New Zealand’s rise to wine fame can be traced to a single grape variety, sauvignon blanc, a phenomenal circumstance if you consider many of the commercial plantings are barely 30 years old. Over the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to retaste a few of my favorites.
The rise of New Zealand white wines’ popularity coincided with the world’s demand for fresher and lighter styles. Those familiar only with the over-oaked, heavy whites in many wine regions welcomed the refreshing unoaked, cool-climate style of this country’s wine. Today there are many more offerings than sauvignon blanc. This list now includes chardonnay, gewurztraminer, pinot gris and Riesling.
The terroir of New Zealand’s vineyards produces excellent white wines with fresh, zippy acidity but it’s also prized for a rich red wine with complex flavors, the pinot noir grape. It is one of the world’s most exciting hot spots for the pinot noir devotee. This grape is finicky and doesn’t adapt well when grown outside of Burgundy but New Zealand produces quality wines from pinot noir vintage after vintage. New Zealand’s restrained delicate pinot noirs offer a refreshing change from robust high alcohol pinot noirs produced elsewhere.
- 2014 Monkey Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)
- 2014 Mohua Riesling, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Starborough Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $12 retail)
- 2014 New Harbor Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $13 retail)
- 2014 The Crossings Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2015 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $22 retail)
- 2014 Wild Earth Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $26 retail)
- 2014 Mt. Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $25 retail)
- 2014 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2014 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $20 retail)
- 2015 Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2015 Dashwood Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2014 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $33 retail)
- 2013 Brancott Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $22 retail)
New Zealand is generally known for its racy, bracingly acidic sauvignon blancs, but pinot noir is quickly joining in the limelight.
New Zealand’s South Island is one of the world’s most exciting hot spots for the pinot noir devotee. This grape has a reputation for being finicky outside of Burgundy and doesn’t adapt well to many new areas, but the Otago region’s pinot noir production is growing at a phenomenal rate, with new wineries opening every year.
The cool climate of the South Island is comparable with the best growing regions for this grape. Central Otego grows New Zealand’s (and the world’s) most southerly grape vines, some of them cultivated south of the 45th parallel. It is New Zealand’s only wine region with a continental climate. Most vines are planted on hillsides to gain maximum sun exposure.
The region has a traditional winemaking style much like you will find in benchmark European wine regions.
Much of the influence is from the many New Zealand winemakers working second annual vintages in Europe and gaining a wider perspective on the world of wine (known as flying winemakers).
Another positive influence is the reverse migration of mostly young French winemakers joining in during the New Zealand harvest and winemaking. These influences continue to show in the restrained delicate pinot noir styles from the South Island.
- 2012 Dashwood Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $17 retail)
- 2012 The Seeker Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $14 retail)
- 2012 Brancott Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $16 retail)
- 2012 Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $23 retail)
- 2012 Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $40 retail)
- 2012 Greywacke Winery Pinot Noir, New Zealand (about $39 retail)
New Zealand is known for its exceptional-quality sauvignon blanc, but what it may be best remembered for 30 years from now is transforming the way the wine world seals its product.
New Zealand’s winemakers have been at the forefront of helping their peers say goodbye to cork taint by replacing the natural-fiber closures with screw caps.
The process began about 40 years ago in neighboring Australia, when Peter Wall, production director of Yalumba contacted French manufacturer, Le Bouchon Mecanique (literally translated as The Mechanical Stopper) in a quest to eliminate cork taint in his wines and maintain freshness.
The French food industry had been using a screw top since the middle of the 19th century, but in 1959 a specific cap was adapted for wine bottles.
While the French may have led the way in design and production, their customers were less accepting of a wine closure beyond the traditional natural cork, as were wine drinkers around the world.
However, in 2000, when a group of Australia’s Clare Valley winemakers began using this modern seal for premium wines, others took notice.
This immediately got the attention of New Zealand winemakers, who were already researching a solution to taint caused by cork closures.
In February 2001, Marlborough winemakers began investigating using the screw cap as a seal, as were winemakers outside the region. In a logical evolution, they joined forces to create the New Zealand Screwcap Initiative.
The first commercial release of New Zealand wine with a screw cap was by Kim Crawford, quickly followed by Jackson Estate and Villa Maria. Today, it’s estimated that wines in screw-cap bottles represent about 85 percent of New Zealand’s production.
The initiative continues to gain momentum as winemakers around the world switch to this closure.
- 2011 Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, (about $12 retail)
- 2011 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $18 retail)
When you think of the history of wine, particularly from countries with wine-centric cultures, you think centuries, but for New Zealand it’s only decades. The growth in New Zealand’s wine production and quality has been nothing short of phenomenal. The ideal climate paired with passionate winemakers catapulted this region’s significant breakthrough over the past 20 years.
Only 10 years ago, New Zealand winemakers announced to the world, “You ain’t seen nothing yet,” and today we are seeing the results.
Many vines considered young (compared to other parts of the world) are now developed vineyards, playing a part in the ever-increasing quality. The Central Otego pinot noirs are finally gaining their much-deserved international recognition, and Marlborough sauvignon blancs are today’s acclaimed white wine style.
As this country continues to flourish, so do the consumers’ choices of other grape varieties, adding to New Zealand’s growing reputation.
Most of New Zealand’s Rieslings are produced in the cooler South Island regions. It is a style much more reserved than neighboring Australia, and between the light floral Riesling of Germany and the austere wines of Alsace.
- 2008 Brancott Classics Riesling, New Zealand (about $18 retail)
- 2008 Bird Marlborough Riesling, New Zealand (about $18 retail)
- 2008 Spy Valley Riesling, New Zealand (about $24 retail)
- 2008 Daniel Schuster Waipara Riesling, New Zealand (about $24 retail)
- 2008 Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg Riesling, New Zealand (about $22 retail)
Many of the best chardonnays are produced in the North Island regions of Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. The wines are usually creamy and zesty compared to other chardonnays of the world.
- 2009 Monkey Bay Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $12 retail)
- 2009 Oyster Bay Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $18 retail)
- 2009 Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $22 retail)
- 2008 Kim Crawford Unoaked Chardonnay, New Zealand (about $26 retail)