S.Samuel Marsden, the son of a Yorkshire-born farmer, priest and missionary, must have been a pretty good man. He arrived in New South Wales in 1794 as a young assistant pastor in the only newly established colony, but used his knowledge of sheep farming to help build the Australian wool industry.
A few years later, he moved to New Zealand for more missionary work and, in September 1819, assessed suitable land and climate, planting the country’s first vines in the Bay of Islands on the North Island.
However, it will take more than 150 years before New Zealand wine will begin to make a serious impact again in the home country of Marsden – or wherever – and it was not until the late eighties before Kiwi sauvignon blanc – dramatic tropical fruits and gooseberries dominate the rediscovery of white wine behind some of the most refined and elegant white whites – really taking off in England.
Originating mainly from the Marlborough region at the top of the South Island, it became a vine and a chain of pubs and wine choices, alongside the chardonnay, for what might be described as the Bridget Jones generation. Now New Zealand accounts for almost 50 percent of all sauvignon blanc sales in the UK – which is the second largest market for all New Zealand wines after the US – and has a large presence on supermarket shelves and outside licenses.
Some of them, maybe too much, can be average and lack individual identity, but some represent good value, many more excellent wines and some, such as market leaders Cloudy Bay and Greywacke, can be sublime.
But even though it is a wine that dominates in New Zealand, sauvignon blanc is clearly not the only Kiwi white grape and other European varieties that emerge from under the broad shadows of SB, aided by various climates and soils, with a refreshing and refreshing sea influence on everywhere. So, since New Zealand, at the time of writing, is reportedly almost Covid-19 free without any hospital case, let’s mark the moment with some Kiwi wine from all the right wines for early summer drinking.
Chardonnay from New Zealand tends to be a little more elegant than his Australian counterparts, with more controlled use of oak. The Elephant Hill Chardonnay 2016 (£ 19.95 hic-winemerchants.com) from the Hawkes Bay area on the North Island made using naturally formed yeast and aged in oaks for 11 months, but maintaining a clean freshness that allows the taste of apples and hazelnuts to shine. Wine for special food – especially grilled chicken or main fish.
British-born Briton Kevin Judd, the first person behind Cloudy Bay – who helped set the standard for good sauvignon – and then the sparkling Greywacke Sauvignon, also made the chardonnay a very good special event, such as Greywacke Chardonnay 2015 (£ 29.95 ndjohn.co.uk; £ 33 specialistcellars.co.uk) also from the Marlborough area, which has a very complex stone fruit flavor, some biscuits, almost smoky, savory notes, and clean finishes. Pretty much in his own class.
Chardonnay is well established in New Zealand, but there are other wines, usually more commonly found in central European wine making that also deserve our attention and here are examples of four: Villa Maria is a name known on supermarket shelves because of sauvignon blanc which is very good, but to see what they can do, try it Villa Maria Private Bin Reisling 2018 (£ 10.49 waitrose.com; £ 10.99 or £ 9.49 if purchased as part of a purchase of six mixed bottles, majestic.co.uk) for the explosion of distinctive gasoline scents and lime and elderflower flavors. Brilliant with mussels or Asian food. Also great with Asian flavors is the likes or dislikes of gewurztraminer wines and from the Nelson region, close to Marlborough, award-winning came Waimea Estate Gewurztraminer 2016-17 (£ 15.99 or £ 9.99 if purchased as part of a purchase of six mixed bottles, majestic.co.uk) packed full of intense floral aromas and flavors of oranges, quince and lychees flavored on rather pale ceilings; one for summer evenings in the garden and Five Spices Chinese pork belly on the table.
Also from Nelson came another wine from a family of wine growers from Austria and has therefore grown the country’s favorite wine: smoky, white pepper, and affected orange Seifried Estate Gruner Veltliner 2016 (£ 14.99 flagshipwines.co.uk; £ 12.99, minimum order of six bottles; simplywinesdirect.uk) I would take the full Austrian route and drink it with Wiener schnitzel or smoked herring or ell with potato salad.
Our fourth central European wine is pinot gris – also known as the lighter pinot grigio in Italy, but in Austria and Alsace the “gris” style – richer, textured, full of dominating tropical fruits. Likewise in Central Otago, the southernmost wine producing region in the world and better known for its brilliant pinot noir – but for other columns.
Here, if you bake freshwater fish or sea bass or even roast chicken, try it Te Canoe Pinot Gris Central Otago 2017 (£ 19.95 davywine.co.uk). It’s rich, just about the right side is dry and very complex and fills the mouth, with tangerine and ginger tones.
So, finally – how can we avoid it? – to sauvignon blanc. I have recommended many Kiwi sauvignon blanc in the past, the latest in this regard column but here are examples of benchmarks of two main styles: the Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2019 (£ 10.65 yorkwines.co.uk; £ 13.99 or £ 9.99 if purchased as part of the purchase of six mixed bottles; nzhouseofwine.co.uk) is a classic Marlborough – very balanced between zippy, gooseberry, grassy acidity and bouncy tropical fruits.
But organic Greystone Sauvignon Blanc Fermented Barrel 2018 (£ 16.15 frontierfinewines.co.uk £ 16.95 slurp.co.uk) from the Canterbury area on the South Island, is a different animal: made with natural and old-age yeast on an oak tree, has held back tropical passion and mouth taste which is richer, fuller, more textured and complex, but still dry and refreshing. These last two wines are ideal with asparagus this season, which lasts for several weeks. And anyone of them can get drunk in celebrating the battle against Covid-19 and the pioneering spirit of Pastor Marsden …
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