Author mug By The Glass

Roberto Viernes

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

New Zealand is making
a splash with fine wine

New Zealand -- A land better known for the kiwi, sailing and rugby than culinary delights -- has made a huge impact on the world of fine wine. It has been producing wines that are not just delicious but also of excellent value.

There is no doubt that New Zealand is already a proven leader among quality producers of sauvignon blanc. Now it is making a splash with pinot noirs that rival the best from California, and in general at better prices.

Cloudy Bay Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($23) was the first New Zealand wine to garner high praise from the wine Cognoscenti. Never before had any sauvignon blanc scored so high on the 100-point scale (as high as 94!) It has become one of New Zealand's cult wines, with people clamoring to reserve cases even before it is released. Cloudy Bay hails from the Marlborough region on the northern tip of South Island, now the most famous, and most people say best, area for producing sauvignon blanc in all of New Zealand.

But Cloudy Bay is not the only excellent wine from Marlborough. Crossings Winery Sauvignon Blanc ($16) is a newcomer to Hawaii, one of the best new sauvignon blancs I have had. It has a textbook aroma of fresh citrus, poha berry, passionfruit and a hint of freshly mown grass. On the palate it is so refreshing, stimulating the senses with bright acidity, intense flavor and a long, clean aftertaste.

Another superb value is Brancott Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($13). This bottle has a touch more tropical fruit, it is a bit more rounded and weightier on the palate, seemingly coating your mouth with flavors of pomelo and overripe guava.

Finally, Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc ($11) is wonderfully refreshing and perfect for springtime drinking. At this price it is a steal for anyone who loves light dry white wines without a lot of oak. For me, these wines scream for seafood pairings, seared white fish with lemon, shrimp tempura, even steamed clams or mussels with a light ginger broth. Next stop -- Tamashiro's!

Now, pinot lovers, you should definitely take a look at some of the exciting wines coming from Autearoa (aka New Zealand). Try Crossings Winery Pinot Noir ($20). This wine has an exuberant aroma that jumps out of the glass with scents of bright black cherry, flowery cardamom tea and a touch of vanilla. You would have to pay almost twice this for similar quality from California. This wine has a velvety texture with enough structure to pair up with heavier meat dishes, but I like it with a perfectly roasted duck with plum glaze!

If you are already enamored of New Zealand pinot noir, you could step up with a bottle of Ata Rangi Pinot Noir ($45) -- if you can find it; it's extremely limited. This is quite simply one of New Zealand's best and competes in the range of California's elite pinot noirs. This wine is so packed with flavor and intensity it can stand up to a marinated and grilled loin of lamb or stuffed pork chops.

Wines from New Zealand have much less vintage variation than those from most of Europe and North America. Of course, a wine will vary a little from year to year, but for the most part you can expect consistency. Just be sure the wine you select is no more than three years past vintage for sauvignon blanc or five years for pinot noirs.

If you have not tried wines from New Zealand yet, it's time for you to open your palate to this wonderful source of terrific wines. You'll be glad you did!

Roberto Viernes is wine educator for Southern Wine & Spirits.

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