New Zealand might be a relative newcomer to the wine world (in 1960, the country had fewer than 400 hectares of vine and today output is only roughly a 10th of Australia's), but its rise to pre-eminence is extraordinary. The precise, pure flavour of its wines has captured the attention of wine drinkers; Society sales certainly reflect this.
The country's two islands cover a vast area from north to south (it is often quoted in wine books that if New Zealand was in the northern hemisphere, the country would stretch from North Africa to Paris). The maritime climate is influenced by the strong prevailing winds off the Pacific Ocean and the striking mountainous terrain. These factors give the islands a wide range of growing conditions; broadly speaking, the regions of the North Island tend to be warmer than the cooler South Island.
What to look for when buying New Zealand wine
There are three important things to look for when buying New Zealand wine:
- Grape variety
Each plays its role on the style, quality and taste of the final wine.
New Zealand has taken this white grape variety and put its own brilliantly zesty stamp on it, creating a wine style that the rest of the world now attempts to copy. The majority tend to be unoaked, combining delicious tropical fruit flavours with lively, fresh-tasting acidity and a directness that makes them especially satisfying.
South Island's Marlborough region is the benchmark setter, whose pungently aromatic sauvignons are stunning examples. Look out, too, for some of the exciting sub-regional wines - the Awatere is Marlborough's coolest valley, now making really attractive, delicate and grassy wines. As winemakers are also gaining in confidence with this variety more distinctive styles are also emerging; many oak aged or made in a more oxidative environment - look out for Te Mata's Cape Crest, Dog Point's Section 94 or Greywacke's Wild Ferment for examples of this.
View our range of New Zealand sauvignon blancs
New Zealand chardonnays are distinguished by mouth-filling fruit flavours, finely balanced by the country's trademark zestiness. Oak is used with skilful precision by the country's clued-up winemakers, adding complexity to the appealing features of the wine. Regions to look out for include Hawkes Bay (full, powerful), Auckland (richly elegant) and Marlborough (crisp, peachy).
View our range of New Zealand chardonnays
Riesling, pinot gris and gewürztraminer
The cool New Zealand climate offers real opportunity for these aromatic varieties. Young plantings mean many styles rely more on sugar than fruit, which we avoid buying. But the very best share the intensity and palate weight of great Alsace examples with vibrant, lifted flavours.
New Zealand has joined the ranks of Burgundy and California as a world class producer of pinot noir. These excellent wines stand out for their haunting perfume and pure-fruit flavours. Of all the grape varieties, pinot noir shows the most distinctive regional diversity. Martinborough is the country's most exciting area, making superb pinots with lovely dense plum fruit. The most scented and brightly flavoured styles come from Central Otago, but only in the best vintages. The juiciest expression comes from Marlborough, which has made huge strides in quality with this grape.
View our range of New Zealand pinot noirs
Cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot and cabernet franc
These grapes can perform well in New Zealand's warmer regions, in particular Hawke's Bay on the North Island. The wines combine a fragrance and muscular structure, more akin to European styles, but with ripe, new world fruit flavours.
Best regions and producers
Auckland and Nelson
The Brajkovich family's Kumeu River Estate, specialising in elegant chardonnay, highlights the importance of Auckland.
This North Island region covers an extensive area of rolling hills, a sweep of coastline and the sharply dominant Te Mata Peak. The warm climate successfully ripens red grape varieties, the very best grown in the gravelly soils of the Gimblett Gravels appellation.
Key grapes: full-bodied merlot, cabernet, syrah and richly flavoured chardonnay
Names to follow: Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Pask, Mission Estate
Arguably New Zealand's most exciting area for pinot noir. The long growing season is particularly suitable to the slow, gradual ripening that this Burgundian grape so enjoys.
Key grapes: pinot noir, riesling
Names to follow: Craggy Range, Martinborough Vineyards
Key grapes: pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay
Names to follow: Hunter's, Seresin, Wither Hills, Villa Maria, Dog Point, Greywacke, Lawson's Dry Hills
Pinot noir can have difficulty reaching full maturity in this continental climate, although the best seasons produce the country's most dazzling pinot noir. Full-flavoured and superbly pure, the greatest wines of this scenic region are in high demand around the world.
Key grapes: pinot noir, pinot gris and riesling
Names to follow: Prophet's Rock, Felton Road
Browse our range of New Zealand wines