New World Riesling Roadtrip

New World Riesling is having something of a moment in New Zealand.

Vines may only have been planted here en masse in the 1980s, but now, it’s the fourth most planted white grape in the whole country.

And, compared to lots of Sauv Blancs which are produced by big-money players, New Zealand Riesling is still niche enough that its popularity is centered entirely on the quality of the wine in the glass. A recipe for success, right?

Which region is best for New Zealand Riesling?

Quite a few! Cooler climates on the South Island mean that most Riesling tends to be grown here. Marlborough, North Canterbury, and Central Otago all have ideal conditions: cold nights, low rainfall, and lots and lots of sunshine. Styles range from bone dry to lusciously sweet – but all over (and this does include pockets of the sub-tropical North Island, too) – you can expect citrus, stone fruit, spice, and that all-important acidity which make Riesling so glorious. 

Meet our favourite regions, producers and New Zealand Riesling wines below…

Sam Neill Two Paddocks Winery

Central Otago

First stop: Central Otago. Winemaking here is extreme. This is about as far south as vineyards go, and temperatures drop from 30 degrees during the day to 8 at night – which is exactly what Riesling grapes need. This change helps them hold onto those wonderful acid levels while they develop aromatic flavours, and more than anywhere else in the country, Central Otago Rieslings have a really intense, lovely, fruit-forward character.

Meet the wines: Two Paddocks

Sam Neill might be known to most people as the star of Peaky Blinders and Jurassic Park, but as it turns out, he also makes pretty incredible wines. Two Paddocks, his brainchild since 1993, has built a cult following of Jurassic proportions (see what we did there?). His Picnic Riesling is supple, superbly textured, and has absolutely fantastic intensity – alongside that all-important fruit character!

Pegasus Bay winery entrance
Pegasus Bay Winery, North Canterbury

North Canterbury

Canterbury is a real gem of a region. Its cool climate means grapes can take their time ripening, while drinking in weeks’ worth of sunlight. Strong winds dry out vines, preventing diseases from affecting grapes – while the cool temperatures retain acidity. All in all, it’s a perfect combination for crisp, flinty Rieslings, with flavours of green apples and citrus.

Meet the wines: Pegasus Bay

Pegasus Bay are champions at crafting rich, juicy wines with heaps of complexity. That’s thanks to long post-fermentation contact with yeasts, which adds creaminess to their zesty, alluring Rieslings. There’s a small influence of botrytis too, which adds ginger, honey and spice to the nectarine and citrus flavours typical of the area.

Vines at Framingham Wines
Vines at Framingham Wines

Marlborough

Welcome to Marlborough: home of the world’s favourite Sauvignon Blancs. Of course, SB is Marlborough’s star, but Rieslings here can also hold their own amongst the world’s best. Vines in Marlborough produce small, highly-concentrated berries: expect beautiful aromas, mouth-watering crispness, and intense citrus flavours.

Meet the wines: Framingham

Framingham Wines produce some of the finest Rieslings in the whole of New Zealand. Their F Series is mapped on a Mosel Auslese style, and offers up a real explosion of flavour – succulent fruit, razor-sharp acidity, and a really wonderful creaminess from a year of lees ageing. So delicate, so intense, so elegant. Perfection in a bottle.

Dry River winery sign
Dry River produces some of the best Rieslings on the North Island

Martinborough

Over to the North Island now, where plantings are less common. But, the sub-tropical climate still gives rise to some phenomenal Rieslings. Martinborough’s climate and soil profile are similar to those of Burgundy, and the climate is cool and dry enough to ensure a good long growing season for aromatics –  including our late-harvest love, Riesling.

Meet the wines: Dry River

One of the first Martinborough wineries, Dry River are experts in coaxing the very best out of this land – and their Craighall Riesling is no exception. It’s an unusual example; white peach, ripe florals and fennel spices give it a Pinot Gris air. But an undeniable Riesling character shines through; there’s acidity, but also unbelievably juicy tropical fruits, and a beautifully long finish.

James & Annie Millton of Millton Vineyards & Winery
James and Annie Millton of Millton Vineyards & Winery

Gisborne

On the remote east tip of the North Island, Gisborne is a powerhouse that’s particularly suited to aromatic varietals like Riesling. Warm weather, lots of sunshine, and some mild breezes means that grapes develop really complex flavours and aromas early on. On top of that, you can expect tropical fruits and even some unusual marine notes in wines – courtesy of the surrounding Pacific.

Meet the wines: Millton

All in all, Gisborne’s climate is a fab combo for Riesling, but a fantastic winemaker never hurts either. Enter James Millton, one half of the brains behind Millton Vineyards, and the first to achieve both organic and biodynamic certification in New Zealand. The Millton Opou Riesling is a wine with real attitude: young, fresh and spritzy, with flavours of lemon, peach tea and wildflowers that just dance across the tongue.

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