Layover 5: New Zealand. A paradise at the end of the world

Wine

08/09/2017

The prestige of New Zealand’s wine is rising steadily, as is the area under vine, which has grown from 30,000 hectares in 2007 to 40,000 today. The country's Sauvignon Blancs are in fashion, and most wineries are top-notch.

Quality as a national brand

These days Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs compete on equal footing with the best Loire Valley Sancerres or Pouilly-Fumés. Likewise, Oceania's great Pinot Noirs are Kiwi in signature and spirit.

New Zealand experienced a vigorous and tumultuous awakening, driven by an exceptional climate and a super fragmented industry that has skillfully navigated the wine world under the umbrella of the “New Zealand” label. This has provided a launch pad for the most creative boutique winemaking voices.

Perhaps this fact is best illustrated by the following figure: 90% of the approximately 550 wineries produce less than 200,000 liters per year.

Climate and geography

Halfway to the end of the world, flanked by the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and 2000 km from Australia, New Zealand consists of two large islands: North and South.

Isolated, as though arranged by whim and chance, dropped from the sky and forgotten, these narrow islands are home to exuberant nature. The ocean influence and the distance from any significantly sized land mass means that all of the country's vineyards benefit from a fresh maritime climate that is ideal for the classic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir varieties.

The country does face certain challenges. Given its low population density, logistics have become a major headache for the wine industry, which has to keep up with incessant demand and transport the grapes and must over huge distances. This adds to the cost of winemaking.

North island

  • Hawke's Bay is undoubtedly the star among the wine regions of the North Island. This is the warmest region and receives the most hours of sunlight per year. In volume, it is only outdone by its South Island neighbor Marlborough in terms of hectares and per-liter production.
  • It enjoys advantageous climate conditions that allow for a wide range of wine styles. In Hawke's Bay, the Bordeaux blend of Merlot and CabernetSauvignon has become the regional flagship wine.
  • Auckland, Gisborne and thetiny region of Wairarapa complete the island's regional wine identity.
  • The predominant varieties in the north are the whites Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and the reds Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. That being said, a number of Syrah varietals are gaining recognition and followers among wine lovers.

South island

  • Marlborough is not only the leading wine region of the island, but the entire country. It represents almost 60% of the entire area under vine.
  • Marlborough's unrivalled star is Sauvignon Blanc, which makes up three-fourths of the vineyards in the adjacent valleys of Wairau and Awatere. The climate is drier and windier here, giving the variety more acidity and a very peculiar hint of spicy tomato.
  • Nelson, Canterbury and the inland region of Central Otago, home to the country's finest Pinot Noirs, complete the South Island's vinicultural landscape, where we also find excellent Rieslings and Pinot Gris.

Marlborough's sauvignon blanc: What you need to know

  • The relative youth of New Zealand's wine industry, which is very export focused, produced meticulous innovations in temperature control during the winemaking process.
  • This makes the screw cap the most popular type of closure, and as a result, New Zealand’s wines are characterized by a purity of fruit and varietal concentration that is synonymous with youth.
  • However, this is also resulting in a homogenization of the wines' aromas and flavors, which is why some forward-thinking winemakers are experimenting with ways of giving their wines a stronger identity.
  • A paradigmatic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough could well be described as follows: Brilliant, translucent, crystalline. First, whimsical aromas built on a foundation of bell pepper and gooseberry. Then lively, more vegetative and herbaceous notes emerge that, helped along by passion fruit and tomato undertones, playfully interact with our senses, eventually reaching echoes of green asparagus characteristic of bottle aging.

New Zealand has a lot to offer, but first it must overcome the obstacles of its paradoxical winemaking method and its tendency towards uniformity and solve its complicated and expensive logistical challenges. The raw material is there, and so is its well-deserved recognition. New Zealand will definitely have a lot to say in the future, and we look forward to seeing and savoring it all.

Rafa Moreno

 

Categorías: Wine