New Zealand is a relatively recent arrival on the world stage of wine. The most productive and popular wine-producing region, Marlborough, didn’t have any commercial wineries before 1973. Since that time, the reputation of New Zealand wines has blossomed around the world. Although New Zealand produces only 1% of the world’s wine, it is the 8th largest producer in terms of total dollar value, meaning they produce higher priced wines in general than other countries in the world. Most consumers are familiar with typical New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc from wineries such as Brancott and Cloudy Bay, so it’s important to branch out and cover the diverse regions and other wines available from this beautiful and multifaceted country. Among the wine regions of New Zealand, three stand out for those wanting to know more: Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, and Central Otago.
Hawke’s Bay is located on the East Coast of the North Island. It is warmer than average for New Zealand and produces the highest quality Bordeaux style wines and Syrahs in the country. One of the outstanding features in Hawke’s Bay is an area with a distinctive terrain called Gimblett gravels. This soil stores heat from the daytime sun, keeping the vines warm at night, while helping to ripen grapes that would otherwise struggle in the relatively cool New Zealand climate. Look for red blends, Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, and Chardonnay that will redefine your expectations of New Zealand wine.
The region of Marlborough is on the Northern end of the South Island, and is world famous for its distinctive Sauvignon Blancs. Its green fields and snow-capped mountain views provide an idyllic setting for its vineyards. Marlborough has a cool, moderate, maritime climate that is perfect for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and (of course) Sauvignon Blanc. The best known and largest wineries in New Zealand are based here, including Cloudy Bay, Nobilo, Brancott Estates (known in New Zealand as Montana Estates), and Kim Crawford. Marlborough dominates the New Zealand wine industry with up to 90% of the country’s plantings and 80% of its exports. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is characterized by bright acidity, opulent fruit flavors of white grapefruit and gooseberry, and notes of pepper and fresh cut grass.
Central Otago is at the southernmost end of the South Island, making it the most southerly wine region in the world at a latitude of about 45 degrees. A starkly beautiful landscape that defies the stereotypical view of New Zealand, Central Otago features dry grasslands and rolling hills, with gorgeous views of the distant Southern Alps. Grape growing in Central Otago is a risky business, as the climate can be unpredictable and vintage variation extreme. When Mother Nature cooperates, however, the wines can be stunning. Pinot Noir is the overwhelming favorite here and at its best, can rival the wines of Oregon and Burgundy. If you love great Pinot Noir, you should try one from Central Otago. Despite the cool climate, there is an abundance of sunshine in the summer, allowing the wines to develop rich, intense flavors with smoky, spicy, savory notes – unique to this remote outpost of Pinot Noir.
Now with a better understanding of New Zealand’s major wine regions, you’ll know where and what to look for the next time you’re looking to branch out on a specific varietal!