020 vintages is such that plenty of potential new flagships will be produced. As they cross the $100 threshold, others are sure to follow. As one winemaker confessed after increasing his price by 25 percent, “I didn’t want to do it, but I had to maintain our position.”

When I first compiled my list of $100-plus wines, a few notable wines were absent. I contacted the producers of the missing brands. Most said their production level was too great. If they increased the price, they might have trouble selling all their wine. 

One of the reluctant price raisers told me they had a close relationship with their customers and didn’t want to rock the boat. They phoned me back a couple of weeks later and asked, “If we were to raise the price, what increase do you think would be appropriate?” The price went up. 

Bob's Top Picks
Investment Wine

2015 Destiny Bay Magna Praemia, Waiheke, $550

Possibly New Zealand’s most expensive wine. 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot, 5 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent malbec and 3 percent petit verdot. A very intense, rich and complex cabernet sauvignon-dominant red with dark-fleshed plum, blackcurrant, cassis, new leather and anise tones and a strong influence of spicy oak. A wine that has clearly been built to last. A true thoroughbred and a great investment.

Weekend Wines

Top White

2019 Misha’s Vineyard Lyric Riesling, Central Otago, $30

A perfectly poised riesling with lime/citrus and apricot blossom flavours and a suggestion of oyster shell. A hint of sweetness (4 g/l) balances the fruity acidity to give the wine a welcome tension. Moderately intense and deliciously drinkable now.

Top Red 

2018 Forrest Cabernet Merlot Cabernet Franc, Hawke’s Bay, $35

A “limited edition” red made from grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Intensely aromatic wine with cassis, blackberry, anise/liquorice and spicy French oak flavours. A delicious thread of acidity adds energy and vibrance. A serious red at a friendly price.

NZ wines with a recommended retail price of $100 or more, tasted in the five years to 20 Nov 2020 

2017 Akarua The Siren Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $110

2016 Amisfield RKV Reserve Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $120

2013 Batch Winery Thomas Legacy Syrah, Waiheke Island, $100

2013 Batch Winery Thomas Legacy Cabernet Merlot Franc, Waiheke Island, $120

2016 Bell Hill Chardonnay, North Canterbury, $125

2016 Bell Hill Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, $125

2015 Bilancia La Collina Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $120

2016 Church Road Tom Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, $150

2015 Church Road Tom Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $220

2015 Church Road Tom Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, Hawke's Bay, $220

2018 Clearview Endeavour Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, $175

2016 Clearview The Basket Press, Hawke's Bay, $175

2016 Craggy Range Sophia, Hawke's Bay, $140

2016 Craggy Range The Quarry, Hawke's Bay, $150

2018 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $150

2019 Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $150

2019 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, $150

2014 Crown Range Grant Taylor Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $172.50

2015 Destiny Bay Destinae, Waiheke Island, $170

2015 Destiny Bay Mystae, Waiheke Island, $330

2015 Destiny Bay Magna Praemia, Waiheke Island, $550

2018 Dry River Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $100

2015 Elephant Hill Airvata Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $120

2015 Elephant Hill Hieronymus, Hawke's Bay, $120

2018 Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $115

2016 Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces, Hawke's Bay, $160

2017 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $109

2018 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $109

2015 Frenchmans Hill Estate Blood Creek 8, Waiheke Island, $125

2015 Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $120

2016 Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir,Central Otago, $100

2013 Gibbston Valley Blanc de Blancs, Central Otago, $110

2013 Gibbston Valley Méthode Traditionnelle Rosé, Central Otago, $110

2018 Greystone Erin's Chardonnay, North Canterbury, $101

2018 Greystone Thomas Brothers Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, $101

2018 Kusuda Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $100

2018 Kusuda Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Martinborough, 375ml, $105

2013 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Reserve Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $225

2014 Messenger Le Ménage à Trois Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, Auckland, $125

2013 Mills Reef Arthur Edmund Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $350

2013 Mills Reef Arthur Edmund, Hawke's Bay, $350 

2015 Mt Difficulty Single Vineyard Mansons Farm Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $110

2015 Mt Difficulty Single Vineyard Long Gully Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $110

2017 Mudbrick Francesca Chardonnay, Waiheke Island, $120

2015 Mudbrick Vineyard Velvet, Waiheke Island, $140

2013 No 1 Family Estate Adèle Cuvée, Marlborough, $240

2015 Paritua 21:12 Twenty-one Twelve, Hawke's Bay, $130

2010 Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir, Waipara, $120

2017 Prophet's Rock Cuvée Aux Antipodes Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $118

2014 Prophet's Rock Retrospect Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $140

2014 Puriri Hills Harmonie du Soir, Clevedon, $110

2014 Puriri Hills Pope, Clevedon, $195

2018 Pyramid Valley Field of Fire Chardonnay, North Canterbury, $125

2018 Pyramid Valley Lion's Tooth Chardonnay, North Canterbury, $125

2018 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, $125

2018 Pyramid Valley Earth Smoke Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, $125

2015 Quartz Reef Franz Ferdinand Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $120

2017 Quartz Reef Otto Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $120

2010 Quartz Reef Late Disgorged Méthode Vintage, Central Otago, $125

2016 Rock Ferry Mid Hill Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $125

2014 Seresin Sun & Moon Pinot Noir, Marlborough, $129.99

2015 Soho Zabeel, Waiheke Island, $138

2013 Squawking Magpie Platinum Merlot, Hawke's Bay, $100

2013 Squawking Magpie Platinum Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $100

2013 Squawking Magpie Platinum Cabernets, Hawke's Bay, $100

2014 Stonecroft Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $100

2018 Stonecroft The Original Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $150

2019 Tantalus Cachette Reserve Chardonnay, Waiheke Island, $105

2016 Te Awanga Estate Trademark Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $110

2018 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawke's Bay, $115

2015 Te Motu, Waiheke Island, $140

2018 Tony Bish Zen Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, $140

         Trinity Hill 12-year-old Tawny Port, Hawke's Bay, $250

2018 Trinity Hill Prison Block Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawke's Bay, $120

2018 Trinity Hill L’Eritage Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $120

2018 Trinity Hill Homage Syrah, Hawke's Bay, $150

2016 Vidal Anthony Joseph 1888 Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay, $120

2014 Villa Maria Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawke's Bay, $150

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