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Travel Photo of the Day: New Zealand Wine Country

Travel Photo of the Day: New Zealand Wine Country

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The country’s range of climates enables the growth of several different varietals

New Zealand’s South Island is home to the country’s famed sauvignon blanc wines.

Although the country produces less than 1 percent of the world’s wine, New Zealand wines are known for their exceptional quality. Outstanding sauvignon blancs have been the country’s "trademark" wine since the mid-1980s, although New Zealand also grows merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah/ shiraz, viognier, chardonnay, gewürztraminer, pinot grigio, and riesling among others.

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So what is it about this relatively small place (it’s actually 1,000 miles long) that allows for viticultural variety and excellence?

Between its north and south counterparts, this stretch of islands has a range of different climates and soil types that promote different grape varieties. The North Island is warmer, with volcanic mountains and hot springs, and the South Island is home to the Southern Alps and deep fjords. All in all, New Zealand encompasses climates ranging from subtropical in the north to almost arctic in the south!

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There’s more to New Zealand white wine than sauvignon blanc

The Marlborough wine region: Sauvignon blanc aside, New Zealand’s winemakers are also making waves with their pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer. Photograph: CreativeNature_nl/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Marlborough wine region: Sauvignon blanc aside, New Zealand’s winemakers are also making waves with their pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer. Photograph: CreativeNature_nl/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Y ou have only to look at the way the Kiwis have handled Covid to see why their wine industry is such a success: clear, focused and decisive. If they weren’t so nice, it would be borderline nauseating, like the girl at school who was beautiful, brainy and good at sport.

OK, I may not be the biggest fan of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which makes up the vast majority of the country’s production, but you can’t say it doesn’t deliver, especially if you avoid the very cheapest bottles. It’s much better to buy it when it’s on promotion, such as the Villa Maria sauvignon blanc below, which is currently on offer at Waitrose at £7.99 (down from £9.99) the same store also has the Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc for £7.19 at the moment, down from £9.69, which is comparable in price to supermarket own-labels and a good deal better than many of them. Or try Tanners’ £12.95 Greenhough River Garden Sauvignon Blanc, the stablemate of the pinot noir in today’s recommendations, to appreciate the difference that paying a bit more can make.

There are more strings to New Zealand’s bow, however. I’d say the two highlights are chardonnay and pinot noir, though the country’s winemakers also do a great job with aromatic varieties such as pinot gris, riesling, gewürztraminer and, more recently, grüner veltliner and albariño (87% of the country’s production is white wine). Some of its wines look just too expensive by international standards, though – syrah, to take just one example: if you want a big red, you’ll do much better looking to Australia, Argentina or the Rhône. There are some pretty rosés, too, but, lighter styles apart, I don’t see them giving Provence a run for its money any time soon.

New Zealand has also been an early adopter of new approaches to viticulture and winemaking that have since become commonplace elsewhere. Wines that are naturally low in alcohol (pioneered by Dr John Forrest in his ‘The Doctors’’ range), screwcaps, sustainability … if there’s a trend, the Kiwis are on top of it, with the exception of orange and natural wines, which are not really how they roll, bar a few wineries such as Mammoth and Mount Edward (Mammoth’s Rare White is wonderful, but you can’t buy it in the UK).

For a country that accounts for a minuscule 1% of world wine production, it’s an impressive achievement, not least because the average value of a bottle of New Zealand wine in the UK is currently £7.43, as opposed to £6.09 for the market as a whole. They’re smart, those Kiwis.


The Marlborough region is about world-famous Sauvignon Blanc, delicious fresh seafood and diverse landscapes, from valleys of vines to sheltered waterways.

Marlborough is about world famous Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s largest winegrowing region, and the soils and enviable climate that create it. It’s about fresh seafood sought by the world’s finest chefs. It’s about diverse landscapes, from valleys of vines to sheltered waterways of the Marlborough Sounds.

Join a guided tour or hire a bike, and choose from more than 30 cellar doors, tasting award winning wines along the way. Indulge in a leisurely lunch at a vineyard restaurant, and pair the wine with local produce to create the ultimate match made in Marlborough.

Drive 20 minutes to the Marlborough Sounds, where 1500km of winding coastline is home to secluded bays, historic sites, marine reserves and precious island sanctuaries, which foster kiwi and other native species. Cruise or kayak your way through the Sounds, home to dolphins, whales, seals and seabirds. Walk or cycle over bush clad ridgelines of the 70km Queen Charlotte Track starting at Ship Cove, Captain Cook’s favourite NZ landing site.

Don’t miss a visit to the internationally acclaimed Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, with its theatrical displays of WWI and WWII aircraft and memorabilia.

Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest places, so why not choose to stay for a weekend or a week, summer through winter, in a vineyard villa or a hideaway on the water’s edge, and discover why Marlborough is Brilliant Every Day.

The Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world

In the 1970's, a New Zealander dreamed of creating a new style of wine. Now New Zealand is synonymous with the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc.

3. Kina

Kina is a type of local sea urchin yes you guessed it, it has a spiky exterior and some thin delicious meat inside. This local sea urchin has been a delicacy for centuries making it one of the oldest traditional foods in New Zealand. If you have never had Kina before just think of it as a spiky oyster – eat it raw, slurp it in and enjoy the taste. A fun fact, the Kina is also known as the hedgehog of the sea. But unlike most hedgehogs, it is easily available throughout New Zealand and can be bought at the local fish market.

Bobby's Fresh Fish Market

Address: 1 Dive Crescent | Bay of Plenty, Tauranga 3110, New Zealand

Opening Hours: Open all week, 8am - 7pm

Website: Bobbys Fresh Fish Market

When you land in New Zealand, the wine is closer than you think

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND — When people think of New Zealand wine country, the mind defaults to well-known places like Marlborough, home to famed sauvignon blancs. Or the world's southernmost wine region, Central Otago, where pinot noir reigns supreme.

But Auckland? That's just a big city with an international airport where thirsty oenophiles land after a long flight, right?

Not so fast. The greater Auckland area boasts some fantastic boutique wineries less than an hour's drive — or ferry ride — from downtown.

More than 20 wineries dot Waiheke Island, a dollop of sandy beaches, art galleries and grapevine-covered hills in the Hauraki Gulf. It's a quick 35-minute ferry trip from central Auckland. City-dwelling Kiwis escape here on weekends for the laid-back vibe, the weather (it's usually warmer and drier than on the isthmus) and the wine, especially Bordeaux-blends and syrahs.

I rented a bike in the island's main town of Oneroa because my favorite way to explore wine country is on two wheels.

Most of the wineries on Waiheke (sounds like why-hecky) are conveniently clustered on the west side. What's not so convenient: the undulating terrain that separates them. Now I understood why the bike shop had an inordinately high inventory of electric models. Despite the hilly terrain, the hardest part was remembering to stay on the left side of the road, a feat that didn't get easier after more wine. (Ananda Tours offers a variety of wine-tasting excursions if you'd prefer to leave the transportation to someone else

I needed some hydration by the time I rolled into the olive grove surroundings of Stonyridge, the second-oldest vineyard on an island that didn't grow grapes until the 1970s.

Stonyridge owner and head winemaker Stephen White chose this spot to plant his first vines in 1982. He wanted to make Bordeaux-style reds and figured the gentle, north-facing slopes would be his best shot at ripening the fruit he needed.

His instincts proved right. Today some vintages of Stonyridge's signature Larose wine — made mostly of cabernet and merlot grapes — sell for $325 (U.S.) a bottle. That's more than my wine budget for a month, but for a hot minute I could roll like the 1 percent. I shelled out a few extra dollars to upgrade my tasting flight to include the pricey 2008 Larose, whose complexity and smooth finish lived up to Robert Parker's lofty praise (

I didn't have to venture far to find my next tasting room, or cellar door, as it's called in this part of the world. Family-owned Te Motu Vineyard is within walking distance of Stonyridge. Like many Waiheke wineries, it has a restaurant serving some of the island's best food (

The only downside to lunching on Te Motu's tasty braised lamb shoulder with cauliflower and lentils was that I had no room left to try the tapas at nearby Miro Vineyard, where the in-your-face Spanish decor is delightfully out of place. (Miro's owners aren't Spanish. They just really love Spain

Samples of more than 30 local wines are poured from an automated tasting machine at Waiheke Wine Centre, and I didn't even need a bike to get there. It's across the street from my Oneroa hotel, The Oyster Inn. This cozy, three-room property opened three years ago and boasts a popular restaurant serving bivalves sourced from New Zealand.

"It's terrible being called The Oyster Inn and running out of oysters, but it's happened twice," manager Perry Newton confessed while pouring me a crisp glass of sauvignon blanc. Newton's partner, former Frankie Goes to Hollywood singer and keyboardist Paul Rutherford, occasionally DJs at the inn's bar. (Rates start at $128

In addition to Waiheke Island, the Auckland wine region's boundaries stretch north of the city to the Matakana coast.

Matakana Tours runs food and wine trips through this scenic swath of countryside less than an hour's drive from downtown Auckland. (For a surcharge they'll pick you up and drop you off at your Auckland hotel

The tour company's bubbly owner, Liz Bays, took me to a local cheesemaker, chocolate shop and oyster shack, but the wineries were the main course.

At visually stunning Brick Bay, the vineyard is too small to produce big quantities of wine. That means the only place you'll find its flagship pinot gris and other varietals is in nearby restaurants or Brick Bay's on-site eatery and cellar door, housed in a sleek glass building surrounded by 50 sculptures and at least as many sheep (

Many Auckland wineries are intimate, boutique operations. There's a good chance the grapes are hand-picked, and the yield is so modest it's unusual to find bottles for sale back home.

"People look for something special, something different, and you get that with these smaller vineyards," said Gary Heaven, owner of Mahurangi River Winery near Warkworth (

Mahurangi is one of the bigger Matakana-area operations, even though it churns out only 1,600 to 2,000 cases a year.

"When you come to a winery here, there's a reasonably good chance you'll be talking to the owner, the winemaker or the viticulturist, and if you're not talking to them, they're probably standing 10 feet away," Heaven said. "That's not always easy to find."

The main wine regions in New Zealand

New Zealand comprises 11 official wine regions, which received legal recognition in the form of geographical indications (GIs) in 2018. Small regions like Gisborne and Auckland in the North Island, and North Canterbury and Nelson in the South, are where some of the nation’s artisanal and creative winemaking takes place. Here, they grow relatively uncommon varieties with exciting promise like Chenin Blanc and Grüner Veltliner, as well as more traditional plantings like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The most prominent wine regions in New Zealand are Marlborough, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa.

Ariel photo of the Marlborough wine region / Photo by Peter Burge


Tucked into the northeast corner of South Island, with nearly 50,000 acres planted to grapevines, Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine region. It accounts for two-thirds of the country’s plantings, which includes the vast majority of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. The variety thrives in Marlborough’s abundant sunshine, cool nights and relatively fertile, free-draining soils.

“I like to think of Marlborough and Sauvignon Blanc as a lucky accident, or perhaps an educated punt, that resulted in something that was unique in the wine world,” says winemaker Anna Flowerday. She and her husband, Jason, own Te Whare Ra, where Marlborough’s oldest vines reside.

“Sauvignon from here tastes like nowhere else in the world,” says Flowerday. “It captures the amazing long sunlight hours in the fabulous array of thirst-slaking flavors, and our diurnal range contributes to the ripe, mouthwatering acidity.

“If you want Turangawaewae, [the Maori word for] a sense of the place, then Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has that in spades.”

Marlborough’s three main subregions are the Southern Valleys, Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley. The former has heavier clay soils, while the Wairau Valley is on an old gravelly riverbed with stony, skeletal soils. Both produce tropical versions of Sauvignon Blanc with passionfruit and grass flavors.

Awatere borders the Pacific Ocean and Kaikoura mountains. Its elevation and cooler, drier climate produce more herb-flecked Sauvignon Blanc, often with notes of salt, tomato leaf and jalapeño.

There’s more to Marlborough than Sauvignon Blanc, of course. Subregions with heavier soils, like Southern Valleys, are home to Pinot Noir, the quality of which has evolved in tandem with the area’s viticulture. These Pinot Noirs are increasingly structured, but still offer plenty of bright red berry fruit.

Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer also find happy homes in Marlborough’s cool, maritime climate. “Aromatic whites are arguably the unsung heroes of Marlborough,” says Flowerday, who makes five wines from these three varieties.

Vineyards owned by Cloudy Bay / Photo by Jim Tannock

Central Otago

Central Otago produces just 3% of New Zealand’s wine, most of which is world-class Pinot Noir. The region’s rugged terrain includes snow-capped mountains, arid hills and river gorges. It has New Zealand’s highest elevation and most continental climate, though vineyards are still less than 150 miles from the sea.

Otago’s autumns are dry with low humidity, and its summers are short and hot. Winters bring frost and, occasionally, snow. These conditions, along with old, windblown loess, river gravel and sandy soils, create wines with both structure and finesse.

Pinot Noir comprises 80% of Central Otago’s plantings, and styles vary by subregion. Expect vibrant Pinot Noir from lakeside sites in Wanaka, elegant iterations from the elevated vineyards of Gibbston and powerful Pinots from warmer sites like Bannockburn or Bendigo. Otago’s diversity is an asset. Producers have the freedom to craft both single-site wines as well as blends.

“It’s like questioning whether there is one clear Burgundy style, taking into account Chablis to Maconnais and everything in between, as Central Otago vineyards can be up to 100 kilometers [62 miles] apart with different climates, soils and major geographic features separating them,” says Grant Taylor, owner/winemaker at Valli Vineyards. “The diversity in styles means there will be a wine from Central Otago that most people will enjoy.”

Pinot may rule in these parts, but winemakers here also produce Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both crackling with the region’s natural acidity. A smattering of aromatic varieties like Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer also make appearances, as does some rosé. But perhaps the most exciting Pinot alternative produced in the region are its traditional-method sparkling wines. Sadly, due in part to high production costs, little of it is made, and even less exported to the U.S. If you see it, snap it up.

Villa Maria’s Gisborne vineyard / Photo courtesy Villa Maria

Hawke’s Bay

The first vines planted in Hawke’s Bay date to 1851, which makes it New Zealand’s oldest wine region. The country’s second-largest region, it produces about 10% of New Zealand’s wine.

Hawke’s Bay is located on the eastern side of North Island between the Pacific Ocean and the inland Kaweka mountains. It has 25 soil types, from free-draining gravel and stone laced with red metal, to loamy clay, limestone or sand.

Temperatures are on the warmest side of cool-climate viticulture, but abundant sunshine means a long growing season. It’s warm enough to ripen the red varieties that the region is most known for: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. In addition, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris ripen well on the coast, hillsides and in river valleys.

Hawke’s Bay’s most famous wine growing district, Gimblett Gravels, is one of the only districts outside of Europe designated by soil type, not geographic location. At nearly 2,000 acres, its alluvial soils are a mix of coarse sand, stone and gravel known as greywacke, deposited onto the plains after a massive flood from the nearby Ngaruroro River in the 1860s.

This unique soil provides excellent drainage and low vine vigor. That, plus the area’s considerable diurnal temperature range, creates powerful red wines such as Merlot-dominated Bordeaux-style blends and, to a lesser extent, Syrah, with stony character, distinctive tannin structures and pure fruit flavors.

Hawke’s Bay’s most planted variety, however, is Chardonnay.

“Chardonnay is very comfortable in Hawke’s Bay,” says Nick Picone, chief winemaker at Villa Maria Wines. He’s based in Hawke’s Bay and heads up the company’s North Island winemaking. “There is enough heat for it to fully ripen, but it’s also cool enough to retain beautiful natural acidity, flavor and freshness. You could call Hawke’s Bay ‘Goldilocks’ for Chardonnay.”

Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough / Photo courtesy Escarpment, Jet Productions

Wai means water in Maori, so many places in New Zealand, particularly in wine regions, begin with the word. There’s Waipara Valley in North Canterbury, the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, and the Waitaki Valley in North Otago.

Wairarapa is located on the North Island, an hour east of New Zealand’s capital, Wellington. Technically, it consists of three subregions, Gladstone, Masterton and Martinborough. The latter is so well known, helped in part by the region’s historic town center with which it shares a name, that many wine drinkers are familiar with Martinborough, but not Wairarapa.

Wairarapa produces just 1% of the nation’s wines, primarily Pinot Noir. It occupies a dry, windswept valley near the Ruamahanga River and is protected by the Rimutaka and Tararua ranges to the west.

The occasional spring frost and southerly winds result in low yields of thick-skinned fruit that produce concentrated wines with structure and personality. Wairarapa Pinot Noirs can be elegant yet powerful, mineral and spice-driven with sinewy tannins and the capacity to age for more than a decade.

“Martinborough produces Pinot Noir that is distinct from this region,” says Helen Masters, head winemaker at one of the region’s founding wineries, Ata Rangi. “Other varieties may produce great wines year to year, but the voice is not as clear and defined as it is with Pinot Noir. No matter who the producer is, it is as though [the wines] have been painted with the same brush, savory rather than fruit driven, with length defined by very fine tannins.”

Wairarapa also produces distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. It’s bright and boisterous like its Marlborough counterpart, but often more textural and mineral-driven. Chardonnay and Viognier, plus aromatic whites like Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, make appearances, as does rosé. Wairarapa also occasionally produces spicy, heady Syrah.

Steve Bird Wines is rooted in manākitanga, “a generosity of spirit toward the land and each other.” The producer traces its Māori roots back more than 800 years and sources from vineyards in Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Marlborough. Two of its ranges are available stateside, the signature Steve Bird bottlings and Manu, which includes Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, a rosé and a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Evan Ward is the winemaker at sustainably focused Tiki Wine, where the principles of kaitiakitanga are applied in the vineyard to ensure that quality comes first. “You can make up a good story to promote a poor wine, but in the end, people will see through [it],” says Ward. Two Tiki ranges are available in the states: the flagship Tiki Estate and Maui, named for a Māori demigod.

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Wine 101: New Zealand

This episode of “Wine 101” is sponsored by Whitehaven. From the sunny bays and lush green vineyards of Marlborough comes a New World Sauvignon Blanc that only New Zealand can offer. Whitehaven’s winemaking philosophy centers on the pursuit of quality without compromise, a principle that is supported at every step from vineyard to glass. Whitehaven uses only Marlborough grapes in our wines, ensuring that only truly authentic Marlborough character is in every bottle. Inspired by a dream, try Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc. Your haven awaits.

On this episode of “Wine 101,” VinePair tastings director Keith Beavers discusses New Zealand wines. While the lush region is known for its zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, Keith spotlights the other up-and-coming wines that originate in New Zealand that are distinctly delicious due to their terroir.

Additionally, Beavers walks listeners through the unique history of New Zealand as a winemaking region, and how it went from being relatively untouched by human settlement a mere 800-odd years ago, to being a complex viticultural reflection of the various settlers that came to inhabit it, from Croatians to Brits.

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Or Check Out the Conversation Here

Keith: My name is Keith Beavers, and am I the only one that cringes when people talk to the food they’re about to eat in commercials or ads? Like, you’re about to eat that M&M that’s talking to you.

What’s going on, wine lovers, welcome to Episode 7 of VinePair’s “Wine 101” podcast. It’s Season 2 — we all know this. My name is Keith Beavers. I am the tastings director at VinePair, and howdy doody. You’ve had the Sauvignon Blanc from a place called New Zealand, but what do you know about New Zealand? Let’s talk about New Zealand. There’s so much fun to be had in New Zealand beyond Sauvignon Blanc, but that’s awesome, too. And I’ll tell you why.

In the U.S., when we get into something, we don’t mess around. When we get into it, it’s the thing that we’re into, and we just stick to it for a long time.

Then sometimes, at some point, it’ll taper off. But in wine, we stick to things for a long time —I’m talking about our flavor profiles, our tastes, and what we dig, and sometimes when a wine hits our market and hits that palate preference of almost everybody, it’s crazy. That’s what Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand did to our market. It’s one of those wines up there with Shiraz back in the ‘90s from Australia. It’s the Malbec thing that’s happening right now on our market. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc came on our market in the mid- to late ‘80s, and it’s just never gone away. If you think about Sauvignon Blanc, you’re probably going straight for the New Zealand section or maybe the French section. New Zealand is a prominent player on the market for Sauvignon Blanc. But we got to talk about everything else that New Zealand does because we got to talk about how awesome Marlborough is, and where it is, but we have to also talk about a few other places that you’re going to see on the American market from this amazing country that is just awesome.

This is going to sound a bit weird, but as a place on this earth that humans exist on, New Zealand is new. Does that sound weird? It sounds weird. I guess what I’m trying to say is there were no humans in New Zealand until about 800 years ago, and that’s when the seafaring people of that part of the world found this land and made it their own, and eventually evolved into what we know today as the Maori people. They went on to create this amazing, beautiful, vibrant culture with creation myths and everything. If you’ve seen the movie “Moana,” there’s a little bit of that mythology in some of the songs of “Moana.” It’s pretty awesome. These people are documented as arriving on the shores of New Zealand between 1200 and 1300. It’s not until around the 17th century we start seeing the British and the Dutch making moves because they’re all over the place. During this time, the Europeans were everywhere on boats. If the Europeans are on boats looking for places to live, you know they got monks with them. Of course, the first vines to be planted in New Zealand soils were missionaries. The English are here with their missionaries planting the vines. No documentation of wine being made, but there is documentation of plants being put in the ground, the northern part of the northern island of New Zealand.

The winemaking credit for New Zealand is a story we’re going to tell in another episode by a man named James Busby, who started making wine around that same area and then selling that wine to British troops. This guy is important. When we talk about Australia, we’re gonna have a whole thing on him, James Busby — put a pin in that. New Zealand is a fascinating place with a fascinating wine history. It’s kind of a rollercoaster ride, and it’s very quick because it all happened so recently. But the thing is, what I find the most exciting about New Zealand and wine is what’s happening right now. There’s a couple of things I just want to mention about New Zealand, how they got to where they are today. We’re going to talk about what’s happening right now because, man, it’s exciting.

By the late 19th century, New Zealand had a wine industry to the point where in 1895, they actually appointed their first government viticulturist, a dude by the name of Romeo Bragato — sounds Italian. His job was to make improvements to what was already happening in New Zealand. That was a big moment for New Zealand wine history. But unfortunately, that same year, this villain I keep talking about, this bug called phylloxera, is first detected in New Zealand, and everything kind of grinds to a halt. Like, “Hey, what are we going to do now?” By this point, the phylloxera situation was not under control but was being worked on. In the United States and with French help, there are all these American hybrid vines being grown all over the United States to try to combat this thing called phylloxera, which is an American louse eating all these European vines.

The remedy — and we’re going into this in the phylloxera episode — was grafting American rootstock onto European rootstock, and that would save the vines. So all New Zealand had to do was graft all of their native European vines that were already there onto American rootstock, and they could have their vitis vinifera vines. But New Zealand decided to not do that. Instead of grafting, they just said, “Give us the American hybrids, whatever those grapes are, and we’ll just plant those.” These types of vines stayed in the soils of New Zealand until about 1960, and between then and 1960, a lot of crazy stuff happened. But unfortunately, I can’t get into all of it. New Zealand, from 1910 through 1919, went through a temperance movement. We in America actually signed into law alcohol Prohibition. They tried to do that in New Zealand, lost the votes, but ended up with the temperance movement affecting the way you buy alcohol in New Zealand for a very long time. There was also a situation in the post-World War II era of this country where there was a big flood of imports from other places. I believe that was because you had soldiers coming back from World War II that have been to Europe, and they were probably saying, “Hey, let’s get some of this European wine into here.” Some local winemakers were competing against imports pretty heavily after World War II. By 1960, the most popular vine planted in New Zealand was a hybrid from New York called American Isabella or Albany Surprise. Things were about to change.

There is a mountainous region called Otago. In the 1860s, there was a gold rush there, and a lot of families from Croatia came to this place to find gold. When the gold rush was over — it was a very brief gold rush — these families stuck around, and on the southern part of the North Island is a major city called Auckland. Surrounding that area is what is known as gumtrees. There are these trees that give off this kind of sap that the Maori people actually use, and oxidize, and sculpt into jewelry and stuff like that. But it also has industrial uses. A lot of these Croatian families found jobs as gum diggers. The reason I’m saying this is because these Croatian people brought with them their wine skills. The modern era of wine in New Zealand is because of three or four major Croatian families that established themselves there. One of them — which created the company called Montana, which is now called Brancott — in the late 60s, worked with UC Davis over in California to see if this new area they had found would be good for wine. That area was on the South Island, the northeast corner of that island. It was a region called Marlborough. The story goes that people thought they were crazy. This is such a wine thing, in the history of wine and especially in the New World like in Oregon it happened, in Washington State, it happened — people go to a place and say Pinot Noir works here — no, it doesn’t and then it does— and “Oh, my gosh, Oregon Pinot Noir, this happened here.” They’re, everyone’s like, “No, you can’t do that.” But then they put Sauvignon Blanc into this soil, and something beautiful happened.

They realized that there was kind of a Goldilocks situation going on here, where they had this major ocean influence of cool air but had a lot of sun as well. This balance created something special out of the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

In 1973, the first vines were planted in Marlborough. The style was unique because it had a nice round fruit-forwardness to it. It had some depth to it and some roundness to it, but it still had that bracing acidity that is known for Sauvignon Blanc in a place like Sancerre. But it had more depth, and then in addition to that, the herbaceous notes of the wine were just aggressive. They were very in your face. Not in your face uncomfortably, but they were actually just so much more prominent than other places that Sauvignon Blanc grows. As this style emerged, in 1975 New Zealand formed what’s called the Wine Institute of New Zealand. It’s now called New Zealand Winegrowers. There was an alliance of wine grape growers that started sharing information. In 1925, an Australian winemaker by the name of David Hohnen created a Sauvignon Blanc called Cloudy Bay, and when that hits the international market, it’s over. That put New Zealand on the global map, that put Marlborough onto the global map. That is how we as a wine culture in the United States was introduced to New Zealand — it was through Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.

Today, Marlborough is the largest wine region in New Zealand. To this day, it seems to be our favorite style of Sauvignon Blanc on our market. Even though Marlborough “Savvy B” (as they call it in New Zealand) has a general style, the Marlborough region is a huge river valley and it has all these different deposits of all these different kinds of soils. So you get this general style that we all know. But within that are the nuances, and every winemaker has their own way of expressing the nuance of Sauvignon Blanc in their Marlborough pocket. So although Marlborough isn’t the newest wine-growing region of New Zealand, it is the most significant, and the biggest, and the one that we know the most. There are nine wine-growing regions in New Zealand on both islands. We don’t see a lot of that on the American market. We’re only going to see a few. So outside of Marlborough, I want to talk to you about a few other regions that you’re going to see because I feel like they’re very exciting. Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is awesome. But there’s so much more going on in New Zealand that we can also celebrate as much as we celebrate Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough.

The thing about New Zealand is there is no controlled appellation system. There are label laws, but other than that, there is no geographical this or that. There are wine-growing regions and districts within those wine-growing regions, but that is about as far as it goes. Also, in New Zealand there are no rules — make wine however you want to make wine. You can make it as natural as you want. You can manipulate the hell out of it, whatever you want to do, it’s all you. That’s what’s so beautiful about the winemakers in New Zealand. They have in front of them an open, blank canvas. They can do whatever they want, but what they choose to do is refine, tweak, and find the best places and the best grapes. They actually, within their freedom, make very focused, awesome wine.

Now I’m going to start talking about some locations. This is why New Zealand is a little bit tough, because it has a North Island and it has a South Island, and when you talk about locations within that island, you have to use south and north within the island itself. For example, Marlborough is on the northeast corner of the South Island. Your brain kind of has to wrap around that for a minute, you know what I mean? So just as New Zealand defined a new style of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is also defining a new style of Pinot Noir, and it’s really, really exciting. There is a wine-growing region on the South Island, towards the southern part of the South Island, smack dab in the middle of the island. It is the only wine region in New Zealand that is a continental climate. It has no influence from either ocean or any of the oceans, which is crazy because it’s all surrounded by oceans.

This place is mountainous and hilly and drainy, but it gets a lot of sun. It’s perfect for Pinot Noir. It has all the cool climate that it needs. But the thing is, New Zealand gets so much sun, so you get this bright, vibrant, alive, active Pinot Noir. But because of that sun, you get this deep, voluptuous, chewy fruit. There’s really not a Pinot Noir out there like the Pinot Noir from Central Otago, just like there’s no other Sauvignon Blanc like there is from Marlborough. The same goes here. If you get a chance to check them out, they’re awesome and they’re on the market. They’re a little expensive — they start about 30 bucks. They go from there, and they’re easy to find on a wine shelf because they’re the only wine from Central Otago on our market. Seventy percent of that wine region produces Pinot Noir. They’re playing around with things like Riesling and Chardonnay, but Pinot Noir is what’s defining that region right now.

But they’re not the only ones. I mean, there’s Pinot Noir happening in Marlborough, but that’s really all about Sauvignon Blanc. There’s a place that’s called Martinborough, and that often gets overlooked because it looks like Marlborough when you’re at a wine store. But it is in a place called Waipara — it’s a region in the southern tip of the North Island. Martinborough is in that area. It’s also a very hilly area. They’re a little more expensive, but you’re going to see Pinot Noirs coming from Martinborough, and they’re awesome. They have that depth that Central Otago has, but there’s a distinct, sort of earthy mushroom vibe going on in their Pinot Noir that is very, very cool. There’s also good Sauvignon Blanc coming from there, Chardonnay coming from there. More Martinborough stuff’s going to be coming on the market, so take a look.

There are about seven more wine regions in New Zealand other than the ones we’ve talked about. But I only want to talk about one because the other ones, like Gisbourne, and Northland, and Canterbury, we’re not going to see a lot of that on the market yet. But what we’re starting to see is one of the older wine regions in New Zealand and my personal favorite: I love the wines from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Just inland of Hawke’s Bay in the northeastern section of the North Island is the wine-growing region called Hawke’s Bay, and it is this low-lying land that as you get further inland gets a little bit hillier. What’s really important about this place is there are these specific rivers. Because of the low-lying area, throughout the history of this particular region, there have been floods. When the floods recede, sometimes the river would take a different course. And when it did that, it would leave behind a riverbed of soil, which is basically perfect for vines. I feel like this is a fun playground where — I don’t know how to say it — you have central Otago’s Pinot Noir. Martinborough is doing Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. Then you have Marlborough, which is basically sticking to Sauvignon Blanc other varieties are being grown in those areas, but that’s what defines those areas. Hawke’s Bay, there is no grape that defines Hawke’s Bay. What defines Hawke’s Bay is actually just the terroir — the varied soils that are very draining. I’ve got to say, whatever they’ve been planting has been working. I’ve had stunning Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir from this region. Beautiful acidity, good character, nice depth, awesome structured wines.

What’s really exciting is I’ve had some awesome Malbec from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. Some of the Malbec I’ve had from New Zealand is some of the best Malbec I’ve had outside of Argentina. It’s deep and dark, but it has good acidity. It’s herby, but not too herby. It’s just awesome. They’re growing Syrah there, I think they’re doing some Riesling there. This region is going to emerge not as a style, like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Central Otago Pinot Noir. It’s going to emerge as a place of terroir. It’s being explored right now because of its terroir, not because of a certain style of something. I’ve had Merlot, Syrah, Malbec, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc all from Hawke’s Bay, and they’re awesome in their own right, with their own specific structural awesomeness. It’s a very fun and very unique place.

What’s so cool about New Zealand is we’re watching these regions emerge, even if they’ve already emerged. 1973 wasn’t long ago. Even though New Zealand has been making wine since the 16th or 17th century, it wasn’t until really 1973 and 1985 that New Zealand popped onto the world stage. So we’re still kind of watching this region evolve. I think places like Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough are really cool things to look out for while you’re sipping on your Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, and while you’re checking out your Central Otago. So that’s New Zealand in a nutshell.

I want to give a shout-out to Peter Jackson, winemaker, and Whitehaven in New Zealand for a good chat and some awesome information for this episode.

@VinePairKeith is my Insta. Rate and review this podcast wherever you get your podcasts from. It really helps get the word out there. And now, for some totally awesome credits.

Wine 101 was produced, recorded, and edited by yours truly, Keith Beavers, at the VinePair headquarters in New York City. I want to give a big ol’ shout out to co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for creating VinePair. And I mean, big shout-out to Danielle Grinberg, the art director of VinePair, for creating the most awesome logo for this podcast. Also Darby Cicci for the theme song. Listen to this. And I want to thank the entire VinePair staff for helping me learn something new every day. See you next week.

37. Chocolate fish

You weren’t a good New Zealand child if you didn’t get rewarded with a chocolate fish at some point in your life! So, next time you’re in New Zealand reward yourself by buying a classic New Zealand chocolate fish! A chocolate fish has a gooey marshmallow centre with milk chocolate on the outside.

So, there’s your wrap up of the best New Zealand food you must try including some delicious New Zealand desserts! I honestly think that the food in New Zealand is some of the best in the world and can be enjoyed by everyone, so I hope you found something on here that appeals to you.

Tell me below what you have and haven’t tried. Kiwi’s – tell me your favourite one below or one that I have missed!

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