Don Kavanagh toasts wine stars and a spirited arrival.

My word, hasn't it been a good year for wine?

I don't just mean the stunning 2013 vintage, although the wines are proving as effortlessly gorgeous as the vintage promised; I mean wine generally. The savage price-hacking has abated, which may not sound good from a consumer perspective, but is necessary for the long-term survival of our wineries, and export volumes are increasing as the world decides it can still afford to drink decent wine.

So, with all these good wine vibes hanging about, it was a pretty tough call to choose my favourite wines of the year. Instead, I'll mention a few that have really stuck in my mind, the sort of wine you keep thinking about long after you've finished the glass.

First among these would be the remarkable Paulownia Estate Noble Sauvignon Blanc 2009. This luscious stunner made such an impression on me that I've been recommending it willy-nilly to bars, restaurants and friends ever since I tried it. Rarely have I found such a combination of quality and unbelievable value in a wine. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay it is to say that I'd happily pay twice the retail price for it.


I tried the gold-medal winning wines from the Air New Zealand Wine Awards recently (prior to the trophy winners being announced) and I can only disagree mightily with the judges over their choice of Sparkling Wine of the Year. The winner, Nautilus Brut Cuvee, is a fine wine indeed and I don't wish to denigrate its achievement, but how Palliser's sparkling wine didn't win is beyond me. The 2008 Methode is the best bubbly I have tried this year by some distance and if you want an affordable way to find out what vintage champagne tastes like, you can start with this little ripper.

My favourite white table wine this year is a toss-up between two chardonnays - who'd have thought, eh? Anyway, they are Villa Maria's Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay and the most recent release of Mills Reef's Reserve Chardonnay. Both are classic chardonnays with plenty of flavour, but they represent different ends of the spectrum. The Villa Maria packs a real punch and some almost eye-watering intensity, and the Mills Reef is elegant and ethereal, with a softness that disguises the sheer richness underneath.

As for red wine, the one that has stayed in my mind most this year has been the Man O' War Dreadnought Syrah 2010, an absolute cracker of a wine that does everything you'd expect from a syrah and then some. I've been a massive fan of Man O' War's Valhalla Chardonnay for a while, but the Dreadnought is every bit as impressive.

And after all that, I've left myself a little short of space to wax too lyrical about spirits, but perhaps that's a good thing. Everyone has their own favourite, so there isn't much point in trying to change that. However, I would like to point out one absolutely brilliant spirit-based product I discovered this year, and that is the Sipsmith Summer Cup.

Made by gin experts, this is like Pimms on steroids and quite the most summery thing you could possibly drink this year. Simply add lime juice, soda and seasonal fruit as a garnish and you have summer in a tall glass. What better way to combat the stresses and strains of the Christmas season?