By Kevin Moran
When setting out to write this short overview of New Zealand wines, I was reminded of the incredible diversity New Zealand offers. It is a relatively small country comprised of two small islands consisting of four million residents. Spending a year working in Hawke’s Bay, I was afforded a close look at New Zealand’s warmest and driest region. Building the wine list at the restaurant at Elephant Hill, I had the luxury of tasting several hundred different wines with hopes of putting together the best wine list of any winery restaurant throughout New Zealand. I hope in these few paragraphs to afford you a look at the diversity of New Zealand wines, which has many parallels to those in the United States. U.S. markets are flooded with the wines of Marlborough; as delicious and distinctly New Zealand they are, there is more to the story. The following is a look at each of the primary wine regions of New Zealand from North to South.
Though the region on the tip of the north island, rightly named Northland, produces wine, (I recall enjoying a chardonnay from a small winery there), the first real significant planting comes from the region of Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city with more than one million residents. The region does well, consuming a large percentage of the production. Just a short boat ride from Auckland is the Island of Waiheke, which produces some long-lived Bordeaux varietal wines. There is also the delicious chardonnay from Kumeau River (available locally). Moving south, you go through Maikato and the Bay of Plenty region, which offers incredible beaches and camping, but not the best wines.
Continuing southeast is Gisborne, the self-proclaimed Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand. South of Gisborne is Hawke’s Bay. I may have been partial, but after sampling Gisbornes, our best chardonnays were from Hawke’s Bay. Both Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay benefit from being at the widest point of New Zealand, allowing plenty of time for the prevailing winds from the west to warm as they cross the island.
Hawke’s Bay is home to some of New Zealand’s oldest wineries. Like many in the U.S., they survived time and the temperance movement because of church ties. The warmth of Hawke’s Bay allows it to ripen Bordeaux varietals and those from the Rhone, producing some of New Zealand’s best syrah. One winery in Hawke’s Bay named Trinity Hill boasts some 15 different varietals and do fairly well at most of them. Though Hawke’s Bay has some of the warmest vineyards, it does have its cool pockets to make delicious chardonnay or an occasional riesling. Hawke’s Bay is also home to most of New Zealand’s zinfandel, largely planted by a Ravenswood alumnus.
Moving south to the region of Wairarana is the city of Wellington, the nation’s capital and possibly New Zealand’s best pinot noir, produced from the region of Martinborough. Pioneered by a handful or wineries in the ’80s, the region suffered problematic weather that devastated several of its early years. But with persistence and support of neighboring Wellington residents, it prospered and came to be known as a convenient wine country getaway.
With the Tasman Sea to the Northwest and the Pacific to the Southeast, we make our way across the Cook Strait to the south island. We travel northwest to Nelson which produces delicious sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir. Heading south we now find ourselves in Marlborough which, as I mentioned earlier, provides most of what we see in the export market. More than half of New Zealand’s vineyards are in Marlborough, and a large percentage of that is planted for sauvignon blanc. Of the more than 40,000 acres of sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, 85 percent is in Marlborough. With half of New Zealand’s wines being exported, we are bound to see Marlborough sauvignon blanc dominate the export market. Leaving Marlborough and headed south, you pass through Canterbury, which, though they have limited plantings, I do recall a few interesting wines from Waipara. Headed further south we eventually arrive in Central Otaga, which holds the distinction of being the world’s southernmost wine region, working diligently to produce world class pinot noir and, in many cases, succeeding.
The next time you’re making a wine selection, consider a wine from New Zealand. Experience the diversity it offers. Here are a few New Zealand wines available locally, some of which you can enjoy at Crush and other Seaside restaurants:
Sunday Mountain Sauvignon Blanc (available at Crush)
Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
(available at Great Southern Café)
Alan Scott Davidson Sauvignon Blanc (available at Great Southern Café)
Kim Crawford “Central Otaga” Pinot Noir (available at Bud & Alley’s)
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc
(available at Bud & Alley’s)
Serrasin Sauvignon Blanc
Craggy Range “Te Muna Road” Pinot Noir Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc
If I can ever help in wine related matters, please come see me at Crush in Seaside. Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 791-9265.