New Varieties

Step out of your wine comfort zone

Instead of buying the same old wines and grape varieties on auto-pilot, how about stretching yourself and trying something different? Braddon Millar from Liquorland Riccarton has some ideas and advice.

Instead of buying the same old wines and grape varieties on auto-pilot, how about stretching yourself and trying something different? Braddon Millar from Liquorland Riccarton has some ideas and advice.

We, as a nation, are in a wine rut. It’s all sauvignon blanc or chardonnay for the drinkers of whites – occasionally managing to agree on a pinot gris. The choice is a little broader for drinkers of reds. Take your pick from pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon or shiraz (usually Australian). But where do you start if you want to try something different? How do you invest in a bottle of something different, while still being sure your money is going toward something good, and with a high chance you’ll like it? Where do you start learning about other grape varieties, and what other wine-making countries have to offer? 

Firstly, talk to the retailer. A good one will know what they’re talking about and be able to make suggestions based on what you already know you like. Secondly – and this is the fun part – taste, taste and taste some more. Get a group of fellow would-be wine explorers together and set yourselves the task of each buying a bottle of a variety you’ve never heard of and taste them together. And keep notes. You don’t need to faff about with “wine words” like “hints of cardamom” or “note of pomegranate”, just note down the name of the wine, then your first impression. Then give it a minute to let the more subtle, longer-lasting flavours develop and make another note. Yes? No? Indifferent? Is it worth another try? Talk about it with your mates. Did they taste the same things? Did they like it? And if you can find them, try wines of the same grape variety but different vineyards, even different countries. 

It all adds to the wine encyclopedia you’re building up in your taste library. And that is the very best way to expand your wine knowledge and repertoire. Before you know it you’re out of that wine rut. The last thing to remember is there is no right or wrong answer. You like what you like, and don’t let anybody tell you differently.

To get you started here are a few ideas for interesting varieties available from winemakers who know what they’re doing. 

A wine for autumn

Church Rd McDonald Series Marzemino.
Marzemino is a variety originally from north east Italy which Church Rd is growing in its Redstone vineyard in Hawke’s Bay where it produced dark plumy fruit and a lovely floral fragrance. The wine has a deep colour and tannins that are not too strong, so it appeals to a wide range of red drinkers. It also has a savoury edge that means it works well with food, particularly braised meats such as lamb shanks and beef cheeks. Perfect for cooler weather. 


TEMPRANILLO (tem-prah-nee-yo ) 

If you don’t drink Spanish wine at least try some Spanish varietals. Tempranillo is a red grape native to Spain that produces full bodied red wines with a twist. The grape is quite neutral so oak treatment is a must for tempranillo but unlike tannic cabernet sauvignon the wine can be enjoyed in its youth. Brooding yet subtle, the wine typically displays flavours of plums and strawberries. If you enjoy big red wines yet don’t want to pay high prices for “wines of distinction” try a tempranillo, you won’t be disappointed. 


What sauvignon blanc is to New Zealand, malbec is to Argentina. Though the grape variety orginates in France, Argentina, specifically Mendoza, has become its modern spiritual home. It matches well with bold flavours like venison, blue cheese or field mushrooms – or all of the above. Good malbec tends to be deep in colour, slightly spicy with a rich, almost velvety mouthfeel. Argentine varieties tend to be high in alcohol and fruit. 


GEWEURZTRAMINER (gur-verts-tra-meaner) 

This is one of those wines that if you haven’t ever tried you really should; no other grape produces such a flamboyant bouquet from Turkish delight and rose water to Lychee and spice. The first thing that will grab you is the abundant aroma, winemakers talk about flavours and aromas in their wines and sometimes you scratch your head wondering if they really said that. With gewurztraminer there is no in-between; its aromas are direct and abundant.

The grape excels in cool climates and New Zealand certainly fits into that category; outside of Alsace and Germany it could be said that New Zealand produces some of the world’s best examples of this wine. Huntaway Reserve makes a fantastic New Zealand gewurztraminer, dry, aromatic and spicy the wine would work with so many food dishes. Next time try it with Thai, Japanese, or the Kiwi classic roast pork! 

VIOGNIER (vee-on-yay) 

Recently this grape varietal has had some well-deserved time in the spotlight. Traditionally from the Rhone Valley in France (this is why it works so well with shiraz/syrah, same region) this grape prefers longer warm growing seasons to fully develop. Viognier usually produces full bodied wines much like that of chardonnay but with a lot less notable oak and more aromatic flavours like peaches. 

The wine will appeal to chardonnay drinkers who love the full bodied qualities of wines, and conversely non chardonnay drinkers that find the oak too challenging. Rich, full and textural this wine is lavishly complex and would be a perfect match for Asian styled foods.

Villa Maria consistently produces high quality New Zealand wine and this Villa Maria Private Bin Viognier is a very good entry- level viognier which offers the chance to taste a classic spin on the variety without breaking the bank. It has the hallmark viognier aromas of apricot, honeysuckle and spice, with a textured palate and rich, dry finish.Villa Maria also produce another white grape variety in the Private Bin range, known as Arneis, originating from northern Italy. Often referred to as “the little rascal” because it can be difficult to cultivate arneis is a good alternative for sauvignon blanc drinkers. (Available from selected Liquorland stores). 


New Zealand riesling is still one of the best value for money wine varieties and a good place to start in your wine adventures out of the comfort zone. It offers two things, aging ability and versatility. It works brilliantly well as an aperitif, or digestif, with cheese. And good rieslings should last 20 years only getting more delicious.

As well as being probably the most loved varietal by both winemakers and wine experts in the local industry rieslings can run the full gamut of styles, from dry to very sweet – which is a mixed blessing. on one hand there is a wine here for everyone, on the other hand it can be confusing and difficult to know where to start. As a rule new Zealand rieslings sit nearer the middle of the spectrum – medium dry to fairly sweet. so if you know your preferences on the scale from dry to sweet you should have no problem finding a riesling for you. But if all else fails go back to the golden rules of tasting and asking.

Waipara is probably the best new Zealand region for riesling but there are fine examples also coming out of central otago, martinborough and marlborough. 

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