The Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines

The Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines: The New Kid On The Block

In this ultimate guide to New Zealand wines, we’re going to take you on an extended tour. We explore every nook and cranny this land down under has to offer. Grab your wine glass and let’s go!

New Zealand happens to be one of the most isolated places in the world, however, that only leads to its charm and mystique. Rugged and undisturbed, this small island in the South Pacific is quickly becoming one of the world’s most vibrant wine countries.

Many people new to New Zealand are surprised to discover we’re actually made up of two separate main islands – the North and South Islands. The rapidly shifting plates below the islands have given us a powerful volcanic history. This created a spine of mountains that run north-south along the islands.

This has created unique conditions and created a highly variable climate with a range of growing conditions, from cold and dry to wet and humid.

 

A Tale Of Two Islands

While the two islands are small, they stretch far north and southward, Thus creating vast changes in climate from warm subtropical in the north to cool temperate in the south.  Being such a thin islands, most vineyards are no further than 130km from the water, while a long and cool growing season produces grapes with delightful acidity.

The earliest vines were planted in the mid-1800’s, however it was not until the 70’s and 80’s that New Zealand got serious about it’s wines, and it’s been unstoppable since then. Rich soils, a beautiful climate and a desire to show the world we’re serious, has resulted in a staggering range of unique and flavourful wines.

The Size Of The Wine Regions

What makes New Zealand so unique, is the number of distinct and varied growing regions given its tiny footprint. At roughly 270,000 km2, it’s roughly the same size as the UK, and yet nearly every region of this small island has its own microclimate.

Still a young pup when compared with other wine producing regions of the world. New Zealand has earned a shockingly good reputation for producing the best wines (even beating French wines in blind taste tests).

Although a relative newcomer, (NZ had less than 39000 hectares of grapes and output today is a mere one tenth of Australia’s), its rise to the top is mind blowing. The crisp, fruity flavour of its wines has captured the attention of wine drinkers around the world

The country’s two islands stretch far between north to south. If placed in Europe the country would stretch from North Africa all the way to Paris. The strong prevailing winds off the Pacific Ocean influence the local climate as they make contact with the mountainous terrain.

Due to a multitude of micro-climates the islands offer a wide range of growing conditions. Generally the regions of the North Island are warmer while the South Island remains cooler.

New Zealand Wines: What To Know When Buying

There are three main factors to be aware of when buying wines from New Zealand:

  • The Producer
  • The Region
  • The Variety

Each has its subtle influence on the style, taste and finish of each wine.

The Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines: The Varieties

Pinot Noir

New Zealand is not shy to go against the likes of famous regions such as Burgundy and California. These world-class pinot noir wines stand proudly for their subtle fruit flavours. New Zealand pinot noirs show the most diversity by region, with subtle shifts in climate have a major impact on the expression of fruit flavours.

Martinborough is one of the most sought after areas, making breathtaking pinot noirs with hints of plum. The most aromatic and intensely flavoured styles come from Central Otago, but only from the best vintages. Marlborough wins the prize for the most full expression, with the region seeing big growth in this variety of wine.

Marlborough Pinot Noir just before harvest

Pinot Noir

New Zealand is not shy to go against the likes of famous regions such as Burgundy and California. These world-class pinot noir wines stand proudly for their subtle fruit flavours. New Zealand pinot noirs show the most diversity by region, with subtle shifts in climate have a major impact on the expression of fruit flavours.

Martinborough is one of the most sought after areas, making breathtaking pinot noirs with hints of plum. The most aromatic and intensely flavoured styles come from Central Otago, but only from the best vintages. Marlborough wins the prize for the most full expression, with the region seeing big growth in this variety of wine.

Sauvignon Blanc

New Zealand has evolved this white wine and added a zesty twist, creating a crisp wine that the world can’t get enough of. Often unoaked, they mix delicious tropical fruit flavours with crisp acidity that makes them easy to drink.

The Marlborough region of the South Island is the gold standard, whose fruity aromatic sauvignon blancs are crisp examples. Also be aware of some of the sub-regional wines – the Awatere is Marlborough’s coolest valley, now making unique and delicate wines.

As winemakers gain confidence, new and distinctive styles are evolving. Using oak barrels to age the wine – be aware of Te Mata’s Cape Crest, Dog Point’s Section 94 or Greywacke’s Wild Ferment for a real taste of this.

The Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines Sauvignon Blanc

Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc And Syrah

These varieties tend to grow better in New Zealand's more northern regions, including Hawkes Bay and Auckland. The wines combine aromatics and boldness, reminiscent of more European styles, but with fresh, bursting fruit flavours.

Chardonnay

Chardonnays from New Zealand are instantly recognizable by mouth-filling fruit flavours, which are tightly balanced against that unique zestiness. Oak barrels are used for aging with careful precision by the country's best winemakers, adding depth to the freshness of the wine. Specific regions to watch for include Marlborough (crisp, zesty, fruity), Auckland (full bodied reds) and Hawkes Bay (sunny and aromatic).

Gewürztraminer and Riesling

New Zealand has a unique cool climate which offers a rare opportunity for sweet, aromatic varieties. The age of plantings mean that many styles rely heavily on sugar. But New Zealand is not afraid to go head-to-head against the famous Alsace region of France.

Ultimate Guide to New Zealand Wines: The Regions

All the way from the northernmost Northland region (which happens to be the smallest wine growing region in NZ) to the southernmost South Island where the Otago region covers much of the coast (also boasting the highest-elevation vineyards). 

In between, there’s the Waitaki Valley (the new kid on the block). Wairarapa (boasts some of New Zealand’s most iconic and sought after producers), Nelson (sunshine, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc), Marlborough (New Zealand’s most famous wine producing region), Hawke’s Bay (the oldest wine region and second largest in New Zealand), Gisborne (dominated by Chardonnay, and first place in the country to see the sunrise), Canterbury (elegant, expressive Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay), and the Auckland Region (home to powerful, intense reds).

Now let’s get into the knitty gritty and explore each region in detail in the ultimate guide to New Zealand wines:

Marlborough

As this is the ultimate guide to New Zealand wines, let’s start with the 800-pound gorilla in the room: if you've only tried one wine from New Zealand, there’s a 98% chance it was a sauvignon blanc from Marlborough. The region is located on the northern tip of South Island. It produces a jaw-dropping 77 percent of the country's wine. Therefore, is undoubtedly one of the most important wine regions in the country. It is also a great place to visit during your stay in New Zealand.

The region has become world famous for its crisp, fruity, and uniquely acidic sauvignon blanc. In short, Sauvignon Blanc accounts for nearly 90 percent of Marlborough vineyards. Bright sunny days and cool nights creates a signature style of sauvignon blanc, characterized by aromas of citrus and tropical fruit. In short, you won't find anywhere else in the world. 

The fruit is able to mature well into autumn, slowly ripening and developing its sugar profile, without losing that undoubtedly unique New Zealand acidity. The region is known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, but the sharp and tangy, Marlborough sauvignon blanc will leave an impression on even the most discerning palates.

Some wineries to highlight in the Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines:

No discussion of Marlborough wines would be complete without discussing the legendary Cloudy Bay. This is the wine that started it all. A relative newcomer on the world stage. Cloudy Bay was founded in 1985, however quickly took the world by storm. Therefore, they pioneered the global awareness and thirst for Marlborough’s sauvignon blanc. 

This wine single-handedly helped New Zealand to proudly proclaim “we’re here and you can’t ignore us” to the upper echelons of the international wine community. 

Also of special note are the Framingham Wines, and their F-Series, which are infamous for producing strictly limited-editions. With total freedom to create…they can capture the unique nature of a vintage and allow for constant innovation. 

Its Old Vine Riesling — grown on vines planted in 1981 and amongst the oldest in the region. This is a must-try, with a full bodied, rich, balanced flavours with a crisp, lively riesling acidity that carries through the dry, lingering finish.

More notable examples of Marlborough wines include Kim Crawford, Oyster Bay, Villa Maria, Allan Scott, and Whitehaven.

Ultimate Guide To New Zealand Wines - Time For A Tour!

For more information about Marlborough and the unique wine regions of New Zealand, get in touch with Chris. Or better yet, if you’re stopping by Marlborough, why not experience a wine tour with a professional guide. Experience for yourself the freshness and excitement of New Zealand wines. Therefore click here to book your group tour, or here for a private tour in our Mercedes

 

Look forward to seeing you soon!!

Chris

Na Clachan Wine Tours Marlborough

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