For the average person, New Zealand probably means little more than lush green mountainous landscapes, sheep and Hobbits. For the savvy wine drinker, however, New Zealand means world-class Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays, fantastic Merlots and Pinot Noirs. Situated in the South Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles from Australia, New Zealand has the best of all of the viticultural worlds: a cool maritime climate, plenty of rain and some of the longest sunshine hours in the world. Though the first vines were planted there as early as 1819, it wasn't until the late 20th century that New Zealanders realized how suitable their climate was for great winemaking.
In 1985 New Zealand burst onto the international wine scene with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has now achieved cult status. (If you see it, you'd better grab it while you can!) Now, even in Jackson, the market offers a wide variety of wines from this soon-to-be-legendary wine region. The really great thing about these wines, aside from the fact that they are interesting and delicious, is that they are almost all bargain priced. (The elusive Cloudy Bay is one exception.)
A few good ones to try are:
Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc – Named for a "spy" satellite communications-monitoring base situated in the mountains above this winery; offers rich, sweet tropical and citrus fruit flavors, subtle herbal notes and great acidity. (Under $10)
Spy Valley Pinot Noir – Displays rich, ripe black fruit and toasty oak; reminiscent of California-style Pinot. (Around $15)
Linden Estate – The addition of 15-percent Malbec adds deeper color and spicy notes, which blend beautifully with the pronounced plum flavors. This wine is quite dry for a Merlot and offers a good bit of tannin on the finish. (Under $10)
Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc – Shows crisp acidity, tropical and melon fruit flavors, along with that ever-present New Zealand herbaceous character.(Under $10)
Villa Maria Chardonnay – Offers tell-tale apple and pear flavors found in most Chardonnays, along with distinctive herbal and citrus notes, finishing in a crisp style due to very little time in oak.(Under $10)
Next time you're at your favorite local retailer or restaurant, don't go for the same old thing. Branch out with one of these little gems. The crisp, dry whites pair beautifully with shellfish and Asian cuisine—the spicier the better! The rich, smoky reds demand grilled or smoked meats and vegetables.
This is no flash in the pan. New Zealand wines have taken their place in the world of wine and show no signs of letting up. Sounds good to me.
Jackson sommelier Lesley McHardy is the JFP's new wine columnist.