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10 major areas produce wines in New Zealand

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A recent guest at Chef Mavro visiting from New Zealand suggested I write about the wine there, and since I love New Zealand wines, I decided to take the suggestion.

The history of New Zealand winemaking dates back to 1819 when missionaries planted vines in the Northland region. Waittangi, Northland, was home to the first known wine producer and oenologist, Briton James Busby. It was in the mid-1800s that the first vineyards were established by the Roman Catholic Church, but it took about a century for wine growing and production to gain ground.

The 1970s were growing years for New Zealand winemaking. It was in 1977 that a large vintage of sauvignon blanc was first noted; the year also brought a superior vintage for Muller Thurgau, Riesling and Pinotage. Shortly thereafter, cabernet sauvignon had a few successful vintages from Auckland and Hawkes Bay. This led to more vineyards planted, a rise in land and labor prices, and more local interest in New Zealand wines.

With a boom, a bust is usually close behind, and this was no exception. Overplanting and overproduction continued until 1984, when the Labour government paid growers to rip out vines to improve quality and reduce production. Most wine producers pulled lesser varietals such as Muller Thurgau and replaced them with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

Today there are 10 major wine-growing regions in New Zealand. Running north to south, they are Northland, Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa on the North Island; and Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury/Waipara Valley and Central Otago on the South Island.

White varietals are dominated by sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, with lesser amounts of Riesling, Gewuertztraminer, pinot gris and a few others. Reds are dominated by pinot noir and Bordeaux varietals cabernet sauvignon, cabernet Franc, merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, with lesser amounts of Temparnillo, Syrah and Sangiovese.

Marlborough, on the northern tip of the southern island, is the largest and best-known wine region. The area is famous for its fruit-driven sauvignon blancs with explosive bouquets and intensive flavors. Chardonnay, pinot noir and Riesling are also popular.

Hawkes Bay on the east coast of the northern island is the second-largest region, and chardonnay is the most planted varietal. The area grows numerous reds.

Also look for pinot noirs and chardonnays from one of my favorite regions, Central Otago. It’s the southernmost wine-growing region in the entire world and the highest in elevation in New Zealand.

Some wines to look for: Starborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from Marlborough, fresh and fruity with nice citrus notes, white flowers and gooseberry, is a steal for just over $10. Craggy Range Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay from Hawkes Bay 2007, with almond and peach, lemon zest and zippy acidity, is $16.

Looking for a pinot noir? Check out the Whitehaven Pinot Noir from Marlborough 2007, which shows ripe cherry and plum flavors, a hint of violets and soft tannins for $20. And for a bit of a splurge, seek out Felton Road Pinot Noir from Central Otago 2008 with ripe raspberries, a bit of toastiness, earth and rose petals for just over $40.

Todd Ashline is the sommelier/restaurant director at Chef Mavro. Contact him at 944-4714 or visit

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