There was a time when New Zealand was just about Sauvignon Blanc. There was little else in fact, pitched to the world in a burgundy-shaped bottle emblazoned most notably with a grey, almost misty-cove like image… The contents of the bottle pushed the virtues of the Sauvignon Blanc varietal to the world in a way which at that point in time had never been seen before, delivering flavours and textures that were inconceivable to an audience whose only prior exposure to Sauvignon was likely to have been a simple, flinty Sancerre. In fact, given the lack of varietal labelling in France, it is quite likely that they did not even realise they had been drinking Sauvignon Blanc at all! Density in the glass, a room full of gooseberry aromatics and a taste more about purity of fruit than the oak chips delivered by most mainstream Australian Chardonnays at the time; it was the dawning of a new day for New Zealand wine and it is fair to say that they have never looked back.
Sauvignon was, and still is, a variety which divides opinion. Its very status as a noble varietal is often brought into question due to the general inability of its wines to age well. It is a curious beast marauding and dominating the market like few other varieties do – it’s a love or hate style, with a split seemingly about 50/50. Sauvignon Blanc… the Marmite of the wine world.
But New Zealand has come a long, long way since the early days of Cloudy Bay et al. Sauvignon Blanc is not the only fruit and Marlborough is not the only region.
With an emphasis on lighter-styled reds and aromatic whites, Syrah from Gimblet Gravels in Hawkes Bay, world class Chardonnay from Kumeu River and the emergence of regions such as Martinborough in the North Island excelling in Pinot Noir have set New Zealand on fire in international markets.
Elsewhere, let us not forget the quality and value to be found from Waipara on the east coast of the South Island, together with the world’s most southerly wine-producing region; Central Otago. Here the country’s potential for world class Pinot Noir is arguably at its greatest. For a region which barely existed on the international wine map as recently as the mid-nineties, ‘Central’ really does represent the calling-card for the ‘new’ New Zealand.
As innovation and experimentation speeds, new varietals such as Albariño and Lagrein have found their way into the vineyards with Stanley Estates in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley a front runner in the field. Five vintages on from New Zealand’s first commercial Albariño bottling, the cuvée is gathering in style, composure and substance with every new release, with vine age and the winemaker’s know-how enriching the process each and every year. This is very much a reflection of the New Zealand wine industry at large.
A modern day success story like no other in the world of wine; New Zealand is far from a one trick pony.