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Feb 17, 2011

Over recent months we've been enthusiastically sampling the "new" varietals such as viognier, arneis and gruner veltliner as growers and winemakers look for more portfolio stars.

The majority of New Zealand's vineyard area is made up of just a handful of grape varieties – the big six are sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot gris, merlot and riesling. All these varieties are like familiar friends but many consider the time ripe for introducing new flavours and textures to our wine repertoire.

In a recent Australian publication the comment was made that there's good reason why some Australian wine growers are banking on gruner veltliner plantings to get them out of the doldrums – Australian wine drinkers are asking for white wines with texture (which a good gruner has aplenty).

While varietal flavour is still important and people want their sav blanc to taste recognisably like sav blanc with freshness and brightness as desirable attributes, they also want white wines to have texture, minerality and savouriness.

They want them to deliver complex palate satisfaction which is something the non-mainstream grapes like gruner can deliver very well.

Australia went through an export-inspired planting frenzy that now leaves growers and winemakers asking whether the old favourites are really the right varieties for their particular vineyard. They are also questioning the lack of viticultural diversity in a national vineyard dominated by 10 grape varieties and are trying to rectify the situation with a number of new varieties.

The same thinking is emerging here and the position of pinot gris in our top six varietals is testimony to that.

Viognier is marching along and now we have other varieties emerging – and maybe some of these will soon find their way into greater tracts of Marlborough vineyards that might be better suited to varieties other than overcropped sauvignon blanc. We'll be watching with interest as the wine industry changes in response to difficult times.