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The 2020 Vineyard Register Snapshot lists the top five producing white grape varieties in descending order: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling and gewurztraminer. These make up fully 99% of white grape production in New Zealand, leaving a scant 1% for ‘‘others’’.
The red stats follow a similar pattern with pinot noir, merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and malbec comprising 98% of red grape production with just 2% for ‘‘others’’.
Winemaking is a business, so in reality these figures are no surprise. Grapegrowers and wineries grow varieties they see a demand for, which have proved successful in our climate.
With the world continuing to beat a path to our door for sauvignon blanc, and to a lesser extent pinot noir, these have become the flagships of our industry.
Behind those stark figures though, there are glimmers of diversity. Excluding the big five in each colour, the NZ Winegrowers Vineyard Register lists an additional 23 white and 18 red varieties along with a stat devoted to ‘‘all other whites/reds’’.
Many of the wines produced from these alternative varieties are in understandably limited volumes: winery cellar doors and mailing lists, along with specialist wine stores, are your best avenue for sourcing wines that will broaden your wine-drinking palette.
Locally (off the top of my head), Amisfield, Mt Difficulty, Mount Edward and The Lazy Dog all produce chenin blanc; Rippon, Mount Edward, Ceres and Sato grow gamay (the last also with cabernet franc and chenin blanc in the pipeline); Judge Rock is the flag-bearer for St Laurent; Rippon similarly for Osteiner, Quartz Reef for Grüner Veltliner, Carrick and Gibbston Valley for pinot blanc; while Terra Sancta dabble in Barbera, Dolcetto and Lagrein. Apologies for those I have missed.
Loire Valley native chenin blanc is a personal favourite with a small band of winemaker devotees dotted around the country. Not always easy to track down, but well worth the pursuit.
Te Arai Vineyard
Floral with comb honey, beeswax, quince and straw. Starts off honeyed, moving to a tighter, more structured palate flirting with sweet ‘n’ sour elements. With aeration, this moves into another gear growing in depth, weight and texture, adding pear cordial, sour worms, peapod and nectarine to the flavour spectrum. Fascinatingly different.
2019 Esk Valley
Rating: Very good
Attractive nose of dry hay, apple, fruit pastille, sweetly fragrant. A burst of flavour and sweet fruit, highlighting pear and apple, with hints of cut grass, and spices. A supple, almost oily mouthfeel here flowing to a fruit-driven close with citrussy lift. This tightens a little as it shows a little warm glow. I suspect the best lies ahead.
2019 Easthope Family Winegrowers
Struck match, apple, honey, a riper pineapple-like note. Dry and firm on first taste yet fleshes out quickly with notes of quince and straw appearing, framed with an attractive crispness. There’s elegance and understated power yet it remains light on its feet, and you’re left feeling that there is a lot more to come.