As i travel through the Southern hemisphere it has become apparent there is an all too familiar trend throughout the countries I visit. A familiar trend not in the wines themselves, far from it, but in wine regions being in some stage of either recovery or decline from over-production. In decline, it leads to a devaluing of bulk juice, generally leading to poor quality wine flooding the market and a devaluing of an entire region even an entire countries reputation which, depending on the longevity of the over production can take years, even decades to recover.
This could just be conceived as a classic example of the capitalist production model working towards it inevitable conclusion. Why should wine be any different? Perhaps it is this question that has brought me to bring this up now…New Zealands model HAS been different, at least it HAD been different, up until now.
Largely down to it’s (in wine terms) meteoric rise to fame, a very distinct and wide appeal of it’s Sauvignon Blanc and a marketing team that has excelled in it’s promotion, New Zealand had managed to sell it’s wine at the highest average price per bottle than any other country in the world. It is pretty much unheard of for a country not to produce a range of wines across the spectrum of price points yet NZ does not come close to producing a house wine.
However, after more and more vines have been planted on top of a bumper crop in 2008 suddenly there was a glut and it wasn’t long before there were victims. Over the last three years NZ has perhaps started to, some would say, “normalize”, others would say “devalue” it’s product and with another bumper crop this vintage, they have to face that dilemma all again.
There are quality producers out there determined to sell there wines at sustainable prices but so are there wineries / grape growers who have become desperate for cash and sold to make ends meet. These are all explainable and understandable motives but what it outlines most is that NZ now (rightly or wrongly) seems to be falling into line with the rest of the world and no longer will all wines from NZ come with a certain degree of quality. Individual producers will now have to promote their wine as individual brands and not the brand that is “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc”.
While New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc steals the mainstream lime light it is its other wines that are really starting to impress. The Bordeaux and Rhone style reds from Hawkes Bay and Wahkiki Island while in the premium price point offer a unique twist of fully developed fruit while retaining it’s cool climate acidity and European restraint, quite different to their Australian neighbors in flavor components and structure.
Let’s also not forget their Pinot Noir. While I do feel Martinborough Pinots are largely over rated (see a some what scathing report below), there are some good examples there and in both Central Otago and Marlborough I had some truly outstanding Pinots. Also I tasted great Rieslings from Waipara and Marlborough that have their unique twist on the grape. Yet to be convinced by the colloquially trendy Pinot Gris which in my opinion vastly sways in quality and style, making it impossible to judge as a whole but left me generally underwhelmed (oh I think i just did!) But like it’s Sauvignon Blanc and like the rest of the worlds wine, it is the specific, the particular, it is the producer rather than the region, it is the micro rather than the macro and that has never been more important in NZ than now.