Kiwi wine has come a long way since the early days of Sauvignon Blanc. It has now become a serious player in the wine world. But New Zealand’s wine industry is just 23% the size of Australia’s. In fact, it only just made the world’s top 30 wine producing companies for quantity. But New Zealand wine certainly races ahead in terms of quality. It boasts some of the cleanest and most advanced wineries in the world. New Zealand has grown a reputation over the last twenty years for producing world-class Sauvignon Blanc, rivalling the best from the Old World. And its popularity hasn’t wavered. Today New Zealand devotes over half of its wine production to Sauvignon Blanc.
But there is much more to New Zealand wine. For white wine, Chardonnay and Riesling lead the way. And in terms of red, there are a number of red grapes producing exceptional wines.
The birth of the classic Sauvignon Blanc
The 1970s saw the first Sauvignon Blanc planted in New Zealand. It originated in Auckland, with cuttings planted in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley. As Sauvignon Blanc thrived in the climate and soil, production here quickly took off. It even rivalled the highly-regarded French Sauvignon Blanc, such as Sancerre, in terms of quality. New Zealand became so famous for Sauvignon Blanc by 1990, that it was made the country’s leading wine. Unlike Old World Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has more of a citrus edge, rather than the gooseberry and green pepper flavours found in a classic Sancerre.
Other whites to try
New Zealand produces other fantastic white varieties too. New Zealand Chardonnay provides crisp and clean unoaked Chablis-style varieties, amongst buttery and rich oaky wines. And with the triumph of Riesling in Australia, it’s become a commonly planted grape in New Zealand. Instead of the sweeter style of Germany’s Rieslings, New Zealand’s version is mouthwateringly dry and aromatic.
New Zealand now produces some first-class red wines too. The most common planted red is Pinot Noir. The slightly cooler regions tend to be home to the most prestigious grapes. Martinborough on the North Island boasts rich cherry-flavoured, full bodied Pinots. Meanwhile, Central Otago on the South Island offers slightly more powerful and elegant varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot produce some delicious intense reds, predominantly in the warmer, northern regions like Hawkes Bay.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc tastes extremely good served with seafood and fresh fish. It also works well with dishes that have oily or citrus-based dressings. Chardonnay also pairs nicely with fish, along with creamy based dishes and poultry. Riesling can be matched with spicier dishes. Or even slightly sweeter dishes like salads, fruit and cheeses create a good match. The strong flavours and tannin of Cabernet Sauvignon goes perfectly with something like duck or lamb. While Merlot, with its slightly softer construction, pairs wonderfully with savoury dishes and lean meats. Pinot Noir also matches superbly with lean meats, fish and cheese.