Drink This Now: New Zealand Rieslings

New Zealand wines beyond sauvignon blanc

When autumn hits, I put away the clean, crisp wines of summer and turn to aromatic riesling, its delicious nectar warming my body and soul against the onset of cold. I’ve explored the unctuous rieslings of Germany and Austria, tasted Eden Valley’s Australian delights, adored Alsace’s bone-dry take. But it was only in the past year or so that I discovered New Zealand’s hidden secret.

Thirty years ago, Marlborough, New Zealand underwent a transformation from orchards into a winegrowing region, made famous by its sauvignon blanc. Now the same clear, crisp sunlight and alluvial soil that make their sauvignons so great are producing world class rieslings. The terroir seems to be at its most expressive with this grape, made in a wide variety of styles, from dry to rich, as the region continues to experiment and find its aromatic identity. One uniting factor, regardless of style, is crispness—wines characterized by their sharp, acidic backbones and even ripeness that come from low humidity, cool nights, and the ever-present sun.

These three are a great place to start discovery all the region has to offer, ranging from dry to medium to sweet:

Te Whare Ra “Dry” Riesling 2010, $18

Meaning “a house in the sun” in the native Maori language, Te Whare Ra brings the clarity and purity of the grape to life. On the nose, hints of white tea and lemon-lime permeate, while the palate bursts with complex, concentrated fruit, held up by a strong mineral backbone, making it an excellent apéritif or overall food-friendly wine for holiday festivities.

Cloudy Bay Riesling 2010, $55

Made in a sweeter style, Cloudy Bay Riesling is a small production for this Marlborough powerhouse, and the quality shows. Fruit-forward and dense, the high acidity brings the notes of sweet grapefruit and apricot jam into balance, leaving the palate with a bright and clean finish. This wine pairs exceptionally well with light meats like chicken, pork, or a traditional turkey with dressing.

Spy Valley “Envoy” 2007, $44

Aged both in old oak and in bottle before release, the Spy Valley “Envoy” is a deep, rich, full-bodied riesling from this family-owned winery. The wine lusciously coats the palate with lemon curd, with aromas redolent of jasmine and gardenia. Try it with Asian flavors like ginger and soy, or this Asian-inspired turkey.