Find and enjoy wines to match the winter season

In the depths of winter, it is only natural that we seek out wines to match the hearty, warming food we are dishing up. Traditionally, Pinot Noir and Merlot wines have matched well with such dishes.

Petane Station, in Napier’s Esk Valley, have produced a 2015 Merlot from grapes grown in the Havelock North area of Hawke’s Bay. Produced under the guidance of the expert wine maker Anthony Mackenzie, it was aged for 18 months in French oak.

A brooding, muscular wine, given a firm spine through the addition of 12 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon. The oak has given the wine some glorious mocha elements, while the excellent growing conditions of the vintage mean flavours and aromas of ripe black plum. A slight hint of dried herbs adds to the complexity. While this wine is currently drinking well, it will benefit from a few years in the cellar.

Mills Reef have been around for almost 30 years – a long time in the relatively new New Zealand wine industry, and are based near Tauranga, although all of their grapes come from their considerable plantings in the Hawke’s Bay.

Their most notable wine is the excellent ‘Elspeth’ range, which includes the 2016 Elspeth Merlot, grown in the Gimblett Gravels, whose stony soils and warm inland climate beautifully replicate the growing conditions of Bordeaux.

A single vineyard wine, this is poised, elegant and vigorous, with a lovely persistent smoothness. Still very youthful, it will cellar well for a number of years, but is already drinking very well.

Saint Clair Family Estate was established in Marlborough as long ago as 1978, and remain in family hands.

Saint Clair Family Estates 2016 Merlot Pioneer Block 17

One of their finest wines is the 2016 Pioneer Block 17 Merlot from their Plateau Block, also in the Gimblett Gravels.

An excellent all-round vintage, 2016 has produced a number of wines that are drinking beautifully right now, and this is certainly one of them.

Dense and ripe, with a lovely chocolate richness running through it and a Bordeaux-esque savoury finish of leather and spice. Moderate cellaring potential, but drinking very well now.

Moving both varieties and islands, we now move into the realms of South Island Pinot Noir. With the notable exception of the North Island Martinborough and Wairarapa regions, Pinot is now grown almost exclusively in the South Island, where the cooler weather allows them to develop elegance and structure.

Todd Stevens – Neudorf Vineyards winemaker, Rosie Finn and winery co-founder Tim Finn

Under the watchful eye of founders Tim and Judy Finn, Neudorf, from Moutere in the Nelson region, have, over the last 40 years, grown and flourished into perhaps one of New Zealand’s most iconic producers of Pinot Noir, making wines of great character and impressive pedigree.

The 2015 Moutere Pinot Noir is beautifully savoury and earthy, but with a vigour and youthfulness about it that suggests it may last for a long time in the cellar.

With fresh acidity and fine tannins, this wine opens up beautifully in the glass and is an absolute knockout match with roast venison.


Pegasus Bay, in North Canterbury, is consistently among the best produced wines anywhere in the country.

I have talked previously about Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury’s Waipara region. Another long established, family outfit, their wines are consistently among the best produced anywhere in the country.

The vineyard was founded by Ivan and Chris Donaldson, and is run almost exclusively by family members still.

Their 2014 Pinot Noir is exceptional, treated in the Burgundian way, with partial whole-bunch fermentation and gentle hand plunging, and then put into Burgundian oak barriques and cellared for 18 months.

Rich, intense and opulent, this wine has plum, cherry and berry fruit flavours in abundance, with a long, powerful weight and finish. I am running out of superlatives for the wines of Pegasus Bay, who seem incapable of putting a foot wrong, nor of producing a wine anything less than exceptional.

Further down the South Island is the Central Otago region, perhaps our best known Pinot producing region so far as the international market is concerned.

Rabbit Ranch is a young, energetic company, so it is only fitting they produce youthful, energetic wines.

Their 2016 Pinot Noir is fruit forward, lightly spiced and immensely drinkable. Made to be drunk while still young, it makes an appealing match with pulled pork or tuna steak.