Pick of the Bunch: Top 50 wines for Christmas

By Yvonne Lorkin

Wine columnist Yvonne Lorkin reveals her festive top 50 wines for Christmas.

It's no secret we make sensational SPARKLING WINE here in New Zealand so if you want to inject some sophistication into your next soiree, you'll be more than satisfied with these home-grown examples.

1: BRANCOTT ESTATE RESERVE MARLBOROUGH SPARKLING SAUVIGNON BLANC NV, $24: Hands down, this is the best example of the style I've tried in years. White gold colour, with a super-fine bead and mousse, it's scented with sweet hay, white flowers and lemon. In the mouth it has dryness, delicacy and soft, prickly acidity fleshed out with creamy complexity and enduring length of flavour. Find it at fine wine stores and switched-on supermarkets.

2: QUARTZ REEF CENTRAL OTAGO METHODE TRADITIONNELLE ROSE NV, $35: Gorgeous trout-pink colour with vibrant cherry blossom, strawberry shortcake and toasted bagel aromas. Clean and elegant, it boasts seductive spritz, textural complexity and impressively rich length of flavour. Made from 100 per cent Bendigo pinot noir, this is a sensational example.

More please! Available from fine wine stores or via www.quartzreef.co.nz

3: NAUTILUS ESTATE MARLBOROUGH CHARDONNAY 2010, $31: This is an exercise in restraint and elegance, showing nectarine, citrus and lemony loveliness, tangy, toasty texture and solid length of flavour. I'd love to try this wine again in a year's time because I think it's destined for great things. Available from fine wine stores or via www.nautilusestate.com

4: MOANA PARK HAWKE'S BAY VIOGNIER 2010, $20: Wow! I fell in love with this wine at the very first sniff. Intoxicating honeysuckle, orange zest, apricot kernel and jasmine aromas lead to a rich, tropical, succulent finish. It's incredibly crisp and refreshing, yet feels weighty in the mouth. Superb served with pad Thai or yummy stir-fried chicken with loads of fresh ginger. www.moanapark.co.nz

Whoever it was that said man cannot live on CHARDONNAY alone was clearly delusional, because life is just so much better when you're sipping one of these sensational examples. Robust and ready for action, chardonnay is the most versatile varities and can handle pretty much anything a winemaker can throw at it, which is what makes it so fantastic.

5: GIBBSTON VALLEY RESERVE CHARDONNAY 2010, $32: Gorgeous tangelo and toast aromas merge with ripe stonefruit and tangy, tropical flavours. Rich and elegantly textured, this wine just keeps on giving with a deliciously enduring finish. Lovely stuff. More please. www.gibbstonvalleynz.com

6: SACRED HILL WINE THIEF HAWKE'S BAY CHARDONNAY 2010, $30: Created from fruit sourced from the famous Riflemans vineyard out in Hawke's Bay's Dartmoor Vineyard, this chardonnay has downright sexy aromas of peach, buttered crumpets and honey with juicy, tropical intensity and freshness on the finish - perfect with seared scallops wrapped in bacon. www.sacredhill.com

7: FAIRHALL DOWNS SINGLE VINEYARD MARLBOROUGH CHARDONNAY 2008, $29: "Oh, that's my favourite one!" squeals Yvonne Cloake, the office administrator at Fairhall when I ring her to request a bottle shot. "Why more people don't drink chardonnay I'll never know," she says before hanging up the phone. My sentiments exactly - and this is a spectacular example, with enticing oaky richness sliced through with grapefruit, white peach and bursting with tropical fruit, cinnamon, polished acidity and tangy, textural elegance. www.fairhalldowns.co.nz

8: MILLS REEF RESERVE CHARDONNAY 2010, $24.95: Another outstanding chardonnay from Mills Reef, which has made a habit of bringing out the best of its Hawke's Bay fruit. A wonderful nose of citrus and cream that leads on to a broad, expansive mouthfeel and layer upon layer of cream, fruit and acid. Another triumph.

9: CRAGGY RANGE LES BEAUX CAILLOUX GIMBLETT GRAVELS CHARDONNAY 2009, $62: "2009 was a tough year for chardonnay; in fact, it came incredibly close to being a total disaster," says Steve Smith MW. But clearly there's some talent in the winery because the last version of this wine boasts delicate peach, spring florals and brulee aromas on the nose and a fresh, citrus-forward minerally elegance on the palate. Crunchy-fresh, it's still very young so I'd really love to try it again in a year. www.craggyrange.com

10: FROMM VINEYARD LA STRADA MARLBOROUGH CHARDONNAY 2008, $32: A delicious, aromatic combination of custard squares, brandy snaps and brulee notes characterises this chardonnay. In the mouth it has incredible freshness and weight, with a hazelnutty complexity on the back palate. A lovely, lengthy finish makes it chardonnay perfection. www.frommwinery.co.nz

11: LOCHIEL ESTATE MANGAWHAI CHARDONNAY 2010, $25: Featuring pungent, punchy peach, pineapple and grapefruity aromas, this wine is loaded with toasty, juicy gorgeousness and it has a fantastic future. Visit www.lochielestate.co.nz for stockists.

12: SPY VALLEY ENVOY MARLBOROUGH CHARDONNAY 2008, $37: This is my type of chardonnay - big, bold and built like the proverbial brick outhouse. Gorgeous grapefruit, peach and pure, perfectly balanced, oak aromas waft from the glass; and the power and pungency of the fruit flavours make it practically impossible to limit yourself to just one glass. However, incredible persistence of flavour means you'll savour each and every sip. Available from fine wine stores or at www.spyvalleywine.co.nz

If there was ever a more perfect wine to go with that spicy Indian curry or your favourite Thai dish it's GEWURZTRAMINER. So beautifully perfumed, so layered with exotic fruit and spice notes, so lovely in every way that it's hard for me to resist if I see one on a wine list.

13: MISSION ESTATE GEWURZTRAMINER 2010, $14:  This snappy little aromatic has real character and represents fantastic value for money. Lovely lychee, ginger and exotic spices merge with crisp tropical notes, a round, ripe mouthfeel and tangy length of flavour. Great stuff, and widely available. www.missionestate.co.nz

14: ASTROLABE VOYAGE MARLBOROUGH GEWURZTRAMINER 2009, $24:  How perfect is this wine? Let me tell you. Oozing classic lychee, ginger, white peach, rose petal and spicy quince-like characters, this gorgeous gewurz is also incredibly clean, fresh and sweetly succulent on the finish. Heavenly to drink. For a stockist near you visit www.astrolabewines.co.nz

15: SERESIN MARLBOROUGH GEWURZTRAMINER 2009, $30:  Jaw-droppingly sexy lychee, rose and ginger aromas and a lush, tangy burst of tropical gorgeousness greet every lucky sipper. I love this wine because it is fresh and vibrant, but essentially elegant and incredibly long and luscious on the finish. More, please! www.seresin.co.nz

16: OLSSENS VINEYARD GEWURZTRAMINER 2010, $25:  Clean, bright Jazz apple, rose and delicate lychee flavours, combined with elegantly spritzy acidity, rich, spicy fruit weight and a clinging, silky finish makes this absolutely delectable. I want to win Lotto and bathe in it. Or at least get paid enough to afford really good takeaway Thai food to enjoy with it. www.olssens.co.nz

PINOT GRIS can be as dry as a bone, tropical and juicy or super, super-sweet. So if you try one you don't like, don't assume they all taste the same - get back out there and give gris another go!

17: SAINT CLAIR GODFREY'S CREEK RESERVE MARLBOROUGH PINOT GRIS 2010, $25:  Nashi pear, creme caramel and quince aromas lead to a silky, oily, citrus and apple-skin character on the finish. A combination of crispness and richness makes this a fantastic autumn sip - just don't over-chill it. www.saintclair.co.nz

18: URLAR GLADSTONE PINOT GRIS 2010, $28: Biodynamically produced and boasting lovely nashi, granny smith and marshmallow notes. Hints of sweetness, but a clean, refreshing finish make this one to watch. www.urlar.co.nz

Summer screams SAUVIGNON BLANC and great sauvignon can be found at every price level, so why not mix it up by ditching the old favourites and experiment with something new occasionally. Not sure why the world loves our sauvignon so much? Taste any of these and you'll find out.

19: CHURCH ROAD RESERVE HAWKE'S BAY SAUVIGNON BLANC 2010, $30:  What gets me excited about sauvignon blanc is when winemakers throw in gorgeous things such as wild yeasts, barrel fermentations and lees stirring. This wine has sweet almond, passionfruit, white peach and white pepper, fleshed out with honeydew melon. I absolutely love this wine and I implore you to try it. Demand it from your local fine wine store.

20: DOG POINT MARLBOROUGH SAUVIGNON BLANC 2010, $24:  Funky herbaceous and minerally aromas meet ultra-tasty, tangy lime and passionfruit flavours in the mouth. This is Marlborough sauvignon with real character and charm - definitely worth an extra few dollars and perfect with crayfish and whitebait fritters (yes, together in a fritter, yum!). Find this at fine wine stores or visit www.dogpoint.co.nz

21: AMISFIELD CENTRAL OTAGO SAUVIGNON BLANC 2010 $25: If you're thinking sauvignon from these seriously southern climes would be lean and green, then think again. Amisfield's has ripe, tropical pineapple and passionfruit aromas with basil and peapod notes. It's vibrant, refreshingly zesty and has a lovely, satisfying mouthfeel and superb length of flavour. www.amisfield.co.nz

22: NEUDORF MOUTERE PINOT GRIS 2010, $29:  Punchy and pungently flavoured with juicy pear, nectarine, quince and almond meal characters, rounded out with solid, crisp acidity - it's just super-lovely and one that I'll definitely be buying again. www.neudorf.co.nz

23: DURVILLEA MARLBOROUGH PINOT GRIGIO 2010, $14:  Crisp apple, pear and spicy, strudel-like flavours and zingy, quince-like length of flavour. Really juicy, fresh and super yummy. Perfect with sauteed scallops or smoked chicken salad. Widely available.

I adore RIESLING so much that I have a list of bottles that I want stuffed into my coffin when I'm buried. But on a more lively note, great riesling will put the spark back into even the most tired, jaded tastebuds - and it's the perfect wine to kickstart those late afternoon soirees this summer.

24: MOUNT RILEY MARLBOROUGH RIESLING 2011, $16: Seductively perfumed with white flowers, lime, white peach and green apple. In the mouth it is incredibly crisp and succulent with just a tiny squirt of sweetness - and stunning length of flavour. It's a brilliant wine for the price and amazing with spicy calamari. www.mountriley.co.nz

25: MISSION ESTATE HAWKE'S BAY RIESLING 2010, $16:  Already a gold medal winner, this snappy little riesling is scented with beeswax, honeysuckle, and white peach, while crisp, clean lemon-lime flavours explode in the mouth. It's just sensational value for money and wickedly good with sweet chilli chicken. www.missionestate.co.nz

26: FROMM MARLBOROUGH RIESLING SPATLESE 2009, $30:  Spatlese is a German term used to describe light, late-harvested wines and this is an absolute beauty. Subtle, mineral, lime and beeswax aromas lead to an incredibly concentrated burst of Granny Smith apple and tangy confectionary with a clean, citrus-fresh snappy finish. At 78 g/l residual sugar, the sweetness is refreshing and the alcohol reveals a very demure 7 per cent which I love. Hands down one of my favourite examples. Outstanding. www.frommvineyards.co.nz

27: PEGASUS BAY WAIPARA RIESLING 2009, $28:  Pungent aromas of lemon verbena, lime, beeswax and honeysuckle combine with perfectly balanced, tangy citrus in the mouth and a sprinkling of lemon zest with a hint of sweetness to flesh out the finish. Lovely. www.pegasusbay.com

28: TERRACE EDGE WAIPARA RIESLING 2010, $18:  Wow! Delicious jazz apple aromas and a super-tangy melange of apple crumble, pear and squinty quince flavours burst open in the mouth. I really like the crispness and elegant length of flavour in this wine, too; it's just fantastic with slivers of parmesan cheese dipped in liquid honey. www.terraceedge.co.nz

These various combinations of MERLOT, CABERNET FRANC, CABERNET SAUVIGNON, MALBEC and PETIT VERDOT are often referred to as Bordeaux Blends because in that famous region in France you are only allowed to make red wines from those varieties. Here in godzone we are now creating deliciously complex, elegant yet muscular red wines from these varieties which are so astonishingly good they're rivalling the French. 

29: TE AWA LEFTFIELD MERLOT MALBEC 2009, $26:  Swoon-inducing cocoa, dried thyme, pepper and ripe plum aromas lead to a burst of plush, spicy berryfruit, espresso and smoky oak notes in the mouth and leaves deliciously meaty finish. Easy to see how this wine won the trophy for champion cabernet sauvignon or merlot/cabernet blend at last year's Air NZ Wine Awards. Widely available.

30: MATUA SINGLE VINEYARD MATHESON HAWKE'S BAY MERLOT 2009 $69:  Ruby-hued and exhibiting saucy aromas of plum compote and chocolate while in the mouth, it has succulent cherry, blackberry and enticing spices. The oak is beautifully integrated, the acidity is elegant, the alcohol is warming, and the finish is solid and muscular. Definitely a wine for rare eye fillet. www.matua.co.nz

31: MISSION JEWELSTONE GIMBLETT GRAVELS CABERNET MERLOT 2009, $40:  It feels a little strange describing a wine made by a company founded by French missionaries as, well, sexy - but there's no other word that fits better. Scented with exotic, enticing plum, pepper, Christmas-pudding spices, cocoa and soft, smoky tones. In the mouth it is succulent, inviting, and holds beautiful fruit weight along with perfectly powdery tannins, lovely oak notes and stunning persistence of flavour. This would be why this wine stunned the international wine press by coming third in an international blind tasting that included eight legendary Bordeaux wines.

32: ALPHA DOMUS AD THE AVIATOR 2009, $57: Glossy, magenta-flecked with crimson, it has exotic plum blossom, blackberry and cocoa aromas and one sip shows multi-layered texture in the mouth. It is warming, velvety and long on flavour. Buy now or forever kick yourself. www.alphadomus.co.nz

33: CRAGGY RANGE 'THE QUARRY' GIMBLETT GRAVELS CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009, $64:  The "Prestige" cabernet from Craggy Range was always rather stunning, yet the 2009 is something else entirely. It could be the result of using special new cabernet clones from Bordeaux brought to New Zealand by Kim Goldwater. The Craggy team love them and I can see why. Glossy garnet-black and perfumed with dried herbs, wild mint and dark chocolate, it boasts bold black fruit, tight oak and a hint of medicinal spice. It's juicy and chewy with warmth, weight and elegant persistence of flavour. www.craggyrange.com

34: GEORGES ROAD BLOCK THREE WAIPARA RIESLING 2010, $23: 1/2 A few years making wine in Germany clearly infected Kirk Bray with the riesling bug, and this superb example has subtle Jazz apple, feijoa and lip-smacking lime notes, underpinned with beautifully balanced acidity and superb persistence of flavour. Gentle, wild fermentation gives this riesling extra depth and a hint of funk. Buy from www.georgesroadwines.co.nz

35: VILLA MARIA RESERVE GIMBLETT GRAVELS GRENACHE 2007, $60: I've been waiting for a 100% Grenache from Hawke's Bay since forever! Heady roasting pan juices, rosemary and dusty, earthy aromas lead the way to spicy plum, mace and amazingly silky, earthy, blackberry and cherry smoke. It's a muscular, meaty wine  and is just sensational with venison sausages. www.villamaria.co.nz

36: CYPRESS HAWKE'S BAY MERLOT 2010 $21: Lifted spicy plum, raspberry and deep cherry and cocoa aromatics, followed by a lovely chocolate, smokey character on the finish, this is a fantastic, fresh, beautifully balanced red that will definitely impress. I think it'll cellar well for another four to five years if you're disciplined enough. www.cypresswines.co.nz

37: MATARIKI QUINTOLOGY 2007, $80:  One of New Zealand's best-known red wines, this example of Gimblett Gravels gorgeousness is released only when the fruit is exceptional. A vintage-dependent blend of merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec, this version bursts with dried herbs and exotic spices dusted over juicy, ripe plum and dense berryfruit. I love the hint of char and iodine that hits before the silky, warming mouthfeel, elastic tannins and sophisticated length of flavour. www.matarikiwines.co.nz

38: TI POINT TWO MERLOT CABERNET FRANC 2010, $22:  Matakana winemaker Tracy Haslam has created a really tasty wine with bright berryfruit, smoke and pepper notes on the nose, followed by lovely plush, fruit-forward tannins and a ripe, robust finish. A definite crowd-pleaser and absolutely lovely with steak-and-kidney pie. www.tipoint.co.nz

Make no mistake New Zealand PINOT NOIR has fans stretching the four corners of the globe. Why? Because we produce hauntingly beautiful lush, juicy flavoursome styles that are ultimately memorable. Plus we're so good at producing mouth-wateringly tender lamb that it stands to reason we should be able to create the perfect wine to match.

39: PASQUALE WAITAKI VALLEY PINOT NOIR 2009, $49:  Sweet cherry, plum, black tea and rhubarb aromas lead the way to lovely, juicy, tangy yet earthy spicy layers of flavour. A great wine from a fantastic new pinot region and superb with spicy duck casserole. www.pasquale.co.nz

40: FROMM LA STRADA MARLBOROUGH PINOT NOIR 2008, $36:  This is a great wine. Meaty, savoury aromas, dried herbs, cocoa and floral notes make it difficult to take your nose out of the glass. Sip it and its presence, weight and layers of spicy cherry-rich complexity are revealed, along with a beautifully balanced and rewarding finish. www.frommwinery.co.nz

41: JUDGE ROCK CENTRAL OTAGO PINOT NOIR 2007, $30:  This tiny wee pinot producer barely features on the national radar, but I'm hoping that'll change because man, can it make the good stuff. Its 2007 drop sees earthy spices, sandalwood and forest-floor notes hit the nose, and a seam of savoury mushroom cut through the cherry and dried-herb flavours on the way to a smooth, slippery, persistent finish. Perfect with chargrilled venison rubbed with cocoa. www.judgerock.co.nz

42: RIPPON TINKERS FIELD MATURE VINE PINOT NOIR 2009, $95:  Yes, you are right - it is that price. But I guarantee if you try this you'll quickly realise that the last thing you spent 90 bucks on didn't give you half the satisfaction as just one sip of the Tinkers Field. Biodynamically produced from one of the oldest pinot noir sites in Central Otago, it is scented with sweet rhubarb, cherry chocolate and earthy spices. In the mouth it has lush intensity of flavour, juicy red fruits and black tea and finishes with soft, delicately prickly tannins and plush persistence of flavour. It is an experience not forgotten in a hurry. Order at www.rippon.co.nz

46: ESCARPMENT PAHI MARTINBOROUGH PINOT NOIR 2009, $65:  This is one of a select five limited-edition, site-specific wines produced by Lord Larry McPinot, and it's a monster. Sexy cherry and intense dark chocolate merge with shitake mushroom and delicious dried herb notes. Despite packing a punch in the mouth, the tannins are silken, lush and lovely with rock-solid structure that will last the long haul. Not a pinot for the puny. www.escarpment.co.nz

47: AKARUA 'RUA' CENTRAL OTAGO PINOT NOIR 2010, $26:  Super-sexy aromas of dark chocolate, cherry and smoky oak open the door to deliciously balanced, deeply juicy cranberry and plum flavours and a rich, satisfying length of flavour. Great wine to drink now, but I suggest buying a case and tasting a bottle every six months just to check on its progress. www.akarua.com

48: MISHA'S VINEYARD "THE HIGH NOTE" CENTRAL OTAGO PINOT NOIR 2009, $45:  Beautiful fresh berries, cherries and chocolate notes on the nose, followed by ripe raspberry, baked strawberry, rhubarb and prickly fresh baking spices on the palate. Soft, yet clinging tannins make it slip down leaving a lovely warming texture in its wake. Delicious with sticky rich duck casserole. Stockists online at: www.mishasvineyard.com

SYRAH is a rising star amongst our reds and just one whiff of its distinctive pepper, violet, blackcurrant and cocoa notes will tell you why it is fast becoming a favourite. Syrah is exactly the same grape as shiraz - not sure why the Australians call it shiraz, but it's a grape whose aromas and flavours are incredibly climate-sensitive.

43: SQUAWKING MAGPIE 'THE STONED CROW' GIMBLETT GRAVELS SYRAH 2009, $40: Inky-dark and packed with concentrated plum, cocoa, sexy spices and lifted dried-herb aromatics. In the mouth it is luscious, juicy and elegantly flavoursome. The tannins are solid, present yet beautifully integrated and contribute to stunning length of flavour. This is a superb wine which is built for the long haul. There's precious little available so visit www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz for info on how to buy.

44: MUD HOUSE SWAN CENTRAL OTAGO PINOT NOIR 2010, $36:  Opulent red fruits, cocoa, spicy, earthy flavours wash over the palate finishing with damson plum and black tea notes. This is one lovely pinot with impressive length of flavour and fantastic cellaring potential. You can buy it from fine wine stores or through www.mudhouse.co.nz

45: MISSION ESTATE HUCHET SYRAH 2007, $100:  Only 1657 bottles were produced of this wine, which was five years in the making and blended from two parcels of fruit from targeted vines in Mission Estate's vineyard. Impenetrable and glossy in the glass, it has elegantly spicy aromas of dark chocolate, pepper, rose and sweet smoke, followed by ripe plum and berryfruit flavours and an addictive velvety texture. It's an incredibly sexy, saucy syrah (I feel weird describing a wine named after a missionary that way, but it's true). www.huchetwine.co.nz

49: WOLF BLASS BLACK LABEL CABERNET SAUVIGNON SHIRAZ 2005, $150:  Produced from fruit sourced from the Barossa Valley, Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale, the 33rd vintage of this wine is considered the epitome of what the team at Wolf Blass can achieve with blends of cabernet and shiraz. Having just collected the George Mackey Memorial Trophy for Australia's Export Wine of the Year out of more than 18,000 wines, you'd expect Wolf Blass' flagship blended wine to be a tad smart. It's so much more than that, it's swoon-inducingly succulent with concentrated spices, seasoned, smoky oak and strong, mouth-coating cocoa notes. Rock-solid tannins wrap themselves around a firm acid spine and plump, fleshy fruit add another dimension to its jaw-dropping length of flavour.

50: JULES TAYLOR MARLBOROUGH ROSE 2010, $21:  With its super-pretty, ruby-pink hue, this rose looks as gorgeous as it smells. With raspberry, watermelon and creaming soda aromas plus a burst of phenomenally rich, clean, red berryfruit, this is one heck of a drop that perfectly suits the season. Available from Glengarry and Liquorland stores, or visit www.julestaylor.co.nz

- The Aucklander

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