After exploring Australia, New Zealand is just a short flight across the Tasman Sea.
It is most famous for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, a style of wine that has become so iconic and classic that students of wine praise the gods whenever they come across it in a tasting examination.
Sauvignon Blanc may have put New Zealand on the map, but they are also wise not to put all their eggs in the same basket – for the past few decades producers have also focused on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
From North To South
New Zealand is made up of two islands (North Island and South Island). The most important wine regions (listed north to south) and their top 5 grape varieties grown are as follows:
- North Island:
- Auckland: Syrah, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Gisborne: Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc
- Hawke’s Bay: Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Syrah
- Wellington: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling
- South Island:
- Nelson: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling
- Marlborough: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling
- Canterbury: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay
- Waipara Valley
- Central Otago: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
(Much of this information provided by NZWines.com)
From the above you can see there is a huge focus on white wines. New Zealand’s southerly latitude (between 36° and 45° South), as well as being surrounded by water, give it a cool climate, which generally benefits white grapes more.
As well as increasing the breadth of varieties cultivated, producers are also getting deeper into various techniques that can bring out a wine’s hidden potential
Many wine enthusiasts like to turn their nose up to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but you will also find individual producers experimenting with maturation in oak, skin contact, and varying ripeness levels, all of which will contribute different elements to the final product. These same techniques may be applied to other varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
As well as still wines, we must not forget that sparkling and dessert wines may also be found.
All of this complexity from a nation that produces less than 1% of the world’s wines. Fairly impressive.
In many ways New Zealand is interesting to observe as an evolving wine nation. To break free of it’s reputation for Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough with simple tropical character:
- It is expanding it’s range of grape varieties
- It is exploring more regions where grapes may thrive
- It is developing wines with greater complexity
As mentioned earlier, New Zealand wines make up less than 1% of the world’s total production. This means their availability may be limited. While this could be seen as unfortunate, you may use this to your advantage.
Fewer choices = Fewer decisions to make
The next time you peruse a restaurant wine list or are walking through a bottle shop, you may see that the selection is limited. Pick one, then pick another one next time.
To get the best out of New Zealand wines (or all wines, really), I believe you should know what you want and what to look for.
Try many wines to understand your tastes.
Have a few rules-of-thumb to help you navigate.
And as always, if you are stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for the sommelier!
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