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New Zealand Wines- Notes from A Seminar & Trade Tasting

The New Zealand Winegrowers were in Houston last month to host a trade tasting and seminar for local wine professionals at Pappas Bros Steakhouse. The association brought in an array of wines from several regions and vintages to showcase that, in addition to the great Sauvignon Blanc that the world has come to expect, there are many styles and varieties being produced that may surprise. David Strada and Ranit Librach hosted the event that began with a class and tasting. 

The island nation of New Zealand has a cool climate. Due to the geography of the country, all of the vineyards lie within 80 miles of the ocean so there is a strong ocean influence that affects the character of the wines. They typically enjoy mild and very sunny summer days with cool nighttime temperatures, this broad diurnal range allows for slow ripening and full flavor development. 

The isolated country is famous for its pristine landscapes and its commitment to preserving the natural environment. This concept has been in place since the Maoris, New Zealand's first people, settled there. They believed for the people to thrive, they must be good guardians of the land. Over 94% of vineyards are under independently audited sustainability programs with a producer goal to turn a minimum of 20% to fully organic by 2020.
Sauvignon Blanc was the first varietal wine from New Zealand to catch the wine drinking world's attention back in the '90s. Their more vibrant expression of this French variety impressed wine critics while growers in other countries were influenced to improve the way they were growing the grape due the depth of aromas and flavors being achieved. Wine drinkers around the globe thoroughly embraced it. By 2014, Sauvignon Blanc alone accounted for 72% of New Zealand's wine production.

While the majority of Sauvignon Blanc vines are planted in Marlborough, the variety is grown throughout the country. Climate is the major factor in the distinction of regional styles. In the south, the long cool growing season creates wines with vibrant fruit flavors while maintaining high levels of acidity, this produces crisp, intense wines with tropical fruit, red pepper and gooseberry. In the warmer, northern growing regions, the more mild conditions result in a richer style with ripe melon and stone fruit nuances.

Aromatic wines have a strong presence in New Zealand, Pinot Gris is grown throughout the country while Riesling is mainly on the cooler South Island. The Pinot Gris style is more in line with Alsace than an Italian Pinot Grigio. Expect aromas of apple, pear, honeysuckle, spice and bread notes. The Rieslings are in a range of styles from dry to fully sweet. The climate comes into play again with the cooler South Island regions having higher acidity and more pronounced aromatics. 

Together the Burgundian grapes make up over 15% of vineyard plantings with more Pinot Noir than Chardonnay; Pinot Noir is New Zealand's most planted red grape. Though both are produced in a range of styles, Chardonnay from Marlborough and other cool southern regions is typically light to medium bodied with fresh acidity, citrus and minerality while the Pinot Noir is fresh with red fruit flavors, subtle acidity and a more linear structure. Warmer regions like Gisborne and Hawke's Bay typically produce fuller bodied, richer, rounder Chardonnay and warmer Central Otago produces softer, fruit forward Pinot Noir with more herb and spice notes. 

Less than 4% of the the total wine production is dedicated to other red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. These grapes are grown primarily in the Hawke's Bay region though there are plantings scattered on both Islands. 

The tasting:
Sauvignon Blanc
  • 2014 Yealands Estate Single Vineyard (Marlborough)- more coastal area; tomato leaf, tropical fruit
  • 2014 Villa Maria "Taylor's Pass" (Marlborough)- further inland, more elevated vineyard; grapefruit, citrus, floral
  • 2014 Palliser Estate (Martinborough)- more vegetable character, more texture, green pepper, citrus
  • 2013 Jackson Estate "Stitch" (Marlborough)- "a stellar vintage for the Wairau Valley"; more elegant, balanced, more mineral driven, slight spice note in finish
  • 2012 Saint Clair Reserve (Marlborough)- more herbal with green pea & bell pepper notes over grapefruit
  • 2013 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- barrel aged; more savory with toasted notes
All were very refreshing and clean with high, food-friendly acidity.

  • 2011 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay (Auckland)- noticeable oak influence, still fresh, full body, lemon custard, caramel finish
Aromatic Wine
  • 2011 Mt Difficulty Pinot Gris (Central Otago)- round, pear, honeysuckle
  • 2013 Mondillo Riesling (Central Otago)- from gravelly soils, nectarine, slight petrol minerality, lime citrus finish, dry
  • 2013 Millton Te Arai Chenin Blanc (Gisborne)- roasted notes, wet wool, savory finish, smooth
  • 2013 Spy Valley Gewurztraminer (Malborough)- classic; rose, lychee, cold cream
Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Waihopai Single Vineyard (Marlborough)- fruity, candied cherry aromas; intense tart cherry, earthy, slight vegetable note in finish; moderate tannins, good acidity
  • 2011 Neudorf "Tom's Block" (Nelson)- tighter, structured, tea tannins, cherry, earth, leather
  • 2011 Felton Road Calvert (Central Otago)- more savory, earthy, mushrooms, forest floor, raspberry 
  • 2011 Escarpment (Martinborough)- licorice/anise nose; cherry, dried herb flavors
All were medium bodied with clean fruit flavors.

Full Bodied Reds-
2013 Mission Estate Syrah (Hawke's Bay)- raspberry, sage/eucalyptus, white pepper finish
2013 Craggy Range "Sophia" (Hawke's Bay)- Bordeaux blend of 62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot; black fruit aromas, slight graphite mineral note, green flavors 

After the class, attendees were treated to a hearty lunch before enjoying the optional walk around trade tasting. 
I was only there briefly so I'm sure I missed many more good options but a few noteworthy wines that I did taste were:
  • 2013 Loveblock Pinot Gris (Marlborough)- floral, fresh
  • 2013 Dog Point Vineyard Selection 94 Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- savory finish
  • 2012 The Fuder Single Vineyard Selection "Dillons Point" Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough)- richer, jalapeño note
  • 2014 Sacred Hill Orange Label Pinot Noir (Marlborough)- fresh, fruity, clean
  • 2013 Giesen Single Vineyard Selection Ridge Block Pinot Noir (Marlborough)- fresh, mineral, raspberry, tea
  • 2013 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah Hawke's Bay- red berry, earthy, savory finish
An informative class with an excellent selection of wines which showcased both New Zealand's continued success with Sauvignon Blanc while offering a glimpse into what appears to be a more varied future for the island country in regards to wine.


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