It's been a busy time in the world of wine reviewing over the past three months. Early indications suggest the 2023 vintage will be above average in quantity if not quality, in the South Island at least.
It will be another month or two before the first of the 2023 wines hit the shelves.
I have chosen a three-month window to optimise the chance that the wines are still available. I recommend using the very clever website wine-searcher.com if you are desperately seeking sauvignon (or any other wine for that matter).
I have tasted only 26 samples of sauvignon blanc in the past three months, which seems a bit light. The top wine was the absolutely delicious 2022 Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Elsa Sauvignon Blanc from the Margaret River region of Western Australia.
It's serious sauvignon, with white peach, nectarine, spicy French oak and oyster shell tones and a hint of feijoa – a taut, invigorating wine with mouth-watering acidity that gives it energy and a lingering finish.
It’s fairly pricey at $74.50, but makes a welcome change from the fruit-forward Marlborough style.
The 2022 Clos Henri Otira Glacial Stones Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough ($36) is a classy example of a wine that New Zealand does best, although in this case it was made by a Frenchman, Henri Bourgeois, who also produces top sauvignon blanc from the French region of Sancerre.
Clos Henri's is a tangy, refreshing sauvignon with gooseberry, pronounced oyster shell, green apple, blackcurrant bud and lime zest flavours. It has a pleasing texture and a crisp, dry and lingering finish.
I reviewed 42 chardonnays in three months and uncovered some real crackers. The one that hit top spot was the 2021 Craggy Range Les Beaux Cailloux Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay ($150). I hope I get a chance to taste this wine in another 3-4 years when it will be even more delicious.
Initially, it was more about texture than taste, but the flavours intensified as the wine sat in the glass. It took at least 10 minutes to open up and was even better when I tasted it 24 hours later.
It is a taut, high-energy chardonnay with lime/lemon, oyster shell/saline and subtle nutty lees and spicy oak flavours.
The second place-getter among those I tasted was the 2021 Fromm Clayvin Vineyard Chardonnay from Marlborough ($55). The quality is thanks in part to vine age and a great hillside vineyard site.
An intense, vibrant chardonnay with white peach, green apple, oyster shell, and spicy French oak flavours, it's taut and youthful with a mouth-watering backbone of bright acidity. It's accessible now but would benefit from a little bottle age.
One riesling stood out from the crowd. It was the intensely sweet 2022 Framingham Noble Riesling from Marlborough (375ml, $54.99), which is an absolute knockout and comes with my highest recommendation if you are looking for a truly noble dessert wine.
It is intense botrytised riesling with lime, dried apricot, mandarin, honey and spice tones and a vibrant backbone of juicy acidity that perfectly balances the wine’s sweetness. This is a great aperitif with plenty of power and purity.
If you are looking for a drier riesling with a delicious edginess, you can’t go past the 2018 Domaine Rewa Riesling from Central Otago ($35). It's a medium/dry riesling with hints of lime and white flowers and a suggestion of oyster shell. This wine has a perfect blend of sweetness and fruity acidity, which gives it ideal tension. It's deliciously accessible now – but no rush.
The top sparkling wine I have tasted in recent months is the Champagne Andre Clouet Rosé No.5 Brut NV ($77) – a bold, full-flavoured rosé champagne with pronounced fruit and floral flavours, including red-rose petals and potpourri, and baguette crust. It's a delicious wine in quite a mellow style with restrained acidity. I rate it a seriously good champagne.
A highly recommended local méthode sparkler with richness and character is the 2020 Clos Henri Solange Méthode Traditionnelle from Marlborough ($48). It's 100% pinot noir, with a rich, creamy texture and flavours that suggest bran biscuit, ginger and brioche. A crisp, dry, seamless and refreshing sparkling wine, it exhibits subtle fruit flavours supported by tangy acidity.
I have sniffed, slurped and spat over 60 different bottles of pinot noir during the past quarter and continue to be impressed by the quality of our best wines.
A clear winner was the 2021 Craggy Range Aroha Te Muna Pinot Noir from Martinborough ($170). It's a fragrant and floral pinot noir in which cassis, dark cherry, red rose and cacao nib are the dominant flavours right now, with many other more-subtle characters in support.
I love the enlivening acid and tannic structure, which gives the wine an exciting energy. Although it can certainly be appreciated now, this wine promises to develop even greater complexity with bottle age.
In second place is the 2021 Pyramid Valley Manata Pinot Noir from Central Otago ($65). Manata is a vineyard in Lowburn that was cultivated as a market garden for 150 years to produce soils that are high in organic matter.
This pinot noir is dense, rich and concentrated, with cassis, ripe plum and mocha flavours. It's seductive, accessible and tantalisingly complex wine with development potential.
New Zealand syrah is gaining an impressive international reputation that is well deserved if the following pair of wines are anything to go by.
The 2021 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah from Hawke’s Bay ($170) has an inky, intense colour and exhibits great aroma, depth and flavours which suggest cassis, dark-fleshed plum, dark chocolate, black pepper, violets and concentrated berries.
It's a powerful wine that is built for the long haul with an impressive structure of fine, ripe, powdery tannins that balance fruit sweetness. Although perhaps a little closed at this stage, it is full of promise.
Runner-up in quality but arguably a leader in terms of value is the 2021 Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Syrah, also from Hawke’s Bay ($40). It's deeply tinted and intense, with hints of cassis, ripe cherry/berry, pepper and cacao powder and a subtle floral influence.
This powerful, youthful wine cries out for a few more years' bottle age and a little aeration when first opened. It's serious syrah.