When most people think about New Zealand wine, their minds likely drift to Sauvignon Blanc. (Is there a pub, bar or restaurant in the UK that doesn’t have a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on the menu?) Its success has been staggering. But naturally, New Zealand produces a much more diverse range of wines, and its reds are becoming increasingly popular, and at a higher average price point.
There’s a lot to discover with New Zealand’s dominant red variety, Pinot Noir, with nearly 6,000 hectares planted across the country. But fuller-bodied reds like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot deserve to be shouted about too.
With vineyards protected by large mountain ranges, extensive variation between temperatures across the day and night, long sunshine hours and an impressively clean environment, conditions lend themselves to fabulously fruity wines that retain a lot of acidity. But more recently, regional diversity has emerged too. When it comes to Pinot Noir, you’ll find a savoury, Burgundian style in Martinborough, darker and more intense fruit in Central Otago, and fruit-driven lighter styles in Marlborough, for example.
It was Pinot Noir that impressed judges the most at the IWSC 2022, with the grape variety taking seven out of the eight top spots.
Syrah is the third most planted red variety in New Zealand. Digging into that a bit more, Pinot Noir accounts for 73%, with Syrah at just 6%. But as they say, it’s about quality not quantity. Take Church Road Grand Reserve Syrah 2019 from Hawke’s Bay, which scored 95 points and a Gold medal at the IWSC 2022 for its ‘divine velvety texture’ and ‘superb flavours,’ with a finish that is ‘smooth and gorgeously long with a delightfully sticky twist.’
Moving over to South Island and the cool climate, high-sunshine Waihopai Valley in the Southern Valleys in Marlborough with Marisco Vineyard’s The Ned Pinot Noir 2020, which also scored 95 points and a Gold medal. Judges described it as a ‘refined example with extraordinary concentration,’ and said the ‘tannins and acidity are masterfully balanced.’ Staying in the Southern Valleys with two more high achievers: the ‘powerful and energetic’ Delta Estate Wines Hatters Hill Pinot Noir 2021 scored 91 points and a Silver medal; and Spy Valley Pinot Noir 2020 scored 90 points and a Silver medal with its ‘aromatic red fruits… bright acidity and silky tannins.’
Martinborough, the most southern Wairarapa sub-region on the North Island is renowned for producing highly-acclaimed Pinot Noirs. The cool, dry climate and free-draining soil leads to highly-concentrated, small berries that display an elegant character. This is shown in Craggy Range Single Vineyard Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2020 which scored 91 points and a Silver medal with its ‘lovely fruit concentration’.
Read on for more details on the eight top bottles of New Zealand red wine as tasted and rated by the experts.
HOW DO WE JUDGE THESE WINES?
We run a tightly structured, rigorous wine tasting process. That means that each wine sample is pre-poured into numbered glasses and assessed blindly by the judges. Most importantly, our IWSC wine judges are experts in their field, who work across all sectors of the wine industry. For evidence, see our full list of judges.
HOW DO WE SCORE THESE WINES?
Only the best wines sampled receive a Gold or Silver award. For example, to win Gold, wines have to score between 95 and 100 points. Meanwhile, Silver wines range from 90 to 94 points. Click here to read more on our scoring system.
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