Guide to New Zealand Wines

Some facts about New Zealand Wine

The New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ocean

There is more to New Zealand wine than Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and yet Sauvignon Blanc still accounted for 72%* of New Zealand wine grapes harvested in 2016; most of those came from Marlborough. Amazing especially when you consider that the grape was only planted in Marlborough in the 1970s.

So the very crisp, gooseberry, grassy style of Sauvignon Blanc for which New Zealand, especially Marlborough, is known is still clearly a favourite. If this big, zesty style is not for you, try a Sauvignon blended with Semillon which softens that crispness and makes the wine a little rounder.

In second place was Pinot Noir which accounted for 9% followed by Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling inter alia.

 Pegasus Bay Sauvignon Blanc Semillon crisp white wine.jpg

New Zealand wines in the UK

68% of all 314 million litres of wine produced in 2016 in New Zealand was exported and 85% of that was good old Sauvignon Blanc. The UK has been a massive fan but recently dropped from the first to the third largest export market for New Zealand so maybe we are starting to fall out of love with its wines. Certainly South Africa and South America have been jumping on the Sauvignon Blanc bandwagon and coming up with some more commercial styles to appeal to the value end of the UK market. Having said that we do still take in 19% of all New Zealand wine produced.

The USA is the biggest export market for New Zealand wines with Australia coming in a close third behind the UK.


New Zealand wine styles

After my wine blog post on Old World and New World wines, it is interesting to see that the main New Zealand wine association, New Zealand Wines, lists different grape varieties as most of the Wine Styles that New Zealand has to offer, so Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon blends for example.

Pinot Noir from New Zealand really is worth trying; in my opinion it is generally speaking one of the best in the world, hence why I have two different Pinots in the Wines With Attitude® portfolio. Look to the cooler climate areas of the southern end of the North Island such as Wairarapa where TWR is based and Martinborough and from the South Island such as Waipara where Pegasus Bay is situated and Central Otago for the best examples.

The North Island being warmer is more suited to Syrah or Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are some progressive winemakers like Man O'War in Waiheke Island planting more unusual grapes for New Zealand like Viognier, as seen in their Syrah/ Viognier blend Bellerophon and Cabernet Franc as in its Warspite Bordeaux blend wine.

In general New Zealand has resisted the trend that its neighbour Australia followed i.e. producing high alcohol, very ripe fruity wines; its wines are generally lighter in style, fragrant and with crisp acidity. It has also tended to stay at the quality end of the market so its wine prices are not the cheapest. In fact steer clear of cheap New Zealand wines. On the positive side the wines are usually good for drinking upon release and do not require long periods of ageing.

As an exception to the grape variety styles of wine, sparkling wine is also listed. Whilst there are some pretty good examples of champagne-style wines, I’m not really sure that sparkling Sauvignon Blanc works.


New Zealand wine regions

Only recently have geographical regions become official wine regions under The Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act of New Zealand currently being put into force. Labelling a wine with a geographical indicator will give some assurance e.g. that at least 85% of the grapes used in the wine's production originate from the region in question (with the other 15% or less coming from elsewhere in New Zealand).
As a result of the changes the Waipara (Muddy Water in Maori) wine region in which the Pegasus Bay winery is situated is to become part of the wider North Canterbury wine region. Many producers including Pegasus Bay have started to put the new geographical indication on their labels. This is some relief to those who confuse Waipara with Waitaki Valley also on the South Island and with Wairarapa, Waikato and  Waiheke Island on the North Island.
Whilst North Canterbury will be easier to remember, it is pretty big and will encompass a number of diverse sub-regions like Waipara and therefore a range of diverse terroirs and wines so you have to wonder if it will have any benefits other than the region's sponsored trade events e
tc for the producers.


Sustainability in the New Zealand wine industry

As you might expect from a wine industry based in a country with a very "green" image and situated on two relatively isolated islands, sustainability is a huge issue. New Zealand was one of the first countries to establish a Sustainability Programme for its wine industry. In growing grapes and producing wine the industry respects the natural environment and the community and practises reduced intervention where possible. 98% of the vineyard area was voluntarily certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand in 2016 and c. 7% of vineyards operate under certified organic programmes. TWR is one of the wineries with fully organic certification.

 Te Whare Ra Organic Pinot Noir.jpg


Although New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine via its c.700 producers and, in the scheme of things is relatively new to wine production, it is considered one of the most innovative in the wine industry. For example it was one of the first wine-producing countries to start using screwcaps even for its quality wines. Some of its innovations e.g. remote temperature control help reduce energy thus adding to its sustainability credentials; many are adopted in other countries.

In conclusion if you haven't before thought of exploring New Zealand wines other than Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, think again.

* With thanks for New Zealand wine - all figures are taken from its Vintage Data and the New Zealand Winegrowers Annual Report


© Wines With Attitude Limited,

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Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up her online wine business, Wines With Attitude, to share that passion with other wine lovers.

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