By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 21 October 2017
Riesling in New Zealand makes up just 1% of wine production, but it could have a great future if more winemakers focused on this grape.
A myriad of Riesling styles are produced here from crisp dry, medium dry to sweet dessert Auslese-style - and it is now the fourth most planted grape after Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.
Yet despite being planted since late C19 and with an influx of plantings since the 1980’s, there are still just 767 hectares of Riesling across the whole of New Zealand – completely overshadowed by Sauvignon Blanc’s 20,000 hectares.
After tasting from North to South Island, I identified three regions – all in South Island - which I felt stood out as having the best potential for Riesling.
Firstly Marlborough, the region with the highest number of sunshine hours (2400), which has the largest plantings of Riesling at just over 300 hectares. Here the Master of Riesling is Kevin Judd (pictured right) of Greywacke, based in Wairau Valley. When I tasted with him at his winery it was his off-dry and sweet Rieslings which I enjoyed most of his entire range. But Judd explained that making fine Riesling in New Zealand is a challenge.
“It is all about chasing ripeness for Riesling” says Judd. “You need to keep the crop level down, keep acidity down and be non-aggressive in the winemaking process”, he says.
When Riesling’s high levels of tartaric acid are tamed, Marlborough Rieslings can be deliciously zesty with prominent aromatics focusing on citrus fruits and spice. Rieslings here can also be a blend of fruit from both warmer Wairau and cooler southerly Awatere valley to balance ripeness levels, like Kim Crawford Marlborough Riesling.
The second region which really impressed me was Waipara - south of Marlborough and just north of Canterbury. Waipara has the second largest plantings of Riesling at 285 hectares – giving a slightly different cooler climate style with a steelier green apple and grapefruit flavour, quite similar to Otago’s Rieslings.
The best Waipara Rieslings are produced by the Donaldson family at Pegasus Bay winery (pictured above), who specialise in the grape making a fabulous range from late picked dry Del Canto to rich sweet Aria dessert Riesling with its botrytis influence which show good potential for ageing. “The key is to pick Riesling in ‘tries’ - going through the vineyard five or six times to ensure you get the best ripeness”, says Paul Donaldson (pictured right).
My third favourite Riesling region was Nelson. Just two hours drive west from Marlborough, this region is an undiscovered gem. There are just 40 hectares of Riesling planted in Nelson. Tim and Judy Finn (pictured right) at leading winery Neudorf make a very stylish limey stone-fruit flavoured dry style from Riesling grown in the Moutere hills. Their neighbour Seifried winery in Nelson make one of New Zealand’s most awarded wines, the fabulous mandarin and citrus flavoured dessert wine, Sweet Agnes Riesling.
New Zealand’s most southerly region, Otago, could have potential for Riesling – if more winemakers focused on this grape, a region dominated by Pinot Noir. There are now 77 hectares of Riesling here making quite steely vibrant racy styles – but Otago Rieslings can sometimes lack ripeness.
When it comes to North Island, the Riesling potential is limited. Apart from Martinborough just north of Wellington which has 30 hectares of Riesing, the regions to the north such as Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Auckland are just too warm for this cool climate grape.
With its racy aromatic style and zestiness, the dry Kiwi Rieslings can make superb matches with seafood and lightly spiced Thai cuisine.
Waipara: PEGASUS BAY RIESLING 2014 ***STAR BUY***
(13.5%; £16.99 Waitrose)
Beautifully balanced petrol and lime notes, full rich ripe flavours with a fine length.
Central Otago: EARTH’S END RIESLING 2015 Mount Edward
(12.5%; £13.50 Marks & Spencer)
Impressive example showing the steely zippy green apple style of Kiwi Riesling.
Marlborough: YEALAND ESTATE SINGLE VINEYARD RIESLING 2016
(12%; £13.95 Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh www.valvonacrolla.co.uk)
From New Zealand’s most coastal vineyard, Seaview; very zesty, vibrant, racy full citric and honeysuckle flavours.
Marlborough: GREYWACKE RIESLING 2014 ***STAR BUY***
(12%; £20-£24 Drinkmonger, Edinburgh; Lockett Bros, N Berwick; Fine Wine Co Musselburgh; Majestic Wine)
Very stylish and balanced: zippy citric fruit, gentle ripe notes in an off dry style; with a couple of years bottle age it can develop succulent honeyed notes.
Marlborough: TINPOT HUT TURNER VINEYARD RIESLING 2013
(11%; £15.99 Provender Brown; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow; NZ House of Wine)
Low in alcohol, but big in flavour with lime, mandarin and crisp apply flavours from Fiona Turner’s block in Blind River between Wairau and Awatere.
Marlborough: KIM CRAWFORD MARLBOROUGH DRY RIESLING 2015
(11%; £13.50 Villeneuve Wines, Edinburgh & Peebles; Fountainhall Wines, Aberdeen)
Citric, honey and ripe fruit notes in this blend of Wairau and Awatere fruit.
Nelson: SEIFRIED AGNES SWEET RIESLING 2016 ***STAR BUY***
(10.5%; £16.99 hf bt Waitrose)
Luscious concentration with mandarin, apricot and marmalade notes and vibrant acidity.
Join Rose’s Australia v New Zealand wine tasting in St Andrews; Friday 27 October £35 www.rosemurraybrown.com