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5 top whites under $25

What was I drinking here? It was a dark and stormy night, so it was a red wine rather than one of my top white drops on this week’s blog, but I remember it being great value for money, which is what today’s post is all about.

It’s easy to wax lyrical about top wines when price is no object because that opens the  floodgates to the likes of Elisabeta Foradori and her incredibly inspirational Teroldegos, Nosiolas and wild yeast fermented Pinot Grigio, and if that’s not enough to make any hot blooded wine lover drop to their knees in admiration, her single vineyard wines are even more expressive; her wines are like the wine world’s equivalent of cutting edge fashion from World, Prada, Commes de Garcons and their like, but what about when budget is an issue? What are the best wines under $25?

Then what?

How do you sort the best from the rest at low prices?

It’s always been a mission of mine because when I began wine writing, my budget was at the lower end of the market, as was my junior journalist’s salary. Not that I can afford to buy  Foradori every day of the week now either, but these days I treat my wine buying like my clothes buying – by mixing things up. A little bit of high priced, very nice over in that corner and lots of budget buy basics over in that one.

So, without further ado, here are 5 top whites under $25, which always over deliver on their good taste and rarely cost as much as their supposed recommended retail prices.

Don’t you love a bargain?

Here are 5 of mine.

Top selling Riesling in New Zealand

2016 Giesen Riesling $15.99, 10.5% ABV

For a wine that can stake its claim as New Zealand’s biggest selling Riesling, this one is  remarkable consistently high quality, thanks to winemakers Nikolai St George and Andrew Blake, who source grapes from both Marlborough and North Canterbury to create a wine that is medium sweet and incredibly well balanced by high acidity from these two cool climate grape regions. Its light body, low-ish alcohol and intense flavour all add up to a succulent, deliciously approachable wine that can also age and evolve complex flavours for 4 to 5 years. What more could you ask for in a wine that is usually $12.99?

  • The latest MAT Giesen Riesling 750ml is the #1 value & unit ranked Riesling as shown by IRI NZ MarketEdge Scan Data, TKA period ending MAT to 6 Nov 2016.


Exceptional Main Divide Riesling

2014 Main Divide Riesling $21 to $22

If all natural health food tasted as good as this, we’d be a happier planet; “wine is a natural health food”, says the founder of Main Divide wine brand, Ivan Donaldson, whose four sons and partner in life and in wine, Chris, run the winery today. Main Divide is their gateway brand to the winery’s top drops under the Pegasus Bay banner. And while Main Divide may be the little bro’ to the winery’s top drops, it struts more interesting flavours that you would usually expect for this price. It’s full bodied, full of flavour and has layers of concentration from ripe mandarins and bold peachy tastes to layers of lime, lemon, luscious honey, a long finish.

Main Divide Riesling is an exceptional wine every year with consistent depth of deliciousness in every sip.


New icon Zephyr

2017 Zephyr Marlborough Riesling $24 to $25, 11.5% ABV

The Glover family were among the first to plant grapes in Marlborough in 1985 when they established a vineyard on the banks of the winding Opawa River, home to the grapes that make this delicious dry Riesling today. The Zephyr brand is co-owned by brothers Ben (winemaker) and Jack, who take their inspiration from the dry wines of the Rheingau in Germany, where Riesling tends to be dry, often full bodied and often with moderate to lower alcohol levels. Every vintage of Zephyr Riesling has remained true to style with between 8 to 10 grams of residual sugar, moderate alcohol, dialled up lime flavours and freshness to burn. The concentration is achieved by hand tending the vines, hand harvesting the grapes and taking a hands-off approach to the winemaking.

This wine is exceptional value for money, drinks beautifully now and will also age exceptionally well for a decade, possibly longer.


Beautiful Bone Line

2014 The Bone Line Riesling $23

One of my favourite wines of the past year and sadly a wine that is not made every year, thanks to the iconic approach of The Bone Line winemaking team. Winery co-owner Vic Tutton explains: Riesling is a response to the climate and the weather and there hasn’t been a vintage quite like 2014 since 2014. So, this medium dry Riesling from North Canterbury has impeccable flavour richness – limes, mandarins, green apples – in a light and super refreshing style with flavours that linger long after the last drop has disappeared. A stunner.


2016 Johner Gladstone Riesling $19-$20

For a wine that often costs $17, Johner Riesling from Gladstone in the central Wairarapa is another great white that over delivers on flavour every time, thanks to its succulence and high but balanced acidity, which adds nervy flavour interest to the intense citrus aromas here; orange and lime zest seem to combine with fresh white flowers and clover honey. It is off dry with 11 grams of residual sugar but it has such outrageously good balance of flavour that it seems to finish on a dry note, thanks to Riesling’s naturally, refreshingly high acidity,

Love these wines.

If you’re not – or think you’re not – a Riesling fan, try them.

Sicily’s passport to the world of wine

A taste of Sicilia in New Zealand… Italian wine importer Marco Nordio is the new official importer of Benanti wines to New Zealand.

He is pictured above (left) with Salvino Benanti at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington this week, prior to a tasting of two Benanti wines.

These are the gateway wines to the Benanti range – and are Sicily’s passport to the wine world.

2016 Benanti Etna Bianco DOC 12% ABV

This is 100% Carricante, which was fermented in stainless steel, where it went through a little malolactic fermentation to soften its naturally high acidity, and was then aged on lees to add a little complexity. The wine laws on Mt Etna allow producers to blend Carricante with the lighter tasting Catarrato grape, but Salvino Benanti says he and his family prefer the sharper, crisper, drier flavours of 100% Carricante. They like to age it in bottle for a few months prior to releasing the wine, which is medium bodied with zesty fresh, but balanced acidity. The Carricante grape can be oaked or unoaked; Salvino prefers those with low to no oak.

My mind and palate agree whole heartedly. This is a stunner; so fresh and refreshing.


2015 Benanti Etna Rosso DOC 13% ABV 

The family who own this winery sets a high benchmark for their entry level wines so that people get a good impression of Sicilian wine.

This wine is 80/20 Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio grapes and is fermented mostly stainless steel with about 25% of the wine then spending nine months in second fill neutral French barriques. This is an entry level wine and the 2015 was a rainy vintage on Etna, so there is a little more dilution than usual in alcohol; the wine is 13% whereas it is usually about 13.5% ABV.


The Benanti story

This year is the first time that Salvino Benanti has visited New Zealand and he was here to introduce his family’s wines from Mt Etna; Sicily’s highest mountain and Europe’s most active volcano.

His family moved to Sicilia from Bologna in 1734 when they were given land there and, over the past two centuries, they have  developed a strong interest in wine. His father was one of the first to start a winery on Etna, which he founded in 1988. Back then there was one other winery on the mountain. Today there are 176 brands. Despite the proliferation of labels, the hard core of Etna wine producers remains around 30, of which Benanti is one of the best known and most highly respected, thanks to being in early and forging a name as a producer of high quality wines.

To say that I was impressed the first time I tried an Etna wine is to make a wild understatement. It was about six years ago that I managed to track down a bottle of Tenuta Benanti Rovittello Etna Rosso, which was being imported to New Zealand by Oh So Pretty Wines, which is owned by Andrew Hedley.

That wine blew me away. I can’t recall its vintage (where was my wine database back then?) but it was about eight years old at the time and I loved the way its pale ruby colour completely betrayed its incredibly powerful combination of staunch full body, tangy acidity, truffly-mushroomy flavours and a fresh cherry bite on its long finish. The wine is a blend of Nerello Mascalese (90%) and Nerello Cappuccio (10%) grapes, grown in the Rivittello sub zone of Castiglione di Sicilia.

Talk about silky. Eat your heart out, Burgundy, Barolo or Barbaresco.

Wellington Wine Wednesdays

Wine Wednesday is a free, fun, low key tasting, which I host every week  at Regional Wines & Spirits in Elice Street, by the Basin Reserve from  4pm to 7pm.

Best of all, no bookings are needed. Just turn up, taste an interesting new wine and grab a bargain buy because every wine we taste has a discount for that night only.

Regional Wines & Spirits is Wellington’s largest and longest established independent wine, beer and spirits store, and my role is Wine Programme Director, a fancy title that means I do everything from hosting tastings to writing blogs, in store information and shelf talkers to upping the ante of the store’s tasting programme, alongside our other expert staff.

Wine Wednesdays are a great way for customers and staff alike to try new and interesting wines and the majority of them are under $20, so super affordable for mid week enjoyment. Come along and join us…

This week’s wine is a cheeky little Sicilian red made from Sicily’s most prolifically planted red grape – Nero d’Avola, which covers more than 19,000 hectares on this, the biggest island in the Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful grape with enormous potential for high quality wines as well as super affordable gluggably drinkable reds, such as our $16.99 bargain buy this week.

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