While New Zealand is ranked 18th in wine production, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, its prominence and reputation in the wine world far surpasses mere statistics. Though the Kiwis have been making wine for over a century and a half, it was often ignored by connoisseurs until Sauvignon Blanc on the South Island made by Cloudy Bay (which surely should not be missed at the upcoming New Zealand Wine Fest) garnered the wine world’s attention and put New Zealand on the map as a premium producer in the 1980s.
New Zealand may be a young wine producing country by Old World standards, but from Auckland to Queenstown (over 2600 km), from refreshingly bracing whites to its great Bordeaux blends, the Kiwis have firmly established a reputation for consistent, high-quality wines the world over.
What makes New Zealand so special in the production of such great wine is its unique geography, microclimates, and terroirs that allow the world’s top varietals to flourish in these particularly nuanced locations.
According to Karen MacNeil, wine director of Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, New Zealand has some of the coolest maritime wine regions in the New World. Because of the long narrow shape of the two main islands, no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the sea.
The coolness of the climate allows a long growing season which generally leads to vibrant natural acidity and coaxes more complex flavors out of the grapes. But with its ten distinct wine growing regions, other diverse environmental factors all contribute to the creation of delicious, idiosyncratic wines.
Of the Kiwi wine regions, four to know on the North Island are Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Martinborough. The region around Auckland is home to many of the country’s top wineries that surround New Zealand’s largest city. To the southeast of Auckland near the East Cape are Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay. These two regions are worth seeking out particularly for those who appreciate a bit richer, tropical flavors in their chardonnay and enjoy the fruity, supple, yet herbal characteristics of Bordeaux with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc blends. The wines of Martinborough, tucked into the southeast corner of the North Island between Cape Palliser and Wellington, betray gentler, earthier styles of pinot noir and crisper, minerally infused sauvignon blanc and chardonnay than those from the north.
Across Cook Strait from Wellington to Blenheim on the South Island, is the Marlborough region; home of New Zealand’s most famous wine region. Moving towards the south-central part of the South Island is Central Otago.
Both Marlborough and Central Otago are known for their Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Noirs, and increasingly planted Riesling. Though, these varieties flourish there, their profiles are quite different, especially in regards to Pinot Noir. Central Otago Pinot Noirs, from the world’s most southerly wine region, offer more Burgundian complexity. They are quite introverted, at times, challenging wines that are exactly why many connoisseurs find these wines so contemplatively appealing. Marlborough pinots, on the other hand, are more charming extroverts. They usually offer riper red fruits on a smoother, medium-bodied frame with enough secondary characteristics like earth or spice notes to keep it interesting. For those that are more into Burgundy than Bordeaux, the South Island is a great place to get to know.
If your schedule âor your budgetâ don’t permit you the luxury of traveling the Kiwi wine regions, you can experience scores of wines being poured from over 25 producers this Saturday, May 25th, at the New Zealand Wine Festival at the beautiful Park Hyatt Busan.
A Few Wines to Look For at the Kiwi Wine Fest
While Kiwi wine stalwarts like Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford, and Babich will be there, several smaller, harder to find, but quintessential representatives will have a bit of everything for the novice to the experienced oenophile to sample and enjoy. Here’s a handful of lesser known, but very exciting wines to check out at the event.
Hunter’s Miru Miru, Marlborough, Sparkling Wine
Hunter’s highly-acclaimed sparkler epitomizes this methode champenoise style made with a traditional blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Its beautiful bubbles supporting peach, citrus, green apple, and slight bread notes are wonderfully balanced. This is a great wine to begin with on its own as an aperitif or to enjoy with a first course.
2011 Rapaura Springs, Marlborough Single Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc
This is certainly a Kiwi classic of sauvignon blanc. It hits all the right notes of grapefruit and gooseberry but with a bit more weight without ever being heavy. It also brings a little peach, granny smith, and slight mineral notes to the palate. It’s springtime in a glass!
2008 Rapaura Springs, Marlborough, Pinot Noir
Rapaura Springs brings a delightful crowd-pleaser replete with classic Marlborough pinot fruit. Ripe dark cherry with cranberry, savory flavors, and a saline touch on the finish, this pinot stands out for being so smooth and well balanced that allows one that harmoniously hits so many notes.
2009 Wooing Tree Beetle Juice, Central Otago, Pinot Noir
Beetle Juice offers a deep, complex bouquet with so many interesting characteristics, it is reminiscent of Burgundy. On the nose, sour cherry with oak and moist earth notes. Give it some time to open and taste how the red fruits evolve to purple and black fruit notes, from oak and earth to pure cacao and mineral.
2010 Clearview Black Reef Blush, Hawke’s Bay, Rose
A wolf in sheep’s clothing being a pleasant surprise made from Bordeaux grapes. With its deep color that would tend to lead to overly fruity, punchy Rose, this was not the case. But with its red apple, grapefruit, and peach characteristics on a medium-bodied profile with a dry yet slightly effervescent finish, it is more like Tavel than one might expect.
The wine festival will take place Saturday May 25th at the Park Hyatt in Marine City, Busan. Tickets are 90,000KRW. Dress code is casual, so come relax, drink and enjoy. You can purchase tickets at the door or book in advance through the New Zealand Chamber of Commerce. www.kiwichamber.com, or you can get more info on the Haps event page here.