Unpolished Grape 101: Introduction to New Zealand Wine

Major Wine Regions

North Island:
Hawke’s Bay

South Island:
Central Otago

Principal Grape Varieties

White Black
Sauvignon Blanc
Pinot Gris
Pinot Noir
Cabernet Sauvignon
The above list is not exhaustive

New Zealand at a Glance

Situated southeast of Australia in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand is one of the few Southern Hemisphere countries with a booming wine-production industry. The latitude of both its North and South islands falls right in the middle of the 30°-50° range making both island’s climatic conditions ideal for grape-growing. In addition, New Zealand receives a great deal of sunshine during its summer season due to its position in the southern hemisphere. In fact, some areas experience daylight through 9:30 pm, allowing the grapes many hours to ripen and gain complexity on the vine.

The island country as a whole is most famous for its refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, which displays tropical flavor profiles in the North (warmer temps) and strong green and citrus fruits in the South (cooler temps). Because of its reliability and success, Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted grape across the region. New Zealand is also known for its bold and complex expressions of Pinot Noir, its second most planted grape variety. Like its Australian neighbor, New Zealand produces a host of additional international varieties including Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

North Island

The North Island white wines tend to display ripe and tropical flavors due to its warmer overall temperatures. The Auckland and Gisborne regions are known for their tropical expressions of Chardonnay, the latter region especially because of its long hours of sunshine. Hawke’s Bay’s use of “Gimblet Gravels” (rocky soil types) play an important role in heat-absorption, which creates power Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah grapes in both single varietal wines and Bordeaux-style blends. Wairarapa, located at the southern tip of the North Island, is known for producing bold and complex Pinot Noirs.

South Island

In the south, cooler regions are met with long sunshine hours, allowing grapes here to reliably ripen throughout the growing season. Marlborough is New Zealand’s most recognizable wine region, where it produces refreshingly acidic and herbaceous (think green pepper) Sauvignon Blancs. Both Nelson and Canterbury are also known for Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Central Otago is unique in that it can produce extremely ripe and high alcohol Pinot Noirs, due to its altitude, intense sunlight and long grape-growing hours.

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