The Other New Zealand - New Areas for Wineries
Copyright 2003 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed October 10, 2003. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
Now that I'm back home from Down Under and gradually adjusting to the local time zone and driving on the other side of the road again, let's follow up on Monday's visit to some of Australia's less-familiar wine regions with a quick look at "the other New Zealand."
On the way out to Australia I made a brief stop in New Zealand, the beautiful island nation across the Tasman Sea from Australia, where the weather that day demonstrated why the Maori natives christened it "Land of the Long White Cloud."
Most wine lovers in the rest of the world likely know New Zealand best for its Marlborough wine region, at the top of the nation's South Island, where the Cloudy Bay winery set the pace with its world-famous Sauvignon Blanc and dozens of other producers have followed. I had the pleasure of visiting Marlborough, and also Martinborough, across the straits on the North Island, during my last trip Down Under in 2000.
This time, however, with the knowledgeable Sue Courtney (publisher of the informative "Wine of the Week" New Zealand Website, as my guide, we took a quick ferry ride from downtown Auckland across the bay to one of the country's least-known wine regions, Waiheke ("Wy-HAY-kee") Island.
Roughly the size of New York's Manhattan Island but much less populous, the island's hilly flanks are dotted with sheep, cattle, a few tiny villages and a growing number of vineyards, including not just the expected Sauvignon Blanc but a surprising quantity of red grapes including Merlot and even Syrah (which local producers consistently label by the French name, not the Australian "Shiraz"). The island's relative warmth make it, along with the North Island's Hawke's Bay, New Zealand's likeliest location for these red varieties, as opposed to the cool-climate Pinot Noir coming out of Martinborough, Marlborough and the southern Central Otago.
Waiheke Island boasts just 10 wineries at this point, and with Mudbrick Winery winemaker James Rowan joining us for a quick tour, we managed to visit more than half of them: Goldwater Estate, Stony Batter, Passage Rock, Kennedy Point, Cable Bay, and Mudbrick.
The good news is that the wines we tasted were consistently impressive. The not-so-good news, for non-Kiwis, is that almost none of them are exported, with the limited exception of Goldwater, which is represented in the U.S. by Pasternak, of Greenwich, Conn., but whose primary import - the ripe, appealing and delicious New Dog Sauvignon Blanc - is grown not in Waiheke Island but, er, Marlborough.
For today's report, though, rather than torment you with glowing reports of wines you won't be able to taste without traveling to New Zealand, here's a note on a stylish Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc that should be fairly easy to find around the Western world:
Sacred Hill 2002 Whitecliff Estate Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc
This is a clear, straw-colored wine with an appetizing aroma that mingles limey-citrus and lush gooseberry aromas. Full and ripe, almost oily in texture, its white-fruit flavors are consistent with the aroma, well-balanced by fresh-fruit acidity. Quite different in style from the forward "green chile" aromas and flavors that make Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs distinctive, it's not as "outrageous" as some of the big names from Marlborough, but it's arguably more elegant and refined, making it an easier match with food.
FOOD MATCH: A winner with seafood, good with poultry or pork, it served well with a light vegetarian dinner of rice tossed with finely chopped spinach, basil and mint with light Indian spices.
VALUE: Good value at under $15.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although some aficionadoes suggest aging New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a few years, I favor drinking them young and fresh.
WEB LINK: Sacred Hill