In the past few decades, New Zealand has earned a solid place on the global wine market, particularly with the popularity of its Sauvignon Blanc. But red wine lovers should take note; in addition to the zingy and zesty white grape that put New Zealand on the map, this coastal country has steadily mastered the craft of another popular grape: Pinot Noir.
Taking advantage of the cool climate, mild rainfall and free-draining soils, New Zealand vintners have found ideal locations for growing Pinot Noir. The resulting wines offer a yin and yang of Old World earth and elegance, and New World fruit ripeness. New Zealand Pinot Noir is clearly Pinot Noir, with a purity of fruit and elegant structure.
The most successful Pinot Noir regions in New Zealand include Martinborough, which lies on the southern tip of the North Island, Marlborough, on the northern tip of the South Island, and Central Otago, the only continental climate region of the country, nestled in the southern hills on the South Island. Take note of Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury as well – the Pinot from these regions continues to grow. The coastal regions of Martinborough and Marlborough produce Pinot Noir full of bright red fruit and vibrant acidity. Down in Central Otago, Pinot Noir takes on a deeper flavor, with a savory texture and layers of complexity. They can be enjoyed now or evolve in your cellar. As a whole, New Zealand Pinot Noir is ideal for the dinner table; with its excellent acidity and gentle structure it pairs with a number of dishes.
Once Pinot Noir lovers discover this region, they find themselves drawn to the quality and value offered in the wines. These are the kind of wines that beg for another sip, linger on your palate and make you wish you had another bottle.
New Zealand arrived on the international wine scene in 1979 — not long ago, even by New World standards — when Montana Wine Company produced its first Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough vineyards. Over the next decade, the country’s reputation transformed from “small island near Australia” to “wine-producing powerhouse.”
Sauvignon Blanc took over a larger proportion of New Zealand’s production in the 1980s, when a wine glut led to government-ordered vine-pulling. In response, most wineries pulled out the less noble varietals Muller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc. That same decade saw a Phylloxera outbreak that led to re-plantings of Sauvignon Blanc on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
In 1985, Cloudy Bay launched its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in that distinctive style we now associate with most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This wine burst onto the global stage and arguably put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map.
So, what is it about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that has consumers ditching their by-the-glass Pinot Grigios? First, the style is distinctive. For new and experienced wine drinkers alike, there is something to be said about intense aromatics. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers a consistent bouquet of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, herbaceous undertones and a touch of bell pepper. It’s immensely appealing, refreshing and memorable. People describe it unlike any other wine – zesty, prickly, feisty, electric, zingy… descriptors that make your taste buds wake up and sing!
As we move through spring and into summer, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will certainly be a staple in my fridge and a go-to for pool parties and summer-evening soirees.