Over the past twenty years or so, the high quality of New Zealand wine has come to worldwide attention. New Zealand's temperate climate, similar to Europe's, lends the wine produced there a north-European character, in contrast to the richer grip of New World wines.
New Zealand has a particularly high international reputation for its white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, which compares very favourably with the great French whites of the Loire. But latterly New Zealand's red wines (notably Pinot Noir, but also subtle blends of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon) have also tickled the palates of the international wine tasters. Many of the best wines are produced in relatively low quantities, and do not make it across the seas, so you have to go to New Zealand to find them. And the best way to appreciate what the New Zealand wine-makers are doing is to visit the vineyards in the wine-growing regions, or, better still, attend one of the many wine festivals. Or you can join a dedicated wine tour, such as the three-day Classic New Zealand Wine Trail that spans the two islands, visiting the Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Marlborough regions. www.nzwine.com
The sunny climate of the east coast of the North Island produces some of the best wines in the world, some of it from vineyards over a century old. Chardonnay is the leading grape, but Hawke's Bay also does a good line in Sauvignon Blanc, and makes respected reds from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir. This is the second-largest growing area in New Zealand, after Marlborough.
Part of the Auckland wine region, Waiheke Island has a high reputation for its Bordeaux-like red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
Waikato and Bay of Plenty
The regions called Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, which stretch across the northern part of the North Island, produce primarily Chardonnay, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc following close behind.
Situated on the north-east of the North Island, Gisborne's long hours of sunshine make conditions perfect for growing fine Chardonnay.
This small town in the Wairarapa district is renowned above all for its Pinot Noir, but also makes noted Sauvignon Blanc. This is the main growing area of the wine region called Wellington.
The Mediterranean climate of the north-eastern part of the South Island produces excellent white wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc. Marlborough is also noted for its Chardonnay, Riesling, méthode traditionelle sparkling wines, Pinot Noir and blended red wines. The Cloudy Bay vineyards, established in 1985, are the source of Sauvignon Blanc wines that have won worldwide acclaim. Marlborough is New Zealand's largest wine-growing area - quite an achievement, given that the first vines were planted here in 1973.
The much smaller wine-growing region to the west of Marlborough has recently come to notice for its excellent Burgundy-like pinot wines. It also grows Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
The most southerly wine-producing region in the world, and the highest in New Zealand, Central Otago is most famous for its Pinot Noir.