Fancy a glass of fiano? Or perhaps you’d rather a red, like a lagrein or an aptly named tannat? 

There are several thousand grape varieties worldwide. New Zealand has just 52 of them on its grapevine register. An impromptu survey of 10 wine drinkers revealed they could name, on average, just seven grape varieties and had tasted only four of those in the previous year. 

I am an excessively promiscuous wine drinker. I have written tasting notes on 111 different grape varieties and love to explore new tastes and textures in the wines that cross my tasting table. 

To encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and explore wine styles that may be new to you, I have selected 13 wines from 13 different grape varieties that are not “mainstream”. All have earned a good score from me in the past year. Each wine has a summary of characters to give you a style snapshot:

Red Wine

FB = Full bodied
MB = Medium bodied
LB = Light bodied
A = Fresh acidity
S = Soft acidity
Year range (eg 2020-30) = Can be enjoyed best in the period indicated.

White Wine

D = Dry
M/D = Medium-Dry
M = Medium
S = Sweet
A = Crisp acidity
S = Soft acidity

Red Wines

Church Road 2020 1 Single Vineyard Gimblett Gravels Malbec, Hawke's Bay, $90 

(FB, S, 2022-33)
Intense, inky, juicy malbec with tones of dark-fleshed plums, dried fruits and spices, chocolate mocha and liquorice. Big, bold blockbuster of a wine with generous proportions. Has underlying energy which makes it very drinkable and will probably help it to age well in bottle. 

Hans Herzog 2014 Nebbiolo, Marlborough, $105

(MB, A, 2022-33)
A rich, fleshy nebbiolo with a mix of classic “tar and roses” characters with savoury forest-floor flavours and spicy oak. Delicious wine with power and further potential. Nebbiolo is the grape of Barolo and Barbaresco from the north of Italy.

Hans Herzog 2019 Blaufränkisch, Marlborough, $99 

(FB, A, 2022-33)
New Zealand’s first release of this prestigious Austrian grape variety. Only 500 bottles were made. Dense, intense red wine with hints of cassis, black tree fruits, mixed spices, fresh herbs, baked earth, brambles, and spicy oak. Rich, complex wine with a backbone of ripe tannins and vibrant acidity. Should age well. 

Beach House 2019 Montepulciano, Hawke's Bay, $30 

(MB, S, 2022-27)
Reasonably intense, rich montepulciano with dark-fleshed plum, dark berry/cassis, violet and spice flavours supported by a backbone of firm, dry tannins. Good now but with an even more promising future. 

Black Barn 2020 Sangiovese, Hawke's Bay, $50 

(MB, A, 2022-30)
One of the best examples of New Zealand sangiovese that I have yet tasted. Delicately aromatic wine with an initial suggestion of attractive fruit sweetness balanced by savoury, bramble, stemmy characters to give a bone-dry finish. Should develop well with bottle age.

Forrest 2020 Lagrein, Marlborough, $35 

(MB, S, 2022-30)
Lagrein is a close relative of syrah and pinot noir. Grown in the Awatere Valley, this north-eastern Italian grape variety offers a robust alternative to pinot noir. Deeply tinted red with plum/prune, savoury/earthy, dark chocolate and leather flavours. An appealing red.

Dicey 2020 Gamay, Central Otago, $40

(LB, S, 2022-26)

Gamay is a pinot noir-like variety from the Beaujolais region of France. The Dicey 2020 is a light, fresh gamay with red cherry, plum, violet and savoury/fresh herb flavours. One of only seven New Zealand gamays I have tasted, and certainly one of the best. Soft-textured wine with a lingering finish. 

Muddy Water 2018 Pinotage, Waipara, $65 

(MB, S, 2022-25)
Pinotage is a South African-bred cross between pinot noir and cinsault. The pinot noir lineage is clearly evident, with plum, dark berry and spice supported by reasonably soft tannins. A very palatable curiosity. 

White Wines

Neudorf 2021 Rosie’s Block Moutere Albariño, Nelson, $33

(D, A, 2022-27)
Albariño is a Spanish/Portuguese grape variety with a great future in this country. The Rosie’s Block 2021 is a richly textured albariño with citrus/mandarin blossom, lime zest, saline/oyster shell and root ginger flavours supported by tangy, mouth-watering acidity. High-energy wine with a thread of exquisite sweet/sour tension. 

Black Estate 2019 Home Chenin Blanc, North Canterbury, $45

(D, A, 2022-30)
Rich, intense chenin blanc with green apple, ginger and toasted nut flavours and a dash of honey (although the wine is bone-dry). Impressively textural wine that is good now, best with food, but should develop very well with bottle age. 

Passage Rock 2020 Reserve Viognier, Waiheke Island, $50

(D. A, 2022-26)
Attractive, ripe viognier with hints of apricot, guava and spice/anise and a backbone of vibrant, mouth-watering acidity. Full-flavoured wine with exotic flavours. Very accessible now but has good cellaring potential. 

Blackenbrook 2021 Pinot Blanc, Nelson, $32 

(D, A, 2022-26)
This aromatic variety is a close relative of pinot gris and pinot noir with floral notes on the aroma and tree fruit and citrus characters more evident on the palate, together with vanilla, ginger and anise. Impressive purity. Made in a dryish style with a hint of phenolics on the finish.

Riverby Estate 2021 Grüner Veltliner, Marlborough, $23

(D, A, 2022-26)
Bright, fresh, aromatic grüner veltliner with citrus/lime, white pepper, green tea and subtle floral flavours. Crisp, dry wine supported by gentle acidity that promotes a refreshing finish. An impressive GV.

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