The Nelson wine region may be one of the smallest in the country but it produces some of the most exciting, high quality wines New Zealand has to offer. Over the years Nelson winegrowers have produced many award winning and highly acclaimed world class wines that are exported around the globe.
The 2014 vintage was very kind to Nelson producers with new release aromatic wines delivering bright, clean, fresh flavours that exhibit the best each variety has to offer. Some of the most exciting wines are the newer varieties like Albarino and Gruner Veltliner, examples that were made from vines planted five or more years ago are now delivering flavours that were hinted at in earlier vintages; a little vine age and a wonderful growing season means great wines.
In the last few years we have seen sub-regions emerge in Nelson. While the Moutere Hills and Waimea Plains are long-established wine producing areas it is the coastal locales of Tasman and Kina that are emerging as the latest serious sub-region with names like Blackenbrook, Kina Beach, Kina Cliffs and Sea Level winning awards and being noticed in the market place. In fact Blackenbrook Wines, Kina Cliffs Vineyard and Sea level Wines have all won gold medals with their pinot gris’; Blackenbrook turned theirs into a trophy at the recent Bragato Wine Awards. A pretty good result for a small wine producing sub-region.
When it comes to sauvignon blanc Marlborough is by far New Zealand’s largest producing region and the sauvignon blanc made there is both unique and in huge demand from all quarters of the world. However I think while consumers in new markets can’t get enough of the bright, flavoursome Marlborough variety the sophisticated sauvignon blanc drinkers who enjoyed the style for so long are starting to look for styles of sauvignon blanc that have those same intense flavours but with slightly softer acidity and more complexity; that is where Nelson wines deliver the goods. Nelson made sauvignon blanc has riper acid profiles making it much easier to consume, there is none of that gut burning acidity, and produces bright yet refined flavours.
Nelson sauvignon blancs from the 2014 vintage are packed with delicious, ripe fruit flavours and have beautifully balanced ripe acidity. When grapes are harvested with the right level of natural sugar but with slightly unripe flavour profiles the wines tend to be very crisp with harsh acidity; in Nelson grapes tend to be harvested when they have ripe flavours too and that means the acidity is also ripe. The result is wines that make your mouth water rather than give you heartburn, a key difference between ripe and unripe acidity.
In recent years Nelson sauvignon blancs have been winning many gold medals and at the recent Bragato Wine Awards only four gold medals were awarded to sauvignon blancs and one was to Nelson’s Waimea Estates; a great achievement when you consider the number of wineries competing in this category.
Riesling is a variety capable of delivering a huge range of flavours, from flinty, bone dry examples to succulently sweet dessert wines and everything in between. There are two masters of sweet Riesling in this region, Andrew Greenhough at Greenhough Vineyards and Heidi Seifried at Seifried Estate. The Greenhough Apple Valley Riesling is lower alcohol in style but with bright clean flavours and beautifully balanced acidity so it doesn’t seem as sweet as it really is.
Seifried Estate Sweet Agnes Riesling is nectar of the Gods. Over the last six years or so it has been named as the world’s best sweet wine at the Decanter International Wine Awards in London no less than four times, three of those in consecutive years. Taking the award ahead of some of the world’s most famous dessert wines that cost hundreds of dollars a bottle this very classy dessert wine treat made right here in Nelson and it costs less than $40 a bottle.
Another style becoming very popular is rosé. This is made from red grape varieties but without the freshly crushed juice spending very long soaking in the grape skins. Most of the colour in red wine comes from the skins so with only a short soak time the colour is much lighter, resulting in a rosé wine. Rather than making rosé wine with some left over fruit Nelson winemakers have set out to make the very best wine they can. While producers like Woollaston Estates, Neudorf Vineyards, Kahurangi Estates, Waimea Estates and Blackenbrook Vineyard have been making a rosé for several years Aronui Wines and Brightwater Vineyards now have a rosé available.
In the case of Brightwater Vineyards they have produced their first rosé in 2014 and it has a little residual sugar giving the wine a luscious texture. It has also been awarded a gold medal at the first wine show it was entered into, not a bad start!
If you love chardonnay you know about the incredibly high standard Neudorf Vineyards set for the production of the variety, not just in Nelson but world-wide it is a benchmark many aim for. Tim & Judy Finn from Neudorf have shared the knowledge they have gained over the last 30 or so years to help producers in Nelson, and other regions around the country, make some of New Zealand’s finest chardonnays. Names like Brightwater Vineyards, Rimu Grove, Te Mania, Kahurangi Estate, Kina Beach, Seifried Estate and Waimea Estate are some producing very good examples locally.
The quality of chardonnay’s now being produced in New Zealand is such that it is not uncommon for a chardonnay to win a champion wine in show award, in fact Brightwater Vineyards won such an award a couple of years ago at the Royal Easter Wine Show and they have recently been awarded the Colin Harrison Memorial Trophy for Nelson’s best chardonnay with their 2012 Lord Rutherford Barrique Chardonnay at the annual Nelson Winegrowers dinner.
Current releases may not be from the 2014 vintage but there are some outstanding examples available.
As far as red wines are concerned the dominant variety in Nelson is pinot noir with most wineries in the region making it. Pinot noir is one variety that expresses its sense of place, or where it is grown. Central Otago wines tend to be rich, deep in colour and dominated by ripe fruit characters. In this region we find the variety expresses more rounded, savoury characters making them intriguing wines. The best examples have layers of flavour that entice you to want ‘just another glass please’.
Again Neudorf Vineyards have set the bar very high with the production of pinot noir and their Neudorf Vineyards Home Block Pinot Noir is always a five star wine and regarded as one of the best in New Zealand.
While many wineries close or reduce the opening hours of their cellar door outlets during the winter months at Labour Weekend they fling the doors wide open for the summer. During the last winter break Woollaston Estates expanded their cellar indoors seating area so even on not-so-nice days you can sit there and enjoy the stunning vineyard views while you enjoy a glass of wine and sample the treats from their also expanded cellar door tasting menu.
If you want fine dining close to Richmond on a Friday or Saturday evening (or any lunch time during the week) then the place to go is the restaurant at Waimea Estates. Again it has a lovely vineyard setting with food designed to match the wines.
This summer make sure you take some time out to visit Nelson wineries. Go to www.winenelson.co.nz and download the winery map, plan your day (or days) and get out there and enjoy yourself but remember New Zealand’s drink-drive rules change soon so make sure you have a sober driver.