By Rick Riozza

A couple weeks ago, we did it up fresh and zippy with coverage on this spring’s New Zealand white wine sippers: those Sauvignon Blancs that can quench a thirst in hot weather and match-up with most light foods. We even threw in a Riesling and an Albariño for further fun.

This time we thought we’d do the egalitarian thing and suggest some Kiwi reds for your springtime consideration. If one gives it a thought, it sounds like a fun wine journey to try some red wines from the southernmost wine producing country in the world. And as one would expect, there is some very tasty wine—and oftentimes so reasonably priced.

No surprise here but when it comes to Kiwi reds, Pinot Noir is king (Or queen, if you will: the French call their Pinot Noir the “queen” of the grapes and their Cabernet Sauvignon the “king” of grapes. No one should mind themselves much on these matters.)

Anyway—Kiwi land has earned itself a formidable reputation for mostly premium bottlings of pinot. There are regional differences, certainly: at the bottom of North Island in the Wairarapa region, the pinots offer dense, dark and tightly wound expressions. On the South Island, Central Otago yields complex wines from varying subregions that express exotic spices, dried flowers and an abundance of fruit. Other regions such as Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Waipara, offer softly spiced, fruit-led expressions. Many pinot lovers are now realizing how good the Kiwi stuff is.

The Syrah grape has been around New Zealand for a long while, however, new wine columnists are insisting it’s the new up and comer. So many of our desert dwellers favor a bold and powerful red wine. The Syrahs from the warmer North Island, in the clay-dominant soils of Auckland and Hawke’s Bay have shown for over a hundred years that this place delivers muscular and laser-focused.

Varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec are longstanding players in the North Island, as well. They are often blended into Bordeaux-style red wine that show an intensity of flavor and a supple tannin structure. And good news as well, the Gamay Noir performs very well in New Zealand: Kiwi Beaujolais! Who Knew!

And now, from reviews around the world, please consider the kissable Kiwi reds:

The 2017 Mohua Pinot Noir ($25) begins with a pretty classic New Zealand Pinot Noir aroma full of red cherry, strawberry, cranberry, a touch of spice and a very nice earthy streak. Most Pinot Noir doesn’t need a lot of aeration; this one however can use a bit of air to open up—and indeed it does! The light to medium-bodied wine is rich and round with wild raspberry, black currant, tart fruit and sweet spice flavors. It continues with an earthy streak and a smooth texture. There are also plenty of good oak and quiet red licorice notes. The finish is dry and dusty with more sweet fruit plus some lingering coffee and cocoa.

2019 Craggy Range, Syrah, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay New Zealand ($30)

Gorgeously lifted floral notes and raspberry juice purity on the nose; the palate is inky and youthful, packed with dense purple brambles, more ripe raspberries and sweet red cherries too. Super-bright cleansing acidity, a cool mineral tang and mouth-coating musky tannins. A stunner now but will age beautifully.

2019 Loveblock, Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand ($26) This tasty wine shows aromas of rhubarb, red cherries and berries – a bright summer pudding-like purity. On the palate crisp red apple, cherry, plum and floral notes mingle with dusty tannins. Half the wine was aged in oak, giving good structure, in tandem with vibrant raspberry acidity. A really fun and interesting pinot!

2017 Man O’War, Dreadnought Syrah, Waiheke, Auckland, New Zealand ($39) If anyone that you know loves a big and complex Syrah, you just made their day with this gift. An elegant, sinewy style of Syrah, showing aromas of tarmac, cured meat and fresh blackberries. Appealing balsamic freshness on the palate, which is strewn with peppery black fruit, dark minerals and structured chalky tannins, from 18 months maturation in barrel.

2018 Esk Valley, Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Malbec-Cabernet Franc, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand ($20) At this price, it may well be one of the best Bordeaux-blends around; surely it has the longest wine name ever. Fermented in old concrete vats, it retains pure black fruit flavors, with hints of anise and smoky oak notes from 50% of the wine maturing for 16 months in new oak. Raspy tannins and lively acidity give an engaging mouthfeel.

2018 Opawa, Pinot Noir, Marlbourough, New Zealand ($18) This is a great buy that goes perfectly with light dinner fare. “Opawa” means “smoky river” in Maori, and the estate vineyards are planted on an old riverbed of the same name. This lighter-style Pinot is less fruit-driven than some, but the crisp acidity and spice-inflected redcurrant and plum fruits make it a good match for light Italian, such as creamy mushroom pasta.

2019 Te Mata Estate Vineyards, Hawke’s Bay New Zealand Deep, brilliant crimson with a cherry-red edge, this Gamay sparkles with lifted candy-apple, strawberry, and star anise on the nose. Soft and luscious, the palate overflows with crushed red summer fruit, wild raspberry and cherry. Hints of rosewater and anise culminate in this wine’s sumptuous finish; refreshing in its appeal, beguiling in its detail. Sounds like a hit! Cheers!