Covering just one fifth of the country's vineyards, the quality red grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot and pinot noir are in short supply. What's more, in immediate fruit impact and value for money, New Zealand struggles to compete with the fuller-blooded styles of Australia, Chile, Argentina or South Africa.
As in Bordeaux, a cool, maritime climate brings unpredictable weather, yet cool-climate vineyard sites are a rare and highly prized commodity in the southern hemisphere. A long, mild-growing season creates the necessary preconditions for wines of subtle but intense flavours.
Adapting the vineyards to expose the fruit to sunshine has had a major impact on wine quality. Kiwi producers are also discovering the benefits of matching grape to vineyard site. In Hawkes Bay, where gravel soils suit the Bordeaux style, the merlot grape is currently in a fight for survival with cabernet sauvignon. In the view of ex-Bordeaux winemaker, Jenny Dobson, now at Sacred Hill, the climate may, in the long run, suit merlot better.
"The two to three weeks cabernet needs over merlot seems to make more difference in Hawkes Bay than in Bordeaux," says Dobson. Although Marlborough sauvignon blanc was justifiably savaged by the critics, 1995 turned out to be a particularly good year for reds, and particularly merlot, in Hawkes Bay. According to Gordon Russell, of merlot specialists Esk Valley, "1995 is an extremely underrated red wine vintage, the best for us since 1991."
If there's a shift towards merlot in the north, an excellent vintage in 1996 should add to the reputation of red Burgundy's pinot noir grape in Martinborough, at the southern tip of North Island, and the cooler South Island regions of Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago. "Martinborough is a microcosm of what New Zealand should be doing internationally," says Larry McKenna of Martinborough Vineyards. "Pinot noir, if it isn't already, will be the most important red grape variety coming out of New Zealand."
Joining a growing band of world-class pinot noir producers, among them Dry River, Ata Rangi, Martinborough, Palliser and Te Kairanga, the latest sensation is Fromm, a Swiss venture in Marlborough producing wines of premier cru red burgundy quality. Hatch Kalberer, Fromm's winemaker, explains: "The New World, with few exceptions, is not prepared to put the viticultural effort in. If our ambition is to make grand cru burgundy quality, then we must have a grand cru crop."
Latterly, Cloudy Bay, and Montana. New Zealand's two highest-profile companies, are busily engaged in trying to crack the problem of the image and limited availability of Kiwi red wines. Cloudy Bay has come up with an excellent prototype 1994 Pinot Noir and Montana l996, which is still in barrel. The sooner they can reproduce the brilliant success of their white wines with a commercial pinot noir, the sooner the rest of us, Oddbins included, will be swallowing more than our words
Kiwi red wines of the week
1995 Saints Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot, pounds 7.99, Marks & Spencer. Appealing blackcurrant fruitiness and vanilla undertones from Montana. 1995 Esk Valley Merlot/Cabernet, Hawkes Bay, pounds 8.99, Waitrose, Unwins. Juicy merlot ripeness with an oak-spicy veneer for St Emilion-like complexity. 1995 Sacred Hill Basket Press Cabernet, pounds 8.99, Fuller's. Stylish, delicately minty, succulent Hawkes Bay cabernet sauvignon. 1995 CJ Pask Cabernet Sauvignon, Hawkes Bay, pounds 9.95. Lay & Wheeler, Colchester (01206 764446). Classically elegant cabernet with sweetly oaked, mulberry fruit flavours. 1995 Te Kairanga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, pounds 9.99, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up. Fragrant pinot noir with oak-matured wild strawberry fruit characters.
Stop Press The 1996 Fromm Pinot Noir, pounds l1.95, is now in stock at Lay & Wheeler
Life & Style blogs
Airline food across the classes: Ever wondered what the other half are eating?
Coachella Festival 2015: from Kendall Jenner to Alexa Chung, stars and festival-goers parade their boho best
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
1 in 3 women will get bacterial vaginosis but are unlikely to know what it is
Alzheimer's breakthrough: Scientists may have found potential cause of the disease in the behaviour of immune cells - giving new hope to millions
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...