Photo courtesy of New Zealand Tourism - taken by Chris McLennan
While 58 percent of all wine produced in New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc (and 85 percent of Marlborough’s output is Sauvignon Blanc) and it’s been the country’s flagship variety since the ‘90s, many varieties of wine are produced all over New Zealand – from its northern tip (Northland) to its southern reaches (Central Otago – the world’s southern-most wine region). The other predominant white wine you don’t hear much about is Chardonnay, and yet during the ‘90s and early 2000s, plantings of this variety exceeded those of every grape. Not to mention, they’ve been making Riesling in New Zealand since the first Europeans arrived.
Last year, 25 percent of the 3.4 million international visitors to New Zealand spent at least part of their stay in a wine region (up from 13 percent four years prior). Tourism experts believe this is partly because the country is so small that international tourists can cover numerous wine regions during their stay. In fact, all 10 of the country’s wine regions are easy to reach from major city centres, have many accommodation options – from budget to high-end – and offer some of the country’s most-awarded restaurants.
People told innovative winemaker Alan Brady the region just outside Queenstown (Central Otago) was too cold for Pinot Noir. A few years later, he produced the greatest Pinot Noir on Earth – his 2000 Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir was the first ever non-French wine to win the illustrious Gold Medal Trophy for Pinot Noir/ Burgundy at the London International Wine Challenge. Now, Central Otago is considered one of the world’s top three Pinot Noir producing areas – 75 percent of all wine grown here is Pinot Noir; no other region in New Zealand has devoted such a large share of its wine production to a single grape variety. You won’t find a bottle for less than $40 NZD ($25 USD).
You probably haven’t heard about the country’s heavier reds because all the talk is about Sauvignon Blancs or Pinot Noirs. But there’s a region in New Zealand famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah that’s the country’s oldest wine growing region with vines dating back to the 1800s. Hawke’s Bay on New Zealand’s North Island produces 82 percent of all Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in New Zealand – in a region which shares a similar climate to the Mediterranean. And because it’s warmer here, you should rent a bicycle and ride the more than 120 miles of cycling trails linking the wineries, all set beside the region’s main town, Napier, which is UNESCO-World-Heritage listed for its 140 Art Deco buildings built during the 1930s.
While undulating landscapes peppered with snow-capped mountains and winding rivers is how you might picture New Zealand’s wine regions, one of New Zealand’s most famous brands is just five minutes away from where you’ll land at Auckland’s International Airport. Villa Maria Estate is New Zealand’s most awarded winery, so you can enjoy a gourmet lunch on a sun-drenched terrace overlooking its famous grapes as soon as you get off your flight. Auckland has plenty of wine touring options available – though its most unique (and picturesque) wine region can be accessed by a 40-minute ferry ride through its city harbour to Waiheke Island.
The Central Otago wine region is in the heart of the adventure capital of the world. The Queenstown region was where jet boating and bungy jumping was invented. When at the region’s top-rated winery, Gibbston Valley Wines, simply cross the road to take a 141-foot jump off the Kawarau Bridge – the site of the world’s first bungy jump. The rivers which run beneath the wineries, built high atop the region’s mountainous landscape, can be traversed by high-speed jet boat, and there are three ski resorts all within a 45-minute drive. Tandem paragliding was also invented here, and there’s sky diving, mountain biking, hang gliding and more.
The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail is one of the world’s most iconic self-drive wine journeys. It covers over 300 miles, takes in three of the country’s best-known wine regions, and requires you drive your car onto a ferry that will take you across the strait separating the North and South Islands. Starting in Hawke’s Bay, you’ll drive south to the Wairarapa region famed for its Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, before stopping off in New Zealand’s capital, Wellington – home of New Zealand’s best restaurants, bars, theatres and cafes. Then you’ll finish off amongst the world’s most awarded Sauvignon Blanc wineries in Marlborough.
Okay, so we all know New Zealand was the setting for The Lord of The Rings trilogy and The Hobbit. But did you know some scenes were filmed right in the middle of New Zealand’s wine regions? This means you can quaff as you look out on Middle Earth. Head to the Wairarapa region, an hour’s drive north of Wellington, to drink amongst the Putangirua Pinnacles, where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli sought the Paths of The Dead. Sample Nelson’s Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay amongst the site of Chetwood Forest, visit CharRees Vineyard in Ashburton to see the set for Edorasm – the main city of the Roham people – and enjoy a unique view of Anduuin and Argonath at Chard Farm Winery in Central Otago.
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