New Zealand - Wines of True Distinction
You're on the hunt for a special wine gem for tonight's special dinner you've planned for your parents 45th anniversary. You stop at your local wine shop to scour the shelves in search for something scintillating, but something that also represents true value. You pass by the French wine, which obviously has incredible history and mystique, but you get lost in the language barrier and you've forgotten which vintages in the last 10 years were actually worth buying, plus the prices are just a bit too far out there for your liking. Suddenly in the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of a small gathering at the back of the shop. You approach with caution to see what they are up to and you notice they are all anxiously sniffing away and commenting on the wines being presented in a small complimentary tasting. The theme of the tasting this afternoon is New Zealand wines! "New Zealand?" you say to yourself in an inquisitive inner tone, "isn't that where the Lord of the Rings was filmed?"
As you might assume from the monologue the lowly patron decided to pick up a few bottles of incredibly priced and amazingly distinct wine from New Zealand. The wines from New Zealand are stunning wines that show amazing varietal integrity and nuance, but also display fascinating and high-toned aromatics and great acidity on the palate. From their trademark Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc's made famous for it's ripping acid and incredibly grapefruit and gooseberry aromatics, to their emerging new super star Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand has been on the forefront of new age viticulture and enology for the last 10-15 years.
So let's talk New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is really where it all started in terms of impacting the wine world on a global stage. It's actually very similar to how Argentina focused on presenting world class Malbec in order to make their statement. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc differs quite a bit from the wines of Franc'e Loire Valley (it's most notorious home) and is also quite contrasting from California Sauvignon Blanc. First off, there doesn't exist a wine in the entire world that is more dead-on distinctful. An aspiring Master Sommelier would be in heaven if during a blind tasting exam he/she was presented with a NZ Sauv Blanc. Gooseberry and grapefruit zest are the overwhelming characters that vigorously erupt from the glass with the first swirl. There are also wines with underlining mineral and stone qualities, and even sometimes bell pepper. There is literally no wine in the entirety of the galaxy that is so exuberant on the nose. On the palate the wines are fresh and lively, and display equally impressive grapefruit and citrus qualities.
Pinot Noir is New Zealand's second, but also very impressive statement to the wine enthusiast. The wines from Central Otago on the south island are particularly impressive and at the top level compete with some of the best wines of California and Oregon. The wines are a bit more fleshy and full than Pinot's from Willamette, but definitely more sleek and higher acid then most California Pinot Noir. Blind tasting New Zealand Pinot Noir with age is a challenging ask for the Sommelier and many times the wines can approach styles found in Burgundy. Besides Central Otago, Marlborough and Wairarapa (Martinborough in particular) grow very good Pinot Noir.
There are of course other grape varieties found in New Zealand that can show quality and distinction as well, but perhaps haven't yet made their impact on the global market like Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc have. The Merlot grown in the slightly warmer region of Hawke's Bay on the North island can be very interesting. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are also wines that have found relative success and are constantly improving in character and varietal expression. Riesling grows well in the cooler regions and pockets of Marlborough and is often similar to the dry style Riesling's found in Australia.
The really incredible thing about New Zealand is how they've managed to produce such spectacular wines and control their pricing. Top echelon wine is rarely found in price points over £20-£25 and even a large quantity of highly rated 90+ point wines can be found around £10. Below is a list of wineries that represent this type of quality and show the value that has been described in the previous paragraphs. These are small boutique selections that can't be found everywhere, but that show the true quality and style that is being put out in New Zealand.
* Woollaston - This is a very high quality family run operation that produces their wines in an amazing gravity-fed and eco-concious facility in the Nelson Valley, which is on the South island next to Marlborough in the northwest. The have a stunning Sauvignon Blanc and a wonderful Pinot Noir, as well as a few other great varietal selections.
* Saint Clair Wines - Started by some incredible pioneers in the New Zealand wine industry Neal and Judy Ibbotson, this winery has 100 acres of estate vineyards in the Marlborough region. Their trademark is the award winning Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, however they also produce a stunning Pinot Noir called "Block 12". The more affordable every day wines from Saint Clair include the delightfully named Bishops Leap Sauvignon Blanc and the superb value Faultline Sauvignon Blanc. Although they do not bear the branding of Saint Clair they are made by the same team that makes the iconic Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc which was the first wine that gave this winery it's fame.
* Rockburn Wines - This is a remarkable producer of Pinot Noir from the Central Otago region. It was started by Richard Bunton in 1991 long before the region had gained any type of critical acclaim for Pinot Noir, let alone any wine at all.
There are of course many other notable and high-quality wineries to explore in New Zealand, but these are just a couple that make a high standard of product vintage after vintage. The value represented throughout New Zealand as a whole is truly remarkable when you compare the quality to price ratio. What's even more spectacular about this region is that it's still so young in terms or age and development. They use cutting edge technology in New Zealand and with time and continued study of their soils and micro-climates, there's no doubt whatsoever that the wines from this remote part of the world will continue to shock and awe us with their phenomenal excellence.