Tasting Panel – Emerging White Varietals

, from Issue #77. March 18, 2018
Tasting Panel – Emerging White Varietals

If your palate’s a little tired of its current white wine choices, look no further than the top 12 of Dish’s ever-so-exciting Emerging White Wines Tasting Panel.

Way back in the beginning of 2015 when we undertook our very first Emerging White Wines Tasting Panel, we had no idea how many different styles would be entered or which would claim victory.

Our top wines of the tasting revealed a real smorgasbord of results and it left us fizzing with excitement about what other experimental varieties would pop up in years to come. Three years down the track and we received the same number of entries (a crazy coincidence) and a new batch of big guns has emerged.

Our judges put the chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and gewürztraminer back in the rack and demanded to see wines like chenin blanc, verdelho, arneis, albariño, vermentino, viognier, grüner veltliner, petit manseng, marsanne, roussanne, müller thurgau, muscat, pinot blanc, semillon, sauvignon gris, würzer and even breidecker, baby. And it soon became clear there’s a healthy future for alternative white varieties that’ll support our mainstream wines and might even become market leaders on their own.

It wasn’t actually that long ago that pinot gris went from being “experimental” to a mainstream “must-sip” in the blink of an eye.

As Kiwis, we’ve been brought up on a modern diet of crisp, crunchy, punchy, fruity wines, yet our judges found some of these lesser-known varieties offer greater subtlety, texture and fabulous food friendliness – things we wine fans should definitely be embracing.

Our little antipodean paradise attracts people from all corners of the globe, why wouldn’t it be the same for grapes? This tasting proves we’re incredibly fortunate that vines from foreign climes are finding a truly happy home here. With this in mind, we felt the time was right to crack into this baffling array of new styles to find the best on offer.
Entries were dominated by equal amounts of albariño (a native of Spain) and grüner veltliner (the signature white wine of Austria), closely followed by viognier (from the Rhone Valley), chenin blanc (from the Loire) and healthy amounts of pinot blanc, sauvignon gris and semillon.

An exciting little ehrenfelser even entered the mix. But it was petit manseng (a little-known grape from south-west France that’s put roots down at Forrest Estate in Marlborough) that outswam the competition.

Our judges were completely seduced by its luxurious citrus intensity, aromatic freshness, exotic texture and luscious length. Champion among champions. We are in no doubt you’ll never have another “I’m so bored with my wine!” moment in front of the fridge with this delicious dozen to choose from.

Style/varietal: Emerging White Wines
Tasting date: February 9, 2018
Entries: 87

Yvonne Lorkin (Dish drinks writer)
Cameron Douglas (Master sommelier and lecturer at AUT)
James Rowan (Winemaker at West Brook Winery)

Rating System
Gold ★★★★★ – ​Superb. Strongly recommended.
Silver ★★★★ – A cut above the rest in quality.
Bronze ★★★ – A good quality crowd-pleaser.
Best buy – Wines which retail for $20 or less and earned 5 star and Gold medal status.
(NB: All wines are judged blind and the scores of judges for their own wines cannot exceed those of other judges.)


1. Forrest Estate
Marlborough Petit Manseng 2017 ($25)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

This is Dr John Forrest’s fifth vintage of petit manseng and it’s absolutely spectacular. “Gorgeous and golden in the glass,” said Yvonne, “I love the aromas of lanolin, toffee, dried herbs and its incredibly pure citrus character, natural sweet punchiness and marathon-like finish.” It came as a wow-moment to Cameron and James, who also commented on its tightrope-like structure an balance. “It has tightness and tension,” noted James, “plus great poise, presence and fleshiness.”

2. Waipara Hills, Soul
Waipara Valley Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($27.90)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

Our judges were seduced from the outset by this rare-as-hen’s-teeth wine from one of Waipara’s shining stars. Available only from the cellar door (worth the journey) this is a classically styled, mineral-driven example that’s juicy, refreshing and rocks succulent white fruits, according to Yvonne. Cameron discovered lemon and barley brightness in the mouth and James agreed, adding, “It’s a nicely formed and proportioned wine with a beautiful tropical/citrus character combo”.

3. Tinpot Hut McKee Vineyard
Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2016 ($25.50)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

Tinpot Hut’s owner and winemaker, Fiona Turner, began developing her vineyard in the Awatere Valley with husband Hamish back in 2005. Named after the historic landmark frequented by local high-country Marlborough musterers, this grüner boasts crunchy apple skin and peach notes, according to James. “It has a really fleshy texture and is really well made,” added Cameron. Yvonne enjoyed the soft yellow plum perfume, lemon verbena layers and its full, juicy mouthfeel and marathon-like finish.


4. Nautilus Estate
Marlborough Albariño 2017 ($29)

Gold Medal ★★★★★
“Just a stunning example of albariño,” said Yvonne. “With lifted white peach and pear and precise citrus at play, it’s like a fleshy, fruity party in your mouth.” James agreed this magical Marlborough-made albariño has serious plushness and staying power on the palate. “It’s a very interesting wine,” announced Cameron. “Crunchy, fresh and shows a hint of spice.”


5. Mt Difficulty
Long Gully Chenin Blanc 2016 ($30)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

The team at Mount Difficulty have truly mastered this feisty snapdragon of a grape, native to the Loire in France. “I love the aromas of candied fruits, manuka honey and exotic spices,” announced Yvonne. James added this wine had lovely lustre, “It’s a very balanced and correct wine with some gorgeous natural sweetness.” This elegantly built wine was also lush, fresh and crispy-textured on the finish – but you’d better be quick to try this beauty, it’s almost sold out.


6. Terrace Edge
Waipara Valley Albariño 2017 ($25)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

Clearly this Spanish grape thrives in the North Canterbury climes, because our judges were well and truly wowed. Cameron found nutty notes among the baked fruits and floral tones. “Its lovely citrus pith notes lead to an incredibly juicy, succulent, fruit-forward style that’s just fanging with personality,” erupted Yvonne, while James found a squeak of cox’s orange apple notes and a fresh, lively finish.

7. Amisfield
Central Otago Chenin Blanc 2017 ($30)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

Another cracker chenin blanc from Central Otago. “It’s got serious citrus bounce and pertness and it ripples across the palate with joie de vivre,” said James. Cameron agreed, noting its incredible purity, honeysuckle, yellow apple sweetness and enticing mouthfeel. Yvonne agreed, “Baked apple and stonefruit layers add personality to a deliciously dry finish.” Something missing in your wine life? Case closed.

8. Cable Bay
Waiheke Island Viognier 2017 ($34)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

“Quite a serious style with elements of intellect and intensity,” offered James. “Very well handled use of oak makes it beautifully balanced.” Yvonne was well and truly wooed by the lifted orange oil notes, jasmine perfume and its opulent yet acrobatic citrus silhouette in the mouth. That opulence wasn’t lost on Cameron either, “Fruit jube, lemonade and plumpness on the finish,” made this a star example.

9. Mudbrick Vineyard Reserve
Waiheke Island Viognier 2017 ($59)
Gold Medal ★★★★★

“I am completely in love with this wine!” announced Yvonne. “The jasmine overload, complex citrus, mixed peel and toasty oak notes – it’s a rock star.” It’s also another lipsmackingly lovely viognier from Waiheke Island. “Hugely expressive and fresh,” said Cameron, “with lovely acidity, a beautiful bouquet of apricots and bacony oak.” James loved the slippery, succulent texture of the wine and the upfront citrus burst.

10. Hihi Wines
Gisborne Albariño 2015 ($20)
Silver Medal ★★★★½ – BEST BUY

Andy Nimmo has been a tireless campaigner for Gisborne albariño since aeons ago, and his hard work can now be applauded. “I really like the layers of lucerne, pea hay and roast stonefruit,” noted Yvonne. “There’s a caramelised richness to the fruit and a crème brulee note in the mid-palate that makes this seriously sippable.” Cameron agreed the palate expressed a lovely transition from florals to citrus to minerality. James was impressed by the ripe rockmelon and fleshy lime layers on the finish.

11. Spade Oak, Heart of Gold
Gisborne Albariño 2016 ($20)
Silver Medal ★★★★½ – BEST BUY

This floral albariño reinforces Gisborne’s talent for turning out sensational versions of this Spanish staple. Crafted by grape-growing gurus Steve and Eileen Voysey, it’s a style that impressed James with its crunchy citrus and stonefruit notes and its drive on the finish. “Lean, clean and deliciously precise,” noted Yvonne, who also enjoyed its peachy complexity, while Cameron added it was “fleshy, dry and lengthy with a hint of tea”.


12. Pegasus Bay
Canterbury Muscat 2016 ($30)

Silver Medal ★★★★½ – BEST BUY
“Love it!” wrote James in his notes with a lot more exclamation marks than we can fit. “Floral, fruity, candied yet crisp – although one glass only please.” Cameron and Yvonne have tougher sweet-teeth, with Cameron applauding its concentration and vitality. “A veritable potpourri,” he said. Yvonne enjoyed the musky, ginger and spice notes and its impressive freshness on the finish.

Look for the Dish Tasting Panel selection sticker, which can be worn by our top wines. 

With thanks to Janet Blackman from the Professional Wine Studies Department and the AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism. For more on the programmes in hospitality, food and beverage, and hotel management, visit aut.ac.nz. Water kindly supplied by Antipodes and glasses by Spiegelau.