About New Zealand's Wine Regions
Far off in the Pacific Ocean would hardly seem like an ideal place to grow quality grapes for wine production, but that?s exactly what New Zealand is. When someone says New Zealand wine, the first thing that automatically comes to most people's mind is Sauvignon Blanc. However, the "Kiwis" make much more wine than just that. In fact many different varietals are starting to be grown here with much success.
New Zealand has a very identifiable style. The whites --especially Sauvignon Blanc -- are very bright in acidity, usually see minimal new oak if any at all, and are very fruit forward, with an herbaceous quality that surrounds them. The reds are very lean and often elegant. The Pinot Noirs reek of cranberries, and rhubarb, while the red Bordeaux varietals are scented with red currant, and green bell peppers.
New Zealand Wine Regions
Geographically, New Zealand is separated into two islands: North Island, and South Island. While the overall fruit-forward style of wine is similar, there are still big differences especially in the grape varietals that fare well due to differing climatic, and soil conditions.
The North Island
The North Island is the warmer -and smaller- of the two. It is more suited to the production of red wines due to this higher temperature range. The Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot do particularly well in many of the regions. Pinot Noir is on the rise as well on the southernmost tip of the North Island
Northland: First vines ever planted in New Zealand (Kerikeri, 1819). New Zealand’s warmest climate with temperatures that rival Jerez in Andalucia, Spain (the traditional home of Sherry), but unfortunately also its highest annual rainfall. Bordeaux varietals do well here in good vintages. Syrah is on the rise.
Auckland: Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals fare well here. Look for Waiheke Island wine in the future. They escape much of the rain that plagues the North Island, and are becoming some of the best examples of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot based blends in New Zealand.
Waikato & Bay of Plenty: Mainly botrytised dessert wines come from here. Not many vines. Actually, cows are said to outnumber vines here 5:1!
Gisbourne: Although some very high quality wines do come out of this region (Millton is the top producer of quality wines here), the majority is only suitable for blending or cheap table wine. This has to do with the regions topography, and soil. It is a relatively flat plain of highly fertile soil. Therefore the plants produce too many grapes and those are of little character.
Hawke's Bay: Hawke’s Bay has the driest climate in the country. This is helped by being on the eastern side of the North Island, sheltered from the Pacific Ocean. It is where most of the highest quality Bordeaux style wines come from. Some of the best Merlot gown in New Zealand is from Hawke’s Bay. This is where the famed Gimbletts Gravels is located.
Wellington - aka: Wairarapa: This is the very southern tip of the North Island. Most famously known as the home of Martinborough, its best wine producing region, and New Zealand’s only official GI (Geographic Indication). Pinot Noir is the most exciting grape of this region, but Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are not far behind. This is one of the best lesser-known regions in New Zealand.
The South Island
The south Island is more suited to the production of white wines. This is due to both its closer proximity to the Antarctic Ocean which keeps the temperature cooler, and to the Southern Alps mountain range which runs like a spine on the western edge of the South Island. This range creates a rain shadow affect that keeps the Southern Pacific storms from ravaging the island.
Nelson: Nelson is a high quality output region. It’s only restraints are its physical size (its tiny), the high price of land, and it is the only region NOT protected by the Southern Alps, so it is much more prone to rain
Marlborough: These are the prototypical wines of New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc is the most widely planted grape varietal here, by far. Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay are starting to gain more footing, but Sauvignon Blanc will remain the key to this region’s success.
Canterbury: This region, to the south of Marlborough, is cooler and drier than its better-known neighbor. They wines are nice, but lack the depth of those found to the east. It is a fairly flat, plain area.
Central Otago: "Otago" is actually the proper name for this region, but since the vast majority of the vineyards are in the central part, it has become known as Central Otago. This is the fastest developing region in New Zealand. Acreage under vine is 20 times what is was just 10 years ago! That is in big part to the grape varietal that has found a great home here, Pinot Noir. Pinot is perfectly suited to the clay soils and long cool growing season here. They get better and better with each passing vintage.
Food & Wine Pairings
Sauvignon Blanc Wine Pairings
- Fruit Salad
- Vinaigrette Dressed Salads
- Prosciutto Wrapped Melon
- Sushi Rolls
Pinot Noir Pairings
- Duck Confit
- Seared Salmon
- Roasted Arctic Char