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New Zealand Wine Buying Guide

Wairau Valley with Richmond Range Hills in the background, Marlborough
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Map showing the regions of New Zealand's wine producers

If there’s one word which sums up New Zealand wine, it’s quality. Although it’s a relatively small wine-producing country it’s highly popular in the UK, with over 40% of all exports sent to our shores. And it seems that the superior quality of the wine being produced by the New Zealand winegrowers is a perfect match for Waitrose customers’ palates, judging by our sales.

International grape varieties are planted, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and its flagship variety – Sauvignon Blanc. There are smaller amounts of Syrah and Gewürztraminer, while the delicate, aromatic fruit flavours of Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Gris could be New Zealand’s next big success story.

Typically, the grape varieties are made into wines known as ‘straight varietals’, where a single grape variety is used. The main exception is a ‘Bordeaux blend’ of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are also instances where grapes of the same variety are sourced from more than one region. New Zealand’s wines range from well-known brands through to single vineyard wines, not forgetting those with cult status such as Cloudy Bay.

New Zealand has embraced the widespread use of screwcap closures, believing that it captures the freshness of their aromatic, fresh and fruity styles and ensuring they can be enjoyed in perfect condition. Their wines are generally made for early drinking rather than ageing. New Zealand is a long distance away, but the style of their wine is very accessible. Enjoy!

Nobilo

Nobilo is New Zealand’s second largest wine producer and now a division of Constellation Wines, a global wine company. It all started back in the 1940s when Nikola Nobilo and his Croatian family landed in New Zealand. The Nobilo family was no stranger to wine however, with a European winemaking background going back over 300 years. Today they have a winery and headquarters in Auckland and a winery in Marlborough, close to seven of their ten vineyards. As a testament to their stature, the Nobilo Wine Group won the Trophy for the ‘New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year’ at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2003. Nobilo’s Five Fathoms Sauvignon Blanc is a newcomer to the Waitrose range.

Stoneleigh

Stoneleigh is a relatively recent addition to the New Zealand wine map and their range of wines celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Based in Blenheim, close to their Marlborough vineyards, their wines are known for their intense fruit flavours and approachable styles, sealed of course with a screwcap. The Stoneleigh name is derived from the site of the vineyard in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley. The vineyard is a dried-up riverbed and is covered in a layer of stones. These are instrumental in reflecting heat up onto the vines, enhancing the ripening process and creating an ideal growing environment within the soil. We’re pleased to list their Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Rosé.

Wither Hills

Wither Hills is a father and son partnership, combining 300 hectares of vineyards owned by experienced viticulturist John Marris with the expertise of his son Brent, the region’s first qualified winemaker. John planted some of the first contract-grown grapes in Marlborough in 1978 and the pair joined forces in 1999. The vineyards are located in the prime Wairau Valley area, bordered by the landmark range of hills to the South, the Wither Hills. They are committed to creating wines that reflect the Marlborough region, and therefore grow Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The focus is on growing the highest quality fruit, hence their slogan ‘Created in the Vineyard’.

Jackson Estate

The Jackson Family arrived in New Zealand in 1842 from Runnymede in Berkshire. Successive generations cultivated over 600 hectares of land around Jacksons Road and neighbouring vineyards now include Cloudy Bay. Their vines have been planted longer than most, around 30 years, which puts Jackson Estate at an advantage. Older vines tend to yield less but make better quality wines. And the long sunny days followed by cool nights preserves acidity and provides flavour intensity. In stark contrast to the technology and the gleaming stainless steel of the winery, the heritage is not forgotten. The family home is appropriately called Runnymede and the 140-feet high gum tree depicted on the label was planted in 1867 by Alice Jackson, great grandmother of the founders of Jackson Estate, John and Jo Stichbury. Try their delicious Stich Sauvignon Blanc for a real treat.

Villa Maria

Villa Maria is New Zealand’s largest privately-owned winery and its most awarded producer. It was founded by George Fistonich in 1961 and they have vineyards in Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Auckland and buys in grapes from over 90 dedicated contract growers too, providing a complete advisory service to help them achieve Villa Maria’s distinct varietal styles and high standards. They own four wineries and these are overseen by Alastair Maling who has the rare distinction of being a Master of Wine, one of only 251 in the world. Waitrose sells six of Villa Maria’s ‘Private Bin’ wines, including Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris; the latter variety is widely being tipped to be the ‘next big thing’ from New Zealand. All of them are made in a ‘fruit driven’ style, with fruit flavours typical of each grape variety.

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The best possible taste

New Zealand winegrowers place great emphasis on fruit flavours, ensuring that the wines reflect the grape variety.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc will generally have a powerful aroma of gooseberries and freshly-cut grass, with citrus fruit flavours and a refreshing acidity to make it a perfect apéritif or an accompaniment to fish. A flinty, minerally finish rounds it off. New Zealand Chardonnay is typically crisper and less oaked than those from Australia. The crisp, flinty style is more akin to Chablis, but with New World flavours of ripe melon and nectarine, and a gentle, buttery oak character. Riesling from New Zealand is a superb wine to enjoy with spicy food, particularly Chinese or Thai dishes. It will usually be dry in style, with floral aromas and flavours of grapefruit and lime.

Pinot Noir from New Zealand contrasts with its Burgundian counterparts. The fruit is often a little riper and the early-drinking style means that rich, ripe, red berry fruit flavours dominate, with less of the vegetal character found in Burgundy. The regular sunshine of Hawkes Bay provides its Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with consistency from year to year. The resulting fruit is ripe, with up-front New World flavours but with Old World structure – the perfect combination for beef or lamb.

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Selected New Zealand Wine


Oyster Bay Merlot, Hawkes Bay

Oyster Bay Merlot, Hawkes Bay

A superb example of this variety, with bags of juicy fruit and the jammy flavours associated with Merlot. Enjoy with roasts.


Craggy Range Syrah, Block 14, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

Craggy Range Syrah, Block 14, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay

This is a handcrafted, classy Syrah with elegant raspberry fruit and voluptuous spicy oak and white pepper flavours. The wine is unfined and unfiltered to keep as much of the fruit characters as possible.


Montana Reserve Pinot Noir, Marlborough

Montana Reserve Pinot Noir, Marlborough

Smooth, fresh strawberry fruit flavours and a delicate, oaky finish will appeal to lovers of red Burgundy. Perfect with pork or poultry.


Montana Lindauer Special Reserve Brut Sparkling Wine

Montana Lindauer Special Reserve Brut Sparkling Wine

Ripe fresh fruit with flavours of wild strawberries with a hint of pink from the black-skinned Pinot Noir giving it a 'blush' appearance.


Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

A crisp and aromatic wine with zesty citrus fruit and a flinty finish. Made by Brent Marris in a distinctively Marlborough style.


Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay / Viognier 2006 East Coast, New Zealand

Villa Maria Private Bin Chardonnay / Viognier 2006 East Coast, New Zealand

Villa Maria has produced an exciting new blend by adding apricoty Viognier to this classy Chardonnay. It’s a deliciously fruity wine with a lovely roundness and intriguing aromas of blossom and peach. Enjoy with chicken or pork dishes.


Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough

This dry white displays intense passion fruit flavours with crisp, flinty finish. It’s one to enjoy before a meal or with white fish.


Oyster Bay Merlot, Hawkes Bay

Oyster Bay Merlot, Hawkes Bay

The smoky, flinty overlay balances well with the delicate nectarine and melon fruit and gentle buttery oak character. Try with chicken.