I’ve followed the wines of Riverby Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand, for many years now. At time of writing there are tasting notes for 44 Riverby wines in my database, dating back to 2010.
Riverby is first and foremost a vine-growing farm. Sited on the famous Jacksons Road, its vineyards abutt Cloudy Bay’s, and the same family has farmed this land for over 100 years. Kevin Courtney runs the estate of free-draining stony soils, the vineyards worked sustainably. Though of course there is Sauvignon Blanc, a wide variety of grapes is planted, including Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Semillon and Syrah. Wines are made for Riverby by Dr John Forrest at his nearby winery.
I was lucky enough to visit the vineyards and see them for myself in 2020, and was impressed by Kevin Courtney’s intimate knowledge of each block of vines in this substantial estate, where yields are kept low to improve quality and concentration, and some plots are now more than 30 years old, planted on their own roots.
Kevin and his UK agent and retailer Black Dog Wine Agency recently sent me the latest batch of wines to hit the UK shores. Marlborough has been on a roll with recent vintages: quality has been excellent in 2019, 2020, and 2021, and very good indeed in 2022. I note that for several of these wines I comment it is the best vintage of that particular Riverby cuvée I have tasted, a reflection I suspect of both vintage conditions, and Kevin Courtney’s obsessive attention to detail.
(2022) This is both classic Marlborough and a cut above the ordinary. The nose is streaked with lime over herbaceous notes, running into gooseberry and hinting at more tropical mango. The palate is succulent, showing something slightly smoky and mineral, but loads of streaking lime and lemon zest, still echoes of lychee and mango ripeness. It finishes dry, with excellent acid balance.
(2022) If a mad New Zealand scientist crossed a grapefruit, a lime, and a peach, the result might well be this Grüner from Riverby. There is a hint of mineral salts and white pepper on the nose, but it's the sheer, mouth-watering and citrus-fresh decisiveness of the palate that is an absolute delight. Standby for the punch and verve of this firecracker wine, a banker for shellfish and seafood.
(2022) With around 7.5g/l of residual sugar but full fruit ripeness and texture, I guess this could be described as being in the 'Alsace style', and bloomin' delicious it is too. From vines planted in 2006 and cropped low, it's a truly aromatic expression of Pinot Gris, honeysuckle and smoky mango swirling with nectarine. On the palate it is weighty and really quite dense, preserved lemon fruit and plenty of sweet, exotic flavours runnning into a fine core of refreshing acidity that extends the finish. It's a beauty, this.
(2022) The Riverby name does not appear on the label here, because Riverby Estate releases wines purely made with fruit from it's own vineyards, whereas the Gewürztraminer for this wine is purchased. I alway enjoy this wine, and the 2022 does not disappoint. It's a very classic expression of Gewurz aromatically, showing lychee and a just a glimpse of old rose perfume, but the Marlborough sunshine adds an extra brightness and zip to the aromatics. On the palate it is medium-bodied but has a rolling texture, a hint of sweetness, and a bit of dried fruit character, the mango and lychee sweetness subsumed in good levels of acidity. Concentrated and intense on the finish.
(2022) Well, this is the best vintage yet for this wine in my opinion. Despite the 14% alcohol suggesting full ripeness, there's a flinty, stony minerality on the nose, but creamy oatmeal and succulent, ripe pear and citrus too. The palate echoes all of that; sharp, zesty and mineral, but a burgeoning sense of nectarine ripeness smoothed by oatmeal. Orange and grapefruit add so much zest through the finish. A great effort. Watch the video
for more information and food-matching ideas.
(2022) The 'Old Vines' here are indeed 30 years old, which in Marlborough terms, is truly ancient. Matured in French oak barrels The nose opens with a blast of flint and complex sulphide notes, but so much nutty, vanillin oak creaminess and still no shortage of ripe stone fruits. On the palate, absolutely succulent: juicy peach and ripe, clean pear flavours, but underpinned by fudge and chocolate depth, then thrilling acidity. An outstanding wine, from an outstanding vintage.
(2022) I've tasted the 2013 version of this wine several times, as recently as last year, and what a stunner of a white with almost 10 years under its belt that is. A blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc aged in old oak barrels, and 30% Semillon aged in new oak barrels. This obviously more youthful example has a taut lemon curd and stone fruit nose, before an intense palate showing the old vine concentration. Right now, the sheer lemony concentration of the fruit and acidity just allows a squeak of the creamy barrel component to show through. My score is cautious, based on this tasting of a potentially fabulous wine for ageing in the very same mould as the 2013. I look forward to tasting this again in the future.
(2022) Hot off the press is this single block 2022 Riesling, made in an approximate 'Kabinnet' style with 18g/l of residual sugar, so certainly off-dry. Very pure lime and lemon sherbet on the nose, but there's a core of green apple too. A hint of beeswax somewhere in there. That sherbetty/lemon sorbet character persists in the mouth, but a whack of acidity means the sweetness is swept away in a mouthwatering rush. The finishes balances fruit, that touches on peachy, with that core of acid and plenty of sweetness.
(2022) Riverby's take on classic Sauternes, this is 75% Semillon and 25% Sauvignon Blanc, with plenty of Botrytis and 13.0% alcohol. It spent 12 months in oak barrels, 50% new, and boast 145g/l of luscious residual sugar. Flooded with apricot - fresh and dried - barley sugar and hints of bergamot/Earl Grey tea, the palate is slippery and viscous, a certain smokiness of mango and papaya, then a star-bright burst of lemon to the acidity. It is an extremely intense and powerful wine, that actually needs food; fully sweet desserts, foie gras or blue cheese, to stand up to the formidable power. This will age for many, many years.
(2022) My first taste of Riverby's rosé, which is predominantly Pinot Noir. There must be some bits and pieces of aromatic varieties in here too, as the nose has a definite floral lift, along with bright Bazooka Joe cherry and raspberry, all very pretty and very punchy. In the mouth this has an immediate creaminess and sweetness, verging on an impression of being off-dry, but the juicy red fruit of the mid-palate shows some tartness of hedgerow berries, and the lemony thrust of acidity cleanses the finish, A fine sipper with 12.5% alcohol and easy-going sweetness.
(2022) From a single vineyard that boasts some of Marlborough's earliest Pinot Noir plantings, this is a lovely Pinot from a strong vintage. Only 12.5% alcohol and pale to medium in colour, it's intensely perfumed, rose-hip and softly spiced, quite exotic red fruit wafts from the glass, with a subtle underlay of sweet oak. In the mouth that lower alcohol and crisp acidity gives this real agility, the fruit sweet but light and in texture and character, still focused on red fruits with a nicely grippy bite of tannin just to firm up the picture. Another lovely wine.
(2022) What a lovely expression of Pinot from a cracking vintage in Marlborough, matured in French oak barrels. It has a delightful pale colour and perfume to spare with loads of bright cherry, lots of autumnal twigs and leaves, and a hint of roasting chestnuts. The palate bursts with juicy fruit. There's a raspberry and orange vivaciousness to this, a crackling energy bright with glossy cherry, but the slightly smoky - again roasting chestnuts spring to mind - adds depth, the tannins very fine and the oak smoothing the finish.