Wine from New Zealand has increased in popularity exponentially over the last 10 years. The Marlborough region in particular has become renowned for Sauvignon Blanc production, however that is just the tip of the iceberg. With this in mind, we thought we would take the time to explore all the things we love about New Zealand wine, including regions, grape varieties and our favourite producers!
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO NEW ZEALAND WINE
Up until the 1970’s, New Zealand wine production was mainly for local consumption. When international trade laws/agreements changed when farmers started to see a potential in expanding the industry, so they started to experiment with planting different varieties. Up until then they had only really been producing wine made from Muller Thurgau.
Wine production in New Zealand started to increase towards the end of the 20th century but it wasn’t until the turn of the century when it started to explode. Between 2003 and 2010, the amount of vineyards in New Zealand more than doubled. However, to put it into perspective on just how small the wine industry still is in New Zealand, in 2010 there were just over 30,000 hectares of vineyard in the country. This is the equivalent to a third of the amount of vineyards in Bordeaux. These days, there’s close to 90,000 hectares which still isn’t huge.
NEW ZEALAND WINE CLIMATE
The climate in New Zealand is cool. The country itself is made up of two narrow islands, which invites ocean airs to help moderate the temperatures of the vines. The various mountain ranges that run through both islands help shield the east of the islands from harsh westerly winds that carry rainfall. All in all, the word ‘maritime’ sums up the climate in New Zealand.
Temperatures vary slightly between the two islands, as the north mountain is slightly hotter, especially in the far north. The best way to describe the far north island temperature is ‘warm maritime’.
The summers in New Zealand are hot and humid, which helps the grapes reach optimum ripeness. The summer makes way by moderate and wet winters.
NEW ZEALAND WINE LAWS
Wines in New Zealand are protected by the Geographical Indication Registration Act. This means that wine makers have to follow certain parameters in order to label their wines correctly. .
NEW ZEALAND WINE VARIETIES
This grape has become synonymous with New Zealand wine. It makes up for 50% of all grapes produced in the country. Like Mendoza has become the New-World home for Malbec, Marlborough has become the New-World home for Sauvignon Blanc.
Sauvignon Blanc is produced in other areas of New Zealand and will have differences in taste, however in general New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs ooze intense aromas of Gooseberry. It’s ever so fruit forward and pungent (in a good way). The gooseberry aromas are complimented by hints of capsicum (peppers) and passion fruit, then upon taste you get a refreshing bout of acidity, coupled with mineral notes.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc such a refreshing style of white wine, we absolutely love it. We like to drink it on its own, however it goes really well with herby white meat dishes. It also goes incredibly well with lobster, if you’re feeling fancy!
Chardonnay is the second most popular white grape planting in New Zealand. It’s not surprising because Chardonnay is a versatile grape that can grow in most climates. Chardonnay from New Zealand can vary in taste and style, because as mentioned it is versatile.
There are a lot of different methods of production. Some producers let their Chardonnay go through malolactic fermentation, which helps add the creamy texture and flavours to the wine. Others don’t. Oak ageing will add vanilla and sweetness to the wine, should the winemaker choose this route.
I guess what we’re saying here, is when buying New Zealand Chardonnay it’s always good to read the label. However as a general rule, expect lemon and tropical fruit aromas. More often than not, winemakers will use some oak so expect the fruit flavours to be complimented by underlying elements of vanilla and caramel.
Chardonnay is widely used in New Zealand for their sparkling wine production. Click here to see our favourite NZ Sparkling wine.
Riesling from New Zealand is an unsung hero. The cool climates make it perfect for producing this grape, however it doesn’t get the acclaim that Sauvignon Blanc does.
The climate allows all styles of Riesling to be produced here. They range from very dry with notes of fresh acidic lime, to sweet with beautiful candied apricots and honey flavours.
Riesling is a very aromatic grape which produces such refreshing white wine. The acidity in Riesling makes it a great combination with Oysters, and boy does New Zealand have an abundance of oysters! Click here to get inspired by our favourite New Zealand Riesling
Pinot Noir is the New Zealand red wine equivalent of Sauvignon Blanc. Wine producers have experienced magnificent success and it has received critical acclaim.
Pinot Noir is a temperamental grape and really can only be produced in cool-moderate climates, so New Zealand provides the perfect conditions for growing this amazing grape. A testament to this sentiment is the fact that critics cite New Zealand Pinot Noir wine as some of the best non-burgundian Pinot Noir in the world.
Styles vary but in general expect highly concentrated red fruit flavours. In Marlborough, you’ll find lovely tart cherry flavours where as in Central Otago, the wines commonly have more raspberry flavour.
Normally, you’d expect Pinot Noir to have moderate alcohol levels due to the climates it grows in but in New Zealand you can find high alcohol content Pinot, due to the intense sunshine it gets.
MERLOT & CABERNET SAUVIGNON
These grapes are often blended together to make Bordeaux style wines, so we’ve put them in the same category.
Being thicker skinned, Cabernet Sauvignon needs warmer climates to fully ripen, so winemakers are planting less and less Cab Sauv each year because they are struggling to ripen. This is why they are often blended with Merlot and make up the blend. The outcome is a light and fruity wine, complete with aromas of black cherry and coffee notes.
NEW ZEALAND WINE REGIONS
WHERE IS IT? – East Coast of the North Island
GRAPES GROWN – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling
NOTABLE SUB AREA – Gimblett Gravels
TRIVIA – This is the second most planted area in New Zealand wine production
WHERE IS IT? – North of the South Island
GRAPES GROWN – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris
TRIVIA – The Wairau and Awatare Valleys make up 60% of all vineyard plantings in New Zealand
WHERE IS IT? – South of the North Island
GRAPES GROWN – Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris
NOTABLE SUB AREAS – Martinborough
TRIVIA – Martinborough only makes up 3% of New Zealand’s vineyard plantings
WHERE IS IT? – South of the South Island
GRAPES GROWN – Pinot Noir, Riesling
NOTABLE SUB AREAS – Bannockburn
TRIVIA – This is the only inland New Zealand wine region. All other regions are in close proximity to the coast.
NEW ZEALAND WINE BEST BUYS
Here are our two favourite New Zealand wines!
The Satellite range from the Spy Valley Estate is an everyday drinking wine. It boasts intense citrus and grapefruit aromas before a refreshing palate of fresh fruit before a long, crisp finish. It’s everything you would want from a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The grapes were picked from arious Sauvignon Blanc plantings, then fermented separately before being blended to create the perfect balance.
The Spy Valley Estate is owned and operated by the Johnson family. It is one of Marlborough’s few remaining 100% Kiwi family-owned wine companies.
Fancy sipping some Satellite Sauvignon Blanc? Well you can buy it here for only £8.95
We love this wine. It’s an elegant Pinot Noir from the Wairau valley. Beautiful aromas of dark plum and slight spice really give this wine a lovely complexity. On the nose there a multitude of red berry aromas hit you, especially red cherries. The palate is light, yet concentrated and it hash beautiful red cherry aromas, soft tannins and a long juicy finish.
This Pinot Noir spent 10 months in French oak barrels before bottling. This gives it lovely underlying hints of vanilla.
Partial to Pinot? Well you can buy it here!
THANKS FOR READING OUR GUIDE TO NEW ZEALAND WINE
We hope you got enjoyed reading our piece on New Zealand wine and found it interesting. Don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of our homepage. Stay tuned for more blog posts!
Lightfoot Wines is an independent wine merchant est 1989. We aim to provide you with products and a level of service not seen in regular shops. We believe that wine should be enjoyed by everyone, feel free to ask us your wine related questions and we will provide you with an answer.All our products are available online, we can deliver anywhere in the UK and shipping is free on orders of £100 ad over!Visit us on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter for regular updates and special offers.