Our panel sniffed, swirled and spat 40 mid-priced (under $30) still wines for our annual tasting: a mix of lower-alcohol sauvignon blanc, lower-alcohol pinot gris, riesling, and rosé. We also tasted 15 New Zealand sparkling wines (under $45) to help get your festive season fizzing.

Overall, the standard was high – 40 wines got a three-star rating or higher. Only one was awarded our five-star rating, but we found nine four-star wines across the categories worth trying.

Picks of the bunch

Lower-alcohol

We started our tasting with the lower-alcohol sauvignon blancs, followed by the lower-alcohol pinot gris. Although our panel knew these wines were “lower alcohol”, they judged them against the same criteria as the other wines in our tasting.

While these wines are “lower” in alcohol, remember they still pack a punch. Their alcohol content is about 9 percent (compared with the usual 13 or so percent).

Our panel was looking for well-made wines displaying characteristics you expect of sauvignon blanc or pinot gris. They’re difficult to get right because winemakers need to balance the lower alcohol with sugar and acidity.

To see what our judges found, become a paying Consumer member or log in at the top of the page.

Riesling

This grape is naturally suited to making lower-alcohol wines – a couple of the rieslings in our tasting contained about 9 percent alcohol. To see which rieslings impressed our judges, become a paying Consumer member or log in at the top of the page.

Rosé

Our tasters were looking for a refreshing rosé with good berry flavours. One wine topped this style with a four-star rating. Eight other rosés got a three-star rating. To find out more, become a paying Consumer member or log in at the top of the page.

Sparkling wine

The festive season isn’t complete without popping a few bottles of bubbly.

Our top three bubbles nudged out more expensive wines in our tasting. They all cost $20 or less a bottle. To view our top bubbles, become a paying Consumer member or log in at the top of the page.

Our tasting panel

Elissa Jordan: Blogger at www.winefulness.nz, a wine review site where New Zealand wines and winemakers feature heavily. When not wine writing, she’s a project manager at Consumer NZ.

Gary Bowering: Keen wine drinker with an interest in French wines. His wine-tasting notes are at gb.net.nz/wine.

Huw Kinch: Winemaker for Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough. Associate judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and New Zealand International Wine Show.

Laura Saba: Owner of wine and tourism marketing consultancy WineCellarNZ. Senior judge at the New Zealand International Wine Show. Associate judge at the International Chardonnay Challenge, Bragato Wine Awards and the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Sue Davies: Wine consultant with 20 years’ experience in the wine industry. Owner of Wine2Trade (a distributor of premium hand-crafted boutique wines). A national wine-options champion and Royal Easter Show Wine Awards judge.

About our tasting

We buy our wines from supermarkets and liquor stores like you do. Our wines are grouped according to variety and vintage. Then they’re presented “blind” to our panel.

Each judge gives each wine a score out of 20, following the international scoring system for wines. The judges also discuss the wine after it’s been tasted – still without knowing what it is – and then they agree on a final (combined) score. The wines’ identities are revealed to the judges after this.

Our star ratings are based on the judges’ final (combined) score.

Our judges used Spiegelau Festival Degustation Chianti glasses. These are generously sized glasses suitable for both red and white wines, with a rim narrower than the base. Their shape lets the judges swirl the wine, releasing aromas and allowing the colour and appearance of the wine to be inspected.

Thank you!

Our thanks to our tasting panel, Macvine International for the use of the Spiegelau glassware and to Raymond Chan for his help on tasting day.

Report by Belinda Castles.