The Best of New Zealand Wines and Wineries

Two Paddocks - Photo by Suellen Boag

All fans of Sauvignon Blanc often look to New Zealand. Their wines are classic, crisp, refreshing, and offer unique characteristics, which can only originate from some of the southernmost, cool-climate wines in the world.

The cooler maritime climate is not just the ideal home for producing beloved, award-winning Sauvignon Blanc. In many regions, wineries have adopted Chardonnay or Pinot Noir as their chosen grape. Just as Sauvignon Blanc put New Zealand on the winemaking map, so too are these classic Burgundy and Bordeaux varietals.

Allow me to introduce you to what you have been missing from New Zealand.

Kumeu River Wines

Their story begins in 1937, when the Brajkovich’s arrived in Auckland. Mick, Katé, and their three children had previous experience tending to vines and crafting their own wine in a small Croatian village, Zivogosce (Živogošće). After a few years working in the local vineyards and orchards of Auckland, they saved a significant amount of money to purchase the Kumeu property and a small vineyard. Two generations later, the grandchildren of Mick and Katé craft quality wines with the hard work and passion which they learned growing up on the estate. As the third generation, they have brought a depth in skill and knowledge to Kumeu River Wines which have created a new level of success to the label and the family.

2009 Kumeu River Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay, $55

Kumeu River Wines have been earning many accolades for their Chardonnay planted in 1979. It holds true to its roots of classic Burgundy, with an unadulterated style from ground to bottle. The grapes are harvested by hand and they only allow indigenous yeasts for their barrel fermentation style. The wine is then allowed to rest for an extended period on its lees and goes through a secondary fermentation. The extra attention in the wine’s elaboration will show through with a creaminess and elegance with hints of ripe pears and an edgy minerality.

Te Mata Estate

Located in Hawke’s Bay, Te Mata Estate crafts wines only from hand-harvested grapes. The estate has been in existence since 1896 and has always remained in the family. You have the opportunity to experience the first in their line of “Estate Vineyards” just launched this year. Their collection includes wines designated by varietal: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Syrah, and Merlot/Cabernet.

I would highly recommend the Coleraine 2007, $110. This is the Merlot and Cabernet blend, which creates an intense color of crimson, with complexities of blackcurrants, spiced plum, roses, marzipan and dark cherries. Easy to age for up to 20 years. A library release, so supplies are limited.

Palliser Estate

Located in the internationally-renowned region of Martinborough, the name, Palliser, makes reference to the local landmark, Cape Palliser. The owners are devoted to recognizing the combinations of a semi-maritime climate and its terroir, which make it one of the best wine-growing regions in the world.

Since their first harvest in 1989, their wines received high praise from international critics. Palliser Estate feels their success is due to their dedication to the land and their amazing team.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2009, $45

It won the gold medal at the 2011 Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the New Zealand International Wine Show. Aged in French oak casks for 12 months, it is a rich wine with full and rich dark cherry and berry notes with a touch of earthy mushroom. It still has potential for added complexity if aged for 5-6 years.

Matua Valley

Brothers Bill and Ross Spence and their families had a dream to make greater and finer wines than any of their peers. They set out to act on their dreams in 1974. The two brothers were sons of a winemaking father, whose tradition would be to make wine in a traditional style, however, Bill and Ross had a different approach in mind. Ross’s experience at Fresno and California’s bold winemaking approach combined with Bill’s experience, who stayed on in New Zealand and attended Massey, the world famous agricultural university. After years of work, in 1975, their ‘Burgundy’ won the first trophy for Matua Valley, as the Champion of Red Wine at the Royal Easter Show in Auckland. This award was to become the first mark of many successful wines the Spence family would receive. Today, Matua wines can be found internationally in the UK, Australia, Japan, the US and Europe.

Hawke’s Bay Dartmoor Chardonnay 2010, $42

From the brother’s Single Vineyard Series, this is Chardonnay in its purest, fragrant form with light vanilla, oaky stone fruits, baked pears and apples. It was slowly fermented in barrels for 6 weeks allowing the fruit to maintain its freshness and acidity with only a partial secondary fermentation. In addition to the 6 week barrel fermentation, the wine is aged for another 14 weeks, offering a richer body.

Two Paddocks

The story of Two Paddocks began in 1993 as the family estate of actor, Sam Neill, with a modest start of only five acres of Pinot Noir on a little site in Gibbston, in the Central Otago. Their neighbor and friend, Roger Donaldson, planted vineyards as well. The two of them eventually came together, thus, the name ‘Two Paddocks’. Their first vintage in 1997, proved better than they had hoped for, and with each following vintage it improved. What started out as a wine they originally had just wanted to share with family and friends became something more. They released their first vintage to the public in 1999 which was a success. Since the beginning, Sam and Roger have acquired more land with more Pinot Noir.

The Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2009, $50, is their best wine and made from quality, hand-selected grapes from each of their sites in Gibbston, Alexandra and Redbank.  It is an edgy wine with herbal notes, spices and flowers. The supple, cool-climate Otago fruit is vibrant with cherries and complex hints of smoky game meat and earthiness. Great aging potential.