Value alternatives to red Burgundy and Rhône: Top 20 New Zealand red wines

Wine news

Tue 16 Feb 2021

^ The Marlborough region of New Zealand produces some of the country's best Pinot Noir

New Zealand may have made its name with Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s Pinot Noir that’s been grabbing the headlines more recently. With red Burgundy often something of a minefield for those seeking value, New Zealand has become an utterly dependable alternative, delivering rich, succulent Pinots that retain the haunting elegance that Pinot lovers adore.

There’s now a distinct regional style to Kiwi Pinot, too – Marlborough examples are soft and fruity; those from Martinborough have a savoury, mineral edge; and Central Otago delivers intense, concentrated Pinot.

Syrah is thriving, too, and again there’s a distinctive New Zealand style – fragrant and elegant, with black-pepper freshness, unlike the full-on fruit bombs you sometimes find elsewhere. There’s also a growing feeling that Syrah has the potential to become the country’s number-one red variety – an opinion echoed by Dr Neil McCallum, founder of Dry River winery in Martinborough, who believes that New Zealand Syrah ‘can be similar to some of the greatest wines of the south of France’.

Even the classic Bordeaux varieties are starting to make their mark, too, particularly in warmer North Island regions such as Hawke’s Bay – IWSC winners this year include Church Road’s 1 Merlot 2018, which drew praise for its notes of plum, cassis, leather and dark chocolate, and the black-fruited Pask Winery Cabernet-Merlot 2016.

New Zealand has worked hard to lose the image of a one-grape country, and if you’re keen to try some of its best red wines, here is the pick of the crop from the IWSC 2020.

Award-winning red wines from New Zealand

1 Merlot 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-1.png
Church Road

A complex, inky rich nose of ripe plum, cassis, leather and bitter chocolate paves the way for a palate loaded with dark fruit and suggestions of liquorice and woodsmoke. Superb. 13.5%

Marlborough Sounds Pinot Noir 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-2.png
Pinnacle Drinks

Poised and pristine; heady with plush fruit and a multitude of sweet berry clusters. Bitter cherry, mocha and sublime smoky elements. Creamy, enticing palate with excellent length. Highly accomplished. 13.5%

Pinot Noir 2017iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-3.png
Te Kano

Dark cherry, smoky and savoury on the nose. Mulberry and morello cherry shines through on the palate, which is perfectly balanced with the warming sweet spice. Quite a serious wine. 14%. £34 from Davy's

Cabernet-Merlot 2016iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-4.png
Pask Winery

A truly elegant and sophisticated wine displaying complex aromas of cassis, sandalwood, dried herbs and bell pepper. Flavours of juicy black currant and blueberries end on a long and satisfying finish. 12.5%

The Falcon Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-5.png
Lake Chalice

Superbly savoury, herbaceous, flinty, sour cherry, stalks; mildly medicinal. Light yet creamy, a finely balanced palate. Clean and focused. Poised. 13%

Reserve Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-6.png
Rapaura Springs

A pleasingly sour cherry note leads into blackberry, well-integrated clove spice and lifted florals on the palate. Fine, ripe tannins offer grip to this fresh, hedonistic and inviting wine. 13%. £17.95 from ND John Wine Merchants

Pinot Noir 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-7.png

Concentrated smoky cherries, rosehip and spiced vanilla. Luscious, creamy and bright. Smooth tannins with savoury notes; plush and polished. Concentrated summer fruits, wonderfully ready and sublimely inviting. 12.5%. 2017 vintage £29.95 from Waddesdon

Pioneer Block 17 Plateau Merlot 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-8.png
Saint Clair Family Estate

A highly perfumed nose with a lush and softly tongue coating palate laden with plum, blackberry, cassis, leather and cedar. A beautifully concentrated, layered wine with a fabulous future ahead. 13.5%. £18.95 from Hic!

Finest* in Partnership with Villa Maria Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-9.png

Firm redcurrant and orange peel on the nose, with warming notes of nutmeg coming through. Fresh, poised red cherry fruit on the palate, which is balanced with good acidity. Elegant yet structured. 13.5%. £13 from Tesco

Goldfields Pinot Noir 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-10.png
Bannock Brae

Lifted and alluring nose of dark, brooding red and dark fruits, with a subtle smokiness coming through. The palate is beautifully fresh but silky textured and finishes well. 13.5%

Organic Syrah 2016iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-11.png

Good, wholesome Syrah, with some elegance and admirable balance. Dark yet inviting with aromas of pepper, raspberry and tangy fruit. Attractive structure. 13.2%

Homestead Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-12.png
Jackson Estate

Luxuriously pretty. Perfumed polish, intense bramble fruit, festive spices, cola and herbs. Fine concentration on the palate with rich and intense fruits and elegant well-structured dry tannins. Seductive, long and lingering. 13%. £13.99 from Waitrose

Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-13.png
te Pa

Cleverly appealingly with wonderfully complex flavours and aromas; dark dense black cherries, mocha, plum and a meaty, leathery savoury note. Some chalky tannins and excellent acidity. Sweet, yet savoury. 13.5%. £15 from Tesco

Single Estate Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-14.png

Hugely appealing; crunchy red cherry fruit, wild berries, sour red apples, smoke, aromatic herbs and flowers. Zippy, fresh and youthful, yet balanced. Moreish. 13.8%. £13.55 from Vinvm

Syrah 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-15.png
Glenora Estate

Smokey, mineral and aromatic Syrah with a very savoury spiced note on the nose. The palate is fairly juicy and fresh, with some good grippy tannins and appealing acidity. 13.3%

Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-16.png
Isabel Estate

Subtle black forest gateau aromas give way to juicy dark cherry, sweet vanilla spice and a little black pepper. A restrained yet fruit driven wine of supreme structure and balance. 13.5%. £23.95 from Wine Direct

Holly Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-17.png
Matahiwi Estate

Intriguing and inviting in nature with a baked strawberry character and undertones of violets and roses. The rounded tannins and bright acidity make this a wine worth ageing. 13.5%

Delta Estate Pinot Noir 2019iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-18.png
The Delta Wine Company

Wonderful example showing great typicity; clean, blackcurrant, liquorice, red cherry and rose petal. Restrained, elegant but with great ageing potential. Peppered, savoury nuances and sound tannic structure with balanced acidity. 13.%

Prison Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2018iwsc-top-new-zealand-red-wines-19.png
Trinity Hill

Scents of liquorice, black tea, cassis leaf and cardamom with leather undertones. Good core of concentrated fruit with fine grained tannins and potential for the future. 

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Wild Earth Wines

Plump raspberry, orange pith and sour cherry on the nose with a silky, savoury undertone. Tangy fruit on the palate which is well structured. 13.5%. £24.95 from ND John Wine Merchants