If there’s one thing about wine that we all want to know, it’s surely, “What should I buy?” There are plenty of qood quality wines, so I like to highlight those that also offer above-average value. When choosing the two Best Buys of the Year, I look for widely available wines – one white, one red – that offer simply irresistible value.
BEST WHITE WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Mud House Waipara Valley Riesling 2016
Offering terrific value, this is a distinctly medium style of Riesling, with loads of drink-young charm. Attractively scented, it has strong, vibrant, citrusy flavours, hints of passionfruit and ginger, and mouth-watering acidity. Rieslings of excellent, four-star quality typically sell in the $20 to $25 category, so at under $15, this is a steal.
Past vintages of Mud House Waipara Valley Riesling, a wine with a long, impressive track record in competitions, were priced at $20. So when I tasted the 2016 vintage ($14.99), I jotted down: ‘Unusually rich for a sub-$15 wine – check the price.’ When the lower price was confirmed, I added: ‘Great value.’
Others agree. Judges at the 2017 Royal New Zealand Easter Show Wine Awards gave the wine a silver medal, while Cuisine awarded it a four-star rating and Best Buy status.
The quality of the Mud House Riesling reflects the superb growing season in Waipara. As the region’s most famous producer, Pegasus Bay, put it: ‘If the rest of New Zealand had half the vintage we had, 2016 will surely go down as one of the crackers of the last 20 years.’ A warm spring was followed by a hot summer and long, dry autumn.
For Mud House winemaker Cleighten Cornelius, the Indian summer created the opportunity for ‘a sweet change of tack’. As the berries grew riper and riper, boosting their natural grape sugar levels, one option was to harvest swiftly, to make a drier style of Riesling. Instead, the decision was made to leave the fruit on the vines, in pursuit of a richer, sweeter wine, with greater personality.
The grapes were estate-grown in the Deans and The Mound vineyards at Waipara, planted in gravelly loams overlying alluvial sub-soils. At the winery, the fruit was pressed gently, and part of the blend was given six to 12 hours’ skin contact, ‘to enhance varietal character and add structure and depth’. The juice was then cool-fermented with selected yeasts in stainless steel tanks.
Harbouring 28 grams per litre of residual sugar, this is clearly a ‘medium’ style, rather than the medium-dry style of Riesling most common in New Zealand. ‘The shift towards a sweeter style is something we have been toying with for a while,’ says Cornelius. He believes the higher level of sweetness ‘raises the volume of the mouthfeel, but the wine is not overtly sweet and retains its dry finish’.
It’s currently hard to resist, but Mud House suggests the wine can also be cellared for up to five years, to develop toasty, bottle-aged complexities. At Mud House Restaurant & Café, they like to serve it with ‘feasts like juicy barbecue chicken and fresh, crunchy vegetables with an aromatic Thai dressing.
BEST RED WINE BUY OF THE YEAR
Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
Pinot Noir is our most popular and fashionable red-wine variety, but the best buys are Merlot-based. This wine is frequently a steal – the 2010, 2013 and 2014 vintages all ranked among this country’s finest red-wine bargains.
Now comes the irresistible 2015. Already delicious, but still unfolding, it’s a blend of Merlot (75 per cent), Cabernet Sauvignon (18 per cent) and Malbec (7 per cent). Deeply coloured, mouthfilling, vibrantly fruity and supple, it offers excellent density of ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, with a long, finely poised finish. A refined, savoury, age-worthy red, likely to be at its best from 2019 onwards, it’s as classy as many producers’ $40 reds.
If you shop around, you won’t even have to pay $19.99 – several online retailers are offering it at $16.99 to $17.99. ‘We were quite taken with this wine at our Vidal tasting with winemaker Hugh Crichton,’ reports Christchurch-based Vino Fino, ‘but we were absolutely blown away by the fact you can get a wine of this quality at this kind of price. Wow!’ Wine critics have been equally enthusiastic, including Raymond Chan (18.5/20 and *****), Cameron Douglas (91/100) and Sam Kim (93/100).
From a cooler growing season than 2014, but warmer than 2013, the 2015 Hawke’s Bay reds are generally very good, especially the blends of the two classic Bordeaux varieties, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. After a damp early autumn but favourably dry summer, Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers singled out Merlot as the red-wine ‘standout’.
Grown on free-draining, low-vigour sites in the Gimblett Gravels, the grapes for the Vidal Reserve red were harvested in early to mid-April. The wine was matured for 16 months in French oak barrels (24 per cent new), before bottling on 1 November 2016. After deciding not to produce the estate’s most prestigious, $70 reds, branded Vidal Legacy, in 2015, the wines tentatively earmarked for that label were all declassified into the Vidal Reserve Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon.
A dense but smooth red, Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 is already delicious, but should mature gracefully over the next five years. Enjoy it with hard cheeses, lamb and beef.
OTHER SHORT-LISTED WINES
Gunn Estate Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 (, $17)
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 (, $18)
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Dry Riesling 2016 (, $18)
Delegat Awatere Valley Pinot Noir 2016 (, $25)
Te Kairanga Runholder Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015 (, $29)