New Zealand produces about 400m bottles a year – almost exactly 1% of the world’s wine, a figure that puts it 15th or 16th, depending on year. Just for reference that’s about a fifth of Australia (which is usually 6th), and 1/16th or 1/17th  of France or Italy which are  1st and 2nd . Or looking at it the other way: 750 times as much as the UK…

A quick look at any general wine map of New Zealand might make one think it was made up of two fairly balanced Islands.


However the whole picture is unbalanced by one dominant area – Marlborough. Marlborough makes about 77% of all New Zealand Wine.

The next area in terms of wine volume produced is Hawkes Bay with a little over 10%; then Gisborne (a bit over 3%) both in the North Island. Canterbury/Waipara and Central Otago/Waitaki (a bit under 3% each) and Nelson (2.2%) are on South Island. Only then do we return to the North where Wairarapa is a touch over 1% and all the Northern areas (Northland, Auckland… down to Bay of Plenty) only contributes ¼%!

About 80% of the vineyard area and 85% of wine produced is in the South Island.

To illustrate – if you bought (a generous, bonus) representative case of New Zealand with 14 bottles in it – 11 would be from Marlborough; 2 from the North Island and 1 from the somewhere else in the South Island!

Just to give you a breakdown of Grapes – although less relevant to the upcoming tasting – that picture is almost as unbalanced. Here the distorting factor is Sauvignon Blanc. In very round figures – about 60% of all New Zealand Wine is Sauvignon Blanc; the rest pretty evenly divided between other whites and all reds.

Taking these two factors together – just over half (53.4%) of all NZ wine is Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc!

What concerns us most this month though is the differences between the Islands, and the grape growing and stylistic differences between them. Of course there are much subtler and more complex distinction to be made for specific grapes in specific locations – but there is one obvious general thing to note.

New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere and accordingly the North Island is generally hotter. This is simple and not surprisingly the South Island concentrates on whites (and Pinot Noir) whereas there is more even spread of varieties and wider plantings of reds in the North.

Here is a table showing how the percentages of grape varieties’ grown vary between the 2 Islands:

All NZ South Island North Island
Sauvignon Blanc 61 68 18
Chardonnay 9 4 24
Aromatic Whites* 9 8 13
Pinot Noir 15 16 11
Syrah 1 <1 6
“Bordeaux” Reds** 4 <1 22
[*Aromatic Whites= Pinot Gris; Riesling; Gewurz.; Viognier…   –   **Bordeaux Reds = Merlot; Cab. Sauvignon; Cab. Franc; Malbec…]

 

So, if you want to compare similar wines from the two Islands there are two obvious choices: Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. A third comparison is quite tricky. Bordeaux blends are hard to come by from the South, and anyway two different blends may have very different components. Something similar is true of “Aromatic Whites”, the exact wine style will vary enormously from one region and sub region to another, the only viable candidate might be Pinot Gris, and I personally haven’t found NZ examples very successful…

Knowing the group’s love of reds I came down on the side of Syrah. An up and coming variety in some Southern areas, and reasonably established and successful in the North.

So our wines for comparison will be

Marlborough v Hawkes Bay for Sauvignon Blanc;
Central Otago v Martinborough (a sub-region of Wairarapa) for Pinot Noir;
and Marlborough v Hawkes Bay again for Syrah.

What might we expect?

The Sauvignon Blanc Pair:
Marlborough – Pungently aromatic, vividly pure fruit, herbaceous and exotically tropical, plus mineral depths…
Hawkes Bay – Rich, tree fruit-laden wines, underpinned by bright acidity, with complexity and body…

The Pinot Noir Pair:
Central Otago -Fragrant, lush fruit underpinned by taut structure, silky texture and true intensity. There are marked differences in sub-regional styles. Our example is from Bannockburn  one of the warmest, driest sites in the region. Harvest can be up to a month ahead of other sub-regions, and the wines produced are highly distinctive and complex.
Martinborough -The region’s flagship red; richly flavoured and warm with a savoury undercurrent whilst retaining perfumed varietal character, Wairarapa Pinots offer texture and depth. Our example is from Martinborough, the most southerly Wairarapa sub-region, which boasts free-draining soils and a cool, dry climate and soil profile similar to that of Burgundy.

The Syrah Pair:
Marlborough – A boutique quantity of Syrah here, almost at the experimental stage. This is from a hectare planted on relatively warm clay soil in the East side of Marlborough, where the wines have a reputation for fruit intensity.
Hawkes Bay – An exciting variety showing great distinction, gaining strength as sites and clones are refined. Wines are perfumed, elegant with ripe fruit, supple tannins and lingering spice.

We’ll see if these are fair assessments.

À Bientôt

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