THE RISE OF New Zealand wines in the last 30 years has been nothing short of meteoric. Thirty years ago New Zealand wines were hardly consumed outside the country but now they’ve become serious players in the international wine scene.
Although most of the major grape varieties are planted in New Zealand, the two star ones, those whose wines people find more astonishing, are sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc in particular is very characteristic, packed with lots of flavors (passionfruit, melon, pineapple, white flowers, etc.), making it very distinctive and rather different to sauvignon blanc from other countries.
The specific climate of New Zealand, and the particularities of the soil (alluvial in most regions, consisting of sandstone, clay and gravel left by receding rivers), are mostly to ‘blame’ for these wonderful wines.
There are wine producing regions in both of New Zealand’s islands. The North Island has six main wine areas including Hawke’s Bay, which runs 350 km along the Pacific Ocean, the oldest existing wine region in the country, and producing some of the best pinots and chardonnays. The South Island has four wine regions with Marlborough the most well-known, famous for its fresh and delicious sauvignon blanc. In fact, around 76 percent of all grapes grown in Marlborough are sauvignon blanc. Wineries like Villa Maria, Allan Scott, Yealands and Craggy Range have really put New Zealand wines at the top of the international market, delivering complex, delicious wines, many of which can be found and enjoyed in Vietnam. Craggy Range, owned by Australian- American TJ Peabody and New Zealand winemaking legend Steve Smith MW, recently showcased five of their fabulous wines in Saigon.
Craggy Range is producing wines of great complexity. One particular characteristic of the label is that every wine they make is a single-vineyard wine. For example, its Martinborough pinot noir is one of the best pinot noirs I’ve had that hasn’t come out of Burgundy. The aroma of red fruits and black cherry, lavender and violets in the mouth is very well balanced, and finishes long and elegantly. And if you are after something different and still elegant, try Sophie.
Allan Scott wines, established by Allan and Catherine Scott in 1990, are fresh, delicious and inexpensive. Allan, who loves Vietnam and usually visits the country every year, is down-to-earth and proud of the popularity that his wines have gained globally.
In New Zealand, each region has its own individuality and originality and although great pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines are being produced, try some of the alternatives. I’ve tasted great chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and even a bordeaux blend made in this fantastic country.
What I Am Drinking This Month
Ugarte Crianza, Rioja (Spain): A fabulous modern style Rioja, with great nose of leather and dark cherries. The palate is smooth and delicate with more red and dark fruits, a touch of leather and long lasting. Nicely paired with steak, charcuterie and medium-hard cheeses. Available at Saigon FNB, Wine Embassy and Ole restaurant.