One of the brilliant things about judging at the Gisborne Regional Wine Awards is seeing just how skilled the local vignerons are at growing and producing an absolute smorgasbord of grapes and wine styles.
When it comes to fizz, they're really at the forefront, growing the grapes for Lindauer's multi-award winning Special Reserve Blanc de Blanc and Lindauer Vintage wines at vineyard sites around the region.
"Blanc de blanc" means "white on white", which is simply sparkling wine made only from white grapes such as chardonnay. Gisborne made its name as a chardonnay powerhouse and it's this grape that provides that delicate lemony biscuit note in the Lindauer we know and love.
It also delivers deliciously crisp, clean nectarine and citrus characters in un-oaked chardonnay, and also those ripe, fleshy, peach and grapefruit flavours found in bold, buxom numbers like the Villa Maria Reserve Barrique fermented chardonnay 2012, which won Supreme Wine of the Show.
But back to bubbles - if it's the sweeter styles that float your boat, then Gisborne definitely delivers.
Try Soljans Fusion Sparkling Muscat, $16, with its sweet apple, lemon and tropical flavours, and they also make a sparkling rose from a blend of muscat and pinotage. Villa Maria makes its S-Series moscato from Gisborne muscat grapes and you'll love the Millton Vineyard certified organic Muskats @ Dawn. They're like a memory of summer in a bottle.
So if "M" is for muscat, it is also for marsanne, a white grape that hails from the Rhone region in France.
It's known for having delicate white peach, pear and spicy notes and it's now making a Gisborne appearance, thanks to regional pioneer Denis Irwin. Originally of Matawhero wines, he's now producing marsanne, among a swag of other wines under his 747 Estate brand.
Right at the top of the alphabet, though, are the other Gisborne starlets - albarino and arneis.
In fact, the very first wine I tried from the 2013 harvest was a Gisborne albarino, which despite going through a bit of bottle shock had really interesting crisp white peach, pepper and dandelion characters. Originally found in Spain and Portugal, Cooper's Creek and Spade Oak are making really good Gizzy examples. Arneis, on the other hand, is an Italian variety also making itself comfortable on the East Coast. With its soft pear, almond and slightly herbal characters, it burst on the scene back in 2006 when Cooper's Creek released "The Little Rascal". Look out for impressive arneis from Matawhero and Brancott Estate, too.
Millton Vineyard is out on its own with chenin blanc, but there are a gazillion gorgeous gewurztraminers within easy grasp. Brancott Estate, Bushmere, Cooper's Creek, Matawhero, Saints and Huntaway all produce luscious, lychee-laden loveliness.
I'm also excited to see that gruner veltliner, the signature white grape of Austria, is now firmly ensconced in Gisborne. Matawhero, Coopers Creek and Spade Oak all boast fruity, fleshy, musky magic in their examples. Among the usual plethora of pinot gris, the Corbans Homestead Pinot Gris 2012 stood head and shoulders above the rest - and at $15 a bottle, it over-delivers where value for money is concerned.
I've got to say, the orange-blossom and apricot-scented viogniers coming out from Bushmere Estate, Coopers Creek, Millton, Matawhero, Huntaway and Villa Maria also have serious va-va-voom.
Looking at the reds, merlot and malbecs still rule the roost, but syrah is creeping up fast. Look out for some peppery power from the cognoscenti crew at Gisborne's EIT campus.
Andy Nimmo at Hihi is even blending syrah with tempranillo (and blending different vintages together) to warm your winter cockles, in addition to bottling some barbera for good measure.
But the big surprise for me was the arrival of Austrian red variety St Laurent.
Widely thought to be the result of pinot noir having a one-night stand with a mystery grape some 400 years ago, I've only ever tried one other Kiwi example before (Judge Rock, Central Otago). Yet Steve and Eileen Voysey at Spade Oak are proving it can definitely thrive in Gisborne.
It's a fresh, vibrant red that I'm definitely going to have on the table the next time I do lamb racks.
Spade Oak Heart of Gold St Laurent 2011, $23
Attractive strawberry, raspberry tea, cranberry and spice aromas lead the way to tangy, red-liquorice and berry flavours on the palate, all wrapped up in stretchy, supple tannins and tightly coiled acidity.
I can't wait to see how this wine ages over the next year or two. Available from www.spadeoak.co.nz
Millton Te Arai Vineyard Merlot Rose 2012, $25
Aromas of earthy raspberry, japonica and pomegranate combine with fresh, fruity, berry-driven flavours, with just a hint of dried herbs on the finish.
It's easy to see why this organically produced goodness from Gisborne won the trophy for top rose. Visit www.millton.co.nz