Yealands defies expectations with New Zealand’s classic varieties

Peter Ranscombe explores the diversity of styles of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from New Zealand with Yealands’ senior winemaker, Natalie Christensen.

Everyone knows New Zealand sauvignon blanc, don’t they? It’s full of gooseberry flavours and paint-stripping acidity, right?

If that’s the assumption then it’s time for a rethink. Although the classic Kiwi style certainly has an emphasis on tropical fruit and zingy acidity, that’s not the only trick New Zealand’s vintners have up their sleeves.

A tasting yesterday with Natalie Christensen, senior winemaker at Yealands Wine Group, illustrated the diversity of styles available from Scotland’s twin on the other side of the planet.

Her firm’s entry level 2017 Peter Yealands Sauvignon Blanc (£6.75, Sainsbury’s; £8.99, Co-op) is one of those small wonders of nature – a consistently well-made wine at an affordable price point. There are plenty of classic guava and passionfruit flavours on the palate, which balance the tell-tale crisp acidity.

Stepping up a gear, the 2017 Peter Yealands Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (£11.59, Waitrose Cellar) for me offers a subtle variation on that classic style. It’s got more lemon and apricot flavours and a savour edge, but still with the same concentrated fruit to balance the acidity.

The 2017 Yealands Estate Single Block L5 (£14.06, Fine Wine Company) offers a different approach. The guava and passionfruit aromas on the nose are joined by a sprinkling of lemon sherbet, but it’s on the palate that the fireworks begin to happen, with a salted almond-esque twang and a mineral edge, making it a great match for shellfish.

Even more exciting is the 2016 The Crossings Reserve Wild Sauvignon Blanc (£16.99, The Wine Reserve), which Christensen fermented in older oak barrels and aged in large oak ovals, stirring the lees to help build up the wine’s body and mouthfeel.

The result is butter and vanilla notes joining the lemon, apricot and green pepper on the nose, leading into a creamy mouthfeel and more of the fruit flavours to balance the oak and acidity on the palate. Really impressive stuff and a tipple that will appeal to fans of white Bordeaux.

Plurality with pinot noir

Christensen’s experiments aren’t limited to her white wines either. She’s been testing concerto, a non-saccharomyces isolated wild yeast, with which she wants to add interesting aromas to her wines.

Some of the wines blended to make the 2016 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (£14.15, Exel Wines) were made using concerto and have really ripe red fruit aromas on the nose, along with strawberry and raspberry conserves, some spun sugar and light wood smoke.

Those fruit conserves carry through onto the tongue, with a fine balance between the fruit and the acidity, and a delicious savoury smoked meat element on the finish.

Just as there is a breadth to Yealands’ sauvignon blanc, there’s also diversity among its pinot noir too. The 2015 The Crossings Pinot Noir (£12.75, Exel Wines) is incredibly fruity and has a crunch of white pepper on the finish.

The 2015 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard Pinot Noir (£17.99, Oz Wines) for me had even warmer and deeper fruit flavours, featuring red cherry and red plum, matched by brighter and fresher acidity.

My favourite among the reds was the 2015 Yealands Estate Winemaker’s Reserve Awatere Valley Pinot Noir (£17.25, Exel Wines), which showed darker fruit aromas and flavours of blackberry and blackcurrant mixed in with the raspberry and red plum. The tannins were also more assertive than in the other wines, showing a bit of grip.

The diversity of the wines within Yealands’ range was really impressive and the bottles represent great value at these prices. For drinkers who tend to shy away from New Zealand sauvignon blanc or pinot noir, there are plenty of reasons to give the country’s wines a try.