February in North America can definitely be one of the more somber moments of the year. The holidays are over, winter is seemingly never ending, and let’s face it-- it’s just downright cold. To combat the February blues, this month, I wanted to take our tour to a land down under, where vines cover a multitude of island hectares, coastal beach towns are in abundance, and the hot summer sun is in its seasonal peak. Welcome to New Zealand, one of the southern hemisphere’s most exciting viticultural growing regions.
As a wine producing country, New Zealand is actually pretty young, with viticulture only really beginning to take place in the early 1800s, brought over and expanded upon by British and Dalmatian immigrants. However, it wasn’t until 100 years later that viticulture actually started happening on a commercial level, exploding itself into the 21st century. At the time, and currently still today, animal agriculture dominates the country’s export market, with dairy, meat, and wool continuing to be some of New Zealand’s most important sources of revenue. However, wine has become a tremendous source of export; today, New Zealand produces over 285 million liters of wine, 90% of which is sent abroad, mainly to America, Britain, and Australia.
New Zealand is located in the South Pacific Ocean, with vines are spread across both North and South Islands, experiencing a variety of maritime, cool climate weather conditions. Vineyard sites tend to mainly be coagulated around alluvial valleys, comprised of the country’s signature greywacke soils, made of local sandstone. Other soil types, including the stony soils of Hawke’s Bay, schist soils of the Kawarau Valley, and limestone deposits in Waipara create other unique microclimates, the former of which (Hawke’s Bay) tends to be warmer than New Zealand’s general weather conditions.
New Zealand’s wine growing regions range from 36-45 degrees latitude, the northernmost of which are found in Northland, and southernmost of which are found in Central Otago, which sits a the same latitude as Bordeaux. Across both islands, summers are generally cool and winters are mild, with the Pacific Ocean acting as a year-round temperature moderator. The overall climate is relatively wet, though many eastern wine producing regions have developed within rain shadows. Both islands also experience relatively cool nights, preserving natural acidity within the islands’ grapes.
In terms of regions and appellations, New Zealand operates on the Geographical Indication (GI) system, similar to that of Europe’s Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) designations. As of last year, there were 18 registered appellations scattered across New Zealand, located on both islands. The most well known appellations include Northland, Auckland, Waikato, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Wellington on the North Island, and Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, and Otago on the South Island.
As with most other New World wine regions, most of New Zealand’s wines are produced as monovarietal bottlings. Sauvignon Blanc, the country’s signature grape variety, dominates a whopping 60% of overall vineyard space, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling also have a relatively strong vineyard presence. Other white varieties are beginning to take off as well, including Gewurztraminer, Viognier, and the occasional Chenin Blanc, Albarino, and Semillon. Red wine production is dominated by Pinot Noir, particularly within the Canterbury, Martinborough, and Central Otago regions, giving way to fruit-forward bottlings noted with flavors of earth and oak spice. Bordeaux varieties, as well as Syrah, are also beginning to find themselves planted more abundantly.
From crisp, refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, to savory, dark-fruited Syrah, I hope this box brings a little bit of island sunshine to your February, no matter where you find yourself this season!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
O:TU Sauvignon Blanc 2016
O:TU was founded by a group of passionate wine industry folk just over ten years ago, taking over six vineyards along the Otuwhero River, located in the Awatere Valley. Originally dedicated solely to Sauvignon Blanc, the vineyards now grow Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, producing wines in a ‘Marlborough style,’ with a twist. This Sauvignon Blanc is produced entirely from estate fruit, grown in alluvial soils. Post-fermentation, the wine was kept on its light lees, adding texture and body to the final wine, bottled young for the sake of preserving freshness. Notes of lime, tropical fruit, and grapefruit dominate, with citrus-driven acidity giving way to a long finish. Insanely thirst-quenching; drink now!
PAIRING IDEAS: This crisp, easy-drinking Sauv Blanc is the perfect pairing for fresh seafood, salads, and goat cheeses, yet works perfectly as an after-work aperitif, served on its own.
Fifth Bridge Pinot Noir 2017
Named after the fifth bridge between Bannock- burn and Cromwell, smack in the middle of Central Otago, Fifth Bridge Wines highlights the unique microclimates of the Cromwell Basin, showing just how special New Zealand’s South Island growing regions can be. 2017 was a somewhat difficult vintage for the region, however, low crop levels gave way to concentrated, complex fruit. Fruit for the Pinot Noir was mostly destemmed, fermented for 23 days at cool temperatures, and aged in French oak for ten months on its lees. The final wine is highly aromatic and bright, showing notes of black cherry, dried herbs, and earth, with textured tannins giving way to a grippy, lasting finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This juicy, New World Pinot pairs gorgeously with an array of earth-driven flavors, including mushroom based dishes, lentil stews, and grilled meats/veggies.
Ostler Lakeside Riesling 2012
Ostler’s rich history began in 1852, when William Ostler left his native Scotland for New Zealand, pioneering the land and seeking out a new life for himself in the lower Waitaki region of the country. Three generations later, his great-grandson, Jim Jerram, along with his brother-in-law, winemaker Jeff Sinnott, went on a search for New Zealand’s best growing sites, ironically ending up in the lands of the lower Waitaki, whose north-facing slopes and limestone based soils reminded the duo deeply of Burgundy. Their first vineyards were planted in 2002, dedicated to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer. Their 2012 Riesling comes from alluvial greywacke soils, hand-harvested and whole-cluster pressed, followed by fermentation in tank. The final wine is full-bodied and aromatic, showing notes of citrus, lime, white flowers, and stony minerality, finishing medium-dry.
PAIRING IDEAS: High in both acidity and flavor, this insanely food-friendly, versatile Riesling is the perfect match for spicy Asian cuisines, including Pad Thai and curry based dishes.
Clearview Estate Cape Kidnappers Syrah 2016
Founded in 1989, Clearview Estate Winery is located in New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay region, located on the eastern coast of the North Island. The estate is a hotbed for delicious produce, growing avocados, olives, and various citrus fruits alongside its grape vines. The 2016 Syrah is produced from fruit grown in Te Awanga, a gorgeous beachside region, benefitting from coastal breezes and marine influence, fermented with native yeasts and 25% stem inclusion. The wine was then aged in French oak, giving way to a floral, dark fruited Syrah, oozing with notes of black pepper, earth spice, and juicy berries.
PAIRING IDEAS: This savory, floral-noted Syrah is a killer match for smoked meats, roasted lamb, and hamburgers; vegetarians, fear not! The wine is equally delicious with roasted veggies and mushroom stews.