New Zealand goes for growth

The Lawson vineyard in Waihopai Valley, New Zealand, home to pinot noir and gewürztraminer
The Lawson vineyard in Waihopai Valley, New Zealand, home to pinot noir and gewürztraminer

Helen Coburn reports on the diversity of varietals currently available from New Zealand's wine exporters

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Off-trade

14 March 2012

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Overall production in New Zealand has risen from 102m litres to 235m litres, while exports have risen by 300%, from 51m litres to 154.7m litres. It’s all been a bit of a revolution for New Zealand, and some industry players have been conscious of the problems that can be caused by oversupply, especially in recessionary times. But it’s also a phase in the evolution of New Zealand as a more diverse producer, capable of supplying a variety of markets at a range of prices. Its climatic variety is another strength, as markets demand less alcoholic styles and New Zealand’s cooler sites provide them. 

 
This diversity was certainly reflected in the recent New Zealand wine fair in Ireland. Yes, the serried ranks of sauvignon blanc were still there but it was perfectly possible to trawl through this large tasting without feeling obliged to taste a single one, if that was your fancy, such were the enticing alternatives available. With sites ranging from warm, to temperate, to cool, New Zealand has virtually no vinous hot spots, making it easy to keep wines under 14% alcohol by volume and to offer elegant wines with good acidity. The variety of grapes which can flourish in this scenario was underexploited by New Zealand for a long time but that’s certainly being addressed now. Indeed, the only style which New Zealand doesn’t offer is the oaky, high octane, jammy kind which is going out of fashion among many producers anyway.
 
Marcus Wright sampling at Lawsons Dry Hills

Marcus Wright sampling at Lawsons Dry Hills

When it comes to whites, the question has long been asked: what do you offer customers who want something besides sauvignon blanc? This fair showed New Zealand supplying several convincing answers and not just pinot grigio. There were also fine rieslings, chardonnays and, this year, a determination to introduce us to New Zealand’s version of the Austrian classic, gruner veltliner. The challenge is to get these quality varieties to market, at prices the customer will pay. The way to do it is to create a demand that drives an increase in volume production, but this takes time. For the moment, there has been a marked increase in demand for sparkling wine and, here, New Zealand seems to be having no problem in getting that price value equation together. Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc was the new kid in town this year but, for the more conventionally minded, there was lots of good chardonnay based stuff for under €25 a bottle.
 
New Zealand’s red wines have been improving steadily, with better vine management resulting in riper wines, which are not undermined by excessive green tannins, as was often the case a decade or so ago. This difficulty in ripening spurred a reduction in plantings of cabernet and merlot and something of a crisis in confidence among producers of Bordeaux style blends. At present this category seems rather subdued but planting volumes actually plateaued in 2009 and are now steady. In the future we are likely to see better site selection resulting in fewer but better wines.
 
And so to the tasting; prices approximately retail.

Sparkling

Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Sauvignon Blanc Bubbles Marlborough (Findlater €16.99). Ripe gooseberry flavours contend with zesty bubbles. Fun stuff, if off beat.

Brancott Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc (Irish Distillers €15.90). Slightly crisper but still very different. The style is all about getting your head around fruitier flavours than you’re used to when you drink bubbles – but it’s worth a try! 
 
Hunters Miru Miru (Gleeson €19). Intense, grippy, balanced – terrific value for the money.
 
No 1 Family Estate Rose Marlborough (Mackenway €25). Decent summer fruits nicely balanced with crisp acidity; definitely scores on flavour, which can’t always be said for sparkling pink.

White

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Comans €13.99). Does the business at a fair price; lively gooseberry and apple make it good with cod and monkfish.

Yealands Estate Pinot Gris 2010 (Liberty €16.99). Aromas of green fruit and soft spice and, on the palate, strikes a happy note between richer pinot gris styles and the crispness of grigio. Good with monkfish or turkey.
 
Yealands Estate Gruner Veltliner 2010 (Liberty €16.99). Riper than Austrian styles, with a touch of fatness; green and yellow apple flavours make it good for white meats.
 
St Clair Premium Gruner Veltliner Marlborough 2011 (Findlater €15.99). Smells and tastes very Austrian, with ripe green fruit and a subtle herby note. 
 
Rabbit Island Pinot Grigio 2010 (Classic Drinks €9.99). For the grigio crowd but with decent green apple flavours and balancing acidity. Good value.
 
Siegfried Riesling Nelson 2011 (Classic Drinks €15.99). Good intensity and crispness, yet with approachable apple and green grape flavours – very enjoyable.
 
Old Coach Road Riesling Nelson 2011 (Classic Drinks €13). Firm fruit and doesn’t suffer from excessive petrol notes like some mid priced New World rieslings.
 
Lawsons Dry Hills Chardonnay Marlborough 2008 (Febvre €20). Shows the capacity of New Zealand chardonnay to age, as this wine is no chizzler. Yet it’s crisp and clean in a ripe Chablis style. Very tasty and good value for this degree of class.
 
Nautilis Estate Chardonnay Marlborough 2010 (Cassidy €19). Crisp style with a light toastiness from less stirring; elegant green fruit and perfect with fish.

Reds

Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 (Ampersand €19). Gentle summer fruits and decent concentration for the money.

St Clair Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (Findlater €16). Good varietal character drinking perfectly now. 
 
St Clair Pioneer Block 2008 Pinot (Findlater €20) is a nicely matured pinot from the premium range and is worth the trade price for a special occasion.
 
Lawsons Dry Hills Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (Febvre 2010). Smooth, well balanced summer fruits; perfect for duck, pork or lamb.
 
Villa Maria Selection Pinot Noir Marlborough 2008 (Barry Fitzwilliam €20). There’s a decent everyday pinot in this range at around E13 but, for a special day, this is very classy with nicely defined varietal character.
 
Brancott Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011 (Irish Distillers €12.95). Again, decent value for money and, for a tasty trade-up with a classic touch, there’s Letter Series T Pinot Noir 2010 at around €23. 
 
Hunters Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (Gleeson €19). Classic style with fresh berry and summer fruit; a good springtime glass with roast lamb.
 
Villa Maria Private Bin Merlot Cabernet Hawkes Bay 2010 (Barry Fitzwilliam €12.99). Tasty and decent value. There’s a classier Reserve for €26.
 
Tinpot Hut Syrah Hawkes Bay 2008 (Liberty €23.99). Decent black fruit and black olive character; tasty, but rather light in style which makes it a bit expensive.
 
Craggy Range Block 14 Gimlett Gravels Syrah 2006 (Febvre €36). Classic style, with echoes of the Rhone Valley in its elegant damson and sloes palate. Trouble is, the price also echoes the Rhone valley, putting it into direct competition with ACs like Crozes Hermitage and St Joseph that may offer equal concentration for less money.
 
 

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