Wine writer John Hawkesby takes a look back over a year of sipping to come up with his 12 best bottles.
Coming up with a definitive "best of" list is too hard, is open to prejudice and subject to cries of bias. Wine is so personal, so individual and often tastes infinitely better when enjoyed on a sunny day. A great wine tastes even greater depending on the company, your mood, the ambience, food, location. So, taking all this on board, here are 12 wines that last year knocked my socks off and if they weren't the best in their category, they were as near as damn it. Call them the "best of" if you like, I'm calling them drop dead gorgeous.
2008 Kupe by Escarpment, $55
How did pinot noir genius Larry McKenna make a beautiful, standout chardonnay? He's very downbeat about it - but then he's not one to shout from the treetops. I'm happy to do it for him. An astonishing, finely tuned wine from a single vineyard it has a burgundian style: restrained, delicate fruit, a whisper of oak and a flinty minerality.
2009 Churton Estate, $26
Marlborough grapes still produce the best "made in New Zealand" sauvignons, which despite the rise of our pinot noir reputation, remain our international calling card. Winemaker Sam Weavers strives for a "point of difference" sauvignon blanc and achieves it with a bone-dry yet muscular beast, which combines creamy minerality with subtle textures of citrus and floral flavours. Delicious and different.
2006 Quartz Reef Methode Traditionelle, $40
From a single vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago, Austrian winemaker Rudi Bauer produces bubbles with sublime finesse and flavours of apples and lemons with a nutty lightning-crisp finish. This is a perfect fit with all light summer dishes - or have it on its own. Made up of 97 per cent chardonnay and 3 per cent pinot noir, it's 100 per cent value for money.
2009 Gibbston Valley, $28
A truly great summer wine pinot gris continues to collect new converts, especially those defecting from the ranks of sauvignon blanc. No one has done it better than this Central Otago producer who continues to display versatility that goes beyond its excellent pinots. A charming, rich, creamy wine, with oodles of citrus and spice and all things nice. This is a standout.
2008 Prophets Rock Dry Riesling, $29
The grape variety that often confuses and annoys consumers because half the time they have no idea whether the wine is dry, bone-dry, sweet or somewhere in between. Thankfully, this Central Otago producer tells you what you are getting on the front label. And what you are getting here is a beauty from a 1ha site with oodles of flavour, texture and nuance. It is sophisticated and suave.
2006 Vinoptima Estate Ormond Reserve, $55
Some delicious wines are being offered up for less than $30, but if you crave the Rolls Royce version and don't mind paying accordingly, go straight to this wine. Nick Nobilo's tightly focused obsession with producing a world-class gewurztraminer has been realised with this Gisborne-grown goddess from one of the country's most immaculate vineyards. Truly astonishing.
2009 Clos de Ste. Anne Les Arbres, $55
Still underrated and hovering below the radar, viognier must be due to take its rightful position as a truly great white wine that flourishes with appropriate care in New Zealand. The folk at Gisborne's biodynamic estate, Millton Vineyard, know how to do "grape whispering"' better than anyone and their efforts have been rewarded with a wine that makes you wonder why so many consumers stay with sauvignon or chardonnay. Release the rebel within and try something different.
2008 Bilancia La Collina, $90
The new "darling" of New Zealand red wines is syrah. La Collina delivers grunt, grace, power and poise and is succulent and savoury. Enough said.
2007 Two Gates Omahu, $55
Stunning debut for this Hawkes Bay producer with this merlot dominant and some cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon making up the blend. All you want from a serious red wine, balance, texture, harmony and drinkability. Yet more proof that the Gimblett Gravels is hallowed turf for red wines of distinction.
2007 Mountford Estate, $60
Spookily magnificent but sadly there's only five cases left and the winery will not be bribed to part with them - I can understand why. This small Waipara vineyard has a habit of turning out world-class wines.
2008 Sacred Hill Brokenstone, $65
It's always a pleasure to find a merlot that's comfortable in its own grapeskin. Not as fashionable as it once was, a decent merlot is a joy to behold, and this one is worth lots of attention. Still young, it is already hinting of greatness to come. It is rich, fragrant and charming with all the structure required for strength and the gentleness for easy drinking.
2010 Jules Taylor, about $20
It was a great year for this Marlborough winemaker. Her sauvignon blanc got heaps of accolades and in fact everything she touches is refined, refreshing and great value for money. Nothing more so than this Gisborne-grown summer sipper. Drowning with intense raspberry and strawberry flavours, this merlot-based beauty came from a low-yielding vintage that produced explosive, mouthwatering magic.