This article is from the latest issue of Wine NZ magazine.  By Paul Taggart.


One reason for including a Spanish variety tasting in the current issue was the overwhelming enthusiasm for things Spanish shown by WineNZ judge, winemaker and winery owner Ant Mackenzie. Ant has made many award-winning wines for a number of high-profile wineries over the years, as well as developing his own premium range under several labels.

Hawke’s Bay is the ideal spot for Spanish varieties, thanks to the Mediterranean climate. The region also had the influence of Spanish winemakers in its early days and has a good deal of Spanish Mission architecture, thanks to the timing of the rebuild after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. While Spanish Mission is Californian in origin, it was inspired by Renaissance and Baroque architecture in Spain.

Spanish grapes are not new in the Bay; Trinity Hill has been doing tempranillo for years, albariño has been produced for about five years and moscatel has been there forever.

However, no one has created a range of New Zealand Spanish varieties, which is where Ant comes in.

His Toño brand was inspired by his winemaking travels in Spain, where he was known as Toño (an abbreviation of Antonio) by his winemaking colleagues.

Ant has been dabbling with the varieties for a few years, and has made awardwinning Spanish variety wines for Te Awa, but now he is into it, boots and all, with the Toño range, and has imported tiñaja from Spain to increase the
authenticity of the wines.

Tiñaja are terracotta fermentation and storage vessels. They were, in effect, the first winemaking tanks, and the name is derived from the name for a depression in a rock made by a waterfall – early winemakers may have used these depressions to ferment wine.

Some of this year’s vintage went into 500-litre and 700L tiñaja; more are on order, and the complete Toño lineup –
tempranillo, albariño and rosado – will go into the clay vessels in future years.

The albariño grapes are grown on Ant’s own Craft Farm vineyard in Havelock North. The variety originates from
Northern Spain on the Atlantic Coast and is also grown in Portugal. Albariño is often compared to riesling, and the two varieties may be related.

Toño wines have been entered into our tastings on two occasions and they have performed well with the judges.

They were also a hit with the stewards and support crew out the back, where I like to think the real experts are. The Toño bottles are usually the first ones empty after the judging is over as the stewards and WineNZ guys want to try something a little unusual, and also want to see what one of our judges can deliver.

If that enthusiasm for new Spanish variety offerings also exists in the wider population, then Ant, aka Toño, could be on to something.