The next surprising tidbit explains why you may encounter wide stylistic differences in New Zealand wines. On a world map, the country appears much smaller than it really is - a little "David" lost in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and overshadowed by its "Goliath," Australia. The fact is that, end to end, New Zealand would stretch from Vancouver to the Mexican border. Changes in climate from the north to south of the country are just as dramatic.
New Zealand comprises two big islands and a teeny-tiny one called Stewart Island located at the extreme south end of the country, where there is no significant wine industry, since penguins and grapes tend not to thrive in the same environment.
On North Island, red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, increasingly, Syrah thrive in grape-growing districts around Auckland, Gisborne, Wellington and especially Hawke's Bay. There, big-flavoured, powerful, long-lived wines are produced.
South Island is home to the expansive vineyards of Marlborough, a dried-up riverbed that accounts for more than half the country's wine output. Other emerging regions include Nelson, Canterbury and Central Otago, where cooler temperatures are more conducive to producing delicate reds like Pinot Noir, the perfect wine to drink with the spring lamb that New Zealand breeds so well.
Who's on first?
For a country that has come to the table so late, New Zealand has proven to be a leading player in the wine business. It was the first to accept the new Stelvin screw caps as an industry standard, eliminating the annoying and costly problem of corked wines. A group of New Zealand growers was the first to trademark a wine district, Gimblett Gravels, to ensure that the purity and integrity of the designation weren't compromised by political issues beyond its control. New Zealand was also the first country where a winery (Tohu) owned and run exclusively by aboriginal people was established (the second is Canada, with Nk'Mip in B.C.). And recently, Wine Enthusiast named New Zealand the “wine region of the year.” Considering that 15 years ago the most exciting beverage from this “region” was kiwi wine, things are looking good.
Babich, Syrah (Hawke's Bay, North Island), $24
Framingham, Merlot/Malbec (Marlborough, South Island), $25
Herzog, Pinot Noir (Marlborough, South Island), $50
Jackson Estate, Pinot Noir (Marlborough, South Island), $25
Kim Crawford, Merlot “Te Awanga Vineyard”
(Hawke's Bay, North Island), $28
Konrad & Co., Pinot Noir (Marlborough, South Island), $29
(to be released in February 2005)
Oyster Bay, Merlot (Hawke's Bay, North Island), $18
Tohu, Pinot Noir (Marlborough, South Island), $32
(Prices may vary from province to province)