There are 1368 grape varieties grown in commercial quantities, according to Wine Grapes, a 1242-page authoritative tome on the subject. Fifty-four of those grape varieties are grown in New Zealand. How many have you tasted?
I gave six friends a list of the 24 red grape varieties currently grown here and asked them to tick any they had tasted. On average, they mentioned just over five. That list, with the number of productive hectares each growing in 2021, was:
Pinot noir (5805 hectares)
Cabernet Sauvignon (207)
Cabernet franc (91)
Pinot Meunier (15)
All other reds (16)
Gamay noir (11)
Petit Verdot (8)
St Laurent (3)
Albany surprise (1)
Total: 7838.5 hectares
To encourage a little vinous promiscuity, I have chosen six moderately rare reds that are grown in this country and deserve to be more widely accepted. With any luck, you might discover a new favourite.
My list includes three wines from Marlborough producer Hans Herzog, who boasts 14 red and 12 white grape varieties in his vineyard, making it a one-stop shop for anyone willing to step out of their comfort zone.
Austria’s second-most-important grape variety after Zweigelt, it is popular in eastern Europe, where it is sometimes called the "pinot noir of the east”. An intense and often spicy red with a solid backbone of tannins, it makes gutsy wine.
Hans Herzog 2019 Blaufränkisch, Marlborough, $99
The Hans Herzog is NZ's first release of this prestigious Austrian grape variety. Only 500 bottles were made. This is a dense, intense red wine with tones of cassis, black tree fruits, mixed spices, fresh herbs, baked earth, brambles, and spicy oak. Rich and complex, with a backbone of ripe tannins and vibrant acidity, it should age well.
Gamay (gamay noir)
Widely grown in Beaujolais and France’s Loire Valley, gamay makes refreshingly fruity, high-acid wine – most notably Beaujolais nouveau. It's pinot noir for beginners.
Dicey 2021 Gamay, Central Otago, $42
Rich, dense, fruity wine that mimics pinot noir with its plum and dark cherry fruit flavours, although it lacks the complexity and power of pinot. This is a seductively accessible red for those who favour “fruit bomb” wines.
Easthope Family Winemakers 2020 Two Terraces Vineyard Gamay, Hawke’s Bay, $42
A serious Gamay that could easily be mistaken for a ripe, soft pinot noir, this is a delicately luscious wine with red cherry, violet and subtle spice/anise flavours.
This typically inky red with rustic tannins and spicy, plum-like flavours is a so-called Bordeaux variety that is famously grown widely in Argentina, where it produces heroically intense reds.
Fromm 2019 Fromm Vineyard, Malbec, Marlborough, $85
Dense, inky Malbec with cassis/dried berry fruits, dark chocolate, floral/violet and spicy oak flavours. An intense yet elegant red with good cellaring potential, it's a high-energy wine with an impressively lengthy finish.
Squawking Magpie 2019 SQM Malbec, Hawke’s Bay, $78
Intense malbec with cassis, dried berry, dark chocolate, vanilla, liquorice/anise, and spicy oak flavours. Generously proportioned wine that still retains drinkability thanks to a fine balancing act between fruit sweetness, gentle acidity and ripe tannins. Very impressive.
An Italian grape variety grown widely in central and southern Italy, where it makes full-flavoured, smooth-textured red wine.
Obsidian 2020 Reserve Montepulciano, Waiheke Island, $68
A deep, inky red with intense cassis, dark plum, dark cherry, and five-spice flavours. Sumptuous wine that envelopes the senses and offers a Christmas cake-like richness and complexity.
Beach House 2020 Montepulciano, Hawke’s Bay, $40
Dense, deep red wine with dark berry/cassis, brambles and anise/spice tones and a hint of black olive and wood smoke. A heroic red that is approachable now but needs time to reveal its full potential.
One of the world’s greatest red grape varieties, this produces high-quality, age-worthy reds when grown in Italy’s Piedmont region. Often described as tasting like “tar and roses”, it's pale in colour but has extraordinary underlying power and complexity.
Hans Herzog 2014 Nebbiolo, Marlborough $99
A rich, fleshy Nebbiolo with a mix of classic “tar and roses” character together with savoury forest floor flavours and spicy oak. A delicious wine with power and further potential.
Spain’s most prestigious and fourth-most-productive grape variety. It's the main grape in Rioja. Plum, violet and spice flavours are common features.
Hans Herzog 2017 Tempranillo, Marlborough, $64
Tangy, vibrant tempranillo with hints of raspberry, hedgerow, violet, cherry, fresh herbs and spice. Smooth-textured wine with energy and subtle power. Perhaps a touch too herbal?
Obsidian Estate 2020 Tempranillo, Waiheke, $47
Elegant, graceful wine with floral/violet, anise and spice flavours supported by peppery tannins which are nicely balanced by ripe fruit sweetness. This is a food-friendly wine with the potential to develop well with bottle age.