Vintages - New Zealand’s Wines, Landscapes & Food

FEATURE STORY: Land of Plenty

New Zealand’s wines, landscapes and food
(3 min. read)

With its stunning scenery and stellar range of top-notch wines, New Zealand exudes allure from all angles. Compared to other winemaking regions of similar reputation, it's tiny. Yet the wines of this dynamic region hold a titanic standing around the world, particularly its game-changing expressions of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. But there’s so much more to discover here. Read on for just a taste of the exciting things happening in New Zealand’s vineyards and beyond.


It may be some time before world travel as we know it resumes, but when that time comes... oh boy, New Zealand is an amazing place to visit. 

Settled by Polynesian seafarers between 1200 and 1300 CE, New Zealand first came in contact with Europeans in 1642 with the arrival of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman. It was the Dutch who named the country Nieuw Zeeland. It wasn’t until the 1990s that New Zealand’s intensely flavoured Sauvignon Blancs took the world by storm, but grapes were first planted here back in 1819 by Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden. The wine industry has grown to become a central tourism feature, with an estimated 67% of visitors checking out wineries. Besides wine, New Zealand’s stunning natural beauty provides stellar experiences at every turn, often literally: for amateur (and serious) astronomers, the Great Barrier Island Dark Sky Sanctuary is just one of many must-experience stargazing locations. The country is also home to the famous Hobbiton sets from The Lord of the Rings movies, and is known for its superb whale-watching, skiing and hiking spots, as well as a burgeoning artisanal food scene. Throughout the country, the richness and influence of Māori culture and history is on full display, reflected in nearly every aspect of modern New Zealand from politics to food to the famous haka of the national rugby team, the All Blacks.

“… If today [New Zealand’s] wine styles are much more varied, there’s no loss of the lovely fruit that comes from the combination of sunlight and relatively cool temperatures. But there’s increasing sophistication in the winemaking … more subtlety and regional expression.” —Julia Harding, MW, jancisrobinson.com, February 18, 2020


The long, cool growing season of the South Island’s Marlborough region engenders crisp Sauvignon Blancs with legendary ripe, vibrant tropical fruit and gooseberry and an intense herbaceous character. 

Winemakers here have begun exploring sub-regions as well as producing single-vineyard expressions to reflect even more of the topo-graphical and climatic diversity of the region. The other pillar of New Zealand wine is Pinot Noir, a grape famously capable of expressing nuanced variations in terroir. There is great regional variation in New Zealand’s Pinots, but all share a typical fruitiness and elegance. From warmer sites in Hawke’s Bay, the Pinots are soft, supple and rich, while those from the cooler Marlborough area are fresh, aromatic and fruit-driven. Moving farther south to Central Otago, Pinots reflect a spicier take, with more pronounced structure and body. Pinot’s Burgundian companion, Chardonnay, can also reflect provenance with great precision. The Hawke’s Bay area shows the grape’s rich, luxurious side, while cooler sites produce wines with brighter acidity that emphasize citrus and mineral tones. Pinot Gris is grown across New Zealand and crafted in a broad range of styles. These wines are typically closer in weight and texture to those from Alsace than those from Northern Italy. Merlot has also seen great success here, and along with Cabernet Sauvignon, has established Hawke’s Bay’s lofty international reputation for refined, ageable Bordeaux blends. The finest examples come from the famous heat-retaining gravelly soils of Gimblett Gravels.


It’s no great leap to imagine that New Zealand should be a great place for seafood; the country is, after all, two large islands. 

The Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris spotlighted in this feature will be ideal for scallops, crayfish, oysters, green-lipped mussels, or pāua (abalone), all popular ingredients in New Zealand cooking. But the diverse climatic and topographical features that make it such a bountiful wine-producing nation also pay massive dividends when it comes to land-based foodstuffs. The 1980s saw a wave of immigration from across Polynesia, Asia and Europe, all of which added distinct cultural flavours to the cuisine here. Infusing Māori culinary traditions with these European and Asian influences has fuelled an innovative new wave of Pacific Rim cuisine and sparked a dynamic artisanal food movement across the country. One such tradition is hāngi, which uses a buried pit oven lined with heated rocks to slowly cook vegetables, meat or fish. This method imparts delicious earthy, smoky flavours to the food, making this style of cooking particularly suited to Pinot Noir. New Zealand is also famous for its sheep; mutton and lamb are classic pairings for Bordeaux blends.

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