Aromatic Whites  (June 2018)

Think ‘aromatic whites’ in New Zealand… think Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Viognier and a few promising newcomers, such as Albariño and Grüner Veltliner.   Pinot Gris is so popular, it justifies its own varietal tasting, but all of the other aromatic white-wine varieties combined, including Riesling, account for less than four per cent of the national vineyard.

Riesling’s strongholds are Marlborough (where 40 per cent of the vines are clustered) and Canterbury (38 per cent), but the grape is also extensively planted in Otago, Nelson and Wairarapa.  Between 2007 and 2018, however, Riesling’s  total area of bearing vines in New Zealand contracted slightly, from 868 to 765 hectares.

Unlike Riesling, confined largely (94 per cent) to the South  Island, Gewürztraminer is widely distributed in the North Island (43 per cent of its plantings), and Albariño so far prefers the north (73 per cent of plantings).    The tasting also attracted a rare, top-flight example of Breidecker and a barrel-fermented blend of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.

Apart from Pinot Gris, now heading offshore in larger volumes than our Chardonnays, our Rieslings and Gewürztraminers have yet to stir strong international demand – last year, we shipped just over 120,000 cases of Riesling and 20,000 cases of Gewürztraminer.    The good news is that both of these classic varieties are producing some terrific wines in New Zealand, from dry to honey-sweet.