In a cluttered wine landscape, where so many seem the same, the Kiwis do it differently
New Zealand is far away, in fact so far away from everything that it’s almost isolated from the nearest country by over 1,500km. Such isolation, together with the climate and the particularities of the different soils that can be found in New Zealand, have helped the wine makers in this beautiful country stand out by with their different, but beautiful, wines.
The “land of the long white cloud” has a total land area of 268,021 square kilometers and because the country is comprised of two narrow islands, the vineyards are never more than 120km away from the ocean; this helps cool them and provide a moderate maritime climate, benefited from long daylight hours, ideal for wine making.
As a result of cool temperatures, the grape ripening time is long, which allows flavors to develop further while keeping good acidity (that makes wines last), a balance that is characteristic of New Zealand wines.
Grapes are grown on both islands, with several differentiated wine growing regions and sub-regions. Of these, perhaps the most famous is Marlborough, where around 75 percent of all New Zealand wine is being produced.
Marlborough is New Zealand’s flagship wine region; actually it put New Zealand on the international wine map with its delicious Sauvignon Blanc. Some of the first pioneers to arrive to the country first planted vines in this region around 1873, however, it was in the 1970s when the sector boomed through the hands of entrepreneurs like Sir George Fistonich (founder of Villa Maria) who brought the wine making techniques from Croatia when his family emigrated to New Zealand, and who had the vision to do something different, something good, something unique.
New Zealand’s, and in particular Marlborough’s, Sauvignon Blancs are considered amongst the best in the world. Quite different to those made in France and other world regions, they bring the minerality, purity and acidity, characteristic of the terroir in Marlborough.
However, and even though most of its production is Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is producing some amazing Pinot Noir, as well as other varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Wine makers are experimenting with blends, as well as with new grapes, trying to make the most out of the particular land characteristics.
Central Otago is another iconic wine region in New Zealand. The region’s first world medal was awarded in Sydney in 1881 from vines planted by Jean Feraud. Currently its main production is Pinot Noir, which produces outstanding wines characterized for ripe fruit and ripe flavors, with lots of complexity and a pleasure to the palate.
Many say that if you like Burgundy wines, you cannot like New Zealand wines, however, I love both. Although different, both styles have their own characteristics and unique personality, different but equally precious, and a pleasure to drink.
BIO: Alfredo de la Casa has been organizing wine tastings for over 20 years and has published three wine books, including the Gourmand award winner for best wine education book.
You can reach him at www.wineinvietnam.com.