Monday, February 28, 2011

Top Ten Value-Packed New Zealand Wines

When I say Down Under, most people think Australia. But just across the Tasmania Sea lies a land filled with organic farms, fresh vegetables, and sheep. Lots of sheep. Oh yeah, and plenty of wine. Over the last 20 years, New Zealand has become a major player in the United States wine market. The Marlborough region produces some of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world, and Central Otago is Pinot Noir's home away from home. New Zealand is the mecca for fresh herbs and, let's not forget, sheep. Add their affinity for 'the barbie,' and you have yourself this week's post.

1. Forrest - 'The Doctors'' Riesling - Marlborough, New Zealand 2010 - $15
What do you get when you combine a molecular biologist, a doctor of medicine, and wine? A producer worthy of this week's top ten list. Doctors John and Brigid Forrest literally are Forrest wines of New Zealand. This artisan, hands-on, producer makes fabulous wines from the Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, and Waitaki Valley regions. Their Riesling comes from the Marlborough region, located on the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island.

While grapes were first planted in Marlborough in the late 1800's, it wasn't until the late 1900's that the region really took off. Much of the credit goes to the Sauvignon Blanc variety, which accounts for over 50% of the region's area under vine. Along with Sauv Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir show incredible potential in Marlborough, benefiting from the moderately warm days, cool nights, low rainfall, and bountiful sunshine.

'The Doctors'' Riesling is sweet, but the sugar is matched by a racy acidity. It displays citrus fruit aromas of lime and lemon, followed by stone fruit aromas of peaches and apricots. If you're looking for the perfect pairing to a spicy Asian dish, look no further. This is a great value at only $15.

2. Ra Nui - Pinot Gris - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $18
From Ra Nui, this eco-friendly, quality conscious producer of New Zealand wines believes that "the wine is in the grape," so they focus their attention on the vineyards. According to their website,"Grapes are hand picked in the vineyard and transported direct to the winery. At the winery further hand selection takes place discarding any unwanted fruit before transferring to the press. We then further ensure that we retain all purity of texture and flavour by whole bunch pressing for all white wines in order to minimise skin contact resulting in juice with fine texture and maximum flavour. We see ourselves as “guardians” of the grape and adopt a low key non interventionist approach to our winemaking."

The Ra Nui Pinot Gris is Alsatian in style displaying aromas of pear, peach, and spice. It's slightly off-dry with a weighter style, making it perfect for soft cheeses, fried fish, and grilled chicken, especially with a little added spice.

3. Nobilo - 'Regional Collection' Sauvignon Blanc - New Zealand 2010 - $14
New Zealand wines have seen a spike in popularity in the new millennium, and recently they've received lots of attention from industry critics who insist their Sauvignon Blancs are the best in the world. This new popularity has resulted in a number of wines doubling, if not tripling, in price in the last decade. I agree the wines are fabulous, but I liked them better at half the price. The value may not be quite as outlandish as it once was, but you can still get some bang for your buck if you know what you're looking for. In 2005 Nobilo's Regional Selection Sauvignon Blanc was a steal at $10, today it's still a good value at $14.

Nobilo was founded in 1943, by Nikola Nobilo. The winery was sold to Australian wine group BRL Hardy in 2000, which was later acquired by Constellation Brands in 2003 and sold again in 2011 to CHAMP. Today they are the second largest producer of New Zealand wines, and their 'Regional Collection' Sauvignon Blanc is a great value. Its typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, displaying citrus characteristics of grapefruit, lemon, and lime. It has a mouthwatering high acidity that showcases quintessential New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Try this wine with vegetarian dishes (including meals made using wine's arch nemesis Asparagus), pork, and seafood salads.

4. Tablelands - 'Single Vineyard' Sauvignon Blanc - Martinborough, New Zealand 2010 - $15
With this next top tenner we head north to Martinborough to check out the refreshing whites by Tablelands. As I mentioned, in the 1990's New Zealand exploded onto the wine scene with incredible Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough. However within the last decade, new regions like Martinborough have begun crafting high-quality, distinctive Sauvignon Blancs.

Martinborough, just a stones throw across the Cook Strait from Marlborough, is the most important sub-region in the greater Wellington region, located on New Zealand's North Island. While the region is best known for producing world-class Pinot Noir, Tablelands has proven that it's capable of so much more. Their Sauvignon Blanc combines the calling card citrus and grapefruit characteristics often affiliated with New Zealand Sauv Blanc, with a wonderful Sancerre-like grassiness. Try this wine with salads, stuffed peppers, and chicken or seafood with a heavy hand of cilantro or other fresh herbs.

5. The Crossings - 'Unoaked' Chardonnay - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $16
The Crossings was founded in the late 1990's by a group of wine lovers who realized the remarkable characteristics of the Marlborough region on New Zealand's South Island. Their first release was in 2001, and today their state-of-the-art winery produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in the region. The wine that made this top ten list was their 'Unoaked' Chardonnay.

Today many producers are marketing their wines as unoaked or “tree free” as the bulk wine producer Yellowtail puts it. Trends are shifting to this clean style over the splinter-in-the-mouth sensation you may get from wines that see a long time in new wood. Oak, however, shouldn't be written off as it is a key component in many quality wines. The flavors and textures imparted by it are often mellowed as a wine ages, making it essential for drink-later wines. This fresh, clean white produced by The Crossings Chardonnay is loaded with tree fruit aromas of green apple, stone fruit aromas of white peach, and citrus aromas of lime and lemon, and its racy acidity reminds the palate more of a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chardonnay. This wine makes for a great seafood partner. Think crab, oysters, scallops, shrimp, trout, or halibut.

6. Craggy Range - 'Kidnapper's Vineyard' Chardonnay - Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2009 - $20
This next value-packed Kiwi wine comes from the coastal Te Awanga sub-region, in the greater Hawkes Bay zone of New Zealand's North Island. Funny thing about Hawkes bay: it's as commonly spelled with an apostrophe as without. The name Craggy Range comes from a vineyard site discovered by co-founder Steve Smith. Overlooking the Craggy Mountain Range, Smith found a parcel of stony clay soils ideally suited for growing Chardonnay. Upon this discovery Smith approached international businessman and Craggy Range co-founder, Terry Peabody with the idea of producing wine from the site. The first Craggy Range wines were made in 1999 and came from small vineyards in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay. Over a decade later Craggy Range is considered one of New Zealand's finest producers.

The Craggy Range 'Kidnappers Vineyard' Chardonnay, named for the nearby Kidnappers Cape, is one of the finest Chards produced in the southern hemisphere. This wine displays tree fruit aromas and flavors of pear followed by citrus fruit characteristics of lemon and lime, along with a wonderful floral aroma. Pair this wine with lemon chicken dishes, seafood, and goose.

7. Goldschmidt - 'Goldschmidt Boulder Bank' Pinot Noir - Marlborough, New Zealand 2009 - $18
Moving into reds, this next one is a steal at $18. Goldschmidt is owned and operated by twenty-five-year veteran winemaker and New Zealand native, Nick Goldschmidt. Owner of Goldschmidt Vineyards in California, Nick returns to his New Zealand roots each year to showcase two of New Zealand's preeminent varietals: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

While Pinot Noir is better known in Martinborough and Central Otago, the Boulder Bank Pinot Noir by Goldschmidt shows Marlborough is so much more than just Sauvignon Blanc. The Boulder Bank Pinot Noir is spicy with red fruit aromas and flavors of red currant, raspberries, and cranberries, followed by stone fruit aromas of plum. Pair this wine with mushroom dishes and sauces, red sauce pasta dishes, and roasted game.

8. Martinborough - 'Russian Jack' Pinot Noir - Martinborough, New Zealand 2009 - $20
Across the Cook Strait in the Martinborough sub-region of Wellington on the North Island, this producer makes things a little confusing for the consumer because Martinborough is both the region and the winery. Martinborough Vineyard was founded in the 1980's by a group of six wine enthusiasts. It has a track record of consistent excellence, which most marvel at. At a national level, Martinborough Vineyard has won gold medals or better for every Pinot Noir they've produced since 1986.

The 2009 'Russian Jack' Pinot Noir received an 88-point rating from Wine Spectator, a remarkable feat for a $20 wine. With aromas and flavors of red fruit along with blueberries and spice, this one's a great partner for lean beef, pork loin, and lamb, especially when prepared on the grill.

9. Wild Rock - 'Cupid's Arrow' Pinot Noir - Central Otago, New Zealand 2007 - $20
Central Otago, located on New Zealand's South Island, is home to the highest elevation vineyards in the country, and is one of the southern most wine producing regions in the world. Wild Rock winery is a unique group of innovative, eco-friendly producers who just want to make really good wine at an affordable price. Their carefree attitude and extracurricular activities extend into their marketing efforts as they are the main wine sponsor for the surf company Billabong. The winery is distributed by Kobrand, a large wine and spirits group which represents producers like Louis Jadot, Cakebread, Taylor Fladgate, and Craggy Range. Wild Rock benefits from the resources of Craggy Range, including their winemaking team, vineyards, and marketing support.

Wild Rock claims that "Pinot Noir is the most feminine and romantic of all the grape varieties," so with that came the Cupid’s Arrow name. The 2007 Cupid's Arrow Pinot Noir displays aromas and flavors of Red currants, cherries, roses, mushrooms, and spice, and begs to be served with grilled meats (especially veal chops), mushroom dishes, and salmon.

10. Mills Reef - 'Reserve' Merlot/Malbec - Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 2008 - $20
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Mills Reef Merlot/Malbec from Hawkes Bay. Hawkes Bay is New Zealand's oldest wine region. When people think Hawkes Bay, they think rich, creamy, and complex Chardonnays and racy Sauvignon Blancs. And the last thing they think when they hear New Zealand is Malbec. Nevertheless, the varietal grows in a variety of places in the country, including Hawkes Bay.

The Mills Reef Winery was founded in 1989 by Paddy Preston. The "Mills" name is a reference to Paddy's great grandfather, Charles Mills, a sea captain who arrived in New Zealand from the U.K. in 1864. The "Reef" refers not only to the captain's keen eye at sea but also to Charles' efforts in the underground mines of New Zealand. The Mills Reef 'Reserve' Merlot/Malbec is a blend of 55% Merlot and 45% Malbec. This floral red displays dark fruit flavors and aromas of blackcurrant and blackberry, followed by stone fruit characteristics of plum. Pair this wine with steak (especially Filet Mignon), full-flavored cheeses, and roast duck.

New Zealand has no shortage of value-packed wine. This list gave insight into the country's wine industry as well as highlighted a few of my favorites. If there's a value-packed Kiwi wine you think should've made the list, leave a comment here, find me on Facebook, or shoot me an email.

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Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director