Summer has finally arrived, bringing sweltering heat and days where you can really work up a thirst. We propose a fresh alternative to lemonade, iced coffee, or any of those other deck chair drinks that keep you from melting in the sun. Behold, wine from the beautiful country of New Zealand.
New Zealand has always been renowned for its dramatic scenery, and the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc. However, there is a lot more to it. As we will discover in this article, the incredible landscape has been translated into a slew of delicious New Zealand wines - not just Sauvignon Blanc, but also rich Chardonnay’s, vibrant Pinot Noirs, and bold Bordeaux-style reds. Join us, as we begin our exploration with a brief history of winemaking in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
A little bit of history of New Zealand winemaking
The story of viticulture in New Zealand is similar to that of other New World regions. Vines were planted as early as 1819 to make Communion wine, but the tradition took off when James Busby, a representative of the British Colonial Office, arrived with the first vine cuttings from France and Spain. Busby is also considered the father of Australian wine - but in reality, his New Zealand vineyards produced wine long before his original plantings on the east coast of Australia.
19th-century French explorer Dumont d’Urville described these early brews as ‘light white wine, very sparkling, and delicious to taste’. It seems that the crisp, coastal regions of New Zealand have always been well-suited to white wine, and modern technology has only enhanced their purity. Busby’s vineyards were planted in the Bay of Islands, making it New Zealand’s oldest and most northerly region.
Since then, viticulturists have discovered a wealth of incredible wine-growing locations, overtaking these original sites. Hawke’s Bay was first planted in 1851 and is now recognised worldwide for the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Chardonnay. Central Otago was first planted by gold miners in the 1860s and is now home to some of the greatest Pinot Noir in the world. Finally, the flagship region of Marlborough was “vinified” in the 1870s, and is now known as the birthplace of that unmistakeable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc taste.
Why are wines from New Zealand so popular?
New Zealand wines are loved for their refreshing, vibrant character, and they strike a wonderful balance between complex and crowd-pleasing. Even if you aren’t a big fan of wine, it’s almost impossible to ignore the virtues of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. However, it wasn’t always as popular as it is today. New Zealand wine truly blossomed in the 1980s, due to several factors: wine-makers began to plant the right grapes in the right places, locals became more interested, and consumers worldwide began to see New Zealand as a viable location for high-quality wine.
What makes New Zealand wine different?
New Zealand wines are often characterised as zingy, vibrant and refreshing, with strong notes of citrus and tropical fruit. New Zealand has no indigenous grapes, so it all comes down to a perfect storm of environmental factors, granting the country’s wines a unique character.
New Zealand is a long, skinny island. All of its vineyards are planted within 120 kilometres of the sea, which brings cooling breezes and allows the grapes to retain remarkable levels of acidity. Another notable factor is the amount of sunshine: New Zealand receives up to 40% more ultraviolet light than other wine-making regions, allowing the grapes to ripen in relatively cool temperatures. The final thing worth noting is the innovative spirit of New Zealander’s themselves. One example of their ingenuity is the Gallagher leaf plucker - a machine designed for managing vine canopy, reducing the risk of botrytis and essentially, forcing the vine to channel more energy into the formation of grapes.
New Zealand Made Simple: The Best Wine Regions and Their Most Iconic Bottles
If you’re searching for that perfectly tart gooseberry flavour that New Zealand white wine is so famous for, Marlborough is an essential name to look out for. Situated on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, it’s the largest wine region in the country, making up 70% of wine production. It is also incredibly diverse, ranging from the solid mountainous Awatere Valley to the complicated maze of islands, peninsulae and waterways that is Marlborough Sounds. Sauvignon Blanc is king here. The grape has truly reached its full potential in Marlborough, revelling in the 2,405 hours of sunshine that the region receives each year.
We have selected two wines for you from Marlborough - both are incredible value for money and are readily available on our website. The first is a Sauvignon Blanc from Rapaura Springs, New Zealand’s winery of the year in 2015. It’s an ideal representation of how pungent, grassy and vibrant this varietal can be. Containing those classic gooseberry notes, along with strong bursts of tropical fruit, it's perfect for hot sunny days, and pairing with light, summery salads.
Our second recommendation is from Greywacke, a minimal intervention winery that sources its grapes from all across southern Marlborough. This wine is a wonderful balance of tropical fruit and grassy vegetal notes, with enough acidity to pair with rich poultry dishes, such as roast chicken.
Hawke's Bay, located on the eastern coast of New Zealand's North Island, is a stunning inlet renowned as the country's second largest wine region. Spanning around 5000 hectares of vineyards, this region offers a diverse range of options for wine enthusiasts. While Hawke's Bay is famous for its gravelly soils, it boasts remarkable versatility. Its proximity to the ocean exerts a strong influence, yet pockets of shelter can be discovered within the four river valleys that meander towards the Pacific Ocean.
Hawke's Bay is particularly acclaimed for three prominent grape varieties: Merlot, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc. Within its borders, you'll find exceptional Bordeaux-style red blends, distinctively vibrant unoaked white wines, and pioneering Chardonnay that pushes boundaries.
The first wine we would like to draw your attention to is Fat and Sassy, a 100% Chardonnay wine created by the legendary Tony Bish. If you have ever wondered what wine fermented in an egg-shaped cask would taste like - look no further than Tony Bish. He is an innovator and has been pushing the letter for New Zealand wines for the last 30 years. This wine was not fermented in the famous “golden egg”, but it is, nonetheless, a perfect introduction to his inimitable style. It’s a beautiful balance of pure lemon zest, tropical fruits and a creamy, thick mouthfeel.
Our second Hawke’s Bay wine is a rare thing in New Zealand - a Bordeaux-style red from the Te Mata estate, crafted from Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This one is adored by critics and is a perfect choice for the wine collector, with its incredible cellaring potential. It’s a bold, layered masterpiece, rich in dark fruits, cinnamon and oak flavours, with a strong tannic structure. A brilliant choice for a gastronomic evening.
Martinborough is a small region, accounting for just 3% of New Zealand’s vineyards, but it packs a hefty punch on the national level. Located just 55 kilometres from the nation’s capital city of Wellington on the North Island, Martinborough is famed for its boutique wineries. It is dominated by Pinot Noir, but Martinborough is also a fantastic place to explore for that classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc experience.
Our first iconic bottle is Pinot Noir, created by a small, family-owned winery called Ata Rangi. This is a highly collectable wine, sourced from a single vineyard in Southern Martinborough with rich clay soils. It is elegant and bold in flavour. You can discover notes of tart cherry and plum on the palate, along with some hints of minerality. It’s a great choice for fans of Burgundy, seeking something new, or any serious wine collector.
Martinborough may be far smaller than Marlborough, but it is fairly similar in terms of terroir. That means it is also home to incredible Sauvignon Blanc wines - such as this one from Craggy Range. It is incredible value for a single-vineyard wine, alive with notes of citrus and stone fruit and a wiry acidity. It contains everything you love about Sauvignon Blanc, amplified in typical New Zealand fashion.
As Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood suggested in their 1966 hit single, a good summer wine is composed of “Strawberries, cherries and an angel's kiss in spring”. Pinot Noir from New Zealand is really made from all these things. In particular, this fussy red grape adores Central Otago - the most southerly grape-growing region in the world. Out of New Zealand’s main wine regions, Central Otago is the only one completely surrounded by land. However, it does contain some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country, from deep river valleys (which attracted hordes of gold prospectors in the 1800s) to towering mountains and high-altitude lakes.
Naturally, we have selected two Pinot Noir wines for you to peruse, both of which are extremely highly rated by critics. The first is from Rippon Vineyard, located in the secluded Lake Wanaka sub-region. This Pinot Noir is crafted from old vines, planted in gravelly, mineral-rich soils. It is packed with flavours of sun-baked cherry, cassis and deep earthy notes. Showcasing a ripe, round character, it is perfect for pairing with richer dishes, such as roast duck or game.
Our second suggestion is from Burn Cottage, a small boutique winery spearheaded by the strictly organic winemaker Ted Lemon. Moonlight Race is the perfect summer tipple, full of strawberries, cherries, and vivacious, fresh character.
If you’re finding it impossible to choose the right wine for this summer, you don’t necessarily have to choose one. Our experts have also put together several New Zealand wine tasting cases, which manage to capture each aspect of a certain grape - check out the Pinot Noir tasting case right here, or, if white wine is more your thing, we have also created a Sauvignon Blanc tasting case, which shows off everything this incredible country has to offer.
Our flowery descriptions are nice - but they only capture a fraction of these wines’ flavour, and they certainly won’t cool you down on a hot summer’s day. New Zealand’s wines’ are just as diverse and awe-inspiring as the country’s landscape. To experience the real thing, check out the 8Wines website - we can deliver a carefully curated tasting case of New Zealand wine to your doorstep, wherever in Europe you may be.