Awesome Aromatics from New Zealand

A seminar staged by New Zealand Wine looking at the aromatic varieties grown in New Zealand: riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris.  The speakers were Warren Adamson (from New Zealand Winegrowers), Dr John Forrest (Forrest Estate), Matt Thompson (Saint Clair Estate), Neil Hadley MW (Villa Maria Estate), Jeff Clarke (Montana Wines) and Anthony Mackenzie (Spy Valley)

Riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris have seen rapid growth in the last ten years: since 1996 pinot gris has shown the greatest increase (3,548%), reflecting the global growth in demand, going from virtually negligible plantings in 1996 to almost 800 hectares in 2007; riesling has increased from under 300 hectares to almost 900 hectares; while gewurztraminer has shown the slowest growth from around to 100 hectares to just under 300 hectares.

Much of this growth in riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot gris has been soaked up by Britain: 45% of all New Zealand aromatics are exported to the UK (compared that to the overall UK share of the New Zealand export market of 41%).  New Zealand exports of wine to the UK have increased by 101% in the last five years, but the export of aromatic varieties to the UK grew by 124%.  Most of the growth in UK sales has come from pinot gris: over the previous five-year period, pinot gris grew by 536%, riesling by 99% and gewurztraminer by 44%.

New Zealand Riesling
Although there were some plantings as long ago as the 1800s, it is only since the 1980s that large scale plantings of riesling have taken place, making it the third most popular white varietal planted in recent years. 
Riesling in New Zealand comes mainly from the South Island covers a wide variety of styles from the bone dry to the fully sweet and lush.  There are three main regions where riesling is produced, each with its own character: Nelson is the smallest region for riesling and its warmer climate produced wines characterised by the stonefruit and spice.  Waipara/Canterbury (a much larger region for riesling) produced rieslings marked by lemon/lime and spice characters, while Marlborough, the largest riesling-producing region in New Zealand, with its cooler climate makes riesling marked by green apple and citrus characters. 

There are only two main riesling clones in New Zealand, both German in origin: the differences in the resulting wines are down to terroir; and the experience in New Zealand, as elsewhere, has shown that riesling is a variety that expresses terroir very well.  Throughout careful canopy management is employed to keep yields low: yields are typically down to 6-8 tonnes per hectare in 2006, from 12 tonnes per hectare several years ago.  Some grapes are left on the vines to produce late harvest and, in the appropriate conditions, botrytised wines.  Fermentation is generally in stainless steel and over a long period, typically 30-40 days, and usually using cultivated yeasts.  Wines for short-term drinking are left in contact with the skins for varying periods, while wines intended to have greater elegance or better ageing capacity, undergo less or no skin contact.  Few New Zealand winemakers would add tartaric acid to riesling.

New Zealand Pinot Gris
The first serious plantings of pinot gris only started in the 1990s and since then pinot gris have proven to be very versatile in New Zealand: it is grown throughout on a range of soils, though it prefers clay-rich, low-vigour soils.  As you go south, the acidity increases, the aromatics become more obvious and the minerality increases, but, in contrast to riesling, viticulture and winemaking has a greater influence on the styles of the wines than terroir.

A range of pinot gris clones are used; generally they are closer to Alsace than to Italy.  Pinot gris in New Zealand requires very open trellising and is prone to erratic cropping.  Yields are typically around 4-5 tonnes per hectare.  Often part of the crop will be fermented in oak barrels and/or mature in oak on the lees.

New Zealand Gewurztraminer
New Zealand generally produces opulent gewurztraminers with relatively low acidity.  It performs well in both the warmer climates of Hawkes Bay and Gisborne (producing broader, more complex wines) and in the cooler South Island regions, where the wines tend to be more focussed and more aromatic.  But viticulture and winemaking also have a big impact on the style of the wines. 
The gewurztraminer clones in New Zealand come from Alsace and Germany and have a major part to play in the eventual style and flavours of the wine, more so than both riesling and pinot gris.  In New Zealand, gewurztraminer is notriosuly temperamental.  Yields are typically between four and six tonnes per hectare.


The Wines

2005 Riesling Brightwater, Nelson, Neudorf , 12%
The fruit for this wine comes from the Elmside Vineyard at Brightwater.  This has a light fresh nose with a certain chalkiness.  On the palate it’s fresh, but with a certain weight.  It feels to have a touch of residual sugar on the finish.  Very Good Indeed.  89/100

2004 Riesling, Marlborough, Coopers Creek, 12.5%
This is based on fruit from a new vineyard in Spring Creek on the Wairau Plains.  Quite a rich oily nose – quite fat and rich.  This is more citrussy than the Neudorf Brightwater, fresher and distinctly dry.  Very Good Indeed.  90/100

2005 Riesling, Waipara, Pegasus Bay
This has much more peachy, lime zest notes on the nose.  There’s more weight on the palate.  Quite a rich body on the palate with a nice style.  Very Good Indeed.  89/100

2002 Estate Dry Riesling, Marlborough, Forrest, 13%
An appley, creamy, petrol nose.  Nice balance on the palate, with very clean flavours.  Very pure and well-structured.  Very Good Indeed.  92/100

2005 Pinot Gris, Central Otago, Mount Difficulty, 14%
The grapes for this come from four vineyards in Bannockburn: Templars Hill, Long Gully, Bannockburn Bay and Ferris.  This has a gently spicy nose with strong mango fruit and a hint of thyme.  Apparently thyme – more specifically wild thyme – is a distinguishing feature of Otago pinot gris, so I was pleased to spot it.  The palate is rich, but very well balanced with a lovely spicy finish.  Very Good Indeed.  89/100

2005 Pinot Gris, Marlborough, Fairhall Downs Estate, 14%
This has a much more musky nose with more indistinct tropical fruit in comparison to the Mount Difficulty pinot gris.  It has riper, richer flavours, with a touch more minerality.  This is a nice wine, though it could possibly do with a bit more complexity.  Very, very spicy on the finish.  Very Good.  87/100

2005 Pinot Gris Black Label, Hawke’s Bay, Esk Valley Estate, 14%
This is a single vineyard wine from Laurie and Margaret Kaye’s vineyard in Eskdale in the north of Hawke’s Bay.  The nose is dry, musky and fairly minerally with some pear confectionery notes.  Lovely palate, with lots of depth, though possibly not the complexity to go with that.  Really rather rich and a bit oily-textured.  Noticeably heavy in the mouth.  Very Good.  88/100

2005 Pinot Gris Seddon Vineyard, Marlborough, Villa Maria Estate, 14%
The Seddon Vineyard is situated on an exposed terrace above the Awatere River in Marlborough: it is very windy, which reduces the vines’ vigour and hence the yields.  The wine has a light gentle, elegant nose with pear drops and quite floral.  Very rich attack, apparently with some residual sugar.  Very full on the palate, with some sweetness and lots of spice on the finish.  As it warms up and breathes a bit, it loses some of the finishing spices.  Flaunts itself a bit, but still Very Good Indeed.  90/100

2005 Gewurztraminer, Marlborough, Spy Valley, 14%
From the Johnson Estate vineyard.  A very attractive nose, laden with musky lychees.  Very restrained attack.  It then fills out nicely and it’s quite wide and broad on the palate, though possibly a bit simple.  Very Good.  88/100

2005 Reserve Gewurztraminer, East Coast, Montana
A very lovely integrated nose with a lovely richness and ripe tropical fruit with a musky veil.  Gorgeous attack: there’s ripe rich fruit with a lovely balance.  Really good on the palate, nicely broad and very clean.  Very Good Indeed/Excellent.  94/100

2003  Ormond Gewurztraminer, Gisborne, Vinoptima, 13.5%
Vinoptima is a single variety, 8 hectare vineyard estate created by owner and winemaker Nick Nobilo in Ormond, near Gisborne on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.  2003 was the first vintage.  This is modelled on an old world style with use of wood and ageing in bottle.  Rather curious nose with melon and honey, but on the palate it’s very much more of a classic style.  Very attractive mouthfeel with lovely balance, especially once it’s warmed up a little, having been served too cold initially.  It feels very Alsatian in style.  Very Good Indeed.  93/100


A number of small dishes, prepared by chefs from the Asia de Cuba restaurant in St Martin’s Lane in London, were offered to match the wines.

A scallop ceviche with mango was proposed as a match for the Neudorf Brightwater riesling.  This worked very well.  By comparison, both the Coopers Creek and Pegasus Bay rieslings were a bit rich for the scallop dish.

A tuna tartare with almonds, chillies, ginger juice, lime juice and a soy sauce dressing had no particularly striking matches.

A pineapple and avocado salad (some might call it a salsa, if it were served with something rather than on its own) was matched with the Esk Valley pinot gris, and worked fairly well.

Some confit duck, blended with plum sauce and served on crispy vegetables worked well with the Mount Difficulty pinot gris.

The Spy Valley gewurztraminer was a superb match with some watermelon curry, both the watermelon and the wine bringing something extra out in each other.

A Five-spice and coconut rum foie gras terrine on a lotus crisp worked well with the gewurztraminers, but especially with the Vinoptima Ormond gewurztraminer.

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Last updated: 09 July 2007