Our columnist Tristan Darby says there’s more to New Zealand wines than Marlborough Sauvignon
Since the first commercial wines were released in the 1980s, New Zealand’s pungent, herbaceous, tangy, tropical-fruited style of sauvignon blanc has been a smash hit, now accounting for three quarters of NZ wine production and around 85% of wine exports – with the most famous and productive region, Marlborough, leading the charge.
However, New Zealand is 1,000 miles long with a latitude equivalent of Bordeaux to southern Spain, a diverse geography and geology (mountains, coast and volcanic plateaus) and a wide selection of grape varieties, so there’s plenty more to be discovered.
Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region, plus the highest altitude and most continental in New Zealand (no vineyard here is more than 80 miles from the sea). Spectacularly beautiful, adorned with dramatic snow-capped mountains and lakes, this is also one of the world’s top spots for Pinot Noir, which thrives here. Relatively warm daytimes with high UV levels bestow the grapes with plenty of ripeness and flavour, locked in place by cool night temperatures – producing characterful wines full of vibrant ripe fruit flavours, depth and balancing acidity.
I like the Mohua Pinot Noir 2014 (£17.50, offer price £15.50 at Great Western Wine) from Peregrine wines, with its floral and fruity aromas and a juicy, quite rich, yet smooth palate where cherry and black fruit flavours combine with a savoury edge and a touch of spice.
Central also produces world-class chardonnay, and Carrick Chardonnay 2015 (£16.95, offer price £14.95 GWW) is a splendid example. Complex, elegant and fine. Deliciously ripe tropical fruit flavours and a lemon-like acidity are complemented by creamy, nutty notes and a lick of spice from fermentation and ageing in French oak. Classy and it’ll keep and develop in the bottle over a couple of years, too.
Around the Art Deco Mecca of Napier in north-island is NZ’s oldest and second largest wine region, Hawke’s Bay, perhaps best known for its age-worthy red blends made with classic Bordeaux grapes. The Crossroads Winemaker’s Selection Cabernet/Merlot 2011 (£19.95, offer price £17.95 GWW) uses top fruit from the acclaimed Gimblett Gravels sub-region. Yes, it’s big and pretty concentrated, but not heavy. Juicy blackcurrants and plums are supported by a toasty complexity from French oak barrels. Perfect with roast lamb, beef or a juicy steak.
The superb Man ‘O’ War Dreadnought Syrah 2013 (£31.50, offer price £27.50 GWW) is produced a short boat ride away from the mainland on the winemaking island of Waiheke, where the climate is drier and the warmth is tempered by the cooling effects of the sea. This stellar Rhone-style syrah had me at first sip. Concentrated and rich, yet elegant, fine and balanced with a mineral touch. The seductive smoky and savoury characters mingle with blueberries, blackberries and black pepper spice.