Thank God for New Zealand wine.
It was a missionary, Samuel Marsden, who planted the first vine in Kerikeri in 1819. Samuel could never have imagined the scale of what he had begun. Although wines were originally intended for sacramental use, it wasn’t long before those forthright ‘can-do’ early settlers who followed the missionaries began planting up vines for their own general consumption, and by 1863 the first commercial vineyard had begun operations.
From such humble, innocent beginnings the behemoth that is New Zealand’s wine industry was born. Boasting the country’s Sauvignon Blanc as the global benchmark for the varietal, New Zealand is now considered a major player in the international wine scene, exporting a whopping $900 million of the stuff in 2008.
Critics world-wide have succumbed to the delight that is the ‘Kiwi Savvy’. George M Taber compared the pleasure of sipping a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to that of having sex for the first time and Oz Clarke wrote that "No previous wine had shocked, thrilled, entranced the world before with such brash, unexpected flavours of gooseberries, passionfruit and lime, or crunchy green asparagus spears . . . an entirely new, brilliantly successful wine style that the rest of the world has been attempting to copy ever since".
These days of course there is more to Kiwi wine than the mighty Sauvignon Blanc. The aromatics (Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris) are nipping at Savvy’s heels for acclaim. And they are getting it. Perfect climate and soil conditions means Kiwi winemakers are creating some of the world’s most prestigious aromatic wines. And the locals are loving it too. The combination of NZ’s Asian-influenced cuisine and these heavenly wines is causing quite a stir within Godzone’s shores.
New Zealand’s massively varying terroir allows Chardonnay to express its charmingly seductive multi-personality disorder in full splendour. From warm, broad and peachy in the Northern regions to acidic and flinty in Central Otago, New Zealand Chardonnay can, and does, display everything in between with style.
Red varietals are also beginning to represent New Zealand on the global stage. Pinot Noir, notoriously tricky to get right, seems to have found its natural home in NZ, where climate and forward leaning wine makers have combined to create something beautiful. And Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, after years of being misunderstood, are producing confident, assertive wines which will, no doubt, one day give Australia a run for its money.