New Zealand Wine Guide
New Zealand is an exotic, isolated place with rich wildlife, beautiful landscapes, and warm, inviting people.
While a relatively new country with a small population, it punches above its weight in its impact on international culture -- especially in the world of wine.
Despite its brief time in the vinicultural spotlight, New Zealand consistently produces some of the world’s most sought-after and revered New World wines. From Pinot Noir to Sauvignon Blanc, it runs the gamut of any wine lover’s bucket list and does it in a tasteful style.
For an in-depth breakdown of the history, regions, and celebrated varietals and blends of this Oceania country, read on for our Wine Insiders Guide to New Zealand Wine:
The History of Wine in New Zealand
While New Zealand didn’t shine on the international wine scene until recent decades, the country’s vinicultural history stretches back more than 170 years.
To give you a sense of its rise to prominence, let’s break down the genesis, development, and impact of wine in this New World country:
The birth of New Zealand viniculture stretches back to 1819 when the now-country was a small, Anglican colony.
But by 1840, when Britain took complete control of the island, early missionaries and colonists succeeded in establishing a vibrant local wine culture.
Inspired by James Busby, the first British resident of New Zealand and its inaugural winemaker, local citizens of all classes and backgrounds enjoyed wine derived from indigenous grapes.
This era ignited the flame of the Kiwi wine industry, laying the foundation for what would eventually become a premier wine-producing region.
20th Century Transformations
Following moderate growth in the early part of the 20th century, New Zealand’s wine industry experienced its first significant boom during WWII.
As the national government instituted tariffs on imported wines and passed legislation promoting the production and sale of domestic wines, domestic buyers began to take notice.
International funding poured in throughout the 1970s, and the quality and quantity of Kiwi wine increased rapidly. These investments brought security and increased inventiveness to New Zealand’s viniculture.
By the end of the 20th century, New Zealand wineries took full advantage of further governmental actions supporting the expansion of Kiwi wine sales to international markets.
Despite eventual competition with wine-behemoth Australia for control of the Oceania market, it was this century that pushed the small country’s burgeoning wine industry into a global force.
Reaching for the Stars
New Zealand began its ascent from a domestically-driven wine country to an internationally profitable New World superstar at the turn of the century.
As mentioned earlier, a primary driving force in the country’s global wine expansion was increased competition with Australia, one of the world’s top 10 wine-producing countries, for control of the local market.
New Zealand winemakers knew they were unlikely to surpass their Oceania competitors’ export and profit levels and sought global buyers for support.
This desire spurred domestic winemakers once again to increase the quantity and quality of their vino production -- to great success.
In the last 20+ years, the Kiwi wine industry increased dramatically:
The value of New Zealand wine exports increased from sub $20 million annually to $700 million, and the total count of national wineries increased by over 500%.
With financial success inspiring higher quality wines, and higher quality wines inspiring rave reviews globally, it’s no surprise New Zealand is now a top 15 wine-producing country globally.
New Zealand Wine Regions
Now that you have a better grasp of Kiwi wine history let’s explore some of the beautiful regions that produce New Zealand’s most cherished wines:
On the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island lies Hawke’s Bay, one of the country’s most historic and prolific wine-producing regions.
With a warm, dry climate influenced by the cooling effects of the eponymous Hawke’s Bay, the area’s weather acts as a middle ground between the warmer humidity of the Gisborne region in the North and the cooler temperatures of the Marlborough region to the South.
With young and diverse volcanic soils influenced by the region’s rivers and topography, Hawke’s Bay yields a wide range of high-quality wines.
Winery to Visit
Duck Point Winery perfectly exemplifies the region’s wine culture with its excellent selection of whites, reds, and even Rosé serving as delicious, affordable tastes of this East Coast growing area.
The Marlborough growing region is New Zealand’s most prolific and profitable, accounting for over 75% of the country’s wine.
The area features a cooler maritime climate with mild rainfall and prominent breezes gently influencing its warm days and cool nights. Most of its vineyards are at or slightly above sea level, further creating ideal growing conditions.
As a large and diversion region, Marlborough offers a wide range of soils, including alluvial, stony, loam, and gravel-based varieties. This range provides the region’s 500+ wine producers with a great deal of growing variety over 25,000+ hectares of available land.
Winery to Visit
Goldridge Reserve’s Marlborough winery produces high-quality, affordable wines offering the best aromas, tastes, and drinking experiences its home region has to offer.
Gisborne is a smaller yet noteworthy wine-producing region also found on the East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island.
The area benefits from ample sunshine and sea breezes that lengthen its growing season and add noted character and acidity to its growing grapes. Moderate yearly rainfall also works to increase the concentration of flavors in Gisborne’s wines.
Like other Kiwi wine regions, winegrowers here benefit from diverse soils made primarily of sand, clay or loam spread across rich, diverse topography. Vineyards in Gisborne also typically reside on slopes or flatter areas near the region’s rivers, further diversifying its viniculture.
Winery to Visit
Goldridge Reserve’s Gisborne winery produces first-rate varietals and blends that perfectly exemplify the character and flavor of the growing region.
New Zealand Wines
With your knowledge of New Zealand's growing regions in tow, let’s analyze some of the country’s most celebrated wines:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is an international treasure beloved the world over.
This dry, medium-bodied white offers fruit flavors of grapefruit, lime, passionfruit, and guava, herbaceous, spicy notes of bell pepper and jalapeño, and a stirring kick of bright acidity.
Make sure to savor the aroma of this country’s Sauvignon Blanc as well, as it offers fruitier aromatics than its French siblings.
While Pinot Noir may not dominate New Zealand’s growing scene like Sauvignon Blanc, it offers a first-rate wine-drinking experience for all.
This ruby-red wine offers a wonderful medley of red fruit flavors like cranberry, raspberry, and red cherry, comparatively high acidity, silky tannins, and a medium body.
Beyond its fruity goodness, you’ll also find earthy overtones and hints of sweet vanilla in its diverse flavor profile.
Last but not least, New Zealand Syrah is a red that overflows with personality and delightful flavor.
Featuring a full body, prominent tannins, and a healthy dose of acidity (for a red), this wine offers a unique drinking experience.
Take time to enjoy its dark, fruity flavors of blueberry, black plum, and blackberry, sweet notes of chocolate and licorice, gentle herbaceous hints, and aroma marked by subtle spice.
Wine Insiders: Your Home for New Zealand Wines
With your newfound knowledge of Kiwi wine in hand, it’s time to explore Wine Insider’s first-class collection of New Zealand wines:
Whether you’re looking for a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, a Pinot Gris from Gisborne, or a Pinot Noir from beautiful Hawkes Bay, we have the diverse bottles you need for an ultimate taste of New Zealand.
For more information about wine regions, varietals, and more - check out our full library of Wine 101 Guides!