Classic Kiwis

An international wine magazine is planning a tasting that will feature the best Chardonnays outside France’s Burgundy region. They plan to find out whether any New World wines can compete, and give the same fine wine experience as a top Burgundy. I was asked to submit the names of ten Kiwi wines that might give the French a run for their money.

It wasn’t so long ago that Kiwi winemakers tried very hard to make their wines taste exactly like the French equivalent. Some even called their Chardonnay “Burgundy”, their sweet wines “Sauternes” and sparkling wines “Champagne”. The French were not flattered by the misuse of their wine terms. Wine exports of offending labels to EU countries were banned. French regional names quickly disappeared from local labels.

New Zealand wines came of age when they stopped trying to imitate France’s benchmark styles and focused more on developing their own uniquely New Zealand character. To succeed in the international marketplace our wine must not only be very good, it must also be different. If our Chardonnay tastes pretty much the same as Australian, Chilean and Spanish Chardonnay, for example, the consumer will simply buy whatever is cheapest.

Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is our most classically Kiwi wine. It has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its founding producer, Montana Wines (tastings) (now ironically owned by the French giant, Pernod Ricard). Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is an internationally demanded brand because it is very good as well as being distinctly different to Sauvignon Blanc made by other countries, and even other New Zealand wine regions. I recall a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc producer promoting his wine by describing it as “New Zealand-style Sauvignon Blanc”.

Central Otago Pinot Noir also has a strong Kiwi accent as does Syrah from Hawke’s Bay and blends of red Bordeaux grape varieties from Waiheke Island. If Gisborne Gewurztraminer and Central Otago Riesling could speak they’d also have shortened vowels.

As a matter of interest my Chardonnay selection was as follows:

  1. Bell Hill Chardonnay (tastings)
  2. Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay (tastings)
  3. Felton Road Block 2 Chardonnay (tastings)
  4. Giesen Fuder Single Vineyard Chardonnay (tastings)
  5. Fromm Clayvin Chardonnay (tastings)
  6. Villa Maria Single Vineyard Keltern Chardonnay (tastings)
  7. Kumeu River Mate’s Chardonnay (tastings)
  8. Martinborough Vineyards Chardonnay (tastings)
  9. Dog Point Chardonnay (tastings)
  10. Forrest John Forrest Collection Chardonnay (tastings)

If these wines don’t beat the French they will at least give them a fairly severe bruising.

Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2013 – $34

This iconic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc amplifies the intense, punchy fruitiness of a style that is as well known in Bangkok as it is in Barcelona. – view on

Pisa Range Black Poplar Block Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2012 – $56

One sip of this deliciously fruity wine and I can see snow-capped peaks and limpid mountain streams. It defines Central Otago Pinot Noir. – view on

First published in KiaOra Magazine – Aug 2014.

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