This column was first published in Your Weekend magazine in The Dominion Post, The Christchurch Press and The Waikato Times on Saturday 21 June 2014.

Dear Joelle
We have a wonderful tradition in our family where the parents buy a good wine on the birth of each child. When that child turns 21, the wine is opened and everyone gets to toast  the new adult with a taste of their birth year. We’ve got the South African Meerlust Rubicon for our 7-year-old but overlooked anything from 2005 for our 9-year-old’s coming of age. Any suggestions?
Ally, Wellington

Dear Ally
It just so happens that 2005 was a great vintage in Bordeaux, but unless you want a second mortgage (great bottles start at about $1000 and go up from there), I suggest South Africa again. The country’s winemakers don’t charge like wounded cattle for the privilege of drinking their wines, which have been through a quality revolution over the past decade. The 2005 Luddite Shiraz is $69. It’s staunch now, but with its deep purple colour, grainy tannins and intense flavours, it should mellow well by 2026. Or you could do the cabernet thing. The Morgenster Lourens River Valley Cabernet Merlot is $46. Both are available from a specialist importer of South African wines, Martin Cahnbley, who also imports the lovely Badenhorst reds made from syrah and grenache. And I know that chenin blanc is not most people’s first choice, but great old chenins can open doors of deliciousness. He has a good supply. They are under the radar, age stunningly and usually cost between $22 and $40. Buy or browse online at www.planetwine.co.nz

Five top winter wines

Gisborne great

2013 Matawhero Church House Albarino $27
Matawhero Wines shone at this year’s Gisborne’s Regional Wine Awards, which I judged last month. Their chenin blanc and malbec are lovely, but the albarino most impressed the judges. It was awarded best new wine and has great seafood-friendly, fennel-like flavours. It shows the great potential here with this grape, which is originally from the Portuguese-Spanish border. From Glengarry’s or www.matawhero.co.nz

Awesome Albarino

2013 Spade Oak Heart of Gold Albarino $23
Gisborne winemaker Steve Voysey aims to emulate the best  Portuguese albarino he has yet tasted in this super fresh,  bone dry white. Expect a light body and lingering lemon, grapey and red apple flavours. From www.spadeoak.co.nz

Smooth syrah

2011 Te Awanga Estate Syrah $24 to $36
Hawke’s Bay syrah has gained major ground over the past 10 years, rising from a miniscule 183 hectares to well over 425  today, and this one is my pick of Kiwi syrahs right now. Winemaker Rod McDonald models it on the great reds of France’s Northern Rhone Valley and hits the mark with its intense dark colour, full body, smooth tannins, black fruit flavours and velvety taste. It drinks gorgeously now and will age. www.rmwines.co.nz

Fresh new white

2013 Villa Maria Arneis Single Vineyard Ohiti $28

Winemakers say that pronounceability is in direct proportion to saleability, so here’s a wine that is easy to pronounce (‘are-nays’) and has deliciousness in spades. Arneis is a white grape from Piemonte in Italy, which is now growing here in New Zealand. Villa Maria winery founder, Sir George Fistonich, is a major fan and makes three (two sub-$20, available in supermarkets and stunners). This is even better with its totally dry style, lemon freshness and wild wheat creaminess from large old oak barrels. Buy online at moorewilsons.co.nz or www.villamaria.co.nz

Forgotten fortified

Pellegrino Marsala Oro Dolce $24 to $26, (500ml, 18% alcohol)
Marsala is to Sicily what port is to Portugal; both were originally fortified with alcohol to last without spoiling on their long sea voyages to the UK, where they found great favour with wine drinkers in the 1700s until the early 1900s. But marsala has slipped from the mouths and minds of most people. It was first created in 1770 by the Englishman, John Woodhouse, who fell for its caramel, toffee, orange rind flavours. What’s not to like? It drinks beautifully lightly chilled. From specialist stores such as Wine Seeker and Moore Wilson, Wellington; Vino Fino in Christchurch and Primo Vino, Hamilton.