It seems like we have been drinking New Zealand wines for decades, but it is useful to remember that over 70% of the vines in that country are less than 12 years old, and that the wines only began to appear on Irish shelves in the mid-1990s.
Sauvignon Blanc makes up around 85% of their wine exports and over 80% of that is grown in the Marlborough region at the north east corner of the South Island.
The annual New Zealand wine fair was held in Dublin recently and I’m pleased to report that there was hardly a dud wine in the room. There were a few wines I liked less than others and I did find the occasional asparagus and vegetal flavour (which I loathe), but overall the standard of wine-making was extremely high.
The recent duty increases mean that there are only a handful of New Zealand wines under €15 (excluding special offers), but remember that these are quality wines that you can rely on and are worth the extra spend. I have picked out some highlights from the fair below.
If you are on a budget this week you will find a sale in Tesco with good reductions, including Oyster Bay at around a tenner and Casillero Diablo at €7.50. Lidl have some interesting French wines on offer also, including some good Bordeaux — e.g. Ch. Andron Blanquet 2008 for €17.99.
Finally, Valentines Day was yesterday and if you are still in the mood for love I think you would do well to stick with New Zealand. It is largely women that are driving the Sauvignon Blanc boom but also remember the Pinot Noir roll continues and this is New Zealand’s other speciality. If you are dining in, my favourite food match for New Zealand Sauv. Blanc is home-made fish and chips — double-fry the chips and use a beer batter and you won’t go wrong.
Stockists: Superquinn, Hurleys Supervalu Midleton, Savages Swords, Joyces Galway
Despite the fact that Sauvignon Blanc is rarely all that successful for fizz I liked the simplicity and crisp green fruit freshness in this — a perfect antidote for anyone bored with Prosecco (I can’t be the only one!).
Stockists: Widely available: Dunnes, Tesco, Galvins Cork, Next Door outlets
Riesling is still a tiny proportion of what New Zealand produces, but almost all are worth trying. Villa Maria’s version is particularly good value in its sector and has fine lemon, limes, green apple and floral aromas with weighty ripe fruit. This has elegance and length and is priced well.
Matua were one of the first New Zealand wines to arrive in Ireland and they are still very solid performers. I like the relative purity of their Pinot Noir with its soft red fruit and clean mineral tinged flavours and most of all its competitive price.
Stockists: Ardkeen Stores, Thomas’s Foxrock, Londis SCR, Jus de Vine Portmarnock, WineOnline.ie
Gewurztraminer is not for everyone and it is true that some versions lack acidity. Lawsons is more the style I like — bursting with lychee and white peach flavours, with good weight and length and a fresh finish. Perhaps a little sweeter than, say, Trimbach’s classic Alsace version but still very restrained.
Stockists: Bradleys, No. 21 Cork, Florries Tramore, World Wide Wines, Clontarf Wines, Mitchells.
Tinpot Hut are a solid and consistent performer and I enjoyed all the wines I tasted at the wine fair, especially their Gruner Veltliner and Pinot Noir. Their Sauvignon Blanc has elegance and I liked their bone dry, slightly spiky, take on the grape and the mineral tinged, green fruit finish.
Stockists: Ardkeen Stores, No. 21 Cork and Midleton, Mannings Emporium, Donnybrook Fair.
You have to have a dessert wine for Valentines weekend and this is just about perfect — luscious sweet apple and citrus peel flavours and refreshing clean acidity. This would be delicious with apple tart, fruit desserts, or perhaps with a box of Skelligs Chocolate fruits.