I’ve been thinking about New Zealand lately. It’s a place I’ve never been, and I want to get it on the travel calendar. But it’s also a place I feel I know quite a lot about because of its wines. I’ve enjoyed delving into the winemaking culture of the place due to them. So one way to jump into some travel planning is to take a little virtual tour with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A note: other varietals like Cabernet, Chardonnay, Riesling and more are also grown there, but the big stars of NZ wine are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot.
New Zealand is an island country which means that generally all the wine growing is influenced by the cool ocean climate. It’s actually two main islands, the North and the South and there is wine growing on both, with the best known regions Hawkes Bay and Gisborne in the North and Marlborough and the Central Otago in the South. The South is, of course, famous for the specular mountain and glacial vistas of the Southern Alps (check out the photo above) – here is where we cue the Lord of the Rings soundtrack! But beyond the amazing natural beauty, the Southern Alps protect the Marlborough region and lead to its long sunny growing season. Here’s a fun fact: the Central Otago region on the South Island is the most southern wine producing region in the world, and this region is really an up and comer, especially for Pinot Noir.
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc put the country on the world wine map. Unlike the Sauvignon Blanc from the US and France, these have a characteristic “grassiness” that appeals to lots of folks. It gives the wine a unique flavor profile – along with fruity flavors of peach and apricot and telltale tropical citrus. They are aromatic, crispy and tasty. I find them to be particularly good seafood wines – not surprising given their island heritage. So if you’re ready for some mussels, clams, lobster, shrimp, scallops or baked calamari grab some. A terrific combination for me is a chopped salad with shrimp, Thai ginger dressing and chilled NZ Sauvignon Blanc. And this is one wine that actually does well with some asparagus on the plate. We make a “risotto a la hydrator” featuring whatever is in the veggie bin in the fridge and just last night had some. The creamy risotto, peas, asparagus, leeks, and a little basil are great with this wine. I think the herbal, grassy character makes it an ideal companion. But the other beauty of NZ Sauvignon Blanc is that its plain good to drink all on its own as an “I’ll have a glass of white” Sip.
The Pinot Noir from NZ are bright and acidic with the red berry flavors you often find in cooler climate Pinot. They are youthfully exuberant and fun to drink. And like their NZ cousin, Sauvignon Blanc, they work well with a wide variety of foods, even fish such as salmon and tuna. I love Pinot with a roasted chicken and just about any pork dish. I think that NZ Pinot Noir are some of the best value Pinots on the shelf.
I once had lunch with NZ winemaker Kim Crawford and he made a great point about the the wines of New Zealand – they are a lot like the country – open, accessible, personable and fresh. Just as it’s a place to discover, so are the wines. This is the land of the Maori and intrepid explorers like Tasman and Cook, and even the inhabitants of Middle Earth (I do think I have to watch Lord of the Rings again!). But now it’s a vibrant and energetic wine country too. There is much to see and do, and I plan to start my travel planning by spending more time with the fun, easy and approachable Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir of New Zealand. Let’s Sip!
Every Day Sips
2015 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc $12
An any time choice. Screw off the top and enjoy.
2014 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $16
2013 Allan Scott Pinot Noir $15
2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc $24
Consistently one of the best
2012 Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir Calvert Vineyard $40
Lovely single vineyard from the Central Otago
2013 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir $40