Our biggest wine surprise in New Zealand were the Rieslings - beautiful wines that, given the very high acidities, tasted perfectly balanced with some residual sugar in the wines. Many wineries back-blended late-harvest Riesling into their earlier harvests to balance those acidities, which was a new technique for me.
Our favorite Rieslings came from the Marlborough region - most known for their Sauvignon Blancs.
Here are some tasting notes from our travels, scoring the Rieslings for their nose, mouth and finish. Joe's tasting system, developed many years ago, is quite simple. Each one of those elements (nose, mouth and finish) gets a score. If we like it, it gets a plus; if it's average, it gets a slash and if it's sub-par it gets a minus. Slight adjustments can be made upon second and later tastings (ie as the wine opens up in the glass).
NEW ZEALAND RIESLINGS (BY REGION):
Hawke's Bay (eastern north island - more known for big reds)
Vidal Marlborough Riesling 2008 -- $16/bottle
This winery isn't in a region that's known for aromatic whites, so they sourced the fruit from Marlborough, in the south island. Beautiful in the mouth, but a little flat in the nose and short finish. Floral, lemon, citrus, etc. Great tasting experience and a fantastic restaurant attached. Great value for the price.
Martinborough (southern north island - known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)
Martinbourough Vineyard Manu Riesling 2o08 -- $28/bottle
Score: /+/, changed to /++ upon later tasting
The Manu Riesling has approx. 25 g/L of residual sugar, with some botrytis influence, yet not sugary sweet. We wrote: "VERY DIFFERENT." You can taste the honeyed influence from botrytis yet the wine overall is not a late-harvest. Never had anything quite like this. We brought a bottle back to save for later consumption and I've been patiently keeping my hands off it until we feel it's fully rested from the trip.
Te Kairanga East Plain Riesling 2007 -- $21/bottle
Has 2.6 g/L of sugar, a solid wine but again not as aromatic as we would have liked for a Riesling (maybe we're just spoiled in Anderson Valley).
Marlborough (northern south island -- known for Sauvignon Blanc)
Cloudy Bay 2005 Riesling -- $29.60
Score: Not scored - must have skipped a wine!
RS is very well hidden in this wine at 5.4 g/L - tasted more crisp and dry than expected - nice, delicate aromas and flavors. TA of 9.3 to 12.6 for the various pickings. The winery is separate from their vineyards - a gorgeous cellar door and restaurant attached (sadly the restaurant was closed the day we were there).
Fromm Riesling Spatlese 2007 -- $26
Score: ++/ and +++ upon second taste
The hands-down best Riesling producer alongside Framingham (below). This wine was one we had at the fantastic restaurant Martin Bosely's in Wellington. More Alsace-style than most - slight RS sweetness but very aromatic and gorgeously balanced.
Framingham 2004 Dry Riesling -- $25.90
Fermented 4 months on the lees, with a final pH of 3.0. Little flat in the nose, but definitely dry and crisp with good acidities.
Framingham 2007 Classic Riesling -- $20.90
Score: /++ to +++
Another gorgeous Riesling from this producer, with bracing acidity at 7.9 and a pH of 2.9! This producer doesn't talk RS, so we don't know the exact levels for the finished wines, although the Classic was less than the following Select Riesling. Only 11.5% alcohol.
Framingham 2007 Marlborough Select Riesling -- $30.90
This wine was definitely a step up on the RS chain, but still balanced with a baffling 9.1 TA and 2.75 pH! Two passes of picking are blended together to create this wine - this is one we're very interested in trying here at home. Alcohol of only 8.0%. Listed in the book 1,000 wines to try before you die.
Central Otago (southern south island -- known for Pinot Noir)
Peregrine 2005 Riesling -- $22
Bottle aged about an extra year, this wine had a beautiful mid-palate and finish - the nose didn't jump out of the glass, but not that many wines do in all actuality. Peregrine was one of the only architecturally designed wineries we visited - a gorgeous facility meant to look like the falcon it was named for. We preferred their Pinots, but did really like this Riesling and a few others.