When you think of “down under” red wines it is natural to think of the luscious wines of Australia. However there is a nearby country that also produces delicious and sometimes even elegant red wines. That country is New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand, the country that produces all of that yummy Sauvignon Blanc also has a rapidly growing red wine industry.

The wine production actually began in New Zealand in 1819 with the planting of the first grape vines. But there is no record of wine being produced from the grapes until 1839 when James Busby began growing grapes and producing wine in Waitangi.

Growth of the industry beyond this auspicious beginning was slowed by a combination of prohibition and phylloxera. Even after solving the disease problem and the lifting of prohibition wine production was not as profitable as farming and meat production.

That all changed quickly in the 1960s when Great Britain joined the EEC which required that they suspend favorable trade status with New Zealand. This caused the dairy and meat industries to greatly reduce production.

At the same time prohibition was completely removed which allowed alcohol sales and wine production to rise substantially and become profitable.

Initially New Zealand wines were not desirable. This was partly due to grapes that were not suited to the land and a lack of experienced wine makers.

In the 1970s New Zealanders went to Europe to gain experience and knowledge about wine production. With this knowledge came the discovery of grapes that were better suited to New Zealand's climate and soil.

The best known grape varietal grown in New Zealand is the Sauvignon Blanc, a white wine grape. It has been the backbone of the modern Kiwi wine industry and has allowed winemakers to experiment with other grapes both white and red.

The South Island with its cooler climate is ideal for red wine grapes in particular the Pinot Noir grape.

On the North Island the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of the Hawks Bay region has become well known for quality red wines in particular Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec. Other regions producing excellent red wines are Waiheke Island, Martinborough, Central Otago and Canterbury.

As this “New World” wine producing country continues to develop new and better quality wines you can be certain that red wines will continue to catch up with, and possibly surpass, Sauvignon Blanc as the premier wine of New Zealand. I hope the following selections will be good examples as you begin to try Kiwi reds.

2009 Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec ($21.99 at the Old Blinking Light Wine Shop): Produced in the Hawks Bay Region of New Zealand's North Island this wine is a blend of grapes; 41 percent Merlot, 38 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 21 percent Malbec.

In the glass it is a deep ruby/ purple color. As you smell the wine blackberries, plum, spice and dried herbs are dominant.

On the palate it is full bodied with firm tannins and dark berry flavors. The finish is long with herbaceous and earthy notes.

Some foods that would pair well with the wine are game and red meat dishes especially lamb.

2010 Wild Rock Cupids Arrow Pinot Noir ($20.49 at Kokoman): This wine is produced in the Central Otago Region on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island. It is 100 percent Pinot Noir.

It is a ruby red color in the glass. Aromas of fresh berries, Flowers and herbal notes waft from the glass as you bring it to your nose.

As you drink the wine you will notice rich, succulent red berry fruit flavors. The finish is long and juicy.

Good foods to try with this wine are wild game, lamb or roast duck.

 2010 Yealands Pinot Noir ($18.49 at Kokoman): This wine is produced in the Marlborough/Central Otago Region of the North Island of New Zealand. It is made up of 100 percent Pinot Noir.

It is a garnet color in the glass. The nose produces aromas of fresh cherry, strawberry and other red fruit with a hint of herbs.

The wine is soft with silky tannins and raspberry, strawberry and pomegranate flavors. It has a sleek, bright, lingering finish.

Some suggested foods to try with this wine are roasted poultry, grilled red meats and lamb.

These are a few of the New Zealand red wines available today. I am certain the future will bring many more examples Kiwi reds.

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