Cuisine - - CHAMPAGNE $100 & UNDER -

The qual­ity of New Zealand sweet wines is on the rise, with one re­gion – and one win­ery – dom­i­nat­ing the field, says JOHN SAKER.

IN A REL­A­TIVELY short time, the New Zealand sweet wine cat­e­gory has moved from of­fer­ing far too many “sweet nothings” gs” to a good num­ber of “sweet some­thing spe­cials”. Qual­ity is on the up, and this year ar saw that mo­men­tum be­ing main­tained, with nine wines out of the 36 en­tered be­ing awarded four stars or more. One re­gion dom­i­nated the field, and par­tic­u­larly one win­ery from that re­gion. Cen­tral Otago’s Mt Dif­fi­culty is emerg­ing as one of the coun­try’s stand­out pro­duc­ers of a wine style that is not easy to get right, but is pure nec­tar when that hap­pens.


Those wines of­fer­ing an out­stand­ing mix of qual­ity and price are awarded Best Buy sta­tus. Price points dif­fer, de­pend­ing on the va­ri­etal, but if you see the Best Buy sticker you can rest as­sured you’re get­ting a great wine at an ex­cel­lent price. Look out for the sticker on wine bot­tles at all good wine re­tail­ers.


The sparkling wine and Cham­pagne tast­ing panel also tasted NZ sweet wines. 1 TOP NZ SWEET WINE Mt Dif­fi­culty Sin­gle Vine­yard Long Gully No­ble Ries­ling 2014 (Cen­tral Otago)

-3 $35 375ml ★★★★★

THIS WINE SHONE out like a bea­con. It ex­hibits gor­geous sweet pu­rity and a struc­ture that shows off the glo­ries of its fruit to per­fec­tion. Lus­cious fruit laced with honey, mar­malade, gin­ger and laven­der notes flows cream­ily to a suc­cu­lent fin­ish. Fine acid­ity sup­plies the nec­es­sary def­i­ni­tion. Have it with a lovely, soft gor­gonzola dolce.


The ries­ling stars aligned in the 2014 vin­tage for Mt Dif­fi­culty wine­maker and general man­ager Matt Dicey. “It was a year when there was a clar­ity and pre­ci­sion to the wines that we re­ally en­joyed,” says Dicey. In ad­di­tion, a Fe­bru­ary rain event tripped off botry­tis in­fec­tion in some of the 22-year-old ries­ling vines in the Long Gully vine­yard, which abuts the Kawa­rau River in Ban­nock­burn. “That’s not some­thing we get every year down here, but when we do it pays div­i­dends,” he says. “The no­ble styles are not the eas­i­est

wines to make, but I en­joy the chal­lenges and watch­ing them come through.” In years that are free from botry­tis, Dicey likes to make a sweet late-har­vest ries­ling us­ing Long Gully fruit. “Both styles have that beau­ti­ful acid­ity and the pu­rity that comes with Cen­tral Otago fruit.” Lake Chal­ice Sweet Beak Late Har­vest Ries­ling 2015 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★★ -3 $20 375ml Now owned by Saint Clair, the Lake Chal­ice brand has a strong his­tory in pro­duc­ing qual­ity sweet wines from its Ra­paura vine­yards. This is a leaner style of sweet wine, with an el­e­gant, min­er­ally fruit pres­ence swathed in tex­tu­ral soft­ness. “Ter­rific bal­ance,” noted John Belsham. Mt Dif­fi­culty Sin­gle Vine­yard Long Gully No­ble Ries­ling 2015 (Cen­tral Otago)

★★★★★ -4 $35 375ml Mt Dif­fi­culty scores a five star double with its Long Gully no­ble ries­ling. This one is every bit as se­duc­tive as the 2014 – rich, clean and suc­cu­lent. Honey, peach and can­died cit­rus flavours em­brace the palate, and the finely honed acid­ity is per­fectly pitched. A beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple crafted by the ex­pe­ri­enced Matt Dicey. Villa Maria Cel­lar Se­lec­tion Late Har­vest Marl­bor­ough Ries­ling 2015 ★★★★★

-2 $18 375ml Golden in the glass, this is a fas­ci­nat­ing wine. It has some off-cen­tre notes (the Ital­ians might call them sprez­zatura) which con­trib­ute in­trigue. Its be­guil­ingly lus­cious fruit, soft creamy tex­ture and well­judged acid/su­gar bal­ance all im­pressed the panel. Not a bad price, ei­ther. Hunter’s Huka­papa™ Dessert Ries­ling 2014 (Marl­bor­ough)

★★★★ -2 $24 375ml Huka­papa is Māori for ice or frost, and this de­light­ful ex­pres­sion was made from ries­ling juice con­cen­trated by freez­ing. Golden in colour, it has rich peach and tarte au citron-flavoured fruit beau­ti­fully bal­anced by fresh acid­ity. The tex­ture is gen­tly ca­ress­ing. An old­fash­ioned tri­fle would be a great match. Loop Rd. No­ble Ries­ling 2016 (Cen­tral Otago)

★★★★ -3 $32 375ml This is the first re­lease un­der the Loop Rd la­bel, a part of the Quartz Reef fam­ily. De­li­cious hon­eyed apri­cot notes come through on a palate with a vis­cous, fleshy tex­ture. “Fi­nesse and con­cen­tra­tion with beau­ti­ful length,” noted John Belsham. We rec­om­mend pair­ing it with bread and but­ter pud­ding. Mt Dif­fi­culty Grow­ers Se­ries Sin­gle Vine­yard Sil­ver Tus­sock Tin­wald Burn No­ble Ries­ling 2016 (Cen­tral Otago)

★★★★ -2 $70 750ml One Off Sticky One Oh One No­ble Gewurz­traminer 2016 (Hawke’s Bay)

★★★★ -2 $24.95 375ml Pere­grine Char­coal Creek Ries­ling 2015 (Cen­tral Otago)

★★★★ -2 $35 375ml

“The key to pro­duc­ing great sweet wines is to seam­lessly bal­ance the heady aro­mas with in­tense sweet­ness of fruit, com­plex flavours and lively acid­ity. Nat­u­ral ad­van­tage is the wine­maker’s friend in this pur­suit, and there­fore not sur­pris­ingly, South Is­land-grown ries­lings have ex­celled in this tast­ing.” JOHN BELSHAM

TAST­ING NOTES ★★★★★ out­stand­ing qual­ity ★★★★ ex­cel­lent qual­ity ★★★★ very good qual­ity (list­ings only) ★★★ qual­ity (web­site list­ings only) Drink now, don’t cel­lar Drink now or cel­lar for up to two years from now Not ready for drink­ing yet


All wines are tasted blind. If, af­ter dis­cus­sion, the tasters do not agree on a star rat­ing, the wine will re­ceive the rat­ing given by the ma­jor­ity but dis­sent­ing com­ments will be in­cluded in the wine notes. The scores of wine­maker judges can­not ex­ceed those of other judges.


All wines en­tered in Cui­sine tast­ings must be read­ily avail­able at the time of pub­li­ca­tion. How­ever, high de­mand and a six-week lead time be­tween tast­ings and pub­li­ca­tion can af­fect avail­abil­ity. If you can­not find the wines, con­tact the win­ery or dis­trib­u­tor di­rect.


Sup­pli­ers are asked to pro­vide a re­tail price range for all wines en­tered in tast­ings. Prices do vary be­tween vine­yard and low-to-high vol­ume out­lets and can­not, there­fore, be guar­an­teed. All prices are quoted in $NZ.


Look for th­ese top wines as your guar­an­tee of qual­ity. GOLD STICKER Dis­played by wines awarded five stars. BUR­GUNDY STICKER Dis­played by wines awarded 4 ½ and four stars.

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