Focus on New Zealand
Please welcome Sue Courtney, who hosts the excellent Wine of the Week New Zealand wines Website, as guest writer for this week's edition!
New Zealand, a country in the Southern Pacific ocean with just 3.8 million people and about 50 million sheep, once had an economy that relied heavily on the export of dairy and sheep products to International markets. Now the farmers, who just ten years ago laughed at the people who wanted to purchase grazing land in order to plant grape vines, are rubbing their hands in glee as some near-worthless, rabbit-riven land is selling for many times more than they'd ever dreamed. And during this time, traditional exports fell while wine exports increased tenfold.
Look at Central Otago, New Zealand's most southerly wine producing region at a latitude of 45 south. Here the scenery is amazing. Clear blue skies, snow capped mountains, expansive lakes and green trees. In an area initially occupied by the gold miners 130 years ago, the second gold rush is on and vineyards are popping up everywhere.
But I've jumped to recent events. Let go back to 1986 when a New Zealand wine won the "best wine" three days in a row at the Sunday Times Vintage Festival in the UK. What was this wine with its fresh, crisp, vibrant and herbaceous flavours that made the judges sit up and notice? The answer - Hunters Sauvignon Blanc. And where did it come from? The answer - Marlborough, New Zealand.
With an increasing demand, Sauvignon Blanc produces more wine in New Zealand than any other variety. Although grown throughout the country, Marlborough at the top of the South Island is the area that's most well known and productive.
Chardonnay is the second most prolific and offers a wine that can be made in a number of styles. Regional characters are thought of as citrus from Marlborough, stone fruit from Hawkes Bay and tropical fruit from Gisborne - the chardonnay capital of New Zealand. It's starting to be internationally recognised but it has taken time.
Pinot Noir is the country's most planted red wine grape, though much of it goes into bubbly. New Burgundy clones are coming into the country and the results to date are stunning. Wines from Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyards are already well known internationally but watch out for new names from Central Otago. The hills of wild thyme influence the flavour of the wine to give it an interesting and pleasing floral herbal character.
Merlot is showing what a good wine it can make, especially the Hawkes Bay merlots from 1998. The long hot summer produced fruit of fabulous ripeness and the wines have great flavour and concentration.
Riesling is the up and coming variety in my opinion. Already from the newly released 1999 vintage I've seen crisp wines with racy acidity cutting through the sugar to produce refreshing wines of perfect balance and harmony. Not much is grown in the north and the best wines come from Martinborough at the bottom of the North Island and throughout the South Island.
While there is plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties, there's also a little bit of Syrah. The wines are like those of the Rhone rather than Australia. I tasted my first New Zealand zinfandel this year too and this particular wine from Stonecroft in Hawkes Bay definitely has potential.
With 334 wineries registered in the New Zealand Wine Institute 1999 Annual Report and many more growers who don't have to register, the wine industry is set to play an important part in New Zealand's economic future.
Thanks to Sue for the article above. What's your take on New Zealand wines? Send me your comments by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to contact Sue directly, her E-mail address is email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like to comment on our topics and tasting notes, suggest a topic for a future bulletin, or just talk about wine.
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A ripe New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Omaka Springs 1998 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($10.99)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's abundant fruit and zippy acidity worked very well with an Italian zuppa vognole, a light soup of fresh clams swimming in an herbal and garlicky tomato-and-white-wine broth.
For a listing of my other recent New Zealand tastings, see my online Tasting Notes Index.
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Vol. 1, No. 37, Oct. 4, 1999