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New Zealand: Top-scoring North Island wines to try

Discover New Zealand’s North Island with award-winning wines from the Decanter World Wine Awards...

While Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s calling card, it’s clear that New Zealand produces a diverse range of grape varieties and wine styles. In fact, on the North Island it’s Chardonnay which has reached full potential for white varieties with some outstanding examples being produced from Auckland to Martinborough.

At the 2022 Decanter World Wine Awards, ‘there were high expectations for the Chardonnay category,’ commented Cameron Douglas MS, Regional Chair for New Zealand. ‘Chardonnay from New Zealand has without doubt earned its place in the wine cellars of Decanter readers,’ he continued.

Two Chardonnay wines from the North Island’s Hawke’s Bay were awarded 97 points; the judges noting the painstaking work of the region’s winegrowers who are continuing to push the quality of Chardonnay to ever-higher levels. Best in Show medal winner Church Road, Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2020 was described as a wine giving ‘a memorable classicism, Burgundy-lovers might note,’ with Platinum medal winner Villa Maria, Keltern Chardonnay 2020 showing a more opulent and textured style of this variety.

Scroll down to see New Zealand’s top North Island wines from DWWA 2022

Top-scoring wines from New Zealand’s North Island only begin with Chardonnay. The island’s red wines saw some outstanding results too with Syrah and Pinot Noir well worth noting.

Again with two 97 point wines for its reds, Craggy Range was awarded a spot in the competition’s top 50 wines for its 2020 Syrah from Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay and Palliser Estate a Platinum medal for its 2019 Hua Nui Vineyard Pinot Noir from Martinborough, Wairarapa. Hawke’s Bay received a further four Gold medals for its red wines and Wairarapa three, all receiving 95-96 points.

Bringing together some of the best wine experts from across the globe to judge at the competition, Cameron Douglas added:

I would describe the Decanter World Wine Awards as a competition and an event that is the pinnacle of the world wine game. In retail, in restaurants, for the individual who wants to find something particular in a wine store, those little stickers on those bottles mean a global reaction to wine, not just an individual, smaller competition that’s regional-based. The significance of a Decanter sticker on a bottle has weight and power and integrity. In New Zealand we call that Mana. What that means is respect.

As represented below, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa wines represent the total of top-awarded wines from the North Island at DWWA 2022, but look out too for wines from some of the island’s other winegrowing regions including Northland, Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne.

Discover the 18 North Island wines which impressed the judges most at the 2022 competition…

New Zealand: Top-scoring North Island wines to try

Hawkes Bay


Church Road, Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2020

Best in Show, 97 points
With two wines in this year’s Best In Show selection, Hawkes’s Bay has excelled – and our judges, too, were particularly happy that the North Island winegrowers’ slow, painstaking work teasing Chardonnay levels ever higher are patently paying off. This outstanding wine has a bright gold colour with faint lime glints. Freshness and richness are beautifully paired in the aromas – to an extent which is perhaps only possible south of the equator in New Zealand. That gives this wine a memorable classicism, Burgundy lovers might note. In the mouth, it is concentrated and confident, once again striding down that line between the fresh and the rich to vivacious effect. No hurry to drink: a year or two’s cellar softening will bring great benefits here. Alcohol 13.5%

Villa Maria, Keltern Chardonnay 2020

Platinum, 97 points
Prominent oak spices on the nose, showing vanilla and toast with notes of ripe citrus and stone fruit. Opulent on the palate, creamy and full-bodied, very well textured, in harmony with a beautiful crisp acidity. Alc 14%

Esk Valley, Seabed Chardonnay 2019

Gold, 95 points
White smoke and sweet barrel spices with a fine gunflint scent and cedary notes. Mineral on the palate, with plenty of grapefruit. Delicious and powerful. Alc 13%

Askerne, The Archer Chardonnay 2019

Silver, 93 points
Mineral and subtle aromas of freshly harvested citrus and stone fruit aromas. Medium body, layered palate, delicious, youthful and lengthy. Alc 14%

Sileni, Lodge Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2019

Silver, 93 points
Complex nose of peaches, nectarine, vanilla cream and toasty nougat. Rich and juicy, showing charming fruit and finesse. Long finish. Alc 13.5%

Vidal, Reserve Chardonnay 2020

Silver, 93 points
Fresh nose of grapefruit with smoky and toasty notes, hints of cedar and peaches. Lightly textured on the palate. Alc 13.5%

Pask, Chardonnay, Gimblett Gravels 2020

Silver, 92 points
Sweet oak on the nose, reminiscent of Bourbon barrels. Complex palate, silky and well textured. Quite harmonious and long. Alc 13%


Craggy Range, Syrah, Gimblett Gravels 2020

Best in Show, 97 points
The Gimblett Gravels endeavour is a model for terroir research outside traditional regions, and recent generous vintages have really begun to pay off for this disciplined private association of Hawke’s Bay wine growers. This is glorious Syrah: deep, dense and black-red in colour, with classic varietal aromas which combine inner urgency with sweet seduction. On the palate the wine offers a cascade of fruit, with tempered acidity and shy tannins. It’s the grain to that fruit which impresses so: primary (plum, currant and sloe) yet nuanced, too, perfumed to the last drop and with a sense of stone behind the fruit to lend it dignity and keep you coming back to the glass for more. Alc 13.5%

Villa Maria, Reserve Syrah, Gimblett Gravels 2020

Gold, 96 points
Seamless, elegant and seductive aromas of blackberry, dark plum and bramble. Beautiful vein of acidity and ripe yet rounded fruit tannins, well-judged oak, lovely long finish. Alc 13.5%

Leftfield, Malbec 2020

Gold, 95 points
Dark, brooding black plum, damson and blueberry aromas with a lovely floral character of violets and rose petals. Expressive palate, with rounded fruit, crunchy and silky. Alc 14%

Trinity Hill, Syrah, Gimblett Gravels 2020

Gold, 95 points
Delicate, elegant smoky blacks fruits with delicious dark cherry, baked plums and layers of oak spice, smoke and leather. Youthful and quite powerful, excellent. Alc 13%

Saint Clair, Pioneer Block 17 – Plateau Syrah, Havelock North 2020

Silver, 94 points
Very attractive bouquet with iron and pencil lead, some graphite and clove spice. Concentrated purple fruits, powerful palate, smoky finish. Alc 12.5%



Palliser Estate, Chardonnay, Martinborough 2020

Gold, 95 points
Restrained nose displaying aromas of ripe peach fruit with a creamy edge and smoky undertones. Quite rich on the palate, full body with expansive ripe fruit. Alc 13.5%

Matahiwi Estate, Holly South Series Chardonnay 2020

Silver, 91 points
Smoke and toasty barrel spices, baked apple and fresh citrus. Fresh and poised, lively and enticing with a great acidity. Alc 12.5%


Palliser Estate, Hua Nui Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2019

Platinum, 97 points
Distinctive bouquet with a flinty character, displaying elegant savoury aromas of autumn leaves and notes of cranberry, wild raspberry and tinned strawberry. Lovely vibrant and velvety palate with perfectly ripe fruit and dense tannins. Alc 13%

Craggy Range, Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2019

Gold, 96 points
Complex and focused nose displaying scents of black plums, wild strawberry and seductive mineral notes. Silky texture on the palate, with dense plummy fruit. Alc 13%

Martinborough Vineyard, Home Block Pinot Noir, Martinborough 2019

Gold, 95 points
Evolving savoury aromas with a lift of red plum and raspberry, seasoned by dark roses and lifted spice nuances. Delicious, ripe, with vibrant succulent red fruits. Alc 14%

Paddy Borthwick, Paper Road Pinot Noir 2021

Gold, 95 points
Savoury and mineral nose with notes of rich berry, dark cherry and spiced plum. Firm, structured tannins, well-textured with a very persistent toasty finish. Alc 13.5%

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