Ever since we discovered NZ sauvignon blanc (SV), which was a few years ago, we were immediately drawn to its distinctive lime, grapefruit and tropical fruit flavors, backed by a crisp acidity. And, to make matters even better, they (along with Gewurtztraminer) pair well with seasoned, even spicy Asian food, of which we are very fond. So, it was not without anticipation that we looked forward to sampling the best NZ had to offer.
The selection was quite impressive no matter where SV was sold, in the supermarket or at a liquor store. It was akin to staring at a whole shelfful of Chardonnay in the States. Wineries are sprouting up everywhere. The recent expansion of acreage dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc has grown tremendously in the last few years, with the result that there is an enormous glut of wines on the NZ market. This is great for the consumer as prices are kept relatively low, but understandably challenging for the growers.
As anywhere else that grows wine, there are several wine-growing districts, each specializing in certain varieties of wine. For SV, the famed region of Marlborough is only a few hours drive north of Christchurch. Central Otago is the premier region for growing pinot noir. On our way to Queenstown, our tour went through this gorgeous area, also home to A. J. Hackett who started the bungee jumping craze. Chris and Kathy took us to Pegasus Bay Winery, one of the best in NZ and located in the Canterbury district, for lunch in their excellent restaurant and a bit of wine tasting. Their 2008 Aria (late harvest riesling) and 2008 Encore (botrytised riesling) were the only two bottles we brought back home with us.
At a bookstore in Christchurch, I picked up a copy of the highly regarded Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines by Michael Cooper. Inside there are reviews of over 3000 wines. This is a great guide for anyone interested in NZ wines.
Without knowing anything about it, I happened to pick up a bottle of the 2009 Jules Taylor Marlborough, which Cooper raved about. It was immediately appealing, with flavors of grapefruit and lime, a definite minerality, and a mouth-watering acidity. And so it went, sample after delicious sample. We enjoyed many wines on our mini-vacation. Of the pinot noirs that I tasted, they seemed too fruit forward, almost juicy for me, but these were just the luck of the draw.
By far, the most interesting place we came across was a tasting room in Queenstown, Wine Tastes, where you can choose samples from over 80 different wines. The difference is that you can pour your own from machines that dispense pre-measured quantities. The wines ran the gamut of price points, so each sample was appropriately priced. You can, for example, pay NZ$ 12 for a small taste of very expensive pinot noir. Still, if you’re a wine lover, this is a great way to try premium wines before you buy.