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Emerging grape varietals

Winegrowers are keen to experiment and try new products. Go beyond sav and pinot, explore these exciting varietals.

As with any growing industry, winegrowers are keen to experiment and try new products. With wine that often means introducing new grape varieties which have been successful overseas. Sometimes these are sold as single varietals and sometimes they are blended established wines varieties. Sometimes the wines are made and imported from overseas. Find out more about what’s new on the shelves.

New Zealand has been making table wines since the mid nineteenth century, but it is only in the last 50 years that we have been producing commercially driven modern wine styles. In the 1960's and early 1970's the principle grape varieties grown in volume were Muller Thurgau and Chenin Blanc, both of which produced large cropping volumes and non offensive medium styled wines. As New Zealanders were starting to discover the delights of table wine, these two varieties were perfect for the production of the most popular and profitable styles of wine.

From there, New Zealand wineries planted the varieties Pinotage, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon and small amounts of Pinot Noir. All of these varieties were chosen based on the success in their parent countries and the New Zealand consumer’s desire to expand their range of wine knowledge and taste. This was definitely a period of personal discovery among consumers!

This process of introducing new and sometimes exotic varieties is ongoing. The selection, planning, planting and ultimately harvesting of new varieties starts years in advance of the finished wine being sold in the market-place. It is important to understand that many of these are well known varieties producing successful wines in their native environment, just not so well known in New Zealand.

With competitions like the New World Wine Awards, we get the opportunity to assess these wines as they come into the market-place and, if they meet the quality standard, present them to you as part of the Top 50 Wines.


Some of these emerging varieties in New Zealand are below…


(pronounced Al bah reen yo)

This is a native of both Spain and Portugal. It’s known as Albarino in Spain, a native to the Galicia Region of the North Coast of Spain, and Alvarinho in Portugal, where it is often a large component of their Vinho Verde. A grape that likes both heat and humidity, it’s often found in coastal communities and has shown great results in the plantings to date in the Gisborne region.

Albarino has botanical aromas of peach, apricot and often floral notes. The palate has clean crisp flavours of citrus, apricot and peach. It’s a lighter style wine with crunchy acidity - a very textural wine with a slightly salty mineral note that is an absolute knock-out with fish. 


(pronounced Ahr NASE)

Arneis is an Italian variety from the Piedmont region. Named Arneis by the locals as the name translates in Piedmontese to “little Rascal” indicating its difficulty to grow. It is normally a dry white wine, with aromas of apples, ripe pears, almonds and hops. Arneis wines tend to be dry and can be full bodied often described as being similar to Viognier in mouth weight with alluring floral, pear, apricot and hazelnut notes. 

These wines are great with bolder food matches - pasta, fish, risotto, chicken and asparagus. With lightly oaked examples, try with veal and pork.


(pronounced Bar BEAR ah)

Barbera is a dark red skinned grape, native to Italy, grown in the North and South of Italy and is currently Italy’s third  most commonly planted grape.  Barbera has a long history in Italy, particularly in the regions of Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Puglia, but it has also been successfully transplanted into Australia, Argentina and California. The grapes are naturally high in acid so lend themselves to being grown in hot climates without losing the balance between ripe fruit and acidity.

The wines are deep coloured with purple hues when young, with aromas of red and black blackberries, black cherry and tart blueberry. The palate is usually firm with crisp acidity balanced by sweet fruit and soft tannins. The wine is often described as being juicy.

A great match to Italian dishes like Pizza and tomato based pasta’s. Barbera is also very good with lamb, beef, pork, rich dark meat dishes, blue cheese, mushrooms, root vegetables and braised green vegetables.


(pronounced Der-riff)

A big rich and tannic wine, it has flavours of blackberry, blueberry, plum and prune and sometimes a black pepper spice. In the US it is called Petit Sirah. Durif is a wine that is better served with food - blue cheeses, roast beef and game as well as pizza and grilled BBQ meats.

Gruner Veltliner

(pronounced Groo-ner Velt-Leen-er)

This grape variety is grown very successfully in Austria, where it produces white wines that are regarded as Austria’s most important grape. Gruner Veltliner wines in New Zealand tend to be medium bodied, fruity with nice crisp acidity and a pepper character, in some ways similar in character to Sauvignon Blanc.

Like Sauvignon Blanc these are wines that suit green flavoured vegetables like asparagus and artichokes. It’s a versatile food friendly wine, so try it with Asian foods and foods that are fresh and clean flavoured. At present it is only grown in tiny quantities - there are small plantings in Gisborne, Marlborough, Central Otago and Nelson. Like Sauvignon Blanc, these wines are a great seafood and fish match.


(pronounced Mont-ee-pull-chee-arno)

A red wine grape planted through-out central and southern Italy and strongly associated with the region of Abruzzo where the wines are called Montepulciano d’Abuzzo. The grape vine is believed to be related to the Sangiovese grape of Tuscany. The wines tend to have deep ruby colour and lower acidity producing softer, less tannic wine. With aromas of pepper and spice and a slightly earthy character they can often be mistaken for the Sangiovese grape. However the palate is usually full bodied and aromatic and the tannins while firm, are softened by the lower acidity and balanced by ripe earthy blackberry flavours.

Like a lot of Italian varieties, these wines really shine when consumed with food. Matched to lamb, beef, chicken, salami, olives, tapas and game pies the flavours are superb. Its when you bring in the flavours of tomato based pasta, porcini mushrooms, meatballs rich flavoured risottos that the magic really starts to happen.


(pronounced San-joe-Vay-say)

This is the number one red wine grape of Italy, grown in central areas, including Tuscany - it’s the wine grape of Chianti. Typically Sangiovese grapes make medium to full-bodied wines with tannin structure ranging from softer styles through to quite tannic wines.

Flavours of these wines are similar to Tempranillo with cherry, plum and strawberry, but will also often have vanillian and a herbaceous character as well as noticeable acidity.

The potential for these wines in New Zealand is the warmer areas such as Northland, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, and the few examples being produced so far are exciting. The acidity of these wines makes them food friendly…think pastas, pizzas, salami and other dried meats as well as full flavoured meat and vegetable dishes.


(pronunced Se-mee-Yohn)

Semillon has been planted in New Zealand for some time. It is very similar to Sauvignon Blanc in its flavour and has been used as part of the Sauvignon blend by Marlborough wineries. More recently it has been grown for the production of sweet desert wines, particularly those made with botrytis infected grapes.

Semillon has a very proud history of sweet wine production, with the great dessert wines of France’s Barsac and Sauterne regions using it as their dominant grape. In New Zealand the Botrytised Semillons are rich, sweet and appealing with beautiful balanced acidity and lovely flavours of apricot and beeswax. Dessert wines like these suit blue cheese drizzled with honey, dried fruit and stonefruit tarts such as peach, apricot and nectarine.


(pronounced Temp-ra-knee-oh)

One of the principle red wine grapes of Spain, grown in the Rioja and Ribera del Duero regions, this is a grape that seems to have a very strong future in New Zealand. It loves a warm climate and seems to suit Hawke’s Bay, Waiheke and the very warm areas at the top of the South Island which also have growing potential.

This wine is fragrant and fruity with aromas and flavours of dark fruits like plum and cherry and notes of strawberry. Its often described as friendly and approachable as it has lower acidity and a silky smooth mouth feel.

These are very food friendly wines that are versatile and match rich flavoursome foods. Pair them with pork, grilled meats, homemade hamburgers, turkey and all types of game - in fact anything that is rich and full of flavour.