The cool, maritime climate and long sunshine hours in the South Pacific ensure that New Zealand white wines retain plenty of natural acidity. Although the most defining area of wine production in the country is Marlborough, where some of the best Sauvignon Blancs are famously made, there are plenty of good white wines to be found from other grapes and in other regions. But still, there’s no denying that Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has become among the best-known styles of wine in the world, thanks to characteristically ripe flavours of passionfruit and citrus, and occasionally pungent, greener aromas like peppers, tomato leaf, grass and even asparagus.
You’ll find a typically citrusy Sauvignon Blanc in the list below: IWSC judges were impressed by the te Pa Family Vineyards Signature Series Sauvignon Blanc 2021’s aromas of ‘golden apple and lemons zest, leading to rounded passionfruit and lime notes on the palate.’
Although it makes up 72 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production, Sauvignon Blanc isn’t the only grape in town. Other New Zealand white wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling are becoming more established, with Chardonnay in particular evolving from the heavily oaked style it was known for 30 years ago to wines that are fine and restrained, and offer good ageing potential. One such example is Trinity Hill’s 125 Chardonnay 2020, which scored 96 points from the IWSC for its ‘crisp, multi-layered palate’ and ‘beautiful balance of smoky, toasty oak over flavours of fleshy yellow and tropical fruits and a preserved lemon zip.’
Pinot Gris wines are fine here too, even though production has only been in place since the 1990s. New Zealand white wines made from the European grape are closer to Alsace than Italy in style – typically richer and more aromatic than Italian Pinot Grigio. In fact, a top-scoring New Zealand white wine in the below selection is Vilagradry’s Pinot Gris 2021, which scored an impressive 93 points for its ‘decadent ripe fruit character, brimming with notes of nectarine, melon, pineapple and mango.’
Rising-star styles like Riesling tend to err on the peachy side in New Zealand, with honeyed notes and a silky texture. One such wine is Silver Medal winner Spy Valley Envoy Johnson Riesling 2016, which judges praised as being ‘complex and medium-sweet’ with ‘juicy green apple and peach’ on the palate.
Although none appear on this top ten list, it’s important to note that plantings of Gewürztraminer, Arneis, Grüner Veltliner, Verdelho, Viognier and even Albariño are making progress on the island and perhaps you’ll see a bottle or two on next year’s selection from the IWSC. In the meantime, read on for ten top bottles of New Zealand white 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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