Fresh Kiwi vino (other than pinot)

Charley May
By Charley May
about 2 years ago
5 min read

There’s no doubt that New Zealand is killing the pinot game. Spicy, fruity and undeniably delectable, ask any pinot fan about Kiwi juice and they’ll start raving. In fact, the pinot is so damn good it’s almost doing a disservice to the wine industry, because it’s way too easy to forget that New Zealand churns out some remarkable red wines other than pinot. But we’re gonna find ‘em.

Geology, ya dig?

New Zealand is made up of two large, narrow islands of diverse geology, soil and climate that stretch 1,600km from the subtropical north to the chilly south. This makes it well-suited to growing a range of varieties and wine styles. While sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are famous for putting the nation on the world wine map, it’s also home to lesser known vinos that are worth exploring too.

Hawke’s Bay: Gamay-zing wines that won’t leave you Bordeaux.

Located on the North Island’s east coast, Hawke’s Bay is renowned for its Bordeaux blends. There are three distinct sub-regions that all have a slightly different kinda magic. However, the Gimblett Gravels and Havelock Hills are home to some particularly spell-binding reds, with Te Mata ‘Coleraine’ being one of the finest examples. 

Te Mata is a family-owned winery that has been making wicked vino for over a century. The ‘Coleraine’ is its top of the tree cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc blend that the critics shower with stratospheric point scores every vintage. I mean the last vintage (2014) got 100 points! We were lucky enough to score a batch of this gold at the ‘Fo but alas, it sold out in a flash. Surprise. But if you do get the chance to taste it, grab it with both hands because it’s worthy of all the hype. 

At the other end of the scale, Te Mata’s 2015 gamay noir is a lovely quaffer for those who don’t want to break the bank. Also known just as ‘gamay’, this underrated grape is best known for being behind the famous Beaujolais wines of France. Some people may think it’s a bit simple, but I think it’s simply awesome if all you’re after is a fun, bright, easy-going wine. Bursting with pretty red fruits and unstoppable energy, this doesn’t take itself too seriously so chill it down a little and let the good times roll. 

Craggy Range is another rocking producer that makes some swish vinos outta Hawke’s Bay. I recently tasted the Craggy Range Te Kahu 2011 Gimblett Gravels cabernet merlot blend and I liked it. A lot. Why? Because unlike many Aussie Bordeaux blends, merlot is the hero here (69%), with cabernet sauvignon (13%), cabernet franc (9%) and malbec (9%) playing a lesser role. As a result, the wine doesn’t punch you in the face with the same kind of upfront fruit and big tannins. It’s still intense but in a subtle, less obvious way and I find that very attractive indeed.

Wairarapa (also called Martinborough): where you’ll find a special syrah worthy of celebration 

Tucked away at the southern end of the North Island is one of NZ’s most exciting pinot noir regions – Wairarapa. Its modern winemaking history dates back to the 1970s when a few pioneering producers put down roots to live out their Burgundian dreams. Since then, this uber boutique region has been charming the critics with some of the country’s most complex and vivid pinot. 

However, if the smokin’ Schubert syrah 2012 is anything to go by, then the Rhone’s most famous red grape (syrah/shiraz) has a bright future here too. Simmering with elegance and complexity, it’s like a syrah that has decided to dress in pinot noir’s dinner suit. What do I mean by that? I mean it’s stylish, aromatic and full of red fruits and spice on the nose, and bursting with white pepper, dark fruits, restrained power and graphite-like tannins on the palate. This intriguing sensory experience makes it one of the most interesting reds I’ve tasted in ages. I’ll definitely be taking a bottle to my next wine nerd gathering ‘cause it’s going to drive them nuts.

Made by Kai Schubert and Marion Deimling, two graduates of Germany’s most prestigious wine school, these guys travelled the world in search of their vino dream before finding it in Martinborough in 1998. Here they grow tiny amounts of handmade vino on their 14 hectare property, and you can certainly taste the care and attention that went into this syrah in every glass. 

Marlborough: home of hidden gems

This region is the engine room for much of New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, but stray off the well-worn path and you’ll find some hidden gems. One of brightest is an eccentric experimentalist called Hans Herzog who grows 29 varieties on 11 hectares of land near the Wairau River in Marlborough. While I haven’t tried any of their wines (yet), my friend at New Zealand Wine (NZ’s national representative wine organisation), swears by their juice and the cellar door. She reckons their zweigelt, st laurent and montepulciano are well worth a look and their bistro is worth a drop by too. And given that their former restaurant in Switzerland got a Michelin star, and their wines are described as “superlative” by Gourmet Traveller, you’re likely to be very well fed and watered here. 

I’m heading to Marlborough in summer for some fly-fishing and this producer is top of my ‘go-to’ list when I’m tired of chasing trout. If you fancy a visit too, then check out Hans Herzog HERE.


Just to clarify, we’re not ragging on pinot. We love that sh*t. But there’s a lot of other wines to be drunk, and New Zealand is making some of the best, so check ‘em out when you get a chance.