Wines of Canterbury, New Zealand

Canterbury Wine Styles:

Canterbury Wine Styles

Chardonnay grapes growing in Canterbury

Riesling is a lovely aromatic wine style and Canterbury produces many good typical Rieslings with quite high alcohol, a slight honey aroma, hints of terpenes and a steely aftertaste. And you can get a good Riesling for a modest price. The grapes ripen well in Canterbury and the grape flavours, which come through as a light perfume, are balanced and enhanced by quite high acidity. Fortunately most winemakers now resist any temptation to sweeten the wine to counter high acidity. The acidity is what helps a Riesling to keep well and retain its perfume and primary characters for some years. A well-aged Riesling will usually have some keroseney notes. Canterbury has produced gold medal winning Rieslings regularly. It is one of the best value Canterbury wines. Riesling is a good appetiser to begin a meal, and also suits desserts as it is clean and simple, complementing lemon, cream or chocolate.

Pinot Noir is predicted to become Canterbury’s most successful red wine. The Pinot Noir vines suit the Canterbury climate, developing phenolics and tannins slowly in the long dry autumns, where in wetter regions the thin skins and large grapes often become infected with botrytis. Making Pinot Noir is seen by many winemakers as the ultimate challenge, as this wine can lose colour and flavour very easily. Colour comes from the grape skins and Pinot Noir has lighter coloured skins than some other red grapes varietals, Consequently keeping the colour, and the tannins which go with it and which give good structure to the wine, is a real challenge. A good Pinot Noir will have definite berry aromas with some dusty tobacco notes, a distinctive flavour not found in any other wine. Pinot Noir can be oaked, can undergo malo-lactic fermentation, and can age well, Although light in colour for a red wine there are so many different Pinots – results of winemakers’ different approaches to making Pinot Noir – that devotees make quite a pilgrimage of trying out as many as they can. Pinot Noir is an elegant wine, which can have a delicious dark chocolate finish. No wonder winemakers are keen to create their own! Pinot noir is a wonderful match for all meat dishes.

Pinot Gris is a resounding success in Canterbury, and probably the most popular and appreciated variety. Along with Riesling it is considered an – aromatic white – which suits the Canterbury climate particularly well. As Pinot Gris has become more widespread the wine judges have been searching for a typical Pinot Gris style. At present there are two ends to the spectrum. One is an Italian (Pino Grigio) inspired unoaked style, slim, elegant and almost salty, which suits seafood. The other end of the style spectrum is an oaked, complex, relatively heavy style that is honey, perfumed and oily. There are many styles between, all of which are balanced and aromatic – pleasant to drink. Pinot Gris is particularly suited to pastas or pizzas, and makes a lovely after-dinner wine.

Chardonnay grapes grow in the wide range of cooler climates and Chardonnay is very popular wine style. Chardonnay is often called the winemaker’s wine as it can stand different winemaking techniques which produce secondary characters. It responds well to malo-lactic fermentation (an additional bacteria-induced fermentation which converts malic acid in the grape to lactic acid which is less tart), which often gives the wine a slightly creamy-buttery aroma and taste. Oak is frequently used to age a Chardonnay-American oak gives a stronger vanilla taste to the wine than French oak, and this can usually be detected. A good Chardonnay will age very well and can develop into an interesting and complex wine. Not for nothing is it said “if you are tired of Chardonnay you are tired of wine”. Chardonnay is often quite a heavy structured wine so will match main courses of all types.

Sparkling Wine made from Canterbury Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes that are picked earlier with higher acidity than table grapes has a promising future. After the first normal fermentation there is a second fermentation in the bottle. Fermentation produces carbon dioxide which, when trapped in the bottle, makes the bubbles. A strong bottle and secure cork are essential! After the second fermentation there is yeast sediment which gives definite yeasty tastes to the wine. Leaving the wine on the yeast lees for some time creates complex characters. The sediment must be disgorged and this is done by riddling (turning the bottle regularly while it is upended on an angle) and then freezing the sediment, which has gathered it the neck, and shooting it out before recorking. There are endless blending options, including blending different vintages (harvests) or adding sugar – this style is definitely the winemaker’s creation. Sparkling wine has its place in celebrations of all kinds. It is the beginning and the end of any meal.

Sauvignon Blanc is probably the best known of New Zealand’s export wines. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is indeed in great demand overseas. Many Canterbury Sauvignon Blancs have this same typical wine style where methoxypyrazines have developed in grapes, which are shaded, giving grassy, even vegetative, primary characters. With riper fruit there are often melon and citrus flavours. Sauvignon Blanc grapes themselves taste of passionfuit, and this too can often be detected in the wine. After two or three years these aromas often translate to a taste of peas, which is nice if subdued, but some people find it too strong if it is pronounced. Most Sauvignon Blanc wines should be drunk within eighteen months. Sauvignon has made its name world-wide as a match for entrees. It is a dominant wine so will stand well with most spiced dishes, but may lack body for the main courses.

Breidecker is a modern hybrid grape, which has adapted well to New Zealand and grows very vigorously in Canterbury, fruiting well and making a wine which is upfront with bold greenish flavour – a nice wine with strong flavoured food. Breidecker is a favourite lunch wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon does ripen in some favoured locations and there are quite a few very good Canterbury Cabernet Sauvignons. The noble red grape is often the base for blends with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, even Pinot Noir, as it can be relied upon for tannins, which give astringency and good palate structure to a wine. A typical Cabernet will be quite powerful, sometimes with almost a metallic hint, and a heavy blackcurrant flavour is not unusual. This is a good wine to buy if you want the bottle to last all evening! Cabernet Sauvignon is the traditional match for all meat dishes.

Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon but a good Merlot, although softer, can stand alone with good strength and definite berry fruit aroma and flavours, which have come straight through from the grapes. This vine does not set fruit well, so crop is often light (which is probably how it manages to ripen at all in Canterbury) consequently there is not very much around. A well-structured Merlot is often tight on first opening so leave it in the glass a short while to allow full flavour development! Merlot is an easy-going match for a whole meal, and will carry through from soup to dessert.

Pinot Blanc has primary grape-sourced fruit flavours and light volatile perfume. It is a dry wine with strong structure and good aftertaste, lasting well in the mouth, full-bodied and satisfying to white wine drinker. Pinot Blanc has won gold medals and will grow in popularity both here and in export markets. It is quite light so should be matched with appetisers, hors-doevres, and will enhance fish and seafood.

Enigma Unknown in any other region of New Zealand this newly discovered grape was once the favourite red grape of the Loire Valley. It is frost tolerant which is an advantage in Canterbury. It produces wonderful bunches of ripe red grapes, that make a raspberry/strawberry flavoured Rose, which is a good starter, suiting many light lunchtime meals. The pleasant soft red wine from these grapes suits fish, lighter meat and chicken dishes. This grape has a bright future as a high producing blending option. The wines are interesting and different.

Rose Roses are made in three ways. The first is to blend a little red wine with white. The second is to allow red grape juice to sit for a very short while on skins and then continue like a white wine. This produces a fresh fruit-driven style that is quite aromatic. The third – saigne – is used for Pinot noir rose, where some juice is bled from the wine early on to allow the remainder to become more concentrated and a better Pinot noir red wine. Saigne roses have many characteristics of Pinot noir red wines, including a dusty or white pepper note.