New Zealand wine is famous the world over, well-regarded for its purity and intensity of flavour. Producers are well-known for their high-quality cool-climate styles. In New Zealand, wineries extend from the sub-tropical North to Central Otago, the world’s most southern wine region.
Wine has been made in New Zealand since the early 1800s. However the modern wine industry really began in the mid-20th century, reinvigorated again in the 1970s. Then the breakthrough of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in the 1990s really put New Zealand wine on the map.
New Zealand's climate and soil
New Zealand’s climate is defined by its island nature. The country is surrounded by ocean, and nowhere is very far from the sea. Its far southern latitude and maritime influences mean a cool to moderate climate, which resulst in elegant wines, restrained in character.
Most wineries are situated on free-draining alluvial soils. The exceptions are Waiheke Island and Central Otago.
The unique characteristics of New Zealand wine
New Zealand wine styles vary greatly across its ten regions. New Zealand is best known for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which dominates the industry, followed by elegant, fruit-driven Pinot Noir. New Zealand whites are generally made in stainless steel tanks for maximum fruitiness and freshness. New Zealand reds tend to be medium-bodied and elegant, with a fine tannin profile. Pinot Noir is known for its subtle power. Red wines from Hawke's Bay’s famous Gimblett Gravels offer powerful yet controlled wine, produced typically from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and blends, or Syrah.
Wines to try
Sauvignon Blanc: First planted in 1979, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s intense flavours have wowed wine critics the world over and have set a new benchmark for the style. Typical examples display gooseberry and herbal characters, red capsicum, lush tropical fruit, grapefruit and lime and cut grass. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are generally easy-drinking, quaffable styles bursting with flavour.
New Zealand Chardonnay is mouth-filling, bursting with concentrated citrus and bright tropical fruit. Styles range from fruit-driven, unoaked, easy-drinking drops, to complex, elegant wines with a touch of oak.
Pinot Noir is New Zealand’s flagship red variety. Examples are typically elegant, fine and long in flavour. Martinborough Pinot is more structured than the generous, silky wines of Marlborough or the bombastic, powerful wines of Central Otago. NZ Pinot Noir generally cellars well for the short to medium term. However some benchmark vintages have the potential to live long.
Syrah from New Zealand is typically refined and elegant, with plum and black pepper notes with violet hints. Hawkes Bay styles are full of berry fruit, plum and pepper, with firm, fine tannins. Waiheke Island examples display blackberry and pepper characteristics, while Martinborough and the Wairarapa Syrah is complex and refined due to a coolers climate and a longer ripening season.
The future of New Zealand Wine
Today, the New Zealand wine industry is a global success growing at 17% per annum for the last 20 years. The country’s clean green image encourages good farming practice and wine region tourism. Known as a country of innovators, experimentation with different varietals in different regions and a commitment to premium quality means New Zealand’s wine star will continue to rise.