Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

For those of you who regularly tune in to The Riesling Revolutionary, you will be familiar with me waxing lyrical about how I believe the Riesling grape is unrivalled in its ability to deliver a diversity of styles of white wine.

You won’t be surprised to hear therefore that I jumped at the chance to put this to the test at the New Zealand Wine Annual Trade Tasting at Lords back in January of this year in the form of the so-called Riesling Challenge.

By way of background, The Riesling Challenge was thought up by Neil Charles-Jones, the director of Mud House Wines in New Zealand. The concept involved Mud House Wines harvesting a load of grapes during the 2010 vintage and then sending 12 equal amounts to 12 of New Zealand’s most revered winemakers.

So, back in April 2010, The Riesling Challenge began when 48 tonnes of Riesling grapes were harvested by Mud House from one of their vineyards in the Waipara Valley and then delivered to the following 12 Kiwi based winemakers:

The winemakers were then left with the challenge of using their allotted 4 tonnes of grapes to make at least 250 cases of whatever style of Riesling they so wished – dry, medium, sweet, fermented in stainless steel or oak, you name it, they were allowed to do it.

By December 2010, all of the wines had been bottled and each of the 12 winemakers assembled to taste blind and score each other’s wines. After much lively discussion and deliberation, first prize went to Matt Donaldson of Pegasus Bay. Second place went to Matt Dicey and Mike Brown took third place.

Moving forward to 2012, I was quivering with excitement when I heard that attendees at the New Zealand Wine Annual Trade Tasting would have the chance to try the 12 Riesling Challenge wines. However, this time, it would be the attendees at the event casting their votes for their favourite Riesling, not the winemakers!

Arriving at the event, it didn’t take me long to track down the table in question, as I steadily worked my way through each of the 12 Rieslings.

The two wines that stood out for me, in particular, were those produced by Matt Donaldson and Larry McKenna. Looking back at my notes, I wrote that Donaldson’s wine was “off-dry, showing beautiful balance with firm citrus notes on the nose which develops into pineapple and tropical fruits on the palate. This winemaker has shown no fear”. For McKenna’s Riesling, I wrote that it was “off-dry, with honeysuckle and juicy green apple and a hint of pineapple on the palate and shows excellent balance and an impressive finish”.

In the end, 139 votes (including my own) were cast by the attendees and once again Matt Donaldson was crowned the victor. However, this time, first and second places went to Dr. John Forrest of Forrest Wines and Simon Waghorn of Astrolabe, respectively.

I later found out that Donaldson had freeze-concentrated his grapes to intensify flavours and sugars, a move that appears to have given him the edge over this competitors.

For me, the joy of this exercise was twofold. Firstly, it showed what an important role the winemaker plays in shaping the wine’s style. The variety between the 12 wines was a clear example of just how much the style of the finished wine can be dictated by decisions made by the winemaker during the fermentation and maturation processes. Secondly, it confirmed my belief that the Riesling grape lends itself wonderfully to being made in a number of different styles.

In that respect, as an aside, I was most interested to discover that 8 of the 12 wines were off-dry. Off-dry Riesling as a category is much misunderstood and, in my opinion, hugely underrated. So, it was great to see so many of the winemakers choosing to make their wines in this style. (I actually did a really cool tasting of sweet NZ Rieslings with the team at other day to great effect!)

Also, I have discovered that a few cases have been exported to us here in the UK. Tanners Wine Merchants appear to have a few cases still in stock (£119.99 for case of 12) so if you pick up a case be sure to let us know which of the 12 is your favourite!

Morning all! I just thought I would give you a quick update on my movements in the wine world.

I have recently teamed up with online wine retailer,, to help them launch Winedirect TV. A number of the larger wine retailers such as Majestic, Bibendum and Slurp are all using videos on their websites and on YouTube to good effect to engage with potential customers (and especially a younger generation of wine drinkers).

As wine geek and social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuk, has shown in the US (read more about Gary here), video reviews can be a very useful sales tool, as well as giving customers an opportunity to learn more about the wine they are thinking about buying from the comfort of their own homes.

So, the idea behind WinedirectTV - which will feature videos of myself and Winedirect’s Helen Tate – is to carry out wine reviews, winemaker interviews, give tips about wine regions and lots of other stuff. Essentially, the idea is to give potential customers a better idea of the wine they are considering buying by giving them informative and relevant information which is delivered in a fun and approachable manner.

Naturally, the first few videos that I shot for WinedirectTV were Rieslings, so over the coming weeks I will share these videos with you on The Riesling Revolutionary.

And what better way to get the ball rolling than with the 2008 Pegasus Bay Riesling from the Waipara growing region in New Zealand. This is a dry, complex white wine that really pushes the boundaries. I hope you enjoy the review! 

p.s. any feedback, good or bad, on my videos is very welcome! You can leave comments below or also on The Riesling Revolutionary’s Facebook page. Cheers!


REGION: Central Otago, New Zealand
VOLUME: 746 cases of Riesling (2011 vintage)
VARIETALS:  Riesling, PG, PN, Gewurz, SB

Misha’s Vineyard was founded in 2003 by Misha and Andy Wilkinson and is located in a magnificent spot on the edge of Lake Dunstan in Central Otago, New Zealand.

Central Otago is known as one of the top producing regions in New Zealand for Pinot Noir, but the high altitude of many of its vineyards and cool Continental climate also makes it very well suited to growing aromatic white varieties, such as Riesling.

Despite its relative youth, Misha’s Vineyard has already received its fair share of attention on the international wine circuit. For example, after only 4 vintages, Misha’s Vineyard was named one of the Top 20 New Zealand Producers in Decanter (Sept 2011 edn) and in May 2011, its 2010 Limelight Riesling was selected as one of the Top 100 Wines at the London Wine Fair.

Key to the success of Misha’s Vineyard has undoubtedly been the hard work of head winemaker, Olly Masters, who joined Misha’s Vineyard from the Ati Rangi winery in Martinborough. Since his arrival, Olly has helped Misha’s Vineyard establish itself as one of the most exciting producers in New Zealand.

So now that you’ve got a bit of background on the estate, let’s hear what Misha has to say about her winery, winemaking in New Zealand and Riesling:

TTR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
MW: It’s F.A.B F for Floral (or Fruity), A for Aromatic (& Adaptable) and B for Balanced (& Beautiful).

TTR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
MW: Central Otago is the most southerly wine producing region in the world and has New Zealand’s highest vineyards at 200-400 metres above sea level. It’s also the only region in New Zealand that has a Continental climate rather than a maritime climate. This means there is a large diurnal temperature range during the growing season with hot days (not above 30C) and cool nights which helps develop flavour complexity. The very low rainfall and low humidity means there is very low disease pressure.

Vineyards in the region are mostly planted on slopes by lakesides or deep river gorges with mostly glacial derived soils. These soils are quite unique as they contain heavy deposits of mica and metamorphic schists along with loess interspersed with gravels. The soils are free-draining with good minerality and scattered deposits of calcium carbonate but are generally low in organic matter which means low vigour in the vines. All of this makes it an ideal region to aromatic white varieties (and Pinot Noir which is the predominant variety grown).

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
MW: They are just different – and it’s not a case of just Old World vs. New World, it’s a case of every different vineyard site across the world expressing something unique to that site.

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
MW: All the winemakers who are able to create a Riesling that is perfectly balanced, truthfully expresses their vineyard site and who does it consistently year after year are the winemakers that earn the most respect. Olly Masters, our winemaker, describes his style as minimalist winemaking and he’s making our fabulous Rieslings.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
MW: I’m excited about all New Zealand producers – they are all “new producers” in the scheme of things since the first Sauvignon Blanc was made in the mid 1970s. Yet New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is acknowledged as a benchmark for this variety. It is also globally acknowledged as one of the few places able to producing world-class Pinot Noir and, now with aromatic white varieties, New Zealand is being hailed as one of the greatest places to make Riesling. All 700 producers in New Zealand should feel proud of these achievements as the reputation of the country (and its producers) far outweighs the actual volume of wine produced – i.e. less than 1% of the world’s wine!

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
MW: Cool climate varieties especially from our region get my vote most of the time – whether that be a Pinot Gris, a Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Noir. Of course it’s important to have a ‘global palate’ as well and we enjoy wines from some of our favourite wine regions in the world like: Margaret River (Australia), Tuscany & Piedmont (Italy), and Rhone & Burgundy (France).

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
MW: The greatest challenges are always to do with the weather conditions you experience during the season – we are farmers after all and every season brings its unique set of conditions. We have to react quickly to conditions and most importantly ensure our vines are carrying just the right crop load in order to have balanced vines that will deliver us great wines. The old adage is true that great wines are made in the vineyard. We are very fortunate at Misha’s Vineyard that we’re located on the slopes overlooking Lake Dunstan which means we don’t have a risk of frost at the beginning and end of the season (which is one of the biggest challenges in our region) but there are always other set-backs that the season can bring especially around the times of flowering and fruit-set.

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
MW: Reputation comes with time and we know it will take at least 20 years more to create a global reputation. We were lucky to have been named one of the Top 20 New Zealand Producers (Decanter UK) which was a huge honour and in May 2011 we were excited to have our 2010 Limelight Riesling selected as one of the Top 100 Wines at the London Wine Fair – the only wine selected from Central Otago. So things are going well so far and we’re looking forward to the next twenty years and what may happen along the way!

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
MW: Does it need to? It’s nice that it’s not too popular as a wine style as with that would bring commercialization and potentially a drop in quality! Riesling is recognized by wine lovers as one of the greatest grape varieties – isn’t that enough? Seriously, there are promotions like the Summer of Riesling which started in the US and is just about to start in New Zealand (January 2012). Those sorts of promotions are a great way of getting this variety noticed. The people with the most influence are sommeliers and restaurant owners – if they would only put good Rieslings on as a ‘by the glass’ and allow more experimentation of good Riesling instead of putting low quality Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs as their ‘by the glass’ offerings.

You can buy Misha’s Vineyard Limelight Riesling 2010 in the UK from

The wine featured in this video blog is the Doctors’ Riesling 2010 produced by Forrest Winery in Marlborough, New Zealand


REGION: Nelson, New Zealand
VARIETALS: 55% SB, 15% Chard, 15% PN, 6% PG, 3% Riesling 3%, 3% Other

It all started for Seifried Estate back in 1973 when Hermann Seifried, an Austrian native, and his New Zealander wife, Agnes, planted their first vineyard on the heavy clays of New Zealand’s Moutere Valley (which is between Nelson and Motueka).

Hermann and Agnes experienced their first harvest in 1976 and since then Hermann has earned a reputation as being a true pioneer in the South Island New Zealand wine industry. A good example of this is shown by the fact that Seifried Estate is Nelson’s first winery to achieve the Sustainable Winegrowing accreditation.

What is also great to see is that Seifried Estate seems to pride itself on being a family business and the passion that Hermann and Agnes have for their wines has clearly been passed on to their three children – son, Chris, and eldest daughter Heidi, head up the winemaking team and younger daughter Anna takes care of the sales and marketing side of the business.

Seifried Estate produces a number of Rieslings – the Nelson Riesling and Old Coach Road Rieslings are usually dry or just off dry and the Late Harvest Riesling and Sweet Agnes Riesling are predictably very sweet. Although Riesling actually only makes up 3% of the plantings at Seifried, the Sweet Agnes in particular is viewed by many as the jewel in Seifried’s crown.

The Sweet Agnes is an intensely sweet Riesling (200 g/l residual sugar) but is beautifully balanced thanks to the acidity generated by Nelson’s cool climate. Its undeniable quality has also been recognised here in the UK where it has won the title of best sweet wine producer in New Zealand at the Decanter World Wine Awards for the last five years!

Seifried Estate is one of my favourite Kiwi producers so I am really grateful to Hermann for agreeing to be the Producer of the Month for December – so let’s get his views on Riesling and how it figures at his winery:

TRR: How would you describe the Riesling grape in 3 words?
HS: Classical. Pure. Undervalued.

TRR: What makes your region so well suited to growing Riesling?
HS: Our high sunshine hours, diurnal temperature range, maritime climate, and soils all contribute to our special characters. We are able to develop and retain fine Riesling fruit characters and natural acidity, which produce textural wines with concentration and length.

TRR: Old World Riesling vs. New World Riesling – friends or foes?
HS: Friends! Definitely friends – Riesling can be handled in so many ways and certainly Old World and New World Riesling complement each other. To a wine lover, the fact that this grape is grown in so many different regions and handled in different ways is part of the appeal, mystery and intrigue of Riesling.

TRR: Which winemakers (past or present) have had the greatest influence on you?
HS: Coming from a European background and training, I guess our classic Rieslings from my home in Austria have guided me alongside many of those from Germany. Specifically our Sweet Agnes Riesling is a New World take on the famous German and Austrian Eisweins.

TRR: Which new producers are you excited by the most at the moment, and why?
HS: Many! It is great to see people getting so much pleasure out of handling this grape in their own specific site and style.

TRR: If you’re not drinking Riesling, what wine do you usually like to drink?
HS: Hmmm, a hard question. We tend to enjoy a range of wines from all corners of the globe – from Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, to Grüner Veltliners and Zweigelt.

TRR: What are the biggest challenges currently facing you as a winemaker?
HS: In terms of Riesling, we are all still waiting for the big return of interest and enthusiasm from the market in this variety. There are so many fabulous Riesling producers, but as a variety it is still so undervalued. 

TRR: Where do you see your winery in 20 years time?
HS: We are very much a family business. Agnes and I established our vineyards and winery in the early 1970s when there was no modern wine industry in the South Island of New Zealand and people believed grapes would fail here. The wine industry in this country has just come so far in the very short time since we planted our first vines.

Now we enjoy having all three of our ‘children’ working in the family business. We have expanded our Estate plantings significantly over the decades we have been growing and making wine. We believe there is a strong future for aromatic wines from New Zealand – slowly but surely the world is beginning to realise what fabulous Rieslings come from our part of the world.

TRR: How can Riesling improve its reputation on the world wine stage?
HS: Riesling producers must continue to make classy, pure and textured wines with a sense of place. If this is diluted down and commercialised the wines become more generic and loose their charm.

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