Aromatic Whites are New Zealand’s Secret Star


When you spend more than two weeks in a place you soak in a lot about it. Taste all the wine you want at home, but there’s simply no substitute for standing in the dirt where the wine is grown or for tasting it alongside those who shepherd it into existence. These things are certainly true of a recent trip I took to New Zealand, which saw me crisscrossing the country and spending time on the ground in several regions. What surprised me most of all about my time there is probably what will surprise most wine lovers. We’ve known about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a long time. The Pinot Noir has earned a reputation over the last decade as well. But what wasn’t obvious to me until I got to New Zealand was the dizzying array of top shelf aromatic whites.
Whether your interests fall to Riesling, Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Albariño, or even Grüner Veltliner, there are well-made examples to be had. Upon arriving in New Zealand I attended an Aromatics Symposium. I was duly impressed with numerous wines I sampled, but that was just the beginning. As I travelled the country over two and a half weeks I came across other terrific aromatics all over New Zealand. In warm, secluded Gisborne I had the opportunity to taste with Nick Nobilo and James Millton among others. Nobilo is incredibly dedicated to one variety, Gewürztraminer. Millton is leading the charge in biodynamic farming and producing reference quality Chenin Blanc and Viognier to name but two. In Marlborough Astrolabe’s Simon Waghorn is impressing with Pinot Gris, Albariño, and more. Central Otago is certainly best known for Pinot Noir but they also have folks like Duncan Forsyth at Mt. Edward who is producing remarkable Riesling.

The overall scope of New Zealand wine abounds with a diversity of flavors and styles. When you visit and experience the varying soil types, landscapes and climatic conditions it becomes apparent why they can successfully grow such a myriad of different grapes. There’s more than enough excellent Sauvignon Blanc to quench the world’s thirst, plenty of Pinot Noir to share and an awful lot of hearty reds comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah worth noting. But if you make the mistake of overlooking the aromatic white wines you’d be missing out on a category that New Zealand is nailing in regions throughout this diverse country. They’re under the radar now, but they won’t be forever. Here are some wines to seek out.

Askerne 2015 Viognier ($14)

This lovely Viognier shows off white peach and lychee on the nose. The somewhat weighty palate has a continuing array of stone fruits buttressed by a fine core of spices. Yellow melon, minerals and hints of toast are evident on the substantial finish. Viognier can often be extreme; either too gaudy or conversely too austere. Here’s a tasty example that wins the day by flying right down the middle.

Greenhough 2015 Hope Vineyard Riesling ($15)

Sometimes you taste a wine and you need a moment with it; this was one of those times. I tasted a handful of exciting examples of Riesling in New Zealand; this was as good as any of them and better than most. Bits of linseed oil and subtle yellow fruit inform the nose. The palate shows off granny smith and yellow delicious apple as well as white peach. Spices, minerals and wisps of lemon zest dot the prodigiously long finish. Most striking here is the wonderful tension between fruit and firm, zippy acid. If you love Riesling, find this bottle.

Terrace Edge 2016 Pinot Gris ($17)

Vanilla and apricot aromas lead the nose here. The palate is stuffed with Anjou pear, yellow peach and an array of spices. Good weight and restrained fruit steal the show here. Mineral notes lead the finish and crisp acid keeps everything in check.

Nautilus 2016 Pinot Gris ($20)

Orchard fruit aromatics are buoyed by spice notes. There’s a burst of pure fruit that dominates the palate; Anjou pear and white peach dominate. The unctuous finish is loaded with continued spices, more fruit and just a hint of mesquite honey. Mouthwatering acid provides structure.

Greywacke 2015 Pinot Gris ($20)

Hints of petrol peak out from the nose here. Candied lemon, spices and oodles of minerals are evident from the first sip through the long finish. Terrific structure, length and persistence of flavor throughout are hallmarks of this wonderful offering.

Coopers Creek 2015 SV Bell-Ringer Albariño ($20)

Of the myriad aromatic whites that are flourishing in New Zealand, Albariño is a particularly interesting case. It hasn’t been a traditional grape there, but it appears it’s about to have its moment. Winemakers I spend time with in several regions are confident it can flourish and offer a counterpoint to Sauvignon Blanc that retains some similarities and offers crossover food pairing possibilities. Wisps of jalapeno and petrol are evident on the fascinating nose. Pear and peach flavors dominate the palate along with bits of spice. A lovely salinity emerges on the above average finish.

Te Whare Ra 2016 SV5182 Gewürztraminer ($22)

An intense nose loaded with pineapple aromas leads things off here. The palate here has deeply layered flavors, but ultimately it’s light on the tongue offering a beautiful duality. Peach and apricot flavors dominate alongside wisps of toasted hazelnut. The lengthy finish has a bit of a honeyed edge to it and a dollop of spices.

Millton Vineyards & Winery 2015 Chenin Blanc ($22)

This fruit is from their Te Arai Vineyard. Lemon and lime zest are both evident on the nose along with hints of lychee. Apricot, pear and nutmeg spice are apparent on the palate. Salinity, continued spices and stone fruit flavors mark the memorable finish. Racy acid and a wonderful mouthfeel are two characteristics that set this Chenin Blanc apart. This is a lovely wine from a noteworthy producer.

Astrolabe 2016 Chenin Blanc ($24)

This Marlborough Chenin Blanc is a fine example of the variety. Lychee, vanilla, citrus zest and orchard fruits are all in play on the nose. The deeply layered palate shows off peach, apricot, granny smith apple and spice notes. Bits of lemon curd and a finely ground mineral component are both in play on the substantial finish. This is one of those wines it’s difficult to put down once you take a sip.

Mount Edward 2016 Riesling ($25)

“Jesus Drank Riesling,” that’s the motto at Mount Edward. The truth is I’m not sure if he did or not, but if it was as tasty and proportionate as what Mount Edward bottles, he surely would have. The nose here is loaded with lemon zest, hints of vanilla and subtle stone fruits. Flavors of grapefruit, peach, white pepper and more dominate the palate. The mineral laced finish is long, lingering and pure.

Spy Valley 2014 Envoy Johnson Vineyard Dry Riesling ($45)

This Riesling leads with an impressively expressive nose. Green papaya and white pepper are both in evidence. The weight palate shows off fleshy yellow melon, peach and a firm core of spices. Bits of flint, continuing spices and hints of lemon zest are all in play on the impressive finish.

Vinoptima 2004 Reserve Gewürztraminer ($56)

This library release showcases the age worthy nature of the wines Nick Nobilo is producing on his property in Gisborne. At 13 years old the color doesn’t belie the age one bit. From the first whiff to the last sip this Gewürztraminer is fresh, vibrant and alive. The welcoming nose is stuffed with apricot and lychee to name a few. The intense palate is deeply layered with wave after wave of intense fruit flavors. Bits of pineapple, spice and wisps of mesquite honey are evident on the impossibly long finish. This impeccably grown, produced and aged Gewürztraminer is made in a style that is opulent and lavish but never over the top. To describe this wine in another way, wow!

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  • Snooth User: smannion
    Hand of Snooth
    2121293 12

    Beautiful write-up Gabe!

    Mar 22, 2017 at 5:20 PM

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