New Zealand

New Zealand forged its reputation on top quality wines, a place it is largely keeping despite the big quantities of Sauvignon Blanc that are now bottled in the UK and Germany. A pristine environment, large variation between night and day temperatures, and vineyards protected from rainfall by tall mountain ranges, give great conditions for making fruit-filled wines.

In the southern hemisphere these cooler latitudes are only shared by Tasmania and Patagonia. Following New Zealand’s huge worldwide success with Sauvignon Blanc, now it is raising the stakes with Pinot Noir as well, particularly from Central Otago and Martinborough. We also rather like the Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots from Hawke’s Bay.

Starting with the South Island, Marlborough on the north-east coast has become, in not much more than 30 years, the world’s pre-eminent region for Sauvignon Blanc. Blenheim is the main town and Wairau is the braided river that drains into Cloudy Bay, having deposited along the way large beds of gravelly soils. These soils along with low rainfall – this valley sits in a rain shadow – and cool nights give the perfect growing conditions for Sauvignon. Most vineyards are on the valley floor but Sam and Mandy Weaver of Churton Wines (named after a village in Shropshire!) chose the southern slopes for their Sauvignon and Pinot Noir wines. Tummil Flat is a second label that Sam makes for Tanners. Cloudy Bay is a fairly large operation owned by French conglomerate LVMH, but it still produces benchmark wines. Waverider is produced in Marlborough then shipped to the UK for bottling.

Nearby Marlborough, Nelson occupies the North-West of the island then Canterbury, including Waipara, is down the east coast past Christchurch to the limits of Otago. Alan McCorkindale employs knowledge gained from working in France, Germany and Australia to craft boutique wines at his family winery in the Waipara Valley near Canterbury. Central Otago has several sub-districts occupying the valleys down from Queenstown and Wanaka, both in the South Island’s Lake District. It competes with Patagonia to have the most southerly vineyards in the world, making it Pinot Noir and light white wine territory. Domaine Road Vineyard is near Bannockburn in the centre of the region; owners Graeme and Gillian Crosbie have 16.5 Ha of vines and old family links to the area going back to the gold mining days. Next door is Felton Road which is owned by British ex-pat Nigel Greening whose vineyards were amongst the earliest in the area; they are managed organically and biodynamically.

Jumping up to the North Island, Wairarapa has been renamed ‘Wellington Wine Country’ no doubt to avoid confusion with Waipara, but its sub-district remains Martinborough, not to be confused with Marlborough! Here Larry McKenna, an icon of the Kiwi wine scene, co-founded Escarpment with its terroir-focussed wines from 24 Ha of vineyards. It’s a long drive from there through open sheep country up the east coast to Hawke's Bay and the towns of Napier and Hastings. Here the main secret of success is the wonderful Gimblett Gravels with their free-draining alluvial soils, not dissimilar to the Haut-Médoc. They ripen both Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon beautifully.

Chris Pask, who pioneered viticulture on the gravels and founder of the Pask Winery, has now retired and sold-up, with new owners re-investing in the operation. Te Mata Estate at Havelock North is the oldest winemaking property in New Zealand, with the Buck family making a sophisticated range of wines. To the north-west of Auckland the climate is distinctly warmer than say Central Otago at the bottom of the South Island. At Kumeu River Michael Brajkovich MW produces some of the most respected Chardonnays in the world from 30 Ha of vines, carefully subdivided into single vineyard sites.

Dry White

Various Grape Varieties
Generally cooler than its neighbour Australia, New Zealand lends itself well to the grape varieties of Alsace and southern Germany.

Sauvignon Blanc
We are advocates of a little restraint here: all that gooseberry, tinned asparagus and tomato leaves can be too much of a good thing! Marlborough is not the only place though to find good New Zealand Sauvignon.

New Zealand is fielding some real competition for white burgundy with minerally Chardonnays carefully matured in French oak.


Various Grape Varieties
Cabernet, Merlot and Bordeaux blends do well in the warm dry climate of Hawke’s Bay, as does Syrah whose white pepper character is more akin to the Northern Rhône than Barossa.

Pinot Noir
As the vines get older and production methods are refined, Kiwi Pinot Noirs just get better and better, and not only from Central Otago.