Shrugging at Chardonnay? Sick of Syrah? Try these (not) French varietals growing in popularity with NZ winemakers

by | May 10, 2024 | Drinks, Opinion

Since we ran the first installment of this two-parter, we’ve found ourselves falling back in love with some of the grape varietals that first put New Zealand on the map as a wine producing nation and that we’ve been a touch guilty of taking for granted as of late. We loved the energy of A Thousand Gods’ 100% Sauvignon, simply called Blanc, which redefines what is possible to achieve with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Forget gooseberries and cat piss, this is all about the minerality and salinity, accompanying that trademark whip-crack of Marlborough acidity.

We’ve been enjoying some lighter-touch, lower alcohol Hawke’s Bay Syrah from the likes of Responsible Hedonist, Amoise, Kenzie, and Hopesgrove’s Le Petit Syrah which we put in the fridge and happily glugged and glugged until it was gone.

Best of all were the Chardonnays, a varietal that New Zealand seems to do better and better with every passing year. Kenzie’s Mangatahi Chardonnay was a lesson in balance, its granny smith apple fruit perfectly integrated with a subtle oak influence and a crunchy, chalky texture.

But our favourite bottle of the year so far has been the Queen of Swords Chardonnay, made by Ashleigh Barrowman for Siren Wines. The fruit was sourced entirely from the organic Wrekin Vineyard in Marlborough and It’s totally unlike any other New Zealand Chardonnay we’ve tasted. In fact, it put us in mind of the Jura in Eastern France (where Barrowman spent time working with Les Bottes Rouges) with it’s taut minerality manifesting as a pronounced flintiness, purity of fruit, and complex nuttiness on the finish. A wine that is delicious now and should be fascinating in a decade’s time if you can stop yourself from drinking it all immediately. We hold out little hope.

It’s great news that these old friends can still surprise us when handled by young, outward-looking winemakers. But what other grape varieties growing here in New Zealand are worth checking out?


Albariño is most at home in Galicia in Northwest Spain and in the Northwest of Portugal (where it is known as Alvarinho) but has been making inroads with New Zealand growers for the last decade or so. Originally planted by Coopers Creek in Gisbourne, this thick skinned, aromatic white grape is becoming increasingly popular in the Hawke’s Bay.

The best examples of New Zealand Albariño tend to eskew the light body of their Iberian counterparts and lean towards more textural, viscous, and fleshy wines. Amoise in the Hawke’s Bay use fruit harvested from the Two Terraces Vineyard. They leave the juice in contact with the skins for two weeks to accentuate Albariño’s green, phenolic character. The free run juice is then decanted into large spherical and small Tinajas for ageing on its lees. The resulting wine is beautifully golden in colour, explosively fruity, a touch smokey, and has a lingering raw almond bitterness on the finish. If you happen to be in Hamilton you can get in on tap at Amphora Wine Bar, where it might just be poured by yours truly.

Other notable kiwi Albariño’s are being produced by the likes of Kenzie, Nautilus, Smith and Sheth, and Terrace Edge. It’s all the rage so give it a go.


Montepulciano (not to be confused with Vino Nobile Montepulciano, a DOCG in Tuscany) is one of those grapes that always seems to dip just under the radar of the broader wine drinking public. It’s original home is in Eastern central Italy especially in Abruzzo where it produces truly great wines by the likes of Emidio Pepe and the ever-mysterious (and now dead) Edoardo Valentini.

This deeply coloured, rich, and peppery varietal has found a happy home-away-from-home in Australia and is only just starting to get a toe-hold in New Zealand where it is really only suited to our warmer, more Northerly regions. Waiheke Island has been the most enthusiastic adopter of Montepulciano, most notably by Obsidian. On the other side of the Hauraki gulf, Cooper’s Creek are producing a Montepulciano in Kumeu which they’ve given the questionable moniker “Guido in Velvet Pants” (why do winemakers do this? Who are these names aimed at?).

While still in its infancy in this country, it might pay to keep an eye on Montepulciano. With climate change heating up our growing regions, we might be seeing more of this inky Italian interloper, even a little further south…

The madness of Hans Herzog

Only the most ecentric of winemakers would try growing Montepulciano in the cool climate of Marlborough. Or plant Saperavi, the ancient, dark-skinned grape variety from Georgia. Or attempt Nebbiolo anywhere in New Zealand. And there are few New Zealand wine makers as eccentric, or as talented as Han Herzog.

Herzog comes from a long line of Swiss winemakers and began making wine, with great success, in his garage in the Zurich wine region. Despite the acclaim for his Swiss wines, Herzog longed to grow Bordeaux varietals in a less challenging climate. So in 1994 he acquired an apple orchard on the other side of the world in Marlborough and planted his first vines in 1996. Did he plant almost exclusively Sauvignon Blanc as every commercially savvy wine maker in Marlborough was and still is doing to this day? No, he did not.

From his solitary vineyard Herzog has produced Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet-Franc and Sauvignon, Malbec, Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Barbera, Saperavi, Zweigelt, St. Laurent, Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Arneis, Rousanne, Semillon, Gewürztraminer, Gruner Veltliner. It’s a mind-boggling array of grapes and flies in the face of every regional and commercial convention.  It’s a marvellously mad undertaking reminiscent of his namesake’s determination to manually haul a 320-ton steamship up a steep hill in the Amazon jungle.

Herzog has a great appreciation of his land and makes wines that speak eloquently of the local despite his international menagerie of varietals. Seek them out if you want to try extraordinary wine from an extraordinary winemaker.



About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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