TW Magazines header

Wines of New Zealand

Issue: TW11 May '13

THIS MONTH IS DEVOTED to New Zealand. I had to spend three weeks in this beautiful country in April doing some essential wine tour research (and a little bit of holiday) and I return totally bewitched by the fascinating contrast of wine regions and styles as you move from North to South. Regrettably, I couldn’t visit every area, but certainly touched on most of the key ones. It certainly proved that there is more to New Zealand than Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Up North
Arriving in Auckland, the main object of wine desire was to visit Waiheke Island. Despite being only a few miles off the coast it has 40% less rainfall than the mainland and thus has a unique microclimate that is proving ideal for growing Syrah – the new buzz grape – as well as a host of Bordeaux grapes (Cab Sauv, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec) and Chardonnay. There are only a small number of estates producing small quantities of premium priced wines – and access is only by boat or helicopter.

Half way down on the east coast you reach Hawkes Bay – NZ’s oldest wine region. Hawkes Bay has had a renaissance since discovering the Gimblett Gravels (an area of gravelly, poor soil to the west of the city) about 25 years ago. Syrah has now become the absolute buzz grape and wineries are winning many awards at international competitions. The area is also famed for its Bordeaux Blends, Pinot Gris, cool climate Chardonnay and produces a wide range of styles. This diversity is possible because vineyards planted close to the sea can experience a temperature difference of five–six degrees thus allowing the cooler maritime influences to create the wine style. Arriving just to the north of Wellington we find Martinborough – a small but brilliant area renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Down South
Across the Cook Strait by ferry we arrived at Picton Port and spent a few days in Marlborough – New Zealand’s most famous region. There were virtually no vines planted in 1980 and now it is the biggest wine area. My quest for something other than Sauvignon Blanc was rewarded. There is lots of great Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and some ever improving Pinot Noir. I also found Grappa and Gruner Veltliner. We drove through Waipara, a small but high quality area north of Christchurch, and finally arrived in Central Otago – home to the most stunning scenery and producer of utterly magnificent Pinot Noir, Riesling and Pinot Gris.

Tim’s Dinners
The trip coincided with my wife’s birthday and a truly memorable, nine course degustation menu was enjoyed at the boutique Hans Herzog winery restaurant in Marlborough. A Swiss-German family who only have 11 hectares but planted with 22 different grapes – the more eclectic being Montepulciano, Nebbiolo, Barbera, Tempranillo, Roussanne, Zweigelt, Arneis and Gruner Veltliner! The dinner was an utterly eclectic series of extraordinary culinary creations that comprised both beautiful presentation with seasonal ingredients. Each course was served with a different, generously proportioned glass of wine so we experienced nine of the different grapes that they produce. Truly, one of the most exquisite meals of our lives!

May Wine Recommendation
Pinot Noir 2011 Waitaki Valley John Forrest (£33.00). Available in the Summer. Only 300 bottles imported into the UK. Utterly delicious expression of this super grape. Complex, spicy and earthy.

Tim Syrad runs the
Teddington Wine Society