Wine writer John Hawkesby welcomes in the New Year with a look back at the top offerings of 2012

2012 Invivo Organic Marlborough - $21.90

This smells like any other Marlborough sauvignon blanc: pungent and grassy with vegetal touches, hints of asparagus and tropical notes. Perfect, like a sauvignon from Marlborough ought to smell. On the palate, however, you don't get what you expect - and it's this point of difference that is so appealing. With restrained and subtle elements of grapefruit, pineapple and passionfruit, a precise minimalist structure and a long, tight finish, tending dry, this wine is a wonderful, sophisticated understatement.

2011 Mountford Estate - $29

This strode across the pinot gris landscape with loads of attitude and in superb condition. Pinot gris is still proving difficult for a lot of producers, whose wine is tepid, insipid and devoid of personality. Not this one. Full, fragrant and fulsome, with a botrytis (sweet) influence, the colour has a slightly rosy hue and big flavours of pear, citrus and quince. An opulent and rich wine very much in the classic Alsace style.

2010 Morton Estate Coniglio - $90

A clear winner in a usually difficult field, this wine is produced only in years when the Hawkes Bay fruit achieves absolute perfection. A seamless style with the kind of elegance associated with Audrey Hepburn and the extroverted theatricality of Dame Edna. Bold yet reserved, with a level of funk and flavour rarely found in New Zealand chardonnay (caramel, butterscotch, toffee, smoked manuka and vanilla bean), this is a sensational, smooth and succulent wine.


2011 Mount Edward "The Drumlin" - $29

It doesn't get much better than this: a brilliant example of just how well Central Otago does riesling. Self-confessed riesling obsessive Duncan Forsyth has created a finely tuned gem that vacillates between sweet and gently sour. At 9.5 per cent alcohol, it's very Moselle-like, with a light, breezy touch, intense citrus flavours and perfect poise and searing acidity ... truly remarkable.

2011 Johanneshof Cellars - $28.50

This Marlborough producer has been churning out moreish gewurztraminer with remarkable consistency. Always reliable, always outstanding and the ideal wine to introduce people to the varietal. This wine goes well with much of our Asian-infused cuisine, being richly perfumed and full of citrus, spice, rose petals, turkish delight and nougat flavours. So seductive it can become addictive.

2010 Pasquale - $39

This is made from grapes from the Waitaki Valley and there is a miniscule production, but it's worth seeking out for a wine with a difference. This varietal, a classic grape of France's Rhone Valley, is gaining some traction here. It is usually highly aromatic and tending dry. This wine leans towards the more subtle flavour spectrum with an engaging, wet stone minerality. A smooth and pleasant change from the usual more popular whites.

2005 Squawking Magpie SQM Platinum - $69

Possibly one of the best New Zealand merlots - ever. Yes, that good. A classic example of how a wine can develop over time and benefit from a delayed release. It was 7 years old when it came to market and I doubt that there is much left. Merlot-dominant, with some added cabernet sauvignon, it was was released to celebrate 30 years of Squawking Magpie in Hawkes Bay's Gimblett Gravels. The wine has a velvet texture, long and full "sit on the back of the throat" finish with flavours of black fruits, cassis, cigar box and vanilla.

2009 Elephant Hill "Airvata" - $90

Not your usual big, bossy style, this has a more restrained approach with a nod to the more gentle style of the northern Rhone ... but still with plenty of flavour. From an outstanding vintage, this has been purposely released three years later, allowing complexity and depth to develop. An elegant and beautifully balanced wine that is food friendly - it's especially good with barbecued red meat dishes.

2010 Stonyridge Larose - $250

A premier Waiheke wine with a cult following, this never has a huge production run and most is sold to a loyalty club. 2010 was one of the greatest vintages in memory for Waiheke (as elsewhere) so this is a show-stopper. Predominantly cabernet sauvignon with malbec, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot, it is inky black and an imposing wine but it is carefully blended, providing a complex, deeply fruited style with firm tannins. This is a keeper and will be even better in 2030. Save it for an extra special

2010 Ata Rangi - $65

Dedicated pinot followers won't have any trouble agreeing with this choice. Ata Rangi always sits in the top 5 and has done for many years. Their 2010 is sublime. As usual, perfectly balanced with a cheeky squeakiness that gives it another layer of personality. A "drift of acidity" and mellow tannins give it that velvet, coloured brick dimension; it's a quirky wine, with great harmony and complexity.

2011 Church Road - $29

Inaugural release with Hawkes Bay grapes, this is a limited edition and quite divine. Made from merlot and syrah, it has vibrant strawberry and raspberry aromas and flavours with a fleshy fine texture, crisp acidity and a pleasant lingering finish. It makes the perfect summer aperitif - and very hard to resist that second glass.

2011 Akarua Noir Ice - Price: $40 (375ml bottle)

Quite outstanding, and, for those not normally fond of dessert wine, this could change their mind. Made from 100 per cent Central Otago pinot noir grapes, it's made to drink young but will cellar comfortably for another seven years. An incredibly rich wine bursting with strawberries, toffee apples, orange and marmalade, it has a lovely acid balance finish. Serve lightly chilled as the sun goes down.