I am a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc freak. I admit it. In fact, I’m proud of it. I’ve been a freak for about a year now (longer if you ask my husband, but that’s another story) and I can honestly say I have yet to taste a NZ Sav Blanc that I would not recommend to a friend. In just a few short years, New Zealand has established a new standard for Sauvignon Blanc and it just keeps getting better. Richly flavored, intense, fragrant and highly acidic with flavors comparable to asparagus, lime and cut grass – New Zealand Sav Blancs are the perfect complement to a summer barbeque.
Okay, so you know I’m a fan. Now a little more about New Zealand and why it’s become such a force to be reckoned with in the wine world. New Zealand, two islands off the southeastern coast of Australia, is a leader in experimental winemaking techniques and sustainable farming. Winemakers are generally free to innovate and express their personal style, with limited government regulation, thus encouraging risk-taking and experimentation. Until the 1980’s the government restricted wine imports, thus guaranteeing local producers a stable market and encouraging new growth. When trade agreements with Australia were expanded in 1981, growers were forced to compete with much larger markets and expand production. The number of wineries and acerage has tripled since the early 1990’s and shows no signs of abating.
New Zealand is generally a cool climate country, with abundant rainfall. Cold fermentation is the norm for white wines, with few being barrel aged or blended for added complexity. Some Chardonnays and red varietals are oak aged, but the characteristic New Zealand style is clean and crisp.
About three quarters of the country’s wine is produced from white grapes. Chardonnay and Sav Blanc lead the way with Riesling, Muller-Thurgau, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Semillon produced in smaller quantities. The North Island, which is warmer, produces more Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Pinot Noir is expected to be the wave of the future in New Zealand, rivaling the success of Shiraz in Australia.
Major North Island Regions:
In general, the North Island produces less acidic, softer wines than the South Island. Auckland: Cabernet and Merlot flourish in the hot, humid climate here.
Kemeu River: Recently known for Chardonnay. Gisborne: Known for bulk, everyday wines and fine wines, including Chardonnay with strong peach, pineapple and melon flavors. Gewurztraminer also grows here. Hawkes Bay: Probably the sunniest region in NZ. Known for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. The Sav Blanc here is softer then the better known Marlborough Sav Blanc. Reds are intense with strong berry flavors. Wellington/Martinborough: Pinot Noir flourishes in the cool climate here. These are some of the finest Pinots in the world, with acidity that gives them strong aging potential. Also known for Riesling.
Major South Island Regions
Marlborough: Fresh, clean complex Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay produced in a variety of styles, including sparkling, each with tropical fruit flavors and high acidity levels. Riesling thrives here. Pinot Noir is coming on strong and expected to be the future of Marlborough. Sparkling Marlborough Pinots are fabulous! Nelson: Chardonnay with hazelnut and citrus flavors. Otago: The world’s most southerly wine region produces small yields of wines with concentration and character. Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer are particularly good here.