Welcome to the end of the year round up where I look at my ten favourite wines of the year. This is what I judge to be the best of the best wines that I tried in 2023. It was another interesting year – 2023 was the year that I committed to ‘being in wine 100%’. I stopped doing the tourism work, and looked for a project that meant I was spending all my time working in and around wine. So, as well as working on the WineFolio side of things, I now also manage a local Wine Bar & Cellar – part of a small hospitality group. I’m finding that I’m meeting more people, tasting more wines than ever before, and having to decline as many invitations as I accept! I find time to judge – at NZIWS this year, and do the WineFolio Top 10 Tastings as benchmarks for varietals in New Zealand.
2023 saw Top 10 tastings of Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Ideally I’d do four in a year but the last twelve months have been particularly busy and challenging – I’ll be trying to get back on track in 2024 with four planned, starting with Pinot Gris. I did a couple of field trips, with the eye-opening week in Victoria being especially memorable. Curt Thomas’ infamous Pinot Day managed to survive the great Auckland flood and present some sensational examples of the 2014 vintage of Pinot > https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=7696.
I’m only including here the wines that are ‘ (reasonably) current vintage’. I’m not including the myriad bottles of older vintages from across the globe that I had the pleasure of sharing with friends during the year. And there were some treats – 30, 40, even 50-year old wines that still looked good.
Anyway – onto the wines…
The Best White Wine of 2023
No. 1 Family Estate ‘Cuvée Adèle’ Méthode Traditionelle 2016 (Marlborough NZ)
The first time that a sparkling wine has been my white wine of the year – but what a wine! A bright pale gold in the glass, with a fine effervescence of moussey bubbles. Immediately seductive on the nose, scented with white peach, lemon curd, redcurrant, apple danish, nougat, hazelnut and orange blossom – very fine and detailed. An Extra-Brut style – dry, medium-bodied and bristling with a crisp and piquant acidity that highlights the fruit. Savoury notes of nori, mushroom, sourdough crumb and green olive all add complexity, interweaving through the palate. Elegant and characterful at the same time. A creamy finish is mile-long.
The Best Red Wine of 2023
Bilancia ‘la collina’ Syrah 2021 (Hawke’s Bay, NZ)
A wine that really embodies some of the best of new Zealand – very, very varietal, but also very much a wine ‘of place’. I’ve had some great Syrah this year – the Penfolds Grange was probably next in line for this spot, but also some stunners through my visit to Victoria. This wine won the Top 10 tasting of NZ Syrah in June, and was the top of a very good bunch – with Syrah here being noticeably different from our neighbours in Oz; and also quite identifiable compared to the Rhône. I won’t say better, but different – and that is a good thing. La Collina Syrah starts with a calm, classic nose that is very varietal. A hint of leafy green, then redcurrant, cranberry, damson, white wood smoke and rose petals. A simple, subtle presentation – not overly extracted or unnecessarily complex. It is very youthful, with a lithe balance, but there are sinewy tannins and plenty of power in the body.
Apart from those two Best White and Best Red wines, these are in no particular order…
Lake Chalice The Raptor Sauvignon Blanc 2022 (Marlborough, NZ)
A single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Dillons Point in Marlborough. Displaying an inviting perfume that leaps out of the glass. Green and gold, with tropical notes as well as pea pod, cucumber, gooseberry and blackcurrant. A thrilling bounce of sharp acidity. The finish is unstoppable, long dry and lingering. It is rare to find a version with such concentration and depth. In fact it is rare to find one as good as this, full stop.
Church Road ‘1’ Merlot 2021 (Hawke’s Bay, NZ)
This year the single-vineyard Merlot from Church Road is from the Redstone Vineyard in Bridge Pa, Hawke’s Bay. The perfume is joyfully varietal – Black plum, raspberry, dark chocolate, thyme and graphite – unfurling aromatic red and black fruits. The palate is as elegant and complex as it is plush and brooding. A grip of fine, supple tannin and elements of iron-earth minerality weaves through it. Oak and acidity are in the sidelines, supporting and not intrusive. The finish is ripe and persistent. The pick of this series, for me.
Schubert ‘Block B’ Pinot Noir 2021 (Wairarapa, NZ)
A defiantly ‘Old World’, traditional style, and none the worse for that. Europe has been making great Pinot Noir for a lot longer than New Zealand has, and still producing wines of jaw-dropping depth – the likes of which haven’t been achieved in our young industry. Block B is precise, elegant and complex. It wears big boots – it is a bold expression with power and structure to complement the smoky, inviting perfume. The palate shows a considered, but upfront, use of oak, and the tannin makes its presence felt – casing the bloody fruit in a supple grip. The finish is amazingly long, spicy and vibrant.
Esk Valley Seabed Chardonnay 2021 (Hawke’s Bay, NZ)
A pale lemon-green colour with elegant aromatics blooming with grapefruit, white nectarine, almond, mandarin, baguette and a lemon blossom floral note. Fine, vibrant acidity with a juicy saline edge greets the palate. Coiled, muscular and intense. Stonefruit and more tropical flavours of pineapple, fig and ginger develop as the wine unwinds. There’s a toasted oak influence, but sitting quietly at the back. As a contrast to a mealy, plush texture there is a tangy pithyness nestling into the finish.
Lethbridge Mietta Pinot Noir 2019 (Geelong, AUS)
From the limestone-soiled Lethbridge vineyard in the Geelong region of Victoria. A mid-density ruby garnet in the glass. Intensely aromatic, with broodingly dark spice, black cherry, rosehip, raspberry and forest floor notes of bark, briar and autumn leaves. With a nod to the Cote d’Or, but striding to its own beat, and showing a balance between restraint and veiled power that brings a real energy. Rich, fleshy and packed with personality, the perfume floods through to the palate. The spine of long, supple tannin works in tandem with an integrated acidity and a peaty oak note sits quietly in the shadows. Complex, intricate and well-articulated, there is an ebb and flow to the journey through each sip. Bitter chocolate, black tea, peat and orange peel all play a part as your travel through its layers. The finish is hauntingly persistent and fine.
Groves Chardonnay 2022 (Martinborough, NZ)
A single vineyard wine from Martinborough, from an organically-farmed vineyard, and a rarity, with only 483 bottles made. A straw-green colour in the glass. The perfume is as savoury as it is fruity, with notes of green olive, tarragon, fennel, white wood smoke and a flinty minerality. White peach, ginger, lemon and sliced pear emerge on the palate. Tightly concentrated, with a zing of acidity that gives excellent drive. There are hints of oak, and a little fruit tannin, forming the core with that spine of linear acidity. Great purity (only partial malolactic fermentation) energy, balance and length on the finish.
Penfolds Bin 95 Grange Shiraz 2019 (Australia)
This is usually hedonistic on release – taking a decade or more to settle from boisterous to benchmark. Has an exotic edge to the perfume. Kumquat, kirsch, sarsparilla, nori, arabica and tobacco. Beyond, a depth of fruit. Blueberry, damson, blood orange and redcurrant. The intoxicating oak feels luxurious – a denseness to the core of the palate that feels both expansive and yet condensed at the same time. Acidity and tannin just balance, in the shadows. Obviously will benefit from a couple of years decades in bottle, but even now – it glows beautifully.
Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2022 (Central Otago, NZ)
A deep garnet/burgundy in the glass. A splendidly aromatic nose – this is what great Pinot does – I find myself unable to move on from the exuberant perfume. Here it is profound, with a little of the barrel influencing the scent, alongside dry herbs, rose petal, raspberry and cherry. Dry and concentrated in the palate – not weighty, but it unfurls itself with a coiled power. A wine full of ying and yang. A primary and energetic acidity sits well alongside the lithe tannin, polished and with a little rasp – forming a spine. Finally, a swoop of creamy and silken texture, before a finish with great persistence.