How Great We Are

There are people who would burst into song with a lead in like that but the question really is: does New Zealand have a wine region that can genuinely be regarded as "great" in world wine terms?

"How Great We Are"
There are people who would burst into song with a lead in like that but the question really is: does New Zealand have a wine region that can genuinely be regarded as "great" in world wine terms?
When you think of some of the world's greatest wine regions or areas, you immediately have to include places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rheingau or Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rioja, Jerez or the Douro Valley with its famous Ports.  When you look closer at many of these famous sites, you realise that with the exception of Alsace, the Napa Valley or the Australian regions, most of these "great wine areas" specialise in just a few wines.  Legislation may have demanded this, but certainly in most of Europe particular varieties or styles have been fine-tuned to the exclusion of most others.
Bordeaux is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot predominant reds.  Burgundy is only Pinot Noir or Chardonnay (let's leave out the Gamay wines).  The German regions are Riesling, Riesling and more Riesling.  Rioja produces sturdy Tempranillo or Grenache-dominated reds.  Jerez has its famous Sherries and Portugal has its Ports.
New Zealand hasn't really decided where it's going, other than Marlborough for its Sauvignon Blancs and Hawke's Bay for its Bordeaux style reds.  If you had to pick our eading candidate for inclusion in the world's Hall of Fame, Marlborough is top of the list;in fact it probably is included in most "experts'"great wine regions.  Marlborough is much more than just great Sauvignon Blanc and also produces superb Pinot Noirs, brilliant sweet wines, very classy Chardonnays and is knocking on the door with Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  It will be interesting to see what develops in Marlborough over the next 20 years.
Hawke's Bay produces world class merlots, terrific Chardonnay and looks to be set with Syrah for the future.  A top class wine region, can it be classed as great?
Gisborne is more of a problem child than others,as it rates itself with Chardonnay; in reality, just how many times in a decade does it actually turn up and perform?  We hear more swear words from winemakers aimed at Gisborne than at any other NZ wine region.  Mother nature can be very unkind in Gisborne.
Martinborough has reasonable claims, particularly in quality stakes.  Pinot Noir can be superb, Chardonnay is often stunning, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling can certainly impress, but if you took the brilliant winemaking talent in Martinborough away, would we still have wines of the calibre we get now?   It's a pretty "complete" wine region and it does have a truly "great" wine and food festival.
Nelson has a lot of positives, and it certainly gets many plaudits from visitors, but is the reputation based on the efforts of two or three classy wineries which seem to be giant steps above the rest?
Canterbury/Waipara has a world-wide reputation for Pinot Noir ,and now and then with Riesling, but a region looking for full international recognition needs more consistency at the top end, and for more than just a few wineries to perform.
Auckland and its surrounds is not a consideration in terms of being a great wine area, even allowing for one excellent Chardonnay from out West or the famous reds from Waiheke.
And that leaves Central Otago.  This is potentially a great wine region - it may already be regarded by many as having a spot on a world list.  Unquestionably the region is spectacular, rating alongside the Mosel or Stellenbosch for visual impact, and there are some wonderful wines, but is there enough brilliance in wine terms to rate alongside the greats?  Pinot Noir from Otago already rates highly around the world, and we are seeing some very promising Rieslings, but Chardonnay is still inconsistent and other varieties are scarce.  Great wine regions can exist on one variety - Rheingau etc.  So several years of top vintages of Pinot Noir as good as the gorgeous wines of 2002 many take Central Otago into the top echelon.
So, overall, we can put Marlborough into the "great" category", Hawke's Bay is nudging, and Martinborough and Central Otago are a step or two up the ladder.

Better than Most
Now that we have discussed the merits of the regions it's worth selecting just one wine from each area that's currently out in the market place and drinking well.
Auckland: try the 2004 Kumeu River Pinot Gris.  From the perfumed nose to the spicy pear flavours it's a classy wine. 
Gisborne:- Matua Valley Judd Estate Chardonnay 2002 is one of the best from this famous label; full-bodied, creamy, classy.
Hawke's Bay: Villa Maria Reserve Merlot 2002 is a great wine, as fine as any Merlot produced in NZ.  Dark, powerful sensational flavours.  Numerous gold medals and trophies.
Martinborough: Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2003.  Regarded by many as our country's best Pinot Noir with 20 years of fantastic wines to its credit.
Marlborough: Saint Clair Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004 is a beauty.  Already awarded several Gold Medals; a superb example of world class Sauvignon Blanc and in world terms, "it's a steal".
Nelson: Seifried Barrique Fermented Chardonnay 2003 is a stunner with a Gold Medal & Trophy at the Bragato Competition.  Fantastic balance of fruit and oak - long and sensuous.
Canterbury/Waipara: Pegasus Bay Riesling 2004 has fresh limey flavours with a sweet delicate semisweet finish.  No food is needed to enjoy this.
Otago: Carrick Pinot Noir 2002 is a big, muscular Pinot Noir, full of savoury, gamey characters, with delicious blackberry and cherry flavours.  A top wine from a great Otago vintage.
Take a Tip
If you are in to Central Otago Pinot Noirs, look around now for some of the remaining gold medal winners from the great 2002 vintage.   This is a benchmark year for the region and neither 2003 or, probably, 2004 will produce wines with the concentration and flavours that were evident in 2002.

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