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.
CLARITY & PRECISION
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.
RECOMMENDED BY CUISINE STICKERS
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.