North Island Wine Regions
Auckland, as the country’s largest city, doesn’t seem like an obvious place for wine and nearby Waiheke Island, out in the Hauraki Gulf and a 30 minute ferry ride from the city, produces such small volumes that few people have heard of it is as a region.
But the small volumes and the almost subtropical climate make for rich, powerful, concentrated wines with some beautiful Burgundian Chardonnay such as Kumeu River’s Maté’s Vineyard and Man O’ War’s Valhalla. And outstanding red is produced with Larose, Stonyridge’s legendary Waiheke Island Bordeaux blend, being at the very top of the tree.
The sunny Gisborne region is out on the east coast and produces excellent Chardonnay and the best Gewürztraminer in New Zealand (some would say in the world) in the shape of Nick Nobilo’s Vinoptima.
South of Gisborne is Hawke’s Bay which, with lots of sun and perfect terroir in the Gimblett Gravels, produces more top Chardonnay, red Bordeaux style and Syrah.
Clearview and Black Barn are great wineries that may not be all that well known away from New Zealand, and some big, standout wines from the region are Craggy Range’s Le Sol (Syrah) and Les Beaux Cailloux (Chardonnay). And then Te Mata’s Coleraine, a sublime Bordeaux blend, is just something else.
Martinborough is a tiny wine producing area just north of Wellington in the Wairarapa region but its small size and low yields leads to great concentration. The varietals to look for are Pinot Noir, which is right up there in the battle for Pinot supremacy with Central Otago, and Syrah.
And the producers to look for are Dry River, Ata Rangi, Schubert and Kusuda in particular, with their frankly bewilderingly picky attention to detail.
The South Island’s Wine Regions
So, to the South Island, Marlborough and back to “Savvy”. But not all Sauvignon Blanc is the same – New Zealand’s winemakers are producing some very elegant and sophisticated wines with hand-harvesting, gentle pressing, indigenous yeast fermentation, oak ageing and lees contact.
And besides SB, Marlborough produces absolutely superb Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris and increasingly good Pinot Noir. Our favourite wineries, and not many supermarket brands here, include Johanneshof (great Gewürz), Hans Herzog (most varietals you can think of), Seresin, Framingham, Dog Point and Te Whare Ra.
Nelson is a small region, often swept up with nearby Marlborough, but stunning wine is produced here and nobody can beat Neudorf near Motueka. Everything they produce is brilliant but their Moutere Chardonnay and Moutere Pinot Noir are very special.
Waipara is often missed, being caught up in the bright glare of Marlborough to the north. There isn’t anything mainstream here with Pegasus Bay producing premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. And then Bell Hill produce tiny quantities of ridiculously super premium Chard and Pinot – hard to find, and magnificent.
Then we reach the far south and Central Otago, the most southerly wine growing region in the world with Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay dominating. Arguments about whose Pinot is better, CO or Martinborough, will rage on but there is no need, they are both exceptional.
Valli, Wild Earth, Brennan, Gibbston Valley, Two Paddocks and Amisfield (their Fume [Sauvignon] Blanc is stunning) are just a handful of Central Otago’s brilliant producers and Felton Road, in the hot, cold, dry Bannockburn sub-region, give us their Block 3 and Block 5 Pinot Noir and their Block 2 Chardonnay – pure Burgundy.