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Why New Zealand Wines Are Flourishing

By Charles Olken

My darling daughter, who has been content for years now to drink whatever Dad provides for her modest collection, recently informed me that she and family are now “favoring” lighter and brighter wines with higher acidities. Being the loving servant of her palate that I am, I have some put some of those wines in the next box of donations to her good and welfare, but I wondered what had happened to her previous love affair with buttery Chardonnays. It did not take long to get the answer, “We are cooking lighter meals these days so we want lighter wines that go with what we are eating”.

And there, in a nutshell, is the underlying truth to the continuing rise in the popularity of New Zealand wines—and especially of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The grape has long-produced more than its share of priceworthy wines in California, and with prices for the Kiwi versions running mostly along the same pricing track, and coming with the crisp, grapefruit and gooseberry fruit character that is typically lower in alcohol and higher in acid than our wines and their Aussie competitors, New Zealand is now occupying the sweet spot that so many winedrinkers have come to seek.

A few weeks back, I wrote a long piece about the Marlborough area of New Zealand from which hails the overwhelming majority of their Sauvignon Blancs hitting these shores. And I commented that Marlborough is not a monolithic place any more than Sonoma County or the Central Coast are. Yet, that basic truth aside, the structural style of wines from Marlborough do have a similarity whether or not they share the pungency for which they have become known.

But not all New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is from Marlborough, and one of the best, Craggy Range, is grown in the Martinborough region. And whether it is Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay or, increasingly, Pinot Gris, coming from New Zealand, it is the long, skinny, island construction of that nation that makes nearly all of its vineyards coastal in nature, and thus its wines less ripe and higher acid in character. And it matters not whether we are talking about Kumeu River Chardonnay grown up north near Auckland or Rod MacDonald’s wines from Hawke’s Bay, the Craggy Range wines from Marlborough or the Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, the hills of Marlborough or the reds of Hawke’s Bay, Waiheke Island and elsewhere.

New Zealand wine, even its Syrah, simply tends to be lighter in style than most of the world-wide competition at similar levels of intensity and focus. With a formula like that, admittedly dictated by its setting, it is no wonder that winedrinkers everywhere, including the daughter of a dedicated California wine enthusiast, are turning increasingly to New Zealand for their tipple.

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wine grapes in Alaska
by mike mosesian
Posted on:6/15/2017 10:54:42 AM

I am growing wine grapes in hot houses in Anchorage Alaska, and Sauv. Blanc produce a fruity light wine like you describe from New  Zeland.  I wil soon open the first wine grape winery here in Alaska,   MIKE

Sauvignon Blanc
by Augie Sievers
Posted on:6/15/2017 6:38:46 PM

Please try the La Playa Sauvignon Blanc from Curico Valley, Chile. More lime citrus than Graperfuit. I'm not a grapefruit fan.


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