New Zealand that's not Sauvignon Blanc
Over two-thirds of plantings in New Zealand are of Sauvignon Blanc. It's a style which has, since the 1980s, transformed perceptions of the grape variety and although we keep predicting the Marlborough boom will crash at some point it still hasn't. Before the Sauvignon Blanc explosion, New Zealand wine was a laughing stock to anyone who was actually paying attention. Because of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is one of the most important wine producing countries in the world: small scale, big influence.
But New Zealand producers are conscious that they can't solely rely on Sauvignon Blanc. It's tricky because quarantine rules in New Zealand are extremely strict and there is no public/university importer of plant matter so bringing cuttings into the country is expensive and has to be done privately, at a cost of up to $60,000. As a result, there are only a few alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc.
But there are some, and you can find them in blackpoolmatt's wine club. Read on!
In the early 2000s, plantings in New Zealand doubled. Most of that was Sauvignon Blanc, but producers planted other varieties as back-up; many focused on Pinot Gris and it’s now widely grown in various parts of the country. It’s a pink-skinned variety and there can be a little bit of tannin to the wines, even though they’re white. Tinpot Hut, a winery in Marlborough, retain 5g/l of sugar in its Pinot Gris—not much, but enough to balance the very light tannins. The wine has rich aromas of pear, peach, apricot, honeysuckle, and sweet spices, balanced by refreshing acidity. Tinpot Hut is a producer that’s gained a lot of acclaim for their wines—and rightly so.
blackpoolmatt’s wine club has featured Marlborough Grüner Veltliner before, and here’s another intriguing example from Jules Taylor, another female-led producer who has established a high reputation over the last twenty years. Although New Zealand’s climate is more maritime than Austria’s—where the variety comes from—temperatures are similar and the wines have the classic high acid, white pepper character of Grüner. Some of this wine is fermented with native yeasts and aged in used oak barrels, with malolactic fermentation to add a gently creamy richness.
Even if it's rare to see New Zealand Viognier here in the States, plantings are now over 850ha (there are just 48 of Grüner Veltliner, while there are over 25,000 of Sauvignon Blanc). Millton is acclaimed as one the of the leading producers in Gisborne, on the eastern side of the North Island, leading the evolution of the region to high-quality wine from the 1980s onwards. Millton's Viognier is a little unusual, as it has thirty days skin contact which gives it a golden color, but the wine's rich aromatics with stone, tropical fruit and floral aromas characteristic of the opulent wines made from the variety.
Te Mata is another producer which has led the transformation in New Zealand wine to world-class quality. Based in Hawke's Bay, Gamay was first planted by Te Mata in 1995. The variety is well-suited to the warm, dry climate, producing wines not dissimilar from fruity but structured Crus Beaujolais. 65% of this Gamay is fermented through carbonic maceration, the rest with a more regular fermentation, a combination which gives a balance of freshness and weight. There are only 12ha planted in New Zealand: as with all these wines, more please!