In Vino Veritas XLV: A New Zealand Nosh

Just as things are warming up in the northern hemisphere, the grape harvest and crush have already commenced for our southern neighbors. In past articles, I’ve given my two cents on Australian, South African and South American wines (focusing on Argentina and Chile) as well as how to best sell them to customers. Today let’s discuss the last major contributor – New Zealand.

Viticulture in this small, remote, agrarian nation was less so a matter of naturally suitable terroir and more so happenstance. When the Brits ended their exclusive trade agreements for New Zealand meat and dairy products in 1973, it left quite a few Kiwis scrambling for creative ways to stay solvent.

If there’s a will, there’s a way…especially when alcohol is involved. In under a decade, clever farmers had successfully adapted sauvignon blanc to select, rain-shadowed pockets on both the North and South Islands. Sandwiched by the Coral Sea and the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand still has a maritime climate, imbuing its grapes with different flavors. Specifically, the persistent wetness and cool summer nights result in less sugar concentration and lower acidity.

Within 50 years, New Zealand has emerged to rival many other producing nations, both in quantity and quality. While the country is still experimenting and diversifying the varietals it grows, when it comes to presenting the average customer with a Kiwi Vino-USP, we are essentially talking about sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from the Marlborough region near the northern tip of the South Island, accounting for over three-quarters of the country’s production.

What I’ve found is that these two varietals along with the third most common, chardonnay, are all consistently delicious and reasonably priced. I’ve long been a fan of New Zealand wines, but it wasn’t until last spring when I had the opportunity to sample them in full during my first sojourn to Auckland.

As a long-time-drinker-first-time-caller to the island nation, my suggestion for you as a budding oenophile is to taste-test Kiwi pinot noirs and sauvignon blancs against their counterparts from other premier appellations. Match a New Zealand pinot against one from NorCal and Burgundy and you’ll find that the lower acidity is immediately palatable, with the Kiwi bottles further distinguished by their earthy, savory and full-bodied notes.

For the whites, many already consider New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be the best in the world of this varietal, but it is nevertheless worthwhile to compare a drop or two with those produced in the Loire Valley, or, if you are in the mood, Chile, South Australia, the Western Cape and Ontario (Canadian patriotism in full effect). Quintessential sauvignon blanc, most Kiwi labels are light on the tongue with clean notes of tropical fruit and melon – ideal for salads, white fish or wine neophytes. They also tend to be steel cask aged, adding to their feathery taste.

While the island nation undoubtedly has a lot more to offer than this one growing region and two varietals, the purpose of these articles is to help you enhance wine sales and meal satisfaction. For that, it’s best to present customers with only a few, well-distinguished options. To this end, supplementing your list with a New Zealand pinot noir is a great alternative to the French or Californian equivalents while a Kiwi sauvignon blanc is a versatile addition.

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published by HotelsMag on April 26, 2016).