Wine: Riesling makes superior sweet wine

The northern corner of New Zealand's South Island is good for growing riesling. Picture: Thinkstock
The northern corner of New Zealand's South Island is good for growing riesling. Picture: Thinkstock
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BRITAIN’S entry to the EEC in 1973 drastically reduced our imports of New Zealand meat products.

Mercifully, however, the consequent radical rethink among farmers over there has given us something even tastier than Canterbury lamb – Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Conditions on that northern corner of the South Island are ideal. Days are long and sunny with remarkably little rain until well into the autumn. Best of all, temperatures at night are low, which slows down ripening and helps keep acidity levels high.

Sauvignon, however, is not the only grape variety that enjoys these conditions. Riesling will do an equally good job and can be more versatile. It ages better, makes a superior range of sweet wines and – being especially sensitive to terroir – can produce dozens of localised variations.

Admittedly, Marlborough has taken sauvignon to new heights, but now is surely the time for New Zealand riesling’s day in the sun. Good examples abound, but my pick of the crop is 2014 Lawson’s Dry Hills Riesling (£12.99, inquiries about retailers to Inverarity Morton on 01577 866 000). I am hugely impressed by its slightly peachy depth and bright, striking, lime-centred fruit with zippy, tangy acidity. This delightfully combines the best of riesling with what New Zealand does especially well.

Grape variety diversification is, of course, not restricted to riesling. Marlborough also produces good red wine – as in 2013 Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Noir (£29.99 at Lockett Bros, North Berwick). Here Kevin Judd – one of the founding fathers of Cloudy Bay – has created a soft and mellow pinot with cherry and raspberry fruit, and fantastic spicy depth.

Equally, switching back to whites, try the North Island’s 2012 Esk Valley Chenin Blanc (£12.99 at the seven Ellies Cellar stores in Central Scotland). Its underlying banana and honey flavours are beautifully counterbalanced by lively green apple acidity.

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Branded wines are not always optimal value for money, but McGuigan’s are notable pioneers and very capable winemakers. This soft and shrewdly balanced shiraz of theirs, for instance, has all the grape variety’s characteristic bramble, plum, cinnamon and almond flavours, but supports it with especially bright and vivacious acidity.

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English wine tends to be pricey so full marks to Waitrose for this mellow but well-priced version. While latitude understandably limits the wine’s texture and depth, there is lively and aromatic freshness here. Add in the apricot and orange fruit with a backdrop of cloves and lively tangerine acidity, and there is real quality on display.

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For regular recommendations on sensibly priced wine, go to my new website at MidWeekWines.co.uk