Bonus Buyers’ Guide to New Zealand

Sustainability, Low Alcohol, the Rise of Rosé and Profiling Unique Sub-Appellations through Speed-Dating
By Sara d’Amato

Sara d'Amato

Sara d’Amato

The New Zealand Wine Fair’s 2016 Tiki Tour through major centers across the country made its final stop on Wednesday at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. Never failing to draw a large crowd, this trade tasting attracts consumers, media and sommeliers alike. However, a peculiar invitation I received several weeks ago inviting me to speed-date several travelling winemakers was hard to pass up.

Several hours before the show, a select group of media arrived to be set up at individual tables across from seats that would soon be filled by a winery principal and their local representative agent. We were given 15 minutes of face time to get to know each winery. This forum not only gave us the opportunity for an impressively focused look into the ideology of a particular producer but helped paint a picture of the changing landscape of New Zealand wine. Four noteworthy points are worth sharing from this efficient and perspective changing hour: New Zealand’s unity when it comes to sustainable production, the low alcohol movement sweeping the nation, the importance of rosé and the desire to profile unique sub-appellations.

New Zealand is not a bulk wine producing nation, which is an important consideration when trying to get your head around the fact that 90% of the country’s wine is sustainably produced and another 5% is either biodynamically or organically focused, reports Whitehaven’s Simon Toneycliffe. Undeniably, New Zealand has a world leading sustainability program that is both standardized and certified. In addition, the country derives 70% of its power from renewable energy sources with a goal of 90% by 2025. Given the fact that there is no polluting land mass nearby and even the rain from Australia is barred from entering the country due to the Southern Alps, New Zealand is as clean as it gets.

In appurtenance to those impressive numbers, I was in admiration that so many producers were able to come to a unified conclusion that environmental impact was of utmost importance. When asked how this kind of overreaching consensus could have been reached, Te Pā’s haysley McDonald pointed out that both isolation and climatic conditions ripe for sustainability were most influential.

Low Alcohol
The idea behind the low alcohol movement is impressive and one which New Zealand’s government has invested nearly 20 million dollars to research and market. Obviously, health and safety is impacted but there is more depth to this investment, one that is banking on the global change in attitude towards lighter, more food friendly and most expressive wines. In this context, New Zealand is most favorably positioned.

The producer leading the low alcohol charge in New Zealand is that of Forrest Wines. Dr. John Forrest was my date #3 and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to monopolize his attention for 15 minutes. His research on the topic has been extensive and after many years, he has been able to establish a sound formula for mitigating the leanness of low alcohol wines. This valuable information has been widely shared within the country and has resulted in the production of relatively complex low alcohol wines with texture and mouthfeel. The majority of wineries support the initiative and more and more low alcohol wines are popping up in the market. Keep your eye out for wines that use the “low alcohol” term on their label or declare their alcohol percentage front and center.

More rosé appeared on the tables at the fair this year than I can ever remember. Toneycliffe of Whitehaven has noticed that rosé is on the rise in popularity within the country and there is a focus on pinot noir based examples which are dry and fresh in style. Here’s hoping we see an influx of those before the end of the summer!

Diversification is not just a trend in wine; it is one that is typically the result of a deeper understanding of terroir and sensitivity to the unique properties of defined parcels of land. It is a consequence of a region growing up and into itself.  The sub-appellations which we are beginning to see appear on the labels of NZ wines are not particularly recent but are now comfortably exported. Over the course of the hour, I was especially intrigued by the premium growing region of Bridge Pā in Hawke’s Bay, producing exceptional syrah such as that of Ngatarawa, and the Wairau Valley of Marlborough producing more fleshy, slightly tropical examples of sauvignon blanc such as those of Te Pā.

Profiles of the four “dates” are listed below: 

Te Pā Family Ltd 

Te Pā Family LtdTe Pā is the oldest family estate in New Zealand but was planting potatoes until 2003. Proprietor Haysley MacDonald sees a growing demand for diversification within the realm of New Zealand sauvignon blanc and favours promoting regional differences.

The ocean flanked site in the Wairu is very fertile which would have originally dissuaded producers from vinifera growth here. However, it turns out that the nitrogen rich soil gives more structure and weight to the wines. Expressive single vineyard sauvignon blanc is the hallmark of Te Pā whose characteristic style is riper and more tropical than most would expect from Marlborough.

Try: Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough ($19.95)


WhitehavenGeneral Manager Simon Toneycliffe also recognizes the importance of defining sub-regions and produces both single vineyard styles of sauvignon blanc with unique expression, experimental versions and cross-regional wines of character. Wild yeast and some oak usage has been experimentally successful thus far. A 100% pinot noir rosé will hopefully nudge its way into our shelves before long. Due to demand, the range of Whitehaven wines has been steadily increasing to better express the diversity of Marlborough. Low alcohol approach is generally but not explicitly taken.

Try: Whitehaven Rosé 2015, Marlborough

Forrest Wines

Forrest WinesLow alcohol style from “The Doctor’s” line of wines has set the innovative Forrest Winery apart. Owned by Dr. John Forrest, it is a leader in research and innovation and is known for having been a great instigator in the screw cap closure movement that subsequently swept the nation. Dr. Forrest has noticed that low alcohol wines tend to age better and longer than their standard counterparts. Look for “The Doctor” line of low alcohol wines in the upcoming May 30th release.

Try: Forrest Estate The Doctors’ Pinot Noir 2015, Marlborough


NgatarawaEstablished in 1981, is one of the oldest families in New Zealand wine, previously making wine in Lebanon. The winery was named after the famous racing stable now part of the winemaking facilities in their Hawke’s Bay home. The region is known for a slow growing season moderated by maritime influences. The wines are soft and approachable but with great depth. John Mackinder of Ngatarawa also supports the low alcohol initiative and produces 10% of crop in this fashion. The pinot noir and the northern Rhone-like syrah are worth particular attention and are surprisingly expressive.

Try: Ngatarawa 2015 Stables Syrah, Hawke’s Bay

New Zealand was also the mini feature of the May 14th VINTAGES release. John has already highlighted his favourite sauvignon blanc in his VINTAGES Preview, so listed below are the additional picks from the rest of the team.

New Zealand May 14th Buyers’ Guide
with notes from Sara d’Amato, David Lawrason & Michael Godel

3 Stones Premium Selection Pinot Gris 2015, Marlborough ($16.95)
Sara d’Amato – Dry and elegant with great purity of fruit and a salty, mineral edge. Widely appealing but still quite complex and ponder-worthy.

Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Marlborough ($19.95)
Michael Godel – After tasting the winery’s Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc back in 2014 I wrote “If Te Pā can find a way to get their wines into VINTAGES stores, I will buy them by the case and hand them out on Halloween as adult treats.” Why wait for October?
David Lawrason – This is intense, almost searing sauvignon blanc hails from sea level vineyards on a sand bar where the Wairau River meets Cloudy Bay.  Expect complex passion fruit, persimmon, green pepper and lime cordial aromas. Chill well.

3 Stones Premium Selection Pinot Gris 2015 Te Pā Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2013 Thornbury Pinot Noir 2014 Elephant Hill Le Phant 2014

Kim Crawford Small Parcels Rise & Shine Pinot Noir 2013, Central Otago ($29.95)
Michael Godel – This is a characterful, high-toned and slightly rustic Pinot Noir from Kim Crawford’s Small Parcels program in Central Otago. It will begin to show its best just around the bend.

Thornbury 2014 Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($24.95)
David Lawrason – This is not as structured and deep as the top Otago pinots but it does show the deeper colour and ripe black cherry fruit of the region, framed by oak vanillin, spice and smoke.  Nothing dramatic but it nicely expresses NZ pinot charm, freshness and has drinkable appeal.
Sara d’Amato – Thornbury produces wines over 5 regions on the north and south Islands. This zesty, peppery example from Central Otago shows less characteristic weight and more finesse.

Elephant Hill 2014 Le Phant, Hawke’s Bay ($22.95)
Sara d’Amato – A rich and savory blend of merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon harvested from Gimblett, Te Awanga and Triangle vineyards. A captivating and stylish wine from a solid producer.
David Lawrason – This is an unusual but effective blend of cabernet, merlot and syrah, with the latter delivering peppery, meaty character. The fruit is quite ripe cherry and the oak is very notable, with chocolaty, smoky character. It’s quite smooth and supple, for current drinking.


Sara d’Amato

Szabo’s VINTAGES Preview – New Zealand Sauvignon, A Volcanic Duo & More
Buyers’ Guide to VINTAGES to Their Favourites, Our Favourites
All May 14th Reviews

Celebrating New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Editors Note: You can find complete critic reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted wine names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all critics reviews immediately. Non-paid members wait 60 days to see new reviews. Premium membership has its privileges; like first access to great wines!

Beringer Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon