It’s Spring in New Zealand!
Grape vines are budding…
Two thirds of New Zealand’s vineyards are in the Marlborough region, so it should be no surprise that 2 out of every 3 bottles of New Zealand wine we see on our shelves in British Columbia are from Marlborough.
In the north-eastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east and towering mountain ranges in the hinterlands to the north and south, Marlborough’s broad alluvial plain rises from the coastline into narrow valleys with favourable northerly aspects.
Taking its name from the stones of an ancient riverbed that litter the acreage, Stoneleigh Vineyards is situated in the heart of Rapaura on the northern side of the Wairau valley in Marlborough. The stones store and reflect the sun’s heat up into the vines, enhancing the ripening process and contributing to the unique taste of Stoneleigh wines.
Marked down from $16.99 to 13.99 in some stores this month, Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (293043) $13.99 flaunts lifted tropical fruit aromas - passionfruit, citrus blossom and grapefruit. Ripe tropical fruit flavours mingle with melon apple and pear and a complex minerality that is balanced by brisk and fresh acidity in the finish.
Opening onto Tasman Bay on the northern tip of the South Island, west of Marlborough, the Nelson region hosts just 3 per cent of New Zealand’s vineyards. German settlers planted the first grape vines here in the mid-1800s.
The grapes for Kono Nelson Pinot Gris (472225) $15.50 were sourced entirely from Kono’s Whenua Matua vineyard, located in the Upper Moutere area of Nelson. Heavy clay soils on gently rolling north facing hills making it ideal for growing aromatic varietals such as Pinot Gris. Aromas and flavours of ripe apples, pears and cantaloupe melon add weight to this relatively full-bodied white wine.
As recently as the early 1970s, when orchards and rolling farmlands were predominant in Marlborough and vineyards were unknown, John Marris – a stock agent for the agricultural supplier Pyne Gould Guinness – helped arrange a real estate deal that saw Montana Wines’ Frank Yukich secretly acquire 1173 hectares that became the legendary Brancott Estates.
The Marris family were descendants of William de Marisco (approximately 1100 AD), who was said to be one of the 35 illegitimate children of King Henry the First. Marisco ‘King’s Legacy’
Chardonnay (652891) $17.89 was fermented in large French oak casks using predominantly wild yeasts and allowed 10 months' on the yeasty lees. Fresh apple, nectarine and tangerine flavours predominate with a subtle creaminess, and hints of toasted almonds.
Pursuing “Sheer, delicious drinkability” winemaker Tony Bish joined his friends David and Mark Mason to found Sacred Hill along the white, volcanic cliffs and river land gravels of the Dartmoor Valley in Hawke’s Bay on the south-east coast of the North Island in 1986.
The Gimblett Gravels sub-region where the grapes for Sacred Hill Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet (847996) $17.99 are grown has received world acclaim for its distinctive Bordeaux style red varietals. A blend of 88 per cent Merlot and 12 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, this juicy red has oodles of dusky ripe plum and red berry flavours with spicy hints of pepper and nuances of nuttiness.
After founding Matua Winery in the early 1970s, Bill and Ross Spence produced New Zealand's first Sauvignon Blanc in 1974. Their original Auckland winery was closed in 2016 when Treasury Wine Estates acquired Matua.
Another textbook Marlborough white wine, Matua Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (309591) $17.99 opens with that peculiarly New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc vegetal aroma reminiscent of canned green peas. Mint and sage notes develop as the wine breathes in the glass and the initial flavours of gooseberries segues into mango, pineapple and even blackcurrants.
Like Stoneleigh’s situation, Opawa’s vineyards are located on the rocky old river bed of the historic Opawa River in Marlborough. The stony river gravels absorb the sun’s warmth during the day, radiating it back onto the grapes at night.
Opawa Marlborough Pinot Noir (125450) $29.99 is a medium bodied and beautifully balanced red wine. Aromas of black cherries, red plums and a toasty oak frame the flavours of red and black berries – jammy dried strawberry slides into silky blackberry and finish with earthy beetroot and a peppery wisp of anise.
If you can’t make the trip, take home a bottle of one of New Zealand’s finest wines!