THE WAY WE WINE
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Good question! There are a lot of different grape varieties grown here, but most people only know the one.
New Zealand has great examples of cool climate Chardonnay and Syrah. They tend to have a fresher fruit character as opposed to being jammy or like pie filling. The tannic structure of Syrahs from Hawke's Bay is fine and velvety, especially from the Gimblett Gravels, which is an exposed riverbed. Chardonnay is planted in several areas in New Zealand. The Auckland region is known for more Burgundian styles, Hawke’s Bay is warm and sunny and offers more sun-kissed examples – but nothing close to the shoulder pad Chardonnay California is famous for. The oak use is typically restrained and in balance. American oak is seldom used.
Most people know about Central Otago Pinot Noir (if you don’t do yourself a favor – especially if you like Oregon Pinots!). Central Otago is a very dry region and experiences a large diurnal swing. The days are hot, the nights are cool, and it’s perfect for Pinot Noir. Expressions run the gamut but always have a concentrated dark fruit core balanced by soft tannins. Pinot Noir is also grown in Marlborough, Nelson, and Martinborough/Wairapa. The styles here are different than Central Otago. The fruit tends to be red and accompanied by violets in Marlborough and Nelson. Martinborough/Wairarapa has more savory notes.
There are some exceptions, but New Zealand is generally speaking a cool-climate region. I don’t think many are exported, but if you come across a sparkling wine, you’ll be rewarded for giving it a try. They’re predominantly done in the traditional/champagne method and using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc is out there and is similar to a Prosecco given a good squeeze of grapefruit.
Speaking of exceptions, Hawke’s Bay and Waiheke Island (where I reside) are warmer areas. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive here. If you’re after Bordeaux blends, these are the regions to seek out. They are closer to Bordeaux in style than Napa but are honestly their own animal. Again, tarter fruit, well integrated oak, and if you’re patient, cigar and leather will appear after cellaring. Some are bottled under cork and others under screw cap. If cellaring a screw cap, I recommend decanting it to give it some air before drinking.
For more info: https://www.nzwine.com/ has *tons* of information on the regions, grape varieties, and producers.