The Classic Wine Regions of New Zealand's South Island
Now that we've been introduced to New Zealand's North Island, it's time to see what treasures the South Island holds. The South Island is where New Zealand's wine industry first took wing. And it's still a wine major centre for the country. Winemakers excel at both red and white wines, with some excellent sparkling also produced in regions like Marlborough. For anyone who loves elegant, cool climate wines, the South Island is definitely a place to check out.
Some would argue that Marlborough is the crown jewel of New Zealand's winemaking regions. It's certainly the most famous as the region that gave New Zealand its start as a major player in the wine world. The soils range from well-draining gravelly, glacial deposits to clay-based alluvial soils closer to the region's many rivers. It's cool here, but with long hours of sun, the grapes don't have a problem reaching optimal ripeness. This allows winemakers to plant across the spectrum of varieties which do well in cooler climes.
While Sauvignon Blanc reigns supreme in Marlborough, the region's winemakers also produce complex Chardonnays, intensely aromatic Rieslings and Gewürztraminers, dazzling Pinot Gris, and exquisite Pinot Noir.
Just west of Marlborough lies Nelson. The region is sheltered by mountains from weather systems coming off the Tasman Sea. The sunny but relatively cool climate makes Nelson perfect for aromatic wine grapes like Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc. It's also known for richly flavoured Chardonnays and fruity yet elegant Pinot Noir.
Nelson boasts two subregions, Moutere Hills and Waimea Plains, with both regions producing phenomenally expressive, mineral-driven wines.
Like Nelson, Central Otago benefits from its proximity to nearby mountain ranges. To the east, the Southern Alps act as a shield from the cool winds and storms. Pinot Noir dominates the vineyards of Central Otago, producing wines of exceptional depth and complexity. Thanks to the higher elevations courtesy of the Southern Alps, vineyards are exposed to more intense sunlight which helps to concentrate the flavours of the grapes. As a result, Central Otago Pinot Noir is fruity, with black cherry, raspberry, and strawberry conserve aromas, a pleasant earthiness, and a hint of spice to round things out.
Canterbury vineyards bask in the region's sunny but dry climate. Although the Southern Alps along the western edge of Canterbury help keep the region's rainfall levels low, the Pacific Ocean provides a maritime climate, especially closer to the coast. It's best known for Old World-style Pinot Noir of great finesse, varietally pure Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc with notable exotic fruit flavours, and generous Chardonnays.
With the ideal balance between sunny skies and a long, cool growing season, winemakers in New Zealand's South Island are able to produce expressive, complex wines that are easy amongst the best in the world.