Get to Know New Zealand's Most Planted White Wine Grapes
White wine does particularly well in New Zealand and its maritime climate. In the vineyards dotted across this beautiful country, white grape varietals from Albariño to Pinot Gris through to Sauvignon Blanc experience that perfect balance between plentiful sunshine and cooling breezes, and overall cool climate which help preserve the mouth-watering acidity that makes New Zealand's wines so exceptional with food.
Here's a brief introduction to New Zealand's most planted white wine grapes and what you can expect from them.
If there's one grape that's synonymous with New Zealand's wine industry, it's Sauvignon Blanc. This popularity of this famed French grape paved the way for New Zealand's success in the wine world – the terroir of regions like Marlborough is perfectly suited to cultivate high-quality, expressive Sauvignon Blanc.
Classic descriptors for aromatic and crisp Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc include gooseberry, passion fruit, lemongrass, and citrus.
Ever the chameleon, Chardonnay in New Zealand can take many forms from the oaked to the unoaked, the ripe and tropical to the linear and elegant. Because there are so many unique terroirs found on both the North and South Islands, we are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to high-quality Chardonnay.
The flavour profile of these wines can range from tart apple, lemony Chardonnays with no oak and plenty of minerality to ultra-ripe styles featuring mandarin, pineapple, and a kiss of oak. Look for examples from Marlborough, Hawke's Bay, and Gisborne. You won't be disappointed.
Frequently made in the French style (i.e. a fuller bodied, more complex, aromatic style), New Zealand Pinot Gris is a must-try for every white wine lover. These wines are beautiful, nuanced expressions of the ubiquitous grape, with loads of apple and pear aromas, mingling with the faint aroma of white flowers, and occasionally a touch of spice. To put more of a mark on their wines, winemakers in New Zealand often choose to age their Pinot Gris in barrel and may stir the lees (spent yeast cells) to increase the fullness of a wine's body and overall complexity of a wine.
You'll also find some of the ultra-zesty, citrus-driven, Italian-style versions which are accordingly labelled Pinot Grigio. The Italianesque Pinot Grigios are perfect with your favourite seafood dishes and are brilliant with veggie pasta dishes.
New Zealand's cool climate is a real boon for Riesling, emphasising its high natural acidity, delicate honeysuckle, and pretty stone fruit notes. Winemakers here make both dry and sweet versions, ensuring that you'll be spoiled for choice the next time you're in the mood for a vibrant white wine. The off-dry Rieslings here are especially tasty with the aromatic ingredients found in a variety of Asian cuisines like Thai, Indian, and Chinese. Dessert Rieslings are perfect for fruit-based desserts or you can always skip the dessert and pour yourself an extra glass.
There's also a smattering of other white grapes found in New Zealand's vineyards. Aromatic and semi-aromatic grapes like Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Albariño, and Chenin Blanc all occasionally crop up in some of the islands' cooler regions. Because of their sensational quality, it's easy to see why New Zealand's winemakers having a growing base of devoted fans worldwide. This makes these wines a fantastic choice when you're deciding on a great, easy drinking wine for a group. Expressive and full of character, you'll never go wrong with any of New Zealand's wonderful wines.