In the early 1980’s no one outside of New Zealand was drinking NZ wines. Why should they? The world was filled with wines to adore. But then something happened. A single wine, Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, caught the world’s attention. How could an under-rated grape like Sauvignon Blanc be the impetus to the world discovering an under-rated wine region like New Zealand? There was magic happening down under, and not just in Australia.
In the early 1990’s, the number of wineries in New Zealand hovered around 30, by 2014 there was 700. Although there are about 25 grapes grown in NZ, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are the most renowned and, respectively, the most widely planted.
“The wines (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) are, quite simply, outrageousness in a bottle. And they’ve flung the door wide open to other exciting New Zealand varietals – especially pinot noir.” ~ Karen MacNeil, The Wine Bible, second edition
New Zealand is an ideal environment to grow certain vitis vinifera. Because of NZ location and shape, it has a cool climate, and because each of the two islands are long and narrow, each vineyard maintains a close proximity to the sea, allowing for consistent temperatures and a long growing season where the grapes can ripen evenly while maintaining a natural acidity. An abundance of rain is a drawback but vineyard ingenuity has led to vines being trellis to promote ripeness and maturity. The North Island is home to Hawke’s Bay, NZ’s second largest wine region and considered the best. But for this article we will focus on the South Island, home to Marlborough and Central Otago. According to The Wine Bible, Marlborough is home to 60% of all NZ vineyards, producing 70% of all NZ wines, and 80% of all NZ Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is central to NZ’s wine identity. It leads in variety planted and in exports. Sauvignon Blanc in NZ is a unique wine, with little profile similarities to its Bordeaux counter-part. If you like green notes of lime, figs, melons, herbs, grass, and watercress then NZ Sauvignon Blanc is THE wine for you. Even better, NZ wine makers have discovered how to blend the grapes green notes with bright citrus and tropical fruit and wrapping it in the grape’s exploding acidity for a wine that is a show stopper.
Pinot Noir has made big strides in a small amount of time in New Zealand. For a grape that is known for its fussiness, NZ wine makers have found the right formula, in the right climate, to produce high quality Pinot Noirs at very budget friendly prices. The majority of NZ Pinot Noir is produced in Marlborough, where they are a bit more fruit forward. Most of the rest of the production is grown in Central Otago where the grapes earthy and herbal traits tend to shine. In addition to still wines, New Zealanders often enjoy their Pinot Noir in the form of sparkling wine.
Here are four wines, two Sauvignon Blancs and two Pinot Noirs that well represent the high quality wines being produced in New Zealand.
2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand ($12.95): Pale gold in the glass; pronounced aromas of white flowers, green apple, gooseberry, pear, lime zest, grapefruit, and grassy notes; super bright and zesty, fresh and green flavors invade the palate, high mouth-watering acidity creating a mouthwatering finish.
2016 Catalina Sounds Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand ($15.95): Medium- gold in the glass; medium- aromas of green apples and pears, under-ripe green melon, white nectarines, and dried herbs; lime zest and herbs follow through on the palate on a back bone of minerality, crisp and dry with high acidity and a long, tart finish.
2015 Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir Marlborough New Zealand ($18.95): Medium- ruby in the glass; medium aromas of fresh picked violets, fresh picked red fruit of cherries, strawberries, and cranberries, lavender, dill, vanilla, white mushrooms, and white tea notes; juicy fruit driven palate that is light yet lively with medium acidity and integrated tannins, medium tart fruit finish.
2016 Nanny Goat Vineyards Pinot Noir Central Otago New Zealand ($22.99): Vibrant medium ruby in the glass; medium aromas of candied violets, fresh picked red fruit of cherries, strawberries, and raspberries, dried black tea, sweet baking spice, and forest floor; tart red fruit, dried tea, forest floor palate, elegant with balanced integrated tannins and medium acidity, well-structured light wine with a juicy fruit finish.
It is no secret I am a huge Pinot Noir fan. As I said earlier, Pinot Noir is a fussy grape that can be a challenge to grow and craft into a lovely wine. There is a reason Pinot Noirs tend to be a bit pricey. However, typically New Zealand Pinot Noirs are not only quite pleasing, they are rarely expensive. And the Sauvignon Blancs are just a bounty of delicious aromas and flavors. These wines are widely distributed across the US. Head to your favorite local wine retailer or online and start enjoying New Zealand wines today.
My Song Selection:
Get your own bottle of New Zealand wines and let me know what song you pair with it. Cheers!