Cuisine: New Zealand's Best Buy rieslings

Mission Estate, Hawke's Bay.

Mission Estate, Hawke's Bay.

Has the time come for riesling to emerge from the shadows cast by its more popular white cousins, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay? It may be, if trends in Australia are anything to go by.

Over there, restaurant sales of riesling have risen over the past year or so. This change has been abetted by sommeliers encouraging customers to broaden their taste experience. What has never been in doubt is the quality of riesling produced in this part of the world.

In keeping with past Cuisine tastings, this year's riesling entries impressed the panel, with no fewer than 10 being awarded five or four-and-a-half stars (from a field of 51).

"These top rieslings have so much going for them – they're great food wines, they have a sense of place, they cellar well and they're not expensive," said panel chair John Belsham. "All we need is for consumers to get behind them."

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For this riesling tasting, John Belsham, an international wine judge and owner of Foxes Island Wines in Marlborough, was joined by Cameron Douglas, New Zealand's only Master Sommelier, head of the wine programme at AUT University,  and senior wine show judge, and John Saker, author and Cuisine wine writer.

The three five-star Best Buy rieslings from the recent Cuisine tasting: Mission Estate Riesling 2014 (Hawke's Bay),  The ...

The three five-star Best Buy rieslings from the recent Cuisine tasting: Mission Estate Riesling 2014 (Hawke's Bay), The Sounds Marlborough Riesling 2016 and Lawson's Dry Hills Riesling 2015 (Marlborough).

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. 


1. Mission Estate Riesling 2014 (Hawke's Bay) ★★★★★ $16.50 BEST BUY

A couple of years in the bottle has given this wine remarkable harmony, both in taste and texture. It is medium-dry, round and flows evenly, generously dispensing toast, lime, apple and honey notes before resolving seamlessly with a lingering finish. "A fleshy, quite flamboyant style with energy," was how John Belsham described it. The judging panel felt fresh sardines grilled with salt, garlic and parsley would be an excellent match.

Mission Estate winemaker Paul Mooney remembers well the first time the winery used fruit from a favoured grower site on Ohiti Road. It was back in 1992, and the wine that resulted picked up several gold medals. Mission Estate has had a strong connection with the vineyard ever since, allowing Mooney to build a wealth of experience with Hawke's Bay riesling and winning more awards (including nabbing this year's Cuisine top riesling). 

"It's about the picking window," he declares. "We find that flavour peaks at around 19 brix. So that's when we pick it; if you let it hang you can lose those flavours. We then ferment it in stainless steel and retain a touch of sugar in the wine, so the alcohol is always down around 11 per cent. That's what gives us the best balance." Mooney is a great believer in cellaring riesling (and the other aromatic varieties) for a few years. "This 2014 is coming into its own and they're all like that – unlike sauvignon blanc, they need a year or two before they start to blossom."

2. The Sounds Marlborough Riesling 2016 ★★★★★ $21 BEST BUY

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The panel was much taken with the aromatics of this medium-dry expression – wild flower, jasmine, ginger, apricot and clover honey. The palate is marked by fruit purity and a soft, even texture. "A, juicy, delicious, elegant wine," noted Cameron Douglas.

3. Te Kairanga Riesling 2015 (Wairarapa) ★★★★★ $23

2015 was a great year for riesling in Martinborough and this is one of the region's best. It is dry, delicately textured and lemon sorbet-infused, with lovely definition and energy. "The focus and length are remarkable," noted John Saker.

4. Lawson's Dry Hills Riesling 2015 (Marlborough) ★★★★★ $19.95 BEST BUY

A whiff of toast mingles with lifted Rose's lime juice scents. In the mouth, this riesling has length and elegance, lime and stonefruit notes propelled by fine ripe acidity. Serve it alongside a salad of rocket, heirloom tomatoes and grilled eggplant. 

5. Rockburn Central Otago Tigermoth Riesling 2016  ★★★★★ $40

Winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis has crafted a riesling that offsets the variety's becoming florals and fresh herb notes with minerally, flinty intrigue. It's a concentrated, medium-dry style with plenty of energy and tension. 


Hunter's Marlborough Riesling 2016, 4½ stars, $20

Vidal Estate Dry Riesling 2015 (Marlborough), 4½ stars, $16

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Dry Riesling 2015, 4½ stars, $18

Giesen Estate Riesling 2015 (NZ blend), 4 stars, $17 

Mount Riley Riesling 2016 (Marlborough), 4 stars, $18

Mud House Riesling 2016 (Waipara), 4 stars, $15

 - Cuisine


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