2016 Best Buys

BEST WHITE WINE BUY OF THE YEAR

Starborough Family Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015

$20.00

A five-star wine at a three-star price, this is benchmark stuff, hard to resist in its youth. Highly aromatic, it is mouthfilling, with fresh, penetrating melon, lime and slight capsicum flavours, showing very impressive delicacy and vibrancy, and a dry, lasting finish. Yet this impressive wine is widely available at $20 and when sold on promotion at $16.99 it’s an absolute steal.

When I first tasted this wine in September, I jotted down: ‘Awatere Valley style – with style’. In fact, it was estate-grown in three vineyards, of which two are located in the Awatere Valley, but the third lies over the hills, closer to Blenheim, in the Wairau Valley.

From the start, this classy wine has attracted high awards. At the International Aromatic Wine Competition 2015, held in Christchurch, it won a gold medal. Raymond Chan, the Wellington-based wine writer and consultant, also rated it 19/20, enthusing about the ‘intricacy and completeness of its aromatics’, plus its ‘rich flavours of passionfruit, gooseberries, tropical fruits, herbs and limes’, that ‘fill the palate with layers of interest’.

The quality of the latest release is no fluke – almost all the vintages I’ve tasted since 2008 have deserved a four-star rating or higher. The 2014 vintage won gold medals at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, Royal Easter Show Wine Awards and the Bragato Wine Awards, where it also scooped the trophy for champion Sauvignon Blanc.

Named after a sheep run founded in the Awatere Valley in 1849, Starborough Wines is owned by Bill and Lynette Jones and their sons, Andrew and James.

The Jones family has farmed in Marlborough since 1865. James manages the company’s vineyards and marketing, while the wines are made by David Clouston, who also grew up in the region and has his own highly regarded label, Two Rivers of Marlborough.

The Best Buy White Wine of the Year is a lovely marriage of the ripe tropical-fruit flavours of Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in the Wairau Valley, and the more herbaceous, minerally notes achieved in the slightly cooler Awatere Valley. Half of the grapes were estate-grown at O’Dwyers Farm Vineyard, at Rapaura, in the heart of the Wairau Valley; the rest were sourced from the company’s two sites, Long Lane and Starborough Terrace, in the Awatere Valley.

Cool-fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged briefly on its light yeast lees, Starborough Family Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 was bottled early and was crafted to be enjoyed young, while it is aromatic, vibrant and tangy. Enjoy it this summer, as an irresistible, bargain-priced partner to poultry, salads and seafood.

BEST RED WINE BUY OF THE YEAR

Church Road McDonald Series Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013

$26.95

Powerful, lush and overflowing with ripe plum, spice, coffee and dark chocolate flavours, this bargain-priced red is an exciting and memorable mouthful. It has already won several major accolades, but it’s widely available and if you shop around, you’ll find it at less than $25.

I first tasted and reviewed it in July, for Winestate’s annual tasting of Hawke’s Bay wines: ‘Dark, fragrant, powerful wine with dense, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, a hint of coffee, and lovely softness and richness. Praised by all judges, this is a five-star red at a four-star price.’

Since then, it has scooped a gold medal at the New Zealand International Wine Show 2015, where it also won two trophies – champion Merlot and champion New Zealand Bordeaux Red Wine (a category that includes Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, together with blends of these traditional Bordeaux varieties). Dish magazine, noting how frequently Hawke’s Bay is dubbed ‘Merlot country’, also voted it top wine in its Merlot tasting, ahead of prestigious labels at far higher prices.
Chris Scott, senior winemaker at Church Road, believes the exceptionally dry, but not blazingly hot, growing season in 2013 gave ‘the vintage of a lifetime. You could not have got more perfect growing weather than that.’ Most top producers picked their ‘best-ever’ Merlot.

The grapes for the McDonald Series Merlot were mostly hand-harvested, from vines cultivated in low-vigour gravel soils. The juice was fermented in French oak cuves (vats) and 70-year-old concrete fermenters, and then the wine was barrel-matured for the unusually long period of 21 months.

The success of the 2013 vintage is no surprise. The wine wasn’t made after the small, cold 2012 harvest, but the 2011 vintage won a gold medal and trophy at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and the trophies for Best Merlot and Best Commercial Red Wine of the Show at the Hawke’s Bay A & P Bayleys Wine Awards.

Church Road recommends cellaring the 2013 vintage for up to five years, but this deliciously rich, ripe, smooth red could flourish for a lot longer. Enjoy it with hearty red meat dishes. Tom McDonald, the legendary Hawke’s Bay winemaker – after whom the consistently outstanding McDonald Series is named – would have loved it.

OTHER SHORT-LISTED WINES

Whites

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014 (, $20)

Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (, $16)

Vidal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (, $16)

Summerhouse Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (, $19)

Rosé

Mahi Marlborough Rosé 2015 (, $20)

Reds

Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2014 (, $20)

Omihi Hills Limestone Ridge Pinot Noir 2014 (, $20)

Thornbury Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2014 (, $15)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2013 (, $25)