New Zealand is a country whose wines I like and am fairly familiar with – even encompassed by the tag line of my website (“A Wine Blog with a Focus on Fizz, Alsace and Australasia“) – so an in depth guide was always likely to garner a favourable reception chez moi. Rebecca Gibb MW is a specialist in New Zealand wines, having lived there from 2010 to 2016 and even marrying a Kiwi. This book was published in 2018 by Infinite Ideas as part of their Classic Wines Library series (and who kindly sent me this review copy).
My wife and I did a self-guided wine tour of New Zealand on our honeymoon in 2009 (more on which below) which is not that long ago in the grand scheme of things, but as New Zealand is still emerging as a wine producing country there are producers in this book who were established within the last decade.
A short history section gives a very welcome explanation of the NZ wine scene before the Sauvignon Blanc explosion on the 1980s. Up to that time most wine production was on the North Island, especially around Auckland and Hawke’s Bay when vines were harvested in Marlborough they had to be trucked to Hawke’s Bay for vinification.
This section also covers the impact that European immigrants have had on Kiwi wine, particularly those from the Balkans; Nobilo, Babich, Villa Maria and Kumeu River were among those founded by Dalmatian pioneers and proud of their roots.
Also covered in part one are an overview of New Zealand’s climate (cleverly called “an umbrella view”!) and the key grape varieties grown in the country. Of course Sauvignon Blanc is the most important grape grown in New Zealand, but its importance overseas is magnified as it accounts for a much larger proportion of wines exported than wine produced; there are lots of other excellent varieties made in Aotearoa which rarely make it onto the shelves up here.
Parts Two and Three
The second and third parts of the book make up the bulk of its contents and its interest, being an exposition of the ten largest wine regions:
Part two looks at the North Island, from north to south:
- Hawke’s Bay
Part three looks at the South Island, also from north to south (but in less of a straight line):
- Canterbury and North Canterbury
- Waitiki Valley
- Central Otago
Each chapter includes:
- A history of the region
- Its geography and climate
- An explanation of wine styles
- Producers profiles, including a key wine to try for each
As you might imagine, these themes are directly interwoven – the producers are part of the region’s history, the wine styles depend on the geography, climate and aims of the producer, and so on. What strikes me is that there are well established combinations, but there is still so much to be experimented with. Perhaps future generations will pioneer new regions (Waitiki Valley is probably the youngest) and new grape varieties. Gisborne Godello or Nelson Nebbiolo?
The final main part of the book is titled “Contemporary New Zealand” covers two subtopics; “Current Issues” looks at innovation, sustainability and the maturation of the country’s wine industry – in commercial terms it really is a baby compared to that of most other nations. The final subtopic is “Tourism”; wine tours are now a third pillar of Kiwi tourism on top of Lord of the Rings pilgrimages and hiking/trekking/tramping. Gibb drops in several references to show how well she knows certain locations, but this is a useful starting point.
Despite my tardy full review, this book remains the most important book available on New Zealand wines. Of course in such a young wine producing nation there will be new producers and new grape / region combinations that flourish, but the best producers outlined in the book are likely to remain a reference. It’s well-written, both approachable and engaging, yet comprehensive and authoritative. This is a book which every winelover should have in their collection.
To buy this book on Amazon.co.uk click here [affiliate link]: The wines of New Zealand (The Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library)
My Visit to New Zealand
I got married in 2009 and chose New Zealand as our honeymoon destination. The amazing landscape was a key draw, along with a little whale- and fjord-spotting, but the fact that there are so many excellent wines made in Kiwiland was the clincher. In fact, we had NZ wines poured at our wedding and the tables were named after prominent wines and wineries.1
From a wine point of view, our trip took in Waipara, Central Otago, Nelson, Marlborough, Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay. If we ever get the opportunity to go back I would happily visit all of those regions again, but perhaps Central Otago and Marlborough would be top of the list. Of the regions that we didn’t visit, I’d like to take a trip up to Northland – as much for the beaches as the wine, to be honest – and spend more time in the Auckland area so that I could get to Kumeu River and Man O’War, among others.
I will write up my cellar door recommendations in a future article.
1My parents friends were on a table called “Craggy Range”, the vicar was on a table called “Vicar’s Choice” and we made a late change to swap out “Mount Difficulty” as we didn’t want to jinx our honeymoon.