• The Curious Traveler

New Zealand Is for Wine Lovers: Wine Regions and Varieties of the South Island

There are plenty of reasons to visit New Zealand—the soaring mountains, sandy beaches, beautiful fjords, and unique wildlife all immediately spring to mind. But these days there’s another big reason to add to that list. Over the past two decades, New Zealand has rocketed up the list of great countries for wine lovers to visit.

What makes New Zealand wine unique, what are the most popular wine varieties, and which regions are best known for wine production? We’ll answer all those questions and more in this post. Even if you can’t tell a Chardonnay from a Shiraz quite yet, you may just find your appreciation for New Zealand vintners growing after a New Zealand hiking tour.

Aerial view of misty New Zealand landscape

Why New Zealand wine is unique

When you see its ample representation on the shop shelves, you might be surprised to learn that New Zealand produces only 1% of the world’s wine. For small island nation with a population of only a little over five million, New Zealand is no stranger to making a big impression.

The success of their wines is largely thanks to some highly favorable climate conditions. A combination of warm days and cool nights is crucial for helping grapes reach peak ripeness and intensity. On an island like New Zealand you’re never far from the ocean, and cooling maritime breezes also help regulate temperatures to attain a perfect balance. Highly fertile, free-draining soil means that grapes are hardy and optimally watered.

Of course, New Zealand packs a stunning amount of geographic variety along its length, and that diversity is reflected in its wine. The nuances of terroir are unique to specific regions—more on that in a bit.

A bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc with glass beside

Wine styles of New Zealand

Sauvignon Blanc is probably New Zealand’s most famous export, and the variety that put the country on the sommelier’s map. Unlike other wine regions like Italy that have been producing for centuries, New Zealand only began commercial production around the 1970s. Sauvignon Blanc was such a runaway success that it now accounts for around three quarters of the country’s total wine production.

Today, New Zealand Sauvignon blancs rank among the best white wines in the world. You’ll often see words like “bright,” “tangy,” and “zesty” used to describe them, reflective of the high acidity encouraged by the balanced climate. Though Sauvignon Blanc leads the charge, other varieties such as Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are also popular. The latter tends to be more full-bodied, while the two former types are lighter in character.

For those who prefer red, Pinot Noir is a popular New Zealand wine variety. This fickle grape is difficult to raise but rewards the winemaker’s craft with a subtle yet complex flavor. Syrah (AKA Shiraz) is also produced here and appeals to those looking for a bit more body in their wine.

Closeup of grapes in a vineyard

New Zealand wine regions

The majority of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is grown along the east coast in the Marlborough region, which lies in the cooler, more temperate South Island. A Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc benefits from being in the rain shadow created by mountains to the west, allowing the grapes to enjoy a drier environment. Kim Crawford wine is produced in Marlborough, for instance, and has introduced many American wine enthusiasts to the joys of New Zealand vintages.

That’s one reason our New Zealand: Alpine and Coastal Hiking Tour stops in Blenheim. This Marlborough-area town make the perfect stopping point to visit a winery—and believe us when we say the scenery around Pelorus Sound you’ll take in earlier that same day will absolutely prime your senses for a tasting experience. We’ve selected nearby Allan Scott Winery for our visit, where we have lunch at the Bistro. Allan Scott was one of the first independent wine makers in the region, and you’ll have an opportunity to sample their internationally renowned wines along with perfectly paired dishes.

Later on the same trip, you’ll have a chance to compare Marlborough wines with varieties from Central Otago. The slightly cooler climate here makes it an ideal place to try a New Zealand Pinot Noir. Here, it’s the picturesque shores of Lake Wānaka that will prepare your palate for more sensory delights.

The North Island has a warmer subtropical climate that changes the picture again slightly, but there’s no doubt it also produces some stellar vintages. If you’re partial to a Syrah and Chardonnay, for instance, you’d do well to sample a bottle or two from the Hawke’s Bay wine region.

Long row of wine barrels

Food Pairings

 The bright, fresh character of New Zealand white wines means they pair especially well with seafood. They also partner nicely with tangy foods like citrus, garlic, and tomato, and bring out the best in spring veggies. A fresh salad with goat cheese is a match made in heaven. For those who enjoy a little heat with their meal, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc contrasts beautifully with Thai food.

Pinot Noir also complements a meal of chicken or fish, but its more complex qualities mean the flavor comes through against a wide range of dishes. If you’re ordering a bottle for the table, that means everyone can safely order what they like without worrying about a bad pairing.

Throughout our Alpine and Coastal Hiking adventure, our guide Nicky Snoyink can introduce Boundless Journeys guests to a wide range of fine NZ wines that perfectly complement the fresh cuisine each day.

Aerial view of bright turquoise waters and sandy beach

Wine is just one reason to visit NZ

 We’ve waxed eloquent about New Zealand wine for a while now, but it’s just one reflection of this remarkable island’s unique, colorful character. Whether you’re a trained sommelier or just looking for something refreshing after climbing the craggy peaks of Arthur’s Pass, we’re confident you’ll come away from your journey relaxed and grateful.

Learn more about the New Zealand: Alpine and Coastal Hiking Tour here.

If you’ve enjoyed reading and are inspired to join us or have questions about the adventures featured in this post, please give us a call at 1-800-941-8010 or send us an email at info@boundlessjourneys.com.


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