Kiwi Magic: 29 standout New Zealand wines

Kiwi Magic: 29 standout New Zealand wines

New Zealand is famous for its sauvignon blancs. Now it’s wowing the world with pinot noirs

(Illustration: Brian Rea) 

You can’t help but admire New Zealand’s vintners. In the span of a generation, the country went from having a marginal wine industry to being a top producer. In 1975, a tin hut winery called Matua Valley entered N.Z.’s first sauvignon blanc into a competition in Auckland. The intense blend of green and tropical flavours caught the attention of local growers, who soon transformed Marlborough’s sheep pastures into vineyards. By the early ’90s, sauv blanc had become the focus of an industry and government plan to export clean, green and “expensive-but-worth-it” wine—a script Ontario, a similarly small, cool-climate market, would be wise to copy. It’s been an enormous commercial success.

As global markets expand, Kiwi-style sauvignons are showing up in France, Chile, South Africa and Canada, but N.Z. vintners aren’t panicking. They continue to hone sauvignon blanc, developing smaller sub-regions—like the Awatere Valley of Marlborough—to create more nuanced wine, and they’ve begun to diversify. Cool-climate pinot noir has become its red messiah, with such regions as Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough achieving global success. In fact, British wine writer Matthew Jukes was so inspired he created an unofficial five-tier ranking system for N.Z. pinots, as they use in France—a bit gimmicky, perhaps, but it underscores the excitement the pinots are generating. There are also excellent chardonnays and Bordeaux-style reds from the warmer North Island. Other varieties on the cusp include syrah, pinotage and riesling. Here are some excellent (90 point plus) wines, along with some less expensive picks.

Rippon 2007 Pinot Noir
$54.95 | Central Otago | 95 points
Heady, seamless wines like this one are catapulting Otago onto the list of the world’s great pinot noir zones. Using grapes from a 24-year-old biodynamically farmed site on the shores of Lake Wanaka, the Rippon features perfectly pitched sour cherry, coniferous forest, smoke and rare roast beef aromas. The palate is effortlessly elegant, and the finish has a beguiling touch of minerality from the gravel soils. Vintages. LCBO 92676


Craggy Range 2007 Chardonnay
Gimblett Gravels Vineyard
$34.55 | Hawkes Bay | 92 points
New Zealand isn’t yet known for its chardonnay, so the LCBO recently reduced the price, making this bottle a bargain. It’s maturing well, with great acid and minerality. Complex toasted almond, poached pear and vanilla yogurt aromas follow through to an outstanding length. Vintages. LCBO 132043

Kapuka 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
$14.95 | Marlborough | 90 points
To best appreciate the youthful vibrancy of New Zealand sauvignon, always buy from the youngest vintage. Kapuka’s bright version offers harmonized passion fruit, green pepper and a fresh forest quality, perhaps picking up the scent of the nearby coniferous kapuka tree for which it is named. LCBO 163576

Matua Valley 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$15.95 | Hawkes Bay | 88 points
From the winery that bottled N.Z.’s first sauvignon, this new general listing is reminiscent of French sancerre. Piquant aromas of green pepper, nettle, lime and avocado carry well from nose to finish. It’s mid-weight and more compact than many New Zealand wines. Try with smoked salmon. LCBO 619452

Millton 2007 Opou Vineyard Chardonnay
$22.95 | Gisborne | 91 points
James Millton pioneered biodynamic wine on his vineyard in Gisborne in 1984; today he’s the country’s top green producer. This is a classic chardonnay with subtly integrated peach, spice, smoke and buttercup aromas. Firm and well balanced, with excellent length, it’s a great match for grilled poultry. Vintages. LCBO 92478

Villa Maria 2008 Clifford Bay Reserve Sauvignon Blanc
$35.95 | Marlborough | 92 points
The cool climate of the Awatere Valley, a sub-zone of Marlborough, helps draw out riveting aromas of lime, nettle, green beans, pear and flint. It’s a powerful but linear sauvignon with a taut centre and focused finish. Order by the half-case at

Craggy Range 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
Old Renwick Vineyard
$25.95 | Marlborough | 93 points
A refined sauvignon blanc from a single vineyard in the heart of Marlborough, the Craggy Range has a lifted, piquant nose of grapefruit, lime, tangerine and nettle, with underlying passion fruit. It’s mid-weight, taut and elegant, with juicy acidity and some stony minerality on the finish. Excellent to outstanding length. Vintages In Store Discovery. LCBO 142588

Greywacke Vineyards 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
$21.95 | Marlborough | 89 points
An intense, solid sauvignon, the Greywacke is loaded with guava, gooseberry jam, lemon peel and fennel aromas. Medium-weight, dense and powerful, with the sourish finish typical of Marlborough wines. Vintages. LCBO 164228

Jackson Estate 2009 Stich Sauvignon Blanc
$20.95 | Marlborough | 89 points
Jackson Estate’s sauv blanc sports a ripe, sweetish nose of guava jam and tangerine, with green and black pepper notes. It’s smooth, creamy and a touch sweet, yet braced by terrific acidity (thanks to the cooler 2009 growing season). All the fruit and herbal nuances stay well focused, with some lemon-lime character on the slightly hot finish.

Matua Valley 2008 Shingle Peak Sauvignon Blanc
$19.95 | Marlborough | 88 points
This is a bright, squeaky clean, slightly sweet sauvignon that captures all the tropical passion fruit, grapefruit and celery-herbal character of the genre. It’s medium weight, edgy and tart, with a hot finish. Very good to excellent length. Chill well. Vintages May 29 release. LCBO 309591

Staete Landt 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
$27.50 | Marlborough | 90 points
There is a lightly spicy, smoky undercurrent due to oak aging of 15 per cent of the wine. Otherwise, you can expect typical sauvignon aromas of green nettle, lemon grass and gooseberry jam. It’s medium weight, with crisp acidity yet slightly creamy texture. A very restrained, elegant wine, with a warm, grapefruity finish and excellent length. Available in six-bottle cases from



Felton Road 2008 Pinot Noir
$69.95 | Central Otago | 96 points
Arguably N.Z.’s leading pinot producer, Felton delivers a masterpiece. The intense nose has cherry-currant, anise, dusty earthiness, fresh herbs and conifers. There’s great lucidity, acidity and tension on the palate; the flavours never waver and continue to an outstanding length. Age about three years. By the six-bottle case from

Auntsfield 2008 Hawk Hill Pinot Noir
$32 | Marlborough | 92 points
Hawk Hill is selected from the best blocks of hillside vineyards at what is purportedly New Zealand’s oldest winery site, established in 1873. Today, Auntsfield has been re-founded by the Crowley family. This is a terrific Marlborough pinot: ripe, with classic raspberry scents reminiscent of wines from the Russian River in California. The oaking was handled beautifully, and there’s a generous and perfectly ripened nose of lavender. It’s mid-weight, smooth and well supported by fine acidity and tannin. It should age well, but it’s delicious now. LCBO 694877

Jackson Estate 2008 Vintage Widow Pinot Noir
$34.95 | Marlborough | 90 points
From the hot 2008 vintage, this shows a powerful and very ripe nose of woodsmoke, dried cranberry, toast and vanilla—as though it’s ready to bust out. It’s medium-full and lavish on the palate, with a sour, vaguely volatile edge, fine tannin and excellent length. Chocolate and smoke are nicely integrated with the fruit on the finish. Best 2012 to 2014.

Lake Chalice 2008 Pinot Noir
$19.95 | Marlborough | 88 points
This has lots of character for $20, though it’s a bit ragged and sour overall. Very intense nose of rhubarb, sour cherry, light woodsmoke, cinnamon and roasted red peppers. It’s mid-weight and a bit tannic. Excellent length. Vintages. LCBO 163964

Matua Valley 2008 Shingle Peak Pinot Noir
$19.95 | New Zealand | 87 points
Sourced from vineyards in different regions, this wine carries New Zealand as the appellation instead of an individual region. It has a sweetish, confected nose of vanilla, strawberry-raspberry Jell-O, and a hint of mint and woodsmoke; nicely supple, fresh and juicy. Tart acidity makes it an easygoing pinot. Drink lightly chilled. Vintages, May 29. LCBO 32441

Rimu Grove Bronte 2007 Pinot Noir
$25 | Nelson | 87 points
From the Bronte Peninsula, which juts into the tidal Waimea Estuary, these vineyards have a cool maritime climate but sit in a warmer bowl that delivers more ripeness than I expected from a Nelson pinot. This deeply coloured pinot has a lifted, sweet, almost floral nose of raspberry, cinnamon and vanilla. It’s medium weight, rounded, sweet and warm, with a hot edge. LCBO 159871

Seifried Estate Pinot Noir
$19.95 | Nelson | 87 points
Seifried Estate is the largest winery in the maritime Nelson region. This is a pale garnet-brick pinot, with a lifted, mature nose of woodsmoke-forest scents, tea and dried raspberry-cherry fruit. It’s light bodied, fairly smooth and warm on the palate, with some bitterness on the finish. Quite woodsy, so try it with herb-crusted pork or chicken. Vintages. LCBO 707778

Staete Landt 2007 Pinot Noir
$43.50 | Marlborough | 93 points
This fine effort tilts to a traditional style, with all kinds of complexity: cran-raspberry, dried earth, forest notes, light oak toast, even a touch of leather. It’s light to mid-weight, very sleek, with a sour edge and fine tannin. Powers straight through to outstanding length, with a touch of heat on the finish. Best now to 2015. Decant it for an hour or two.

Tatty Bogler 2006 Pinot Noir
$32.95 | Otago | 91 points
Named after the Scottish term for “scarecrow,” the Tatty Bogler is a lightweight, tense and lively young pinot with cran-cherry, currant, dried herbs, balsam, wet stone, and well-integrated oak on the nose. It’s firm, edgy and tart, with fine tannin and excellent length. It reminds me of Ontario’s better pinots.

Villa Maria 2007 Private Bin Pinot Noir
$19.95 | Marlborough | 87 points
This new general listing shows the characteristic cran-raspberry jam flavours of Marlborough pinot, framed by some oak smoke, char and a peppery note. It’s mid-weight, fleshy and juicy, with generous flavours if not classic, taut pinot structure. A touch sweet and hot; very good length. LCBO 146548

Voss Estate 2008 Pinot Noir
$35.95 | Martinborough | 90 points
This deeply coloured pinot has a lovely, lifted nose of raspberry and cherry with touches of earth, menthol, coffee and juniper. It’s mid-weight, firm and well structured; quite tannic and warm. Excellent length. A couple of years of aging will help smooth it out. Best 2012 to 2017.

Waimea Estates 2008 Takutai Pinot Noir
$21.70 | Nelson | 88 points
The cool, stony-soiled maritime region of Nelson often delivers lighter, fragrant and taut pinot noirs. Waimea Estates’ pinot has a lovely nose of cherry jam, mint, wood spice and toasty notes. It’s mid-weight, fairly supple, silky and smooth on the mid-palate, with fine tannin and a toasty, bitter coffee finish. Good to very good length. It’s a charmer, but give it a year in bottle.


C.J. Pask 2007 Gimblett Road Merlot
$17.95 | Hawkes Bay | 87 points
Winemaker Kate Radburnd has been making elegant, accessible merlots at Pask for almost two decades. This one catches fairly generous sweet, slightly floral raspberry, mocha and tarry notes with an underlying herbal tea edge on the finish. Very good length. Vintages. LCBO 9134

Newton Forrest Estate Cornerstone 2005 Cabernet Merlot Malbec
$ 37.95 | Hawkes Bay | 90 points
This blends cab sauv, merlot and malbec from a prime site in the Gimblett Gravels area. There is a lifted sweet, oaky sheen with ripe blackberry fruit, tea, minerality and coconut—a pretty, sensuous nose. It’s medium weight, taut and a bit sour, with considerable tannic grip. Excellent length.

Craggy Range 2007 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Te Kahu
$29.95 | Hawkes Bay | 92 points
Cool New Zealand isn’t known for making rich Bordeaux-style blends. But a small patch of old riverbed—the Gimblett Gravels—has provided perfectly ripened fruit, which Craggy Range has sculpted into a beautifully dense red. Steeped in blackberry-blueberry flavours, with classic savoury notes, it has impressive concentration. Vintages. LCBO 163584


C.J. Pask 2007 Gimblett Road Syrah
$18.95 | Hawkes Bay | 89 points
This is mid-weight, perfectly ripe and poised, with lifted violet, blueberry–dark cherry, with some woodsmoke and licorice character. While it’s definitely not as rich and jammy as Aussie or South American versions, it is generous and nicely balanced, with firm acidity and moderate tannin. Very good length. Needs to age two years; should keep through 2016. Vintages. LCBO 163998

Tinpot Hut 2007 Syrah
$28.95 | Hawkes Bay | 89 points
There is a generous topping of smoky, chocolaty oak here, but a great nose catches all the peppery, smoked meat, chocolate and briny character associated with “cool climate” syrah from the northern Rhône valley of France. It’s mid-weight, supple and a touch sweet, but very fine, as well. Very fine tannin, very good to excellent length. Available by the half-case from


Soljans 2008 Pinotage
$18.25 | Gisborne | 87 points
Growing the signature grape of South Africa, Soljans has produced a rare N.Z. red. The wine displays pinotage’s controversial rugged and tannic character along with redcurrant and roast beef. Try with steak tartare. Glen-Ward Wines, 416-488-7860.


Wild Rock 2007 Gravel Pit Merlot Malbec
$16.95 | Hawkes Bay | 88 points
Wild Rock’s deeply hued red blend has a ripe if muddled nose, with blackberry-cherry, faint herbs and vanilla. It’s smooth, warm and tannic, with decent depth of fruit for the price. Vintages. LCBO 163600

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