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Wine Column
New Zealand wines

There's more to New Zealand wines than sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, says Adam Lechmere, and now is the time to try the lesser-known varieties

  • The Ned Waihopai River Pinot Grigio 2011, £9.99

    {gt-cap} Lively nectarine and tropical-fruit notes, and a hint of pear. Has a touch of spice and a rich flavour, but also a refreshing acidity. Would pair well with a chickenand-coconut curry or creamy pasta dishes.

    Available at: Majestic

  • Te Whare Ra, Gewürztraminer 2009, £22.50

    {gt-cap} If you normally find Gewürz too much, try this cocktail of rose petals, orange zest, lychee and peach, set off by definite acids. Drink with a very powerful washed-rind cheese.

    Available at:

  • Earth’s End Central Otago Riesling 2009, £12.99

    {gt-cap} A beautifully crafted, lime-tinged riesling with racy acidity and a streak of minerality on the finish. Has notes of lime and elderflower, a vibrant flavour and a lovely off-dry fi nish that would work well with spicy dishes.

    Available at: Marks & Spencer

  • Craggy Range Kidnapper’s Chardonnay 2011, £15.50

    {gt-cap} Full-bodied with power and finesse and very fine peach and apple flavours, underpinned by racy acidity and minerality. Drink alone, with salted almonds, whitebait or marinated anchovies.

    Available at:

  • Wild Rock Gravel Pit Merlot 2008, £11.95

    {gt-cap} A rich and ripe wine with blackberry and dark fruits and hints of chocolate and spice, but not jammy or overwhelming, due to balanced acidity and grippy tannins. Drink with the highest-class, juiciest burger.

    Available at: Hailsham Cellars

When, about 15 years ago, John Major famously said he was ‘ABC – Anything But Chardonnay’, he started a back-lash against that grape that endures to this day. There’s no ‘Anything but Kiwi Sauvignon’ movement, but that country’s staple grape (80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine exports), is so ubiquitous and its flavours so instantly recognisable, that wine merchants say some customers, especially in summer, are very open to other suggestions. It’s a shame: as with chardonnay, it’s the most egregious examples of the style that people don’t like – those delivering a gush of gooseberry, green pepper, asparagus or a sweaty dose of cat’s pee. These are fl avours that, handled carefully, can be exotic and wild – or they can linger unpleasantly, like too much oak on overripe chardonnay.

I don’t want to turn you off Kiwi sauvignon, which can be sublime – the wines from Marlborough’s Craggy Range, for example, are some of the most delicate and understated you’ll ever taste. But New Zealand constantly experiments: every year there’s a new buzz about a new grape. A few years ago, it was pinot gris, now all the talk is of grüner veltliner, the Austrian native that covers the spectrum from bonedry with nervy acidity, to viscous and perfumed. They can be tricky to get hold of in the UK, but Yealands Estate, makes a fine example (its pinot gris, £10.99,, is great too) as does Seifried (£14, Harrods).

One thing that strikes any visitor to New Zealand is its old-fashioned character; there is an indefi nable, low-key air of the Fifties about many of the towns, and this feeling informs the wines. Its summer climate – long, sunny days with cooler nights – lends itself perfectly to aromatic, delicate white wines. Once winemakers latched onto this, they discovered a world of possibility, from grüner and pinot gris through albariño and riesling to viognier and gewürztraminer.

There are blockbusters, of course, but the best examples are light and elegant, with that fresh acidity that runs through all great white wines (see Craggy Range’s chardonnay, below). Note, also: they are understated and not in any way flabby.

When it comes to red grapes, it’s the same story. Pinot noir, the country’s second most-planted grape, is New Zealand’s signature red – but it’s worth looking out for interesting examples of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah. They’re planted in tiny quantities – there are just over 1,000 hectares of merlot, for example, and only a mere 300 of syrah – but they make disproportionately large ripples. I’ve only recommended one, but it comes from Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay, one of the country’s most remarkable wine regions, which is producing red wines with the richness of the New World and the precise acidity and herbaceousness of the Old World.

If you’re a determined fan of New Zealand pinot noir (who wouldn’t be?) try looking around at a few different areas. Winemakers from Nelson and Martinborough, at the northern and southern tips of the islands, produce pinots of complexity and elegance.

This article was published on 1st August 2012 so certain details may not be up to date.