There is more to New Zealand wine than Sauvignon Blanc and the first few labels that come to mind. Of course, that may be hard to believe when Sauvignon Blanc makes up approximately 84 percent of New Zealand’s exports.
But, New Zealand offers breadth and depth beyond the grassy, citrusy Sauvignon Blancs. An afternoon with Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas demonstrated that as he introduced 10 wineries from throughout New Zealand that represent higher quality wines at competitive prices.
The wines are part of NZ Wine Navigator, America’s New Zealand wine specialist. NZ Wine Navigator was founded by Graham Painter who, during a visit to the U.S., was disappointed by the selection of New Zealand wines available on our retail shelves.
Graham and his daughter, Kristen, set out to source family-estate, top-quality producers from throughout New Zealand and import them to the U.S. To assist with the selection of these wines, they reached out to Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.
Douglas is the only Master Sommelier currently in New Zealand. He is based in Auckland and is a lecturer at the University of Auckland where he is in charge of the Wine and Beverage Management Program. Douglas also consults for six restaurants, judges in wine competitions and writes for two magazines. In his spare time, he carefully chooses the selection of New Zealand wines for NZ Wine Navigator.
New Zealand is made up of three islands — the North Island, the South Island and Stewart Island — which is the smallest and southernmost island. New Zealand sits between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The wine regions are maritime climates, except for Central Otago, which has the only continental climate, and there is a thinner ozone layer during the growing season. Due to the climate, higher acidity is natural and crunchy clear aromas are typical in the wines.
NZ Wine Navigator represents wines currently from Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, and Martinborough from the North Island and Marlborough, Nelson, Waitaki Valley and Central Otago from the South Island.
Here is the journey I took with Cameron Douglas and NZ Wine Navigators:
— No 1 Family Estate Cuvee Methode Traditionelle NV, Marlborough ($32).
From Champagne to Marlborough, the Le Brun family has been making Champagne for 12 generations. Daniel Le Brun has been making method traditional wines in Marlborough since 1980 and was the first producer to label his wines Marlborough Methode Traditionelle. The wine is fresh and crisp with brioche aromas and lemon, grapefruit and apple notes on the palate.
— The Darling Sauvignon Blanc 2017, Marlborough ($22).
Sauvignon Blanc is the flagship of Marlborough and it needs to be different if it wants to be noticed. Winemaker Chris Darling makes a Sauvignon Blanc that stands out. This wine is all about texture. Ten percent is barrel fermented, and the wine spends time on the lees. The wine has mineral and citrus notes and explodes with flavor on the palate.
— Brightwater Sophies Kiss Rosé of Pinot Noir 2016, Nelson ($22).
Established in 1993, Gary and Valley Neale established Brightwater south of Nelson, the smallest wine region that sits in the shadows of Marlborough which is just over the hill. The bright pink rosé is made via saignee and has classic aromas of rose petals and strawberries. There is a touch of sweetness on the finish.
— Ceres Swansong Vineyard Pinot Gris 2015, Bannockburn, Central Otago ($25).
Ceres is the name of the Goddess of Agriculture as well as a winemaking region in South Africa. The Dicey family, originally from South Africa, are the owners of Ceres, as well as Mount Difficulty, both in Central Otago. The Pinot Grigio, which grows in schist and rose quartz soils, is fragrant, fruity and refreshing with notes of white pepper, stone fruit and minerality.
— Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2015, Hawkes Bay ($49).
Located on the coast of Hawke’s Bay, Clearview was started in 1988 by Tim and Helma, who were told their site was too cold for wine grapes. They persevered and today are focused on future generations by working with Sustainable Wine Growing New Zealand. The Chardonnay is made in a more “California” style with 30-40 percent of the wine going through malolactic fermentation and 30 percent of the wine in oak. The oak pops on the nose and the palate is rich and bold with stone fruit notes and a creamy finish.
— Vidal Estate “El Legado” Chardonnay 2014, Hawkes Bay ($53).
Vidal Estate, owned by Villa Maria, is named after winemaker Anthony Joseph Vidal who came to New Zealand from Spain over 100 years ago. Winemaker Hugh Crichton crafts wines that represent the region. Only 21 barrels of the Chardonnay are produced. The wine, likened to a small Burgundy producer, has citrus, nutty and flinty aromatics and shows restraint on the palate.
— Big Sky Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2014, Marlborough ($28).
Big Sky is based in Marlborough, and owners Katherine Jacobs and Jeremy Corban are focused on expressing the place in their wines. Five percent of the Pinot Noir is whole cluster and the grapes, which go through natural fermentation, spend 28 days on the skins. The wine then spends 10 months in 15 percent new French oak for a wine that has aromas of strawberries and raspberries.
— Ceres Composition Pinot Noir 2015 Bannockburn, Central Otago ($32).
This Pinot Noir spends 35 days on its skins. The wine has notes of bramble, ripe black cherry, wild thyme, licorice and dry herbs that continue onto the palate. The wine is medium-bodied with a juicy finish.
— MillsReef Elspeth Syrah 2013, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay ($46).
Started in 1989 by the Preston Family who converted a cowshed into a working winery, MillsReef applies a green approach to energy use as part of their sustainability model. The Syrah has intense flavors of boysenberry, blackberry, pepper and licorice and on the palate is well-integrated with a long finish.
— Squawking Magpie SQM Big Red 2013, Hawkes Bay ($76).
Named after the magpies that are synonymous with the Hawke’s Bay region, Squawking Magpie is owned by Gavin Yorrt. The Big Red is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is big and bold with notes of black fruits, cedar and nutmeg.
— Ostler Riesling 2012, Lake Waitaki ($31).
The Waitaki Valley is a cool climate area north of Central Otago. Ostler founders Jeff Sinnot and Jim Jerram discovered the area in 1998. The north-facing limestone-based slope is ideal for Riesling, which has a flinty, stony, citrus and petrol nose. Classified as medium-dry, the wine is vibrant on the palate and spritzy on the tongue.
The best part of NZ Wine Navigator is that they sell direct to consumer. So, if you want to explore the quality and diversity that New Zealand has to offer, head to www.nzwinenav.com.