For a decade, 85-year-old Cliff Hart has been sending me obscure New Zealand wines from tiny, often undiscovered producers toiling away in the backblocks.

Sometimes they're not so rare and, in his travels, he will kindly buy an extra bottle for me in case I'd overlooked it and needed "a bit of a nudge".

He adores New Zealand white wines and loves popping into boutique wineries for a little tasting.

Frankly, for me, his strike rate has been a bit average and while many of his selections have been good, well made and drinkable, none have really warranted a mention ... until now.


With a delightful handwritten note, he suggested his latest discovery was rather special. His note read: "Dear John [sometimes not a good start], One bottle of roussanne from Mahurangi River Estate. Gary, the winemaker, let a friend grow the grapes on his land and we first tried the wine nearly a year ago. Last week we bought half a dozen. Look forward to your comments."

Roussanne is a rare variety of grape in New Zealand, originally grown in the Rhone Valley in France and Tuscany in Italy. It has irregular yields, a tendency to powdery mildew and rot. In short, it is somewhat delicate and difficult to grow. Get it right and you're rewarded with an appealing, haunting aroma, a bit like refreshing herbal tea and with a bracing acidity that allows graceful ageing.

Roussanne also likes a bit of oak ageing and as a result can deliver up a wine of delicate complexity. In Europe it's often used as a blending wine with a distant cousin called marsanne, so a straight rousanne is not all that common.

I knew of Mahurangi River Winery in Warkworth, north of Auckland, but had never come across this wine before. I was immediately impressed with its jaw-droppingly beautiful flavour, balance, texture and its distinctive difference from the usual usuals.
Called "Garden of Light" and with a label featuring artwork entitled "Gods in the Sky" by local artist Cherith Curtis, it is an intriguing package.

I shared the bottle with family and neighbours, not telling them what it was. Reaction was immediate and unanimous: "lovely", "different", "what is it?"

No doubt Cliff Hart will be wanting a small retainer.

2010 Garden of Light Roussanne, $39
A delicious, creamy and lively white wine with loads of personality. It has a crisp finish with citrus leaning flavours of lemon and grapefruit and a whiff of jasmine, a superb aperitif wine.

2009 Mahurangi River Chardonnay Field of Grace, $39
Barrique-fermented in French oak producing a moreish textural wine with a rich luscious palate, it has perfect balance between oak and fruit with a restrained elegance. Would be great with seafood.