The Great New Zealand Wine Tasting is part of the European wide Trade Tasting that the New Zealand Wine Growers hold as part of their strategy to promote awareness for the 'New Zealand' brand as an upcoming premium category in the Wine Industry. As a new world wine contributor, although New Zealand contributes to less than 1% of the total wine production, the latest Annual Report 2016 of New Zealand Wine Growers discloses an increase in exports of more than 10% over the last 20 years, now reaching close to USD 1.6 billion, keeping New Zealand on track to reaching its USD 2 billion exports by 2020 (New Zealand Wine Growers Annual Report 2016). US and UK are the biggest importers ; equally important are the new additions to the growing list of exporting countries such as China, Germany and Canada, which have been made possible with the help of improved Free Trade Agreements and Trade Partnership deals.
LATEST TRENDS IN NEW ZEALAND
With wine tourism as the country's major revenue generator, one in five overseas tourists are now visiting wineries in New Zealand which is giving a positive boost towards brand growth. Relatively a nascent industry in the 1980s, with a past where mass scale production of commercial sauvignon blancs was the trend, the emphasis has now shifted towards quality and sustainability. Pursuit of these themes have united New Zealand Wine Growers over the last 10 years and since then, with many experienced winemakers adding all their internationally and locally enriched experience to homeland, the investment in efforts is now showing its results with New Zealand positioning itself as as a strong contender and influencer of the Premier Wine Market.
With over 70% of Sauvignon Blanc a grape that used to dominate the New Zealand varietals in the 1990s, focus has now shifted to many cool climate aromatics that take advantage of the landscape and geographical positioning and resulting climate and as a result, Sauvignon Blanc has since 2016 noted reduction in planting to 50%. Pinot Noir is the distant second and notable are increased plantings of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and aromatics such as Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer. Marlborough is the powerhouse with more than 2/3rd of the plantings, followed by sunny Hawkes Bay and Gisbourne ranking third.
WHAT MAKES NEW ZEALAND SO ATTRACTIVE FOR GRAPE GROWING?
New Zealand is blessed with the best of the conditions for grape growing. The two pristine land masses located in the south western Pacific Ocean are renowned for the purity of air, long periods of intense sunshine (>2,200 sunshine days), cool evenings tempered by the cold water of the ocean allowing full flavour development and acid accumulation in grapes. Not only is the geographical positioning perfect (covering subtropical northland 36 °C all the way down to the most southerly vine growing region of Central Otago at 46C), but the narrow landscape where vineyards are no more than 120km from sea and positioned on the dry and sheltered side of the Alps in the Southern island, makes the island best suited for aromatic grapes. Coupled with the cooling temperatures of the ocean water, distinguishes the resulting wines from warm Mediterranean wine styles.
NEW ZEALAND PINOT NOIR: Trends, sub-regions and multiple expressions
The abundance of cool climate has made it possible for winemakers to follow a common theme that has made New Zealand wines distinct from other countries. Most wines produced here have been known for their fruit forward styles and aromatic expression. As wine making techniques get better and vines have started maturing, there is a conscious trend now towards judicious use of oak and reduction in the tendency to over-extract as elements of quality and less intervention in wine making take over. With atleast 94% of the vineyards in New Zealand operating currently under the Sustainability model, the future looks very bright for New Zealand as better sites are discovered and optimum vine selection becomes key to a more sustainable and quality driven Wine Industry.
Presenting the Masterclasses for the Great NZ Wine Tasting, Peter McCombie MW and New Zealand Wine expert remarks with a positive spirit, “A proposed Bill promising to work towards a Geographical Indication Act also instils confidence in the region to start further differentiating the styles on a Regional and Sub Regional level.” Waitaki Valley is one of the upcoming examples of these upcoming sub-regions. A remote valley between Canterbury and Central Otago it holds a promising potential in the Southern Island. However, one should not forget the importance of a maturing vine dynamics and wine making techniques in the country’s potential to deliver quality wines. Even with regional differentiation, there are bound to be differences in style based on terroir, which is where classifying further into sub-regions becomes important in order to trade up on quality. Marlborough is another of the classic regional example generally known for its lighter red fruit character. Occupying 23,500 hectares of vines producing 2,500 ha of Pinot Noir, the region is coming out with distinctive sub regions showing different stylistic potential- Wairau Valley with its heavy clay soils makes Pinot Noir with aromatic complexity and fine grained tannic structure. Awatere is the cooler, windier and drier and more exposed side than Wairau gives wines lighter and fruitier in style with higher amounts of acidity and vibrancy.”
Wairarapa, the most southerly tip in the Northern Island is close to Wellington. Here too the sub-regional variation is quite magnified. Gladstone has three rivers with free draining terraces flowing with silt loam and some clay deposits. Masterton plains have extreme climatic variation which may render a degree of vintage variations but Martinborough is what captures the essence of the structured, muscular and dark plum fruit style Burgundian character from Pinot Noir.
Some regional variation has also been reported in regions of Canterbury and Waipara, as per Peter McCombie MW. According to him, these regions have been under close scrutiny in the last 6-8 years as regions of high potential but where work has at some times produced inconsistent results. The harvests here are been very unpredictable over the years and although many vineyards have added a line of Waipara range (Craggy Range and Villa Maria) there still needs to be a lot more done to make the Waipara brand more consistent in terms of style and yields. Sub-regional variation which has been a contributor to its underperforming image needs to be re-focused to make it a strength for this region, which has always played a second fiddle to Marlborough. Teviotdale hills protect the worst of the windy oceanic weather which add to the longer life of grapes coupled with allowing acidity accumulation. The long autumns provide for perfect conditions for physiological ripening and aroma complexity addition to the grapes. The diverse soils in this region have immense potential to create distinct styles. With in-depth studies done on the geology of this regions, it’s been discovered that the vast plains of Canterbury are rich in alluvial deposits as a result of the highly braided river systems that make a criss cross flow network, giving rise to wines with an easy fruit drinking style backed with bright and distinctly racy acidity. Soils closer to the River Waipara are gravelly deposits capable of intense and high concentrated wines while the hilly coastal vineyards have limestone clay heavy oils which can produce some age worthy rich and structured wines. Pyramid valley is a classic example of one of the biodynamic vineyards here that has worked heavily on soil mapping and discovered open spaces of fossil soils present on its KT boundary (Cretaceous Tertiary) part of the geological era, which is where the wine brand name Boneline, gets its name from. The free draining soils of the Waipara region have now employed judicious use of irrigation to gain the best benefits of the diverse soil geology to produce quality wines with sub-regional expression of wines from grapes like Rielsing, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and also lately Pinot Noir all of which have been experimental success based on results of hard work of hard work of individual viticulturalists putting in time and study to map out grapes based on individualist soil differences.
Nelson is thriving in terms of producing atleast 2% of the country’s wine production but with vineyards located along a compact and stunning landscape ranging from the hills to plains, the wineries along the region are easy to cover. Nelson is by far the most tranquil as well culturally stimulating cosmopolitan city in the southern island. Moutere hills to the west have gravel and clay soil giving way to richly textured Pinot Noir while the Waimea plains to the south of Nelson with its alluvial stony soils, experience moderating maritime weather that produce some highly perfumed and lighter structure Pinot Noirs with a mineral undercurrent. Some of the well known vineyards here Moutere Hill Vineyard, Neudorf and Falcon Ridge
These are the take aways from my attendance of “A Road Trip of New Zealand Pinot Noir” Masterclass with Peter McCombie MW. Highlight wines from each of the regions tasted are:
Tasting notes from some of the iconic vineyards with a huge potential for New Zealand are here below.
Esk Valley Pinot Noir Marlborough 2015 (13,5% abv)
Boutique producer by Villa Maria. Vibrantly black cherry expressive wine, this is a relatively full body Pinot Noir with incredibly fine-grained velvety tannins gained from subtle hand-plunging. With impressive vineyard management skills and low yields, a fuller and riper fruit has been aimed at, and combined with ageing in old barriques, the peppery and vanilla spice add to the complexity to the wine in a convincingly harmonious manner. (88/100)
(Available to buy Hatch Mansfield (£17.15))
Tohu Awatere Valley, Pinot Noir Marlborough 2015 (13,5 % abv)
With an early harvest done for a what was a truly hot summer in this region, open top fermenters were used combining cultured and wild yeast. The wine has dominating notes of ripe red berries and redcurrants along with some of the cool herbaceous nuances distinctive of Awatere valley. Acidity is brilliantly uplifting and the oak and tannins are expected to integrate with a bit more of ageing. Fruit concentration and finesse of the wine are impressive. (90/100)
(Available to buy at Connoisseur Estates (£20.00))
The Boneline Waimanu Pinot Noire, Waipara Valley 2015 (14% abv)
A new winery seeking distribution, the wines are beautifully and intensely fruit expressive with red cherries and rich mix of pepper, cinnamon, liquorice and fiery spices from a mature oak, tannins are extremely polished and dense. The post fermentation maceration adds an extra layer of richness on the texture and the finish is long and spicy at the same time savoury with balsamic notes at the end. A bold yet elegant expression. (93/100)
Ceres Composition Pinot Noir, Central Otago (Bannokburn) 2013 (14% abv)
Black cherries followed by warm spicy and peppery notes and ending on with meaty nuances, the long period of almost 30 days of skin contact before fermentation and 10 days post fermentation gives it a powerful expression with some tightly knit chewy yet fine grained tannins. Taut and restrained at the moment and may need some lie in for ageing the tannins. (85/100)
(Available to buy at Matthew Clark (£30.00))
Burn Cottage Pinot Noir, Central Otago (Cromwell) 2011 (13,5 % abv)
Fleshy wine with red cherries, youthful exuberance with fruit vibrance, underlying a densely rich structure. Earthy complexity makes it very distinguished. (92/100)
(Available to buy Liberty Wines (£39.99))
Mount Edward Morrison Pinot Noir, Central Otago (Lowburn) 2011 (13,5 % abv)
Elegant Pinot Noir with some herbal notes of mint, caramel spice with tightly knit soft tannins. Oak has been used judiciously and complements the fruit notes impressively while keeping alcohol warmth very balanced. (89/100)
(Available to buy at Alliance Wine (£43.75))
Mahana Clays and Gravels Pinot Noir, Nelson 2014 (13,5% abv)
The latest trend of using subtle new oak (25% New Oak used here) is impressively displayed in these wines which have the right balance of well integrated cedar and toasty oak and elegant fruit notes of red cherries and plums along with aromatic floral uplift. A restrained style it does have good fine grainy tannic backbone with an ability to age for atleast 6-7 years. (88/100)
(Available to buy at Hallgarten Druitt (£26.00))
Paddy Borthwick Right Hand Pinot Noir Wairarapa 2013 (14% abv)
Very dark plum focused wine with some ripe and cooked fruit notes, there is a distinct fruit richness in this wine followed by a layer of spicy pepper and toast underneath. 35% new oak used here. Structured expressive and fruit concentrated. (91/100)
(Available at Armit Wines)
Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir Martinborough 2014 (13,8% abv)
At the highest price bracket is this graceful and deeply intense Pinot Noir of the Craggy range with an intoxicating mix of red and black cherries with a ripened almost pruned fruit richness giving it a rounded expression, floral violets blended with rich sprinkle of Christmas spice notes giving it an earthy and savoury complexity. The body is rich with a beguiling charming mature expression. Aged for atleast 10 months in French barriques (30% new oak), its got a an intense mouthfeel with a delicate herbal after note. Potential to age for the next 7-10 years (87/100)
(Available from Bibendum (£62.50))
~Photo credits- New Zealand Wine Growers Association
As this article gets published, 40 producers from New Zealand are currently showcasing their wines at the ProWein 2017 in Dusseldorf, which lasts until tomorrow. The New Zealand Wine Growers Association has organised Masterclasses and Seminars organised by Wine experts including Jamie Goode, Anne Krebiehl MW and Madeleine Stenwreth, MW who will be re-iterating these regional characteristics of New Zealand varietals especially of Pinot Noir which is the leading the news on the wine front for this stunning country. More details if you click here