New Zealand Wines – The Bottles to Look Forward to in 2021 and Beyond

One of the drawbacks of achieving early fame is the risk of resting on one’s laurels, but while basking forever in past glory leads to no innovation, going to the other extreme and feeling nothing but scorn for the creation that put one’s name in the map can also be a little extreme.

Take the world of rock, for example, where tales of Radiohead hating ‘Creep’, Kurt Cobain despising ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and the Beastie Boys outright refusing to play ‘Fight for your Right (To Party)’ are just a few in a long list of stories about bands that develop best-seller-fatigue.

If the New Zealand wine industry was a rock band, and Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region was a song, perhaps their relationship with such a strong, early hit would be closer to that of Aerosmith and ‘Dream On’. The tune is a virtually constant feature in concert setlists, it was played every night during their Las Vegas residency and it has been tweaked and reimagined, even sampled by Eminen to become something new.

According to figures from the New Zealand’s grape and wine industry organisation, the country produces 1% of the world’s wine and 17% of the world’s Sauvignon Blanc, alongside 50 other grape varieties.

And when something is such a core feature in one’s repertoire, how do you balance giving some of the spotlight to the new, the exciting and the experimental while keeping fans and casual listeners (or in this case, drinkers) happy?

New Zealand wines in the Irish market

Chris Stroud, Market Manager (Europe) for New Zealand Wine and wine consultant Jean Smullen, shared a few insights on the state of New Zealand Wines in the Irish Market. 

Brands dominate, with names such as Villa Maria, Oyster Bay and Brancott Estate driving volume sales in the retail sector, which contributes to make New Zealand the sixth most popular country among Ireland’s wine consumers.

When it comes to the Irish top choice of grape variety, Sauvignon Blanc is the most popular grape on the Irish market, out-performing all other varietals by over 50%.”

Despite the dominance of brands, there’s plenty of room for wine styles driving wine drinker’s interest and New Zealand Wines have something to offer all sectors of the wine trade. 

Both Stroud and Smullen agree that New Zealand is not just about Sauvignon Blanc, and that in recent years much of the country’s emphasis has shifted to aromatic white varieties such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Albarino, Gruner Veltliner and Viognier. 

In terms of red, they highlight the rise in popularity of Syrah as another notable development but add that the focus on Pinot Noir continues especially with the emphasis on its regionality.

New styles and varieties to look forward to

Just like musicians have festivals, kiwi winemakers have New Zealand Wine Week, and just like any other large gathering, the event adapted and moved online in 2021, taking place between the 8th to the 12th of February.

One of the featured sessions of the event was a seminar titled What’s New, What’s Next?’ which offered a ‘deep dive’ into what is happening behind the scenes in the cellars of New Zealand and what can wine lovers expect to see in the next twelve months.

The panel was led by Master of Wine Emma Jenkins, who highlighted the “richness and diversity” of the industry despite it coming from a relatively small region. In fact, “the smallness of New Zealand can be a strength”, she noted, pointing out that producers tend to be a closely knit community where cooperation and exchange of ideas are the norm and not the exception.

Cheers to more rosé and alternative varieties

Regarding upcoming trends and styles to watch out for, winemaker Jules Taylor, from Jules Taylor Wines spoke about rosé. “You can have a little fun with rosé”, and she suggested that a good place to start is to try a rosé from a producer you’re already familiar with.

I think rosé is here to stay, people are drinking it all year round.”

For Dr John Forrest, from Forrest Wines, “Albarino is the next most exciting grape New Zealand is doing. The purity of it out of Marlborough is exceptional.” The variety, most known for wines from the North West of Spain, has shown promise in other coastal regions and is one of the alternatives that New Zealand is exploring as it diversifies its plantings.

Nicholas Brown, Winemaker and co owner of Black Estate, is another panelist who has been experimenting with different grapes. “When we planted our new vineyard, we started with the varieties we knew that were proven, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in North Canterbury, but we also wanted to explore what else is possible.”

We’re not reinventing the wheel here, we’re trying to see what we can do in our own sites.”

After considering their options, they choose to plant Chening Blanc and Cabernet Franc, two varieties that are often associated with France’s Loire Valley. He also notes that Gamay is becoming increasingly popular, especially around the Central Otago region.

The process behind finding a new style that works

And while Nicholas is also very excited, he notes that in reality, developing these innovations takes a long time. He explains: “When you put a vine on the ground you gotta wait three or four years before it gives any fruit, and then I think it’s really 17 or 15 years until you get any real expression of its character, so it’s a long time really for any producer to come up with a new variety and really explore it, but it is amazing how fast time passes, and it’s been really exciting to see these wine varieties come true.”

Panelist Rudi Bauer, winemaker Quartz Reef Winery, offers a very down to earth consideration on the role of all these new styles coming up. “Yes, I think there will be plenty of new varieties coming into New Zealand, but ultimately, they will be playing a supporting role, and out of that supporting role, there will be a lot of discussions coming out and each winery will decide which fringe variety will suit their portfolio best.”

In terms of skin contact wines, another buzz-worthy style, Rosie Menzies, from Carrick Wines, thinks that there are “great examples made from Pinot Gris”, since the variety has a coloured, thick skin that has a lot to give to the wines. “I think that playing around with the skin contact is very relevant.”

Treating white wines like you would treat a red wine, and creating something really different, just exploring boundaries of what wine is.”

Sustainability as a must and not just a nice-to-have

Finally, the group also discussed the importance of sustainability. Amy Farnsworth, from Amoise Wines, highlights the importance of packaging, and how some winemakers have started to can their wines or use kegs.

“I think there’s a lot of us that along with the ethos of protecting the land and being the best custodians that we can, we’re looking at being sustainable with our packaging so that means looking for the lightest bottles possible or in fact, eliminating bottles if we can, using recycled materials where possible, just really trying to see it all the way through, from the organics to how you package your wine.”

WINES TO TRY

Villa Maria Reserve Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2020

13.5% ABV

€20 – Available at SuperValu

A wine that embodies the classic style of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc the world has learned to know and love. 

Light and crisp, it combines the citrus and the herbaceous notes and the variety is famous for, offering a refreshing mix of lime zest, melon, gooseberries and fresh cut grass, even a touch of asparagus.


Babich Black Label Sauvignon Blanc 2020

13% ABV

€22.99 – Available at The Corkscrew, Martin’s Off Licence, Blackrock Cellar, Jus de Vine

This elegant Marlborough Sauv Blanc comes from a pioneer producer and combines fruit from different vineyards in the region.

It’s aromatic and balanced, with a pleasant tension and a steely character. Aromas and flavours of lemon, green apple and melon merge, in a wine of light body but high acidity and intensity.


Nutcracker Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2019

13.5% ABV

€19.50 – Available at Searsons, Jus de Vine, Donnybrook Fair, MacGuinness Wine Merchants

A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with a plot twist. It’s vegan friendly, made from organically-grown grapes and vinified using wild yeasts. 

While staying light and vibrant, it is fuller bodied than many of its peers, and it’s flavours are more on the fruity than on the herbaceous side, with zesty citrus dominating, accompanied by yellow tropical fruit [think passionfruit and pineapple] and a delicate mineral sharpness.


Hãhã Pinot Noir 2019 

13% ABV

€23.95 – Available at Mitchell & Son

A silky Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region. It has a bright and tense style, with high acidity and a light-touch oak. 

Aromas of fresh black cherries and cranberry are intertwined with a subtle spicy hint and a savoury note. Medium bodied and sharp, it is a smooth and juicy red with a lingering finish. 

It will pair very well with duck dishes or game meat.


Nautilus Estate Southern Valleys Pinot Noir 2017

13.5% ABV

€29 – Available at wineoneline.ie, Mitchell & Son

This charming, vegan-friendly red is a regional blend of Pinot Noir from selected parcels. Great care went into extracting only the smoothest tannins and in letting the wine achieve balance by maturing for 11 months in a combination of new and used French oak barriques.

It is complex yet lively, with a strong concentration of ripe berries aromas alongside vanilla, a hint of pepper and an delicate earthy note in the background.

Full bodied and rich, it’s a velvety red with vibrancy and elegance.


Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir 2018

13.5% ABV

€42 – Available at The Corkscrew, Deveney’s, 64Wine, Deveneys, World Wide Wines (Waterford), La Touche Wines (Greystones), D-Six.

A multi-award winning, vegan friendly Pinot Noir. Grapes from the Waipara Valley of North Canterbury are vinified following traditional Burgundian methods and matured for 18 months in oak barriques (40% new). 

The result is a complex and powerful red that beautifully merges a wide range of flavours and aromas. From the expected ripe dark cherries and berries to the delightful violets and a meaty, savoury quality. The oak gives it a presence of toast, vanilla and a pleasant smokey touch.

It’s velvety, full bodied and intense, an exceptional Pinot Noir of great elegance and balance.

WRITTEN BY GABY GUEDEZ

Images via nzwine.com

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