Welcome back to our third blog of our Wine School Tour of the worlds wine regions where today we jump across the water from last week’s Australia to explore the many regions New Zealand has to offer. From the very top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, we will cover New Zealand’s most well-known areas like Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, all the way down to the lesser-known areas such as Nelson, Waikato, and Waiheke Island.
New Zealand contributes a small 1% of the wine production to the world but a few years ago in the UK, 1 in 10 bottles sold was a Kiwi Sauvignon and New Zealand wine remains well known to this day. While the initial vine planted in New Zealand was the Muller Thurgau by early German settlers, very little of that grape remains and when the odd bottlings appear, they rarely inspire much. The common preference to graft onto an American rootstock helps protect against Phylloxera and grubbing up established vines are lopped off elsewhere. Today, New Zealand is well known for producing a lot of Sauvignon Blancs but also produce great Chardonnays, Pinot Gris, and many others.
We start our whistle-stop tour of New Zealand in the North of the South Island at a town called Nelson. With a fruit growing history, Nelson consists mainly of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that all share similarities to the neighbouring region of Marlborough, but also produce good examples of aromatic Resiling’s and Pinot Gris.
A stone throw away is the relatively new, but hugely popular, regions Marlborough and Blenheim that produce a fantastic style of Sauvignon with a grassy/gooseberry intensity found nowhere else. While New Zealand has equivalent latitude as the Douro in Portugal, because of it being a long, thin island in the middle of the ocean, the two regions’ temperatures differ massively thanks to the westerly winds from the Pacific. With mountains located to the east of Marlborough, they act as a rain shadow for the eastern wine regions keeping them relatively dry, much like the Vosges mountains in Alsace. 60% of New Zealand’s production comes from the surrounding plains around Blenheim and gives a natural herbaceous character to the Sauvignon’s due to the long days of bright but mild sunshine and cool nights. Certain yeast strains also emphasise different flavours in the finished product as Sauvignon grapes don’t taste much like Sauvignon Blanc. While other wine varieties come out of Marlborough, Sauvignon reigns supreme here.
Further East, we find the sub-region of the Awatere Valley that because of its slightly cooler climate offers a lighter style than that found in the main parts of Marlborough. A great example of this is the Astrolabe’s Kekerengu Coast Sauvignon Blanc. Boosting a style of nettly herbaceousness, gooseberries, lime, and a floral element of citrus blossom, it pairs great with most seafood dishes.
Over to the bottom of the North Island, we find ourselves in the Wairarapa region that shares the dry and moderate climate that of Marlborough due to the west lying mountains. Historically producing Pinot Noirs, Wairarapa also produces a rich, dry Alsace style Pinot Gris with many of the region’s wines having a Burgundian style being more savoury and less fruity. The sub-region of Martinborough is the quality region here, being in a Pinot Noir battle with Central Otago, but it is the up and coming region of Te Muna that is worth keeping an eye on.
With plantings by missionaries dating back to the 19th century, Hawkes Bayis the source of many Cabernets based ‘Claret’ and are the styles that still dominate today. Being a tad cooler than Bordeaux, the ripening of the Cabernet isn’t always reliable, and more Syrah’s and Merlot’s are being planted. Having poorer soils, vines produce a better quality of fruitiness with the Gimblett Gravels sub-region producing some of the region’s finest fruits thanks to its deep gravel beds.
Being the largest wine region of New Zealand, Gisborne consists mostly of the Chardonnay grape and is the majority of production is owned by the international company Pernod Ricard. Because of the warmer and sunnier climate controlled by the sea breeze, the region rarely sees over-ripeness, however excessive rainfall has caused seasons of under ripeness. Praised worldwide for its Chardonnay’s, it is the red Syrah’s showing promise thanks to its grapes natural resistance to rot.
Next on to Waikato & Bay of Plenty where the warm summers with spots of rain can produce some excellent wines. Sometimes to humid, whites here attain tropical and lush flavours.
On to Auckland, another warm northern region but it seems a lot more rain and cloud than other regions do that moderates the temperature. With a heavy clay foundation, reds are the majority of production with Merlots making more noise thanks to its ability to deal with clay better. Once ago, some fabulous Chardonnays come out of this area with the Kumeu River Kumeu Village Chardonnay standing out for us. With 25% old French Oak, a lovely balance of vanilla and fruitiness means it is a steal of a deal for being less than £20.
Across the water from Auckland, we find the Island of Waiheke. With the same cloud coverage as Auckland without rainfall, the island produces some excellent Cabernet blends and Syrahs. Given its proximity to Auckland, tourism and wine go hand in hand together here.
Travelling back down below Marlborough we find the region of Canterbury which shares the same protection the mountain range offers. Notable for producing Pinot Noir’s, Chardonnay’s and even Riesling’s, it is the sub-region of Waipara that catches our eye. Using the clay and limestone outcrops, it produces some of the best Alsace style Rieslings along with some Gewurztraminers too.
As one of the most southerly wine regions of the world, we find the Central Otago region. Favouring Red wine, most notably Pinot Noir, it gets compared a lot to the style and quality of the Martinborough region. Not being a coastal region, the continental climate has its influence meaning hotter summers but more frigid winters. A gap in the ozone layer here causes stronger sunlight and cold nights that preserve the acidity and creates a full-bodied, fruit-driven wine with elegance and structure. The natural amphitheatre of the Cromwell Basin houses some of the best vineyard areas such as Felton Road and Mount Difficulty. The Mount Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Noir is a bright and vibrant wine with a relatively high alcohol content of 14% that balances well with the fruit and body of the wine. Some wines are so sought over that trying to get a bottle from the vineyard can be troubling. Thankfully as we said before, because of the UK’s interest, we are never too far away from a great bottle of Kiwi wine.
Thank you for tuning into our exploration of the many wine regions New Zealand has to offer. You can catch our Wine School episode on our YouTube channel or you can keep up to date with all our movements by following us on our Twitter or Instagram page.
Join us next time as we start part 1 of our travels around South Africa. From Constantia to Cape South Coast, we will explore the great wine regions the rainbow nation has to offer.