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Discovering New Zealand's Diverse Wine Landscape

For anyone who loves Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand must be close to heaven. However, anyone who assumes that New Zealand has nothing to offer aside from its idiosyncratic Savvy is denying themselves an amazing range of stellar wines.

Ken Gargett  5 June 2024

Beyond Sauvignon Blanc

For whites, as well as the ubiquitous Sauv Blanc, although to be fair it is in Marlborough where we find the most thrilling examples, there are fine examples of Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Even some scintillating Riesling from the more southern regions. Chardonnay, however, is for me and many others the white variety that absolutely shines in this nation. It has been largely drowned by the Sauvalanche, with that variety occupying more than 80% of the nation’s vineyards and being the cash cow that not only allows producers to dabble with other grapes but helps to keep the entire industry afloat. Wonderful examples are made from the top of New Zealand to the very bottom and are very much worth seeking out.

A Transformation

Historically, reds were considered likely to be thin, green, weedy, and a bit nasty. That changed when ambitious growers realised that they could make world-class Pinot Noir. Styles differ across the regions, as they should, with Martinborough showing depth and complexity, down to the exuberant and bold wines we see from Central Otago. And everything in between.

Other Red Varieties

New Zealand reds are not a one-trick pony, however, with world-class Bordeaux blends, especially in the Hawkes Bay region, and perhaps even more so, in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay. It is in that sub-region where we also find the nation’s top Shiraz, or Syrah as they prefer to call it to distinguish it from the plethora of Aussie examples. Although production is small, these wines are truly world-class.

World-Class Wines at Great Value

Indeed, if one were to take anything from a visit through the Kiwi vineyards, it is that there are examples of world-class wines to be found, head to toe. Next would be that their very best wines are ridiculously underpriced in world terms. Compare a Bell Hill Pinot Noir from Waikari or a Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay from the Auckland region with their equivalent from Burgundy and you’d be paying several times the price, at least, to get anywhere close to the quality.

Key Wine Regions and Notable Wineries

The regions and vineyards around and to the north of Auckland may be largely niche efforts, but Kumeu River is known around the world and Purini Hills is establishing a wonderful reputation for its Bordeaux-style wines. To the southeast of Auckland, we have Hawkes Bay. There are many wonderful wineries here, but no one comes to the region without visiting Craggy Range. A personal favorite is their Le Sol, one of the great Syrah from New Zealand. Trinity Hill is also making some thrilling wines, perhaps none more so than their Homage Syrah.

Martinborough: Depth and Complexity

Martinborough, just over the bump from the nation’s capital, Wellington, has been mentioned for its amazing Pinot Noir – Dry River, Ata Rangi, Martinborough Estate, Escarpment, and Kusuda are just some of the wineries excelling. They also make wonderful Chardonnay and some very surprising Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer.

Nelson: Chardonnay and More

Nelson, near the tip of the South Island, has some stunning Chardonnay (and world-class brown trout fly fishing). Marlborough is known throughout the world for its Sauvignon Blanc. As well as those exhibiting the typical Marlborough tropical fruit notes, we are now seeing top producers like Cloudy Bay, Astrolabe, Blank Canvas, Greywacke, and Dog Point also offering much more complex efforts.

Waikari: Excellence in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

The Waikari region has names like Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley, both of which will give wine lovers around the globe goosebumps. Both excel with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Central Otago: Stunning Pinot and Beyond

Further south, the stunning Central Otago region. Pinot rules here but there is more – Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Gris especially. For Pinot, so many great names – Quartz Reef, Felton Road, Valli, Mt Edwards, Prophet’s Rock, Gibbston Valley, and Two Paddocks among a large and equally deserving array.

A Treasure Trove for Wine Enthusiasts

Whether you plan on visiting this beautiful country or are simply filling the cellar with its gems, New Zealand has so much to offer.

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