10 Great New Zealand Wines to Enjoy in 2017

New Zealand will always be that dream country everybody talks about in the pub after the fifth beer upon realising in what kind of shithole they live in. It stands by its lonesome self in the Pacific Ocean and stretches for 1,600 km from sub-tropical Northland to the world’s most southerly grape growing region Central Otago. It’s a country that’s not too cold and not too hot and it’s famous for iconic wines, LOTR scenery and nice job opportunities. Do you really need anything else?

On the 16th of January, just one day before Liberty Wines’ APT 2017, I attended the exciting Great New Zealand Wine Tasting held at Lindley Hall, London. If the wine flowed for one more day, I swear I’d put “attended a wine marathon” in my CV. At this event, 90+ wineries came to present their best selections, mainly led by Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir, but with some special gems as well (holla to the fans of Viognier & Malbec). I also had the honour to meet my lifelong wine hero Oz Clarke, totally unexpectedly while sniffing the same sparkling wine and chatting with the producer about it. Yes, selfies were made.

My top 10 picks are obviously dominated by reds because after tasting 50 Sauvignon Blancs, the white game plan became kind of monotonous so it was essential to switch it up at the right time. In general, it’s pretty easy to find most of these bottles, particularly if you live in a larger city, so I urge you to engage in the search, share your impressions and let me know if I got carried away with some the scores.

Trinity Hill Homage Syrah 2014
Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand

When swirling the glass, the humongous weight is immediately detected. Medium nose, going into elegant aromatics of blackcurrant, blueberry, dark chocolate, sage and graphite. Bone-dry with chewy tannins, rich texture, just the right level of acidity and a powerful core. Excellent balance, complexity and depth, but pretty overwhelming at this moment, so I hope I’ll be coming back to it in the near future. Nonetheless, this is probably New Zealand’s most striking Syrah and will comfortably stay that way for years to come. 95/100

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2015
Bannockburn, New Zealand

A €65 Pinot, now that’s something you have to stand behind with both feet on the ground, son. Felton Road does it beautifully with its vibrant aromatics of violets, sour cherry and raspberry pie and a slightly sweet spot on the palate, which is so creamy and vivacious, I want to spread it on my breakfast oatmeal. The Marilyn Monroe of New Zealand reds – elegant, gorgeous and iconic. Drink now or in the next 20 years. 94/100

Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2013
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

Again that Rhone style head-butting me in the nose – aromas of violets, blackcurrant, blackberry, white pepper, mocha with hints of earthiness in the background. Dry palate, showing huge generosity and strong oak influence, all elements to contribute to the loooong aging period. Yum-my. 93/100

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Wine Wizard of Oz Clarke

Esk Valley Estate Winemakers Reserve Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2013
Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand

A three-grape blend coming from the gravel soils of Hawke’s Bay. Huge nose driving towards plum, blueberry, dark chocolate and sour cherry. Stunning palate, attacking all the senses with its thick concentration and pronounced (but green) tannins. Too young now, so start drinking it next year for the next fifteen. 93/100

Tohu Rore Reserve Pinot Noir Awatere Valley 2013
Marlborough, New Zealand

A very elegant and floral Pinot with a soft and silky palate. Not an aggressive style, so if you’re just getting into understanding this grape variety or New Zealand reds in general, this is the way to go. Red fruit tones dominating all the way and finishing in a sea of fresh herbs and sweet oak. 92/100

Framingham Classic Riesling 2015
Marlborough, New Zealand

An off-dry crowd-pleaser attracting the drinker with a rich nose of ripe nectarine, lime/lemon juice, green apple and splashes of chalk in the background. Such a simple wine, yet so alluring for an absurd price of only €13! Mouth-watering acidity, a slight petroly character on the aftertaste and a very diverse food pairing capability. I’m coming back to this with a smile. 91/100

Cloudy Bay Chardonnay 2015
Marlborough, New Zealand

A textbook Chardonnay coming in with a huge price tag (€27), after which you think twice of buying it again. Medium nose reminiscent of mango, lychee, pineapple juice, ripe peach and cinnamon biscuits. It is a very well-balanced wine, which makes it easy-drinking and a good partner to various foods. Complexity stays in the borders of primary and secondary notes, so don’t expect a mind-blowing drinking window. Give it five more years of shelf life and see in which way it improves (or doesn’t). 91/100

Rod McDonald Trademark Syrah 2013
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

As we approach the lower scale of 90-point wines, ambitious price ranges can be noticed. This Syrah from the golden 2013 vintage is nice, but I’d spend some time judging its €42 worth. In the glass, the wine is without a doubt deep black with medium aromatics striving towards cooked plum, blackberry, cedar and hints of eucalyptus. It’s densely packed with tannins and rich fruit concentration, softening up in the finish, which is mainly dominated by baking spices and liquorice. 91/100

Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2015
Bannockburn, New Zealand

The Block 5 (a different vineyard position) didn’t have the complexity detected in the Block 3. Still, it’s very good Pinot, showing plenty of minerality, red fruit and roses on the nose and palate. Rich texture, full of polished tannins and a striking acidity. Pomegranate finish that lasts for some time. Interesting fact – both wines are aged for up to 18 months in French oak, with classical music playing non-stop in the barrel room. 91/100

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Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Marlborough, New Zealand

A Sauvignon Blanc coming from Kevin Judd, Cloudy Bay’s chief winemaker for over 25 years, now fully committed to his solo project. Pronounced five-star aromatics of freshly cut grass, green pepper, gooseberry and orange zest. Crisp and vibrant with such a pleasant acidity that makes me warm up inside. Long finish with bright tones of lemongrass, fennel and chalk prevailing. 90/100

Written by Aleksandar Draganić.

I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad

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