New Zealand is well known as a wine-producing country – the problem is it’s recognized almost exclusively for Sauvignon Blanc. The electric gooseberry style of Sauvignon Blanc popularized in the Marlborough region of New Zealand has been a boon to the country’s wine culture, but has overshadowed the grand wines produced from other varieties.
From north to south, New Zealand’s unique terroir, which features well-draining, stony soils in climates that can range from near-tropical to sub-Alpine, has proven ideal for a wide range of grape varieties. Much of the research into what to plant where remains in its infancy, making this an exciting and dynamic time for New Zealand’s wine industry as it works to diversify.
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Beyond the BlancPinot noir is definitely a variety on the rise in New Zealand, with plantings nationwide soaring to over 4000 hectares from barely 500 in 1996. Still, this represents just 11% of New Zealand’s total annual production, having passed Bordeaux varieties and blends (8%) but still well behind Chardonnay, with 20%, and Sauvignon Blanc with a whopping 52% of the country's production.
That 11% of the nation’s production translates into some 14,000 tons of fruit, of which the lion’s share comes from Marlborough (about 10,000 tons) with Central Otago in distant second (3,000 tons), and Martinborough in third (with less than 1000 tons).
While it may be too early to discern distinct regional differences between these main regions, it’s never too early to try. In regards to Pinot noir, Marlborough produces the lion’s share of Pinot because the climate here allows Pinot to get nicely ripe, yielding a round mouthfeel with fresh fruit flavors. It’s a source for many great Pinots at favorable price points.
At a recent tasting I was able to do a little exploring and tasted through a few wines. Overall the quality of the wines was quite high, though in most cases nothing beat the value of the less expensive wines.
I hate to generalize, but I will: Most of the wines I tasted were fine but the common thread that bound them was that the fruit of New Zealand Pinot is delicate and fresh. That would seem to suggest that the wines should be made in a delicate and fresh style, though ambition seems to have gotten the better of some producers.
Check out page 2 for a Pinot lover's list of 8 New Zealand Wineries to watch. Make sure to tune in next week for part two of this series, when I take a look at New Zealand's North Island and taste the great Pinots being produced there.