New Zealand’s wine industry goes from strength to strength, but due to the small scale of their production many of our best and most exciting wines aren’t available in supermarkets. Go a little off the beaten track, however, and there’s a barrelful of Kiwi drops just waiting to be discovered.
This Christmas more than ever it’s vital to support local, and among our outstanding, family-run wineries there’s a bottle for you no matter what the festive meal.
Emily Brookes matches a few of the best to each Christmas meal…
With all due respect to classic stories and everything, there is definitely lots of stirring happening in my house the night before Christmas. There are presents to wrap, trifles to assemble, family and friends to catch up with – all activities that go well with a celebratory glass or two.
But it’s crucial to avoid waking up on Christmas morning with a sore head. You’ve got a big day ahead of you.
That’s why natural wine, with its lack of sulphates and other additives, and generally lower alcohol levels, is an excellent choice for Christmas Eve.
At Churton in Marlborough, the second generation are behind the Natural State range ($27 per bottle). These are young, fresh, bright wines made to be quaffed.
You have a choice of two whites: The Pied de Cuve, a more balanced sauvignon blanc than many from New Zealand, or the Field Blend, an unusual and delicious blend of viognier, petit manseng and sauvignon blanc.
But at just 11.8 per cent alcohol, the pinot noir is particularly wise for The Night Before (some Australian shiraz or American zinfandels run at nearly twice that).
Those of you who go European-style with a formal dinner on Christmas Eve need a special bottle, like an Ata Rangi Pinot Noir ($75). It’s a benchmark for the industry, and the seminal Martinborough vineyard turns 40 this year; another cause for celebration.
Christmas Day Breakfast or Brunch
There are different ways of doing this. Some families – far more civilised families than mine – have an early breakfast to get some fuel into them before diving into presents, others go for brunch after gifts or church.
However you play it, you’ll want to be drinking bubbles.
While no wine produced in New Zealand can be called Champagne, we can get bubbles into wine using the same two-step fermentation developed there; the ensuing wine is known, unimaginatively if descriptively, as Methode Champenoise.
One of the best in New Zealand is the Brut NV Zero Dosage from Quartz Reef ($33). With high acidity and a minerality that expresses their Central Otago terroir, these are some refreshing, bone-dry bubbles; an excellent representation of the no added sugar, or zero dosage, style that’s become popular in France.
There are a few other ways of making wine effervescent, and an exciting movement here is petillant-naturel, usually shortened by its devotees to pet-nat. The wine it produces doesn’t behave or taste exactly like champagne, but can be quite delightful.
Waipara’s Black Estate leads the local game with its Home – 100 per cent unfiltered chenin blanc with a fruity freshness perfect for a Kiwi summer morning.
And if despite your best intentions you overdid it the night before, I’m reliably informed of an old hospitality hair-of-the-dog trick that involves adding a shot of campari to your morning espresso. For a homegrown twist (ha!), try Reid & Reid’s Bitter Aperitivo ($55), or Hastings Distillers’ bitter orange L’Opera ($55) in place of campari.
If ever there was a meal to go all out, the one where every place setting includes a tiny explosive is it (Christmas crackers, I mean, not family dynamics). Splash out here, but make sure the wine complements, rather than overpowers, the food.
What varietal you go for will depend on your menu and your tastes. If you’re having ham, consider the floral and fruity Clos de Ste Anne Chenin Blanc from Gisborne’s Mount Edward, New Zealand’s first certified biodynamic vineyard. The 2018 ($88.99, Caros Wine Merchants) is just coming into good drinking now.
With its solid structure and texture, Chardonnay is a superb grape for food and the Moutere Chardonnay from Neudorf in Nelson ($82) is a luxurious example. A refined, elegant wine that is a particularly strong match for seafood.
Prefer a red? Hanz Herzog limited edition Spirit of Marlborough ($99), with its rich fruit and deep spice, is a decadent cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend, lovely with red meat.
For dessert, look no further than Churton’s Petit Manseng ($49). With high acidity to balance out the sweetness this goes perfectly with pretty much any dessert you can imagine, and at any time of day.
It’s the same every year; even though at 4.30pm you were rising from the table groaning and swearing you wouldn’t need to eat until next year, there will come a time, around about 8.30pm, when the kids have passed out on the living room floor and you’ve put a cheesy film on TV, when you get a bit peckish.
Whether you go for a mince pie, leftover roast veg or the first of a thousand ham sandwiches, a crisp, light, fresh wine will wash it down nicely.
Thoughts turn to a rose, but not one of those sickly sweet roses you’re used to. No, you want something dry and light and packed with fruit, like the Te Arai Rose from Milton in Gisborne ($26) or, for something a little more savoury, the delicious Treble Rose from Black Estate ($32).
Alternatively, you could seek out a gamay, pinot noir’s lighter, fruitier cousin. Central Otago’s Mount Edward makes an excellent one – refreshing, uncomplicated, perfect for your final drink of the day.
This Christmas, give yourself the gift of Kiwi wine. Your taste buds and the industry will thank you.
All wines are available for purchase direct from the vineyard unless stated otherwise. Prices exclude shipping.