Introduction to New Zealand (Kiwi part 1)
This is the first of a 2-part exploration of the wonderful wines of New Zealand. Click here for the second part – Fine Wines of New Zealand at Roberson
It wasn’t quite the first vintage of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc in 1985 that leapfrogged NZ into the top tier of wine producing countries, but by 1986 a legend was born. This is the emblem wine of NZ and there are plenty of fans of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in the UK and the world over. Its pungent aromas of gooseberries, elderflower, tropical fruit and searing acidity are almost instantly recognisable but NZ has so much more to offer the wine loving world. In 1960 there were less than 1,000 acres of vines in NZ, fast forward to 2006 and that figure was in excess of 54,000. Given the amount of NZ wine on the market these days its remarkable that only 0.3% of the World’s wine output.
For the record, Cloudy Bay Vineyards was bought by luxury giants Louis Vuitton Möet Hennessy in 2003 and many believe it has lacked character since then. Also champion winemaker Kevin Judd left in 2009 to start Greywacke; that’s where I would choose to spend my money!
I started writing this post as I was looking forward to a tasting of some quality NZ wines at Roberson so it was done for my own education as much as yours! Here’s a quick tour of New Zealand’s wine regions.
Going from top to bottom; on the North Island we have the regions of Northland, Auckland (look out for wines from the Kumeu River sub-region), Waikato/Bay of Plenty and Gisborne (the most eastern wine region in the world!). These are the warmest of NZ’s vine growing areas producing mainly red wines made with Bordeaux varieties but also some lovely zesty and balanced Chardonnay.
Next comes Hawke’s Bay. Hawke’s Bay is NZ’s oldest wine producing area and second only to Marlborough in terms of wine production. Much of the wine produced is Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc but recently it has acquired a reputation for producing quality Rhone varieties, Syrah and Viognier. A number of internationally renowned wineries including Te Mata Estate, Craggy Range and Kim Crawford are based in the region.
The Wellington/Wairarapa wine-growing region is one of New Zealand’s smallest, with several sub-regions, which include Gladstone, Martinborough, Masterton and Opaki. Martinborough is the most recognisable name in the region, which is a small wine village located at the foot of New Zealand’s North Island, and is fast becoming my favourite region for Pinot Noir.
Now its time to move across to the South Island, where the names and regions are perhaps more famous and recognised across the wine world. We start off in the North-East in the small region of Nelson, where the focus is on aromatic white wines such as Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and of course Sauvignon Blanc. Possibly the most recognisable name in the region is Neudorf, who produce wines using all of the stated white varieties as well as one fine Pinot Noir.
Then we reach the NZ heartbeat of Marlborough, with almost half of the country’s vinous output coming from the region. The star attraction in Marlborough is without doubt Sauvignon Blanc, however don’t forget to give the Pinot Noir a go too. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for 50% of the region’s plantings, which suit the warm days and cold nights, which lead to those tropical and herbaceous flavours and aromas.
Further south we reach the Canterbury region – large in size but small in wine production. One of my very favourite producers, Pegasus Bay, is based here and I dare you not to fall head over heels in love with their Riesling! Finally we reach the south eastern tip of the South Island and home to some of the best Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy, Otago. Some people (photographers especially) also believe Otago to be the most beautiful wine area in the world. Almost two thirds of planting at given over to Pinot Noir, the remainder split evenly between Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. A couple of names to look out for here are Mount Difficulty and Felton Road, as well as my favourite Surveyor Thomson.
So there’s a quick fly through of the wine regions on NZ and here are a few of my favourite wines:
Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay 2011, Marlborough, NZ (Wine & the Vine £16.35)
Peach, apple and honey aromas with a lovely toastiness. Good body and weight with yeasty, bready and honey notes and peachy later on. It tastes like a spicy, oven-baked peach, covered in luscious double cream, topped with nuts! Very much in the Fuisse mould of a big mouth-filling and delicious Chardonnay. 93 points
Pegasus Bay Riesling 2009, Waipara, NZ (Roberson £17.95)
Ok so this isn’t cheap but its bloody brilliant! I first came across this wine at The Providores restaurant in Marylebone and now I can buy it at Roberson, just around the corner from work! Intense lime and pineapple freshness – like crushed pineapple chunks. Lovely off-dry finish and very, very long. One if my very favourites. 93 points
Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Marlborough, NZ (The Wine Society £12.50)
This is so subtle compared to so many other NZ Sauv Blancs. Lots of green pepper, balanced with grapefruit, lime and black currant. There is real tension here – thus a really electrifying wine with masses of acid but the balance is simply superb. Couple with that a length of flavour I have never before witnessed in Sauvignon; I really love it. And at £12.50 I think I’ll have a case please! 92 points
Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Marlborough, NZ (The Wine Society £16.00)
From Kevin Judd, king of NZ Sauvignon Blanc – this has everything you all love about NZ Sauvignon but with real grace and restraint. Green pepper, elderflower and passion fruit, but just so subtle and gentle. A real touch of class and elegance. Lovely. 93 points
Surveyor Thomson Pinot Noir 2009, Central Otago (Swig £23.75)
Beautiful fresh red currant aromas supported with spicy, thyme and herbal notes. Very fresh and beautifully elegant red currants, cherries and raspberries and a beautiful, long and savoury finish. 93 points
Escarpment The Edge Pinot Noir 2012, Martinborough (Waitrose £13.99)
Very delicate and pretty nose of sweet, ripe cherries, violets and just a hint of black spice. Very fresh with lovely acidity. The first taste is violets and spice and a cooling freshness, the there’s some red fruit and a pleasant, lingering finish. Kind of backwards but very tasty. Nice smooth tannins give nice structure too. 90 points