In day 6 of Unit 3 in the Intensive Sommelier Training we studied New Zealand and South Africa, our final lesson in the New World wine regions. With limited time and a large quantity of material to cover the school is forced to consolidate certain regions into the same lesson. But, I have decided to split Day 6 into two parts and cover New Zealand in this review and South Africa in the following review.
A Breif History of New Zealand Wine
The first vineyards were introduced to New Zealand during colonial times in 1819. In 1851 New Zealand's oldest existing vineyard was established by Samuel Marsden, a French Roman Catholic missionary at Mission Estate in Hawke's Bay on the north of North Island.
However, due to the economics focusing on raising livestock, the influence of prohibition and temperance movements and the people being more inclined towards beer and spirits, the wine industry was never significant. Then in the 1970s, following the success of California, grapes were being grown to make premium, rather than just bulk, wine.
It was in 1973 that Montana Winery planted the first commercial vines of the modern era in Marlborough. In 1976 Montana founder Frank Yukich decided that this largely undeveloped sheep farming region had real potential and he included some Sauvignon Blanc. In 1984, some of the Montana Sauvignons were shown to the press in the UK. The wines created a huge interest in the combination of variety and region. This then led David Hohnen to found Cloudy Bay winery in 1985 which then made New Zealand famous throughout the world for its Sauvignon Blanc.
The Climate, Laws and Grapes of New Zealand
New Zealand has a cool temperate climate and it is home to the southernmost and easternmost vineyards in the world. Most of the vineyards and wine regions are on the eastern side of the two islands.
If the grape or region is listed on the label then 85% of the grapes must be the stated varietal and come from the stated region. About 70% of New Zealand’s production is white wine. The top white grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. New Zealand is not a large producer of wine as it ranks 21st in the world, but what it does grow is high in quality. The top red grape is Pinot Noir and the top regions are Central Otago, Marlborough and Nelson on the South Island and Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.
New Zealand and Screw Cap Wines
One the unique production features of New Zealand is the predominant use of screw caps rather than corks for their wine. Long associated with cheap bulk wines in California, the New Zealand wine culture managed to overcome this enological stigma. About 3% to 5% of all bottles of wine that use natural corks show some degree of spoilage. The culprit is trichloroanisole, commonly known as TCA. This complex chemical comes from reactions within corks, which involve natural molds and the chlorine bleach used in cork manufacture. The advantage of screw caps is not only easy access to the wine but the almost total elimination of spoilage. While some may argue that corks may have the advantage for wines that needed to be matured and aged screw capped wines tend to show signs of reduction, the fact is the vast majority of wines on the market are now consumed relatively young. So, if we can just get over our romanticism of the cork and ritual of the sommelier removing the cork Screw Caps will increasingly become the preferred wine closure. The high-end Napa Valley winery Plumpjack put half its $150 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 in screw cap and found that this version sold out first. A few major American producers, including Pepi, Bonny Doon, and Hogue, have has converted to crew caps. After all, if screw caps are good enough for $200 bottles of Scotch, why not for $20 bottles of wine?
New Zealand - North Island
The North Island is home to 6 of the 10 wine regions which make up 40% of the country’s total vineyard acreage. The highest quality Sauvignon Blanc tends to come from the large region of Marlborough (on the south Island) where 2/3 of the country’s acreage of this grape is planted. The top regions include Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa/ Wellington.
Gisborne (also known as Poverty bay) is located on the eastern tip of New Zealand and it is the second largest wine region on the North Island. This region focuses on white wine with more than 50% of the vineyards dedicated to Chardonnay as well as sparkling wines.
Hawke’s Bay is considered to be the top quality wine region on the North Island and they have been producing wine for over a century. Chardonnay dominates production but they also grow a significant amount of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A very important area to know is the Gimblett Gravels district within the Hawkes Bay region. The soils and climate of the area are contribute to quality of the grapes. The gravels are alluvial deposits of greywacke, washed down from the mountainous spine of New Zealand by the Ngaruroro river. The stones, gravels and coarse sands which characterize the area drain freely, preventing the vines from becoming waterlogged and forcing them to grow long, healthy root systems. They also provide excellent heat retention of the clays and the high reflectivity of the pebbles help Gimblett Gravels grapes to achieve full phenolic ripeness during the growing season.
Wairarapa (sometimes referred to as Wellington) is on the southern tip of the North Island and its sub-district Martinborough have a climate which is similar to the South Island. It specializes in small high-quality Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc.
Other regions on the North Island include Northland, Auckland and Waikato (also known as Bay of Plenty). The major focus is on Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Te Kauwhata, in Waikato, is known for making the regions best botrytis wines.
New Zealand - South Island
The South Island is home to 4 recognized wine regions. Yet 60% of the country’s production comes from this island with the most important wine regions being Marlborough and Central Otago.
Marlborough produces almost 50% of the country’s wine and yet the first vines were not planted there until 1973. The country’s largest winery, Montana, is also based in Marlborough. The top wines are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.
Central Otago is a relatively new wine region. It has the world’s most south vineyards and it has a continental climate, as it is the only region not located along the coastline. It shows serious potential for producing high-quality Pinot Noir.
Two other important regions on the South Island are Canterbury and Nelson. Most of the production is focused on Sauvignon Blanc.
Learning Objectives of Unit 3 – Day 6: New Zealand
At the beginning of class lectures a list of learning objectives is provided to the students. By the end of the class, the students should have a certain degree of understanding from their own reading and the lectures and be able to provide the answers to list of questions. The Learning Objectives for Unit 3 - Day 6 along with the answers are as follows.
By the end of class, students should be able to:
(1) Identify the key wine regions on New Zealand’s North Island and principal grape varieties respectively.
Answer: Auckland (Bordeaux blends), Martinborough (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), Wellington (Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc), Hawke’s Bay (Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot), Gisborne (Chardonnay), Waikato (Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon).
(2) Identify the key wine regions on New Zealand’s South Island and describe their climate and principal grape varieties respectively.
Answer: Marlborough (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir), Nelsen (Sauvignon Blanc), Canterbury (Sauvignon Blanc), Otago (Pinot Noir).
(3) Discuss the best region for Pinot Noir (and why it’s successful here) in New Zealand.
Answer: Central Otago, it benefits from being surrounded by mountain ranges which increased its temperature variations both between seasons and between night and day making the climate unusual in the typically maritime conditions in New Zealand.
(4) Name the optimal region for Bordeaux and Rhone varieties in New Zealand, and describe why these varieties are successful here.
Answer: Hawkes Bay, Gimblet Gravel – the soil is well-drained, ideal temperatures.
(5) Describe the attributes of any wines tasted today
Answer: See below
On the sixth day of Unit 3 we tasted the following wines from New Zealand:
1. 2012 Nautilus Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
This is a clear white wine, low intensity straw in color, moderate intensity, star-bright, watery at the rim, medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with pronounced aromas of grapefruit, green apple, chives and tarragon. On the palate it has additional notes of lemon blossom and jalapeno with a salty minerality. It is dry with a hint of residual sugar, it has medium+ acidity, medium body and medium+ alcohol. A classic well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. This wine sells for about $19.
2. 2008 Peregrine Chardonnay, Central Otago, New Zealand
This is a clear white wine, straw in color, medium intensity, day-bright, with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of baked apples, pears, and peach with subtle notes of popcorn, butter, and creamed corn. On the palate it has flavors of baked apples, tasted bread, marzipan and hints of toasted coconut. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium+ body with an oily texture on the mid palate and a long nutty finish. There are many California Chardonnays with this sort of profile for under $20. This wine sells for about $31.
3. 2008 Kumeu River Chardonnay Auckland, New Zealand
This is a clear white wine, star-bright, straw-yellow in color, moderate intensity, medium viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of bruised apples, vanilla, toasted bread, popcorn, butter, vanilla and hazelnut. On the palate it has flavors of lemon custard, baked apple, almonds, pencil shavings and graphite. It is dry with medium+ acidity, medium body, moderate complexity and a medium+ length finish. Personally, I think this wine is past its prime and should have been consumed two years ago and the fruit character just wasn’t very appealing. It has the makings of a new world Chardonnay (butter, popcorn etc.) without the fresh fruit. This wine sells for about $38.
4. 2011 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough, New Zealand
This is a clear red wine, ruby at the core to garnet at the rim, moderate intensity, day bright with moderate viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of fresh cherries, cranberry, raspberry, and a hint of cinnamon and spice. On the palate it has flavors of cherries, cinnamon, cloves, dried roses and cola. It has medium+ acidity, medium body, medium- tannins, and a medium length finish. A really well balanced high quality Pinot Noir, an excellent example of New Zealand but a bit pricy as this wine sells for about $40 - $50 per bottle.