Guide to New Zealand Wines
Though much smaller than its neighbor Australia, New Zealand is making a big impact on the world wine scene. This pristine country comprises two major islands, the North and South, both of which house major wine regions. With a combined length of 1,000 miles, the islands of New Zealand are home to almost 500 wineries.
The unique characteristics of New Zealand are many, starting with its geographic location and expanding into diverse terrains and a vast range of soil types. The climatic conditions in New Zealand are predominantly cool due to strong maritime influences. No point on either island is more than 70 miles from the ocean. Though susceptible to heavy rains, New Zealand viticulturists have found microclimates and soil areas that have a long, slow growing season and moderate rainfall. This produces fruit with more flavor, finesse and higher acidity.
While the first small vineyard was started in 1819 by an English missionary, it was New Zealand’s Dalmatian immigrants (Yugoslavians) who settled the North Island at the turn of the century who were the true wine pioneers. Their plantings provided the basis for the current wine industry, which continues to be owned and operated by the descendants of those immigrants.
The modern wine industry in New Zealand was late in developing compared to Australia and the United States. In 1960, the country had only 1,000 acres of vines, mostly planted around Auckland. By 1980, it had grown to 14,000 acres with the discovery of the Marlborough region on the South Island. Today New Zealand has almost 50,000 acres of vines planted on both islands combined.
New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc has set international benchmarks. Other varietals helping New Zealand wines pave the way in the wine world are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Initially the most widely planted grape was the German varietal Müller-Thurgau, as New Zealand’s climate was thought to closely resemble the Rhineland. In reality, New Zealand’s Northern Hemisphere equivalent runs from Bordeaux down to southern Spain, giving some regions the climatic conditions similar to the best winegrowing regions in Europe.
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