Not many New Zealand retailers have sold more wine than Mac and his personal recommendations come from one of the industry's safest sets of hands. Regardless of the price point you like to shop in, Mac's Picks will always be great buying and totally delicious. You have his word on it.
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Let’s kick off this column with a real winner. There is something very special about the Waipara / North Canterbury growing region and few will argue that it has a real affinity for aromatic white wines - especially pinot gris and riesling. Those layers of lush, tropical Waipara fruits are certainly in full effect with this striking 2019 release from Mount Brown Estate. Vinted in the medium-dry style that suits North Canterbury Riesling so well, this is a juicy wine that classically matches fresh acidity in the lemon / lime spectrum, with notes of honeysuckle sweetness that round out the palate. It’s zesty and bright in the mouth, and while those residual sugar notes add depth and immediate approachability, they never take over the conversation and allow those pristine fruits flavours to remain centre stage. It’s just so inviting and, like everyone else in the wine trade, I wish that this distinctive wine style would garner more favour with the New Zealand wine buying public. In my experience, if you ask someone if they would like a glass of medium-dry riesling, they will often say “No”. But if you give them a glass of good medium-dry riesling, they will almost always say “Wow, that’s delicious!” Match this lovely wine with spicy Asian cuisine, and watch everyone jostle for a second glass.
Available from $19.99
Wildsong is a new range from Te Awanga that has been conceived to broaden the winery’s appeal in international markets. The United States has been an important target. Early indications are that the American market has been very receptive to the Wildsong launch, with the sauvignon blanc being especially popular. With the proliferation of Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs in the export channel, it’s good to see a new Hawke’s Bay label doing so well and this 2021 release offers the vibrant flavours of sauvignon blanc with some regional stone fruit nuances entering the mix. It’s crisp and dry with some nice textural elements in the mouth and the finish is long with good fruit weight and acid balance. A subtle hint of ‘tomato stalk’ / capsicum adds a further touch of complexity.
Available from $34.99
Irongate is Babich’s flagship chardonnay offering and one of the best-known premium chardonnay labels in the New Zealand market. Produced since the mid 1980s, the Irongate style has evolved over time with recent releases heading down a more refined and elegant path, that nonetheless retain the underlying power and drive that Irongate is synonymous with. Fruit is drawn from Babich’s Gimblett Gravels ‘Irongate’ site, and those stony soils have added a refreshing layer of minerality to a wine that clearly needs to be cellared to be seen at its best. In its youth the 2020 is tight. Spicy oak and stone fruits on the nose flow through to a fresh palate, where grapefruit and nutty complexity add further interest. The finish is vibrant with crisp chardonnay notes enhanced with plenty of acidity. If you’re in the market for a ‘drink now’ premium chardonnay I can think of many more attractive options, but if you lay some of this excellent wine down, your patience will be handsomely rewarded from 2025 onwards.
Available from $17.99
The Mills Reef Estate range has long been a value benchmark offering good, honest wines at very realistic price points. Merlot dominant (72%) and offering plenty of soft flavours in the blackberry and dark plum spectrum, this middleweight red comes from a very good vintage in Hawke’s Bay. On the nose it is immediately inviting and the palate is softly expressed with supple tannins and touches of toasty oak and anise spice. It’s uncomplicated but a very rewarding glass of wine, and in my opinion, that is exactly what you are looking for in Hawke’s Bay red in this price band. Recommended.
Available from $19.99
One of the great advances I have seen in my time in the wine trade is the availability of good value French reds in our local market. For most of my career, Bordeaux blends in the NZ$20 bracket would almost certainly have been thin and poorly structured, but now retailers’ shelves are full of deserving wines that give curious shoppers an insight into the wonderful world of French red wine. Indeed, there are some great bargains to be had, and this is one of them. Estate grown by Jalousie Beaulieu, this is a very good example of modern Bordeaux Superieur. Merlot dominant (90%) it shows a nose that is redolent with spicy fruits and a quite glossy palate that flows easily with an array of red and black berry flavours. There is enough tannin to firm up the finish, but this wine has been made to be approachable in its youth, and it does that job very well. It’s a great option to bust out a dinner party and will pair beautifully with roasted meats and vegetables. No one will believe that you only paid $20 for it, that’s for sure.
Available from $27.99
We end this column with a real bang. Vinted from fruit from the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, this is a richly weighted and firmly structured cabernet from a winery who love to cram their releases with flavour. On the nose it’s classic South Australian Cabernet with a complex array of dried herb and tobacco characters sitting over spicy dark fruits. The palate is dry and fulsome with plenty of tannic grip, while layers of creamy acidity support broody fruit flavours complexed by leather, baking spices and more tobacco notes. This is big, powerful wine that really needs food for it to shine, but hard-core devotees of good Australian Cabernet will still be enamoured with this wine as ‘by itself’ option. It’s not for the faint hearted, but it is very good. Cellar over the coming decade or more to see it reach its full potential.