website, Marlborough has 527 hectares of vineyards devoted to 28 “other” varieties. Spend time with Therese and Hans Herzog and you’ll be left with the distinct feeling the couple is responsible for planting most of them.

Originally from Switzerland, the Herzogs moved to Marlborough in 1996 and began planting vines. Over the next 20-odd years, saperavi, nebbiolo, montelpulciano, lagrein, barbera, pinot noir and tempranillo were joined by St Laurent, sweigelt and now blaufränkisch. (Not to mention the Herzog’s ecletic range of white varieties such as roussanne and viognier). Having imported zweigelt vines, Hans thought that a few of the plants produced fruit that seemed different to the rest. Therese, keen to make sure they had true blaufränkisch, sent a small cutting to UC Davis in California, where the experts were able to confirm that it was indeed the real thing. 

Blaufränkisch, thought to have originated in Austria, is identical to Hungary’s kékfrankos and Germany’s lemberger. It can be produced in a range of styles, from lighter-bodied and fruity to rich, deeply coloured and powerful reds that are usually aged in barrique. Hans Herzog is a classicist and has constructed his wine in a similar vein to those found in Austria’s Burgenland. The first release, the 2019 Herzog Blaufränkisch was wild fermented, aged for 18 months in barrel, bottled unfined and unfiltered, and matured for another 18 months before release. It’s a concentrated, peppery, inky red that combines the depth found in the best Burgenland wines with the freshness and drive of Marlborough. 

Many wine regions make much of their long winemaking tradition. Marlborough’s modern wine industry is not even 50 years old, but has already created one iconic wine in the form of sauvignon blanc. How good to realise winemakers are not content to sit still but to continue to explore the possibilities of new varieties and styles. 

If you say ‘New Zealand wine’, usually the first thing that pops into peoples’ minds is sauvignon blanc. Kiwi pinot noir has garnered many fans around the world and, although NZ syrah is only made in small volumes, it has won over critics and wine-lovers alike.

But could New Zealand’s best wine have been hiding in plain sight? Although many countries produce exemplary chardonnay, the case could be made that New Zealand occupies first place in the quality vs price stakes.

2020 Trinity Hill’s 2020 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay collected the International Chardonnay Trophy at the 2022 International Wine Challenge, the first time a New Zealand chardonnay has won such an award and was described by the judges as: “Expressive yet nuanced. Rich and weighty in the mouth with vibrancy and refreshment and a long, fine, textured finish.” 

Speaking to Warren Gibson, Trinity Hill’s chief winemaker, he was justifiably proud of the team’s achievement but seemed surprised that it had taken so long for NZ chardonnay to be recognised. 

Richard Painter of Villa Maria Wines, producer of a top chardonnay.

“It offers so much raw quality. Winemakers are proving we can make world-class wines through intuitive winemaking and site selection. The exploration of sub-regionality helps to make our chardonnays exciting.”

Regional expression is one of chardonnay’s key strengths. Although winemakers can influence style, the best wines preserve their sense of place, and from Northland to Central Otago, compelling examples are being produced.

What is rarely mentioned by reviewers is the amazing value for money these wines offer. While happy to list all manner of descriptors for aroma and flavour, critics rarely mention the price. Yet the 2020 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay retails for NZ$40. Even NZ’s most lauded chardonnay, the always stellar Kumeu River Matés Vineyard, is priced at only NZ$90.

An International Chardonnay tasting, hosted by Villa Maria in May 2021 presented the wines blind, so tasters could judge without preconceptions. My notes for the 2019 Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay were: “Very appealing struck match, reduction done properly… long and powerful. Just delightful.” 

I scored it highly. When the identities were revealed, it was hard not to be impressed that a wine that retails for NZ$80, more than held its own against Grand Cru white Burgundies priced 10 times as highly. 

There will always be a market for iconic wines, those available in very limited quantities and with stellar reputations. But the group of consumers for these wines is relatively small. Even if we do decide to splash out, how many hesitate before purchasing, the spectre of premature oxidation still fresh in peoples’ minds? And there is always the risk of cork taint or at the very least encountering a wine that has evolved more quickly than you expected. 

New Zealand chardonnay has come of age. The wines have never been so exciting and it can only be a matter of time before the world realises this. Time to stock the cellar.  ϖ