The WineFolio Christmas Cracker 2023

Christmas Cracker 23
What I think should be on your festive table this year (or on your Santa List!)

It’s December at the end of this week! Not quite sure what happened there, but hopefully readers will be looking forward to a time to relax, with friends and family. Let’s hope we actually get a  summer in the North Island this year. 

With a little planning, or even a bit of advice from the internet (ahem) your holiday lineup of wines could be looking as amazing as your Christmas jumper or your neighbours Xmas lights. Some of these wines might be good on the table on the 25th alongside the turkey; or for taking over to your best mate’s bach whilst he’s away in the South of France. And one or two should definitely be on your Santa list – whether you’ve been naughty or nice. 

I’ve not picked anything that will blow the budget, but I have been looking back at the wines that I’ve tasted in 2023, – with as tight a budget as I can think of. There will be a separate list coming on WineFolio where I talk about the very best wines that have crossed my path this year, but for now we’re not trying to break the credit card. Read on.

So, lets’ start with those bubbles. It’s vital to have something sparkling at Christmas. It’s not always the easiest choice to make, but here are a couple of ideas for you.

#1 No.1 Méthode Traditionelle Rosé. Back in January, I gave this delicious pink Méthode a 93/100 score. Made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes with a fine, silken mousse of bubbles. Beautifully aromatic, and dry to taste. A creamy, voluptuous texture and richer flavours of apricot danish, nutmeg and allspice. $40-ish

#2 A Thousand Gods Brut Nature 2022 Another wine that got a 93/100 score from yours truly. Labelled as ‘Ancentral Method’ – I’d call it a Pet-Nat – is made from hand-picked Abel-clone Pinot Noir, grown at Churton vineyards in Marlborough. There is a sheen of natural wine about this, but the skins-y note just sheathes the palate, adding complexity to what is a seriously well-made wine. $42

Moving on to a selection of white wine choices (and a rosé)…

#3 Lake Chalice ‘The Raptor’ Sauvignon Blanc 2022 If we did a Top 10 tasting of a varietal in the year, and the winner of that tasting costs under $20, then it is an easy choice to include that here!? The best of that ‘classic’ Marlborough Sauvignon style I can personally recall – in many years. A showstopper. $19.99

#4 Clearview Estate Reserve Semillon 2020 A rare treat to find a single varietal Semillon – one of only a few produced in NZ – I gave this 93/100 in March. The texture is upfront – quite waxy and plush, almost creamy. Then the acidity rushes in, buoyant with a zesty drive into a fairly complex and layered palate. The warm spice comes from old oak barrels used in the production, adding more richness. $27

#5 Groves Chardonnay 2022 You need to be a pretty good wine to get a score of 96/100 from me. This single vineyard wine from Martinborough did that recently. The perfume is as savoury as it is fruity. 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. $35

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 5 Bull Block Gruner Veltliner 2021

#6 Saint Clair ‘Pioneer Block 5’ Bull Block Grüner Veltliner 2021 I wanted to include an ‘alternative white’ in the list, and this producer does a super range of them, at good prices. It has a palate that is broad and generous – quite rich but cut with a saline acidity. Layers of spice, nougat, stonefruit and pepper flavours. A refreshing, dry finish with excellent persistence. $22.99

#7 Sugar Loaf Rosé 2023. A Rosé from Pinot Noir grapes grown in Marlborough – this was the Trophy-winning Rosé at NZIWS last year, and a Gold-medal winner this year too. A pale coral pink with a perfume of red berries, cassis, cherry, kirsch on nose and spun sugar. The palate is off-dry – a little sweeter than a lot of rosé is trending to now, but I’m partial to this more generous style for the lunch table. $21.99

Great red wines at lower price points used to be a problem; but looking at the Gold Medal winners from the shows and my own tastings this year, it certainly feels like there is very good wine at sharp prices if you buy carefully. I have no problem recommending these last three…

#8 Esk Valley Tempranillo 2021 An early-ripening, quite rare, variety in New Zealand that is well suited to The Gimblett gravels in Hawke’s Bay. In the style of a traditional Rioja, there are dense oaky notes on the nose (it used new American oak barriques), with incense and tar offset by a ripe, spicy tumble of dark berries and liquorice. Full-bodied and firmly concentrated – one of NZ’s biggest wines? $24.99

#9 Trinity Hill Syrah 2021 Winner of THREE Trophies at NZIWS this year. From their outstanding range of Syrah, is released in its youth, emphasising the perfume and coltish fruit flavours. I agree – it is aromatically intense, with an emphasis on glossy fruit, offset by pepper, tapenade and graphite with a floral lift of violets. Fruit-focussed but with enough structure of supple tannin and balanced acidity to offer depth and length. $19.99

#10 Matahiwi ‘Holly’ South Series 2021 The Top 10 Tasting of Pinot Noir was a delight this year – and this affordable wine was right amongst it. Big colour and big flavours. A whack of oak will please those who revel in Pinot where a toastiness is present and correct. Effusively fruit-forward but with plenty of Wairarapa-signature savoury nuances of cigar tobacco, umami and peat, to back it up. “A crowd-pleaser”. $42

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