Many New Zealand wineries are relatively small -- but that means there's lots of room for individualism, interesting experiments and a sense of humor. The region's standout grape -- but by no means its only one -- is the Syrah.
Marsden Estate bears the name of the area's first viniculturist, and it's appropriately prominent. Marsden's Black Rocks Chardonnay has won numerous gold medals, and its Pinot Gris is worth a taste. Marsden's main red is Syrah, but Pinotage and Cabernet Merlot are also important, and the Chambourcin is gaining ground. Marsden also produces a port.
Okahu Estate's Chardonnay is notable, and Okahu's Kaz Shiraz, a Syrah, won the first gold medal ever given to a Northland wine. Like many Syrahs of New Zealand, it contains notes of berries and pepper.
Cottle Hill produces a variety of reds and whites, including some unusual flavors. Among the standouts are Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Rose, Merlot, the blend Pheasant's Walk, the Muscat Bay Breeze, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Other favorites include a tawny port, a rare white port and a Federweisser, a young wine for Easter (which is an autumn holiday in the southern hemisphere).
Karikari (formerly Carrington) Estate offers Bordeaux-style reds as well as Syrah, Viogner, Pinotage and Chardonnay. Karikari maintains several labels, some of which import grapes from other estates. The Silver Bay and Carricon labels use some grapes from elsewhere in New Zealand, but the Karikari label keeps it local.
Omata Estate is known for its Syrah, but it also produces a Merlot, a Chardonnay and a dessert Chardonnay. Northland Wine Company produces Rhone styles, particularly Syrah and Viogner. The Chambourcin from Ake Ake, the youngest vineyard in Northland, also deserves a mention. Ake Ake has been around only since 2006 -- this is an up-and-comer to watch.
In New Zealand, the tradition of the hongi -- a Maori greeting exchanged by pressing noses together -- is still alive and well. But why not give your nose a full workout? Come tour the wineries of Northland.
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