Confessing a general immunity to the hype normally generated by wine PR, I have to admit that New Zealand is the exception that proves the rule. At last month's overview of the 2013 vintage, I found myself full of admiration for this relatively small wine country, whose vineyard area covers a mere quarter of that occupied by Bordeaux. New Zealand's compact size, in conjunction with its maritime climate and zest for quality, has seen it become the first wine country whose average bottle price now exceeds £7.
Sauvignon blanc still accounts for three-fifths of the vineyard area of 34,270 hectares. 2013 was a generally excellent year for New Zealand. The concentration and restraint of many of the 2013s over the cooler vintage 2012s brings a refined, sancerre-like quality to much of the wine without any off-putting pungent assertiveness. Many of the best are on the water, but it's worth noting that the elderfloral, mouthwateringly ripe, 2013 Yealands Sauvignon Blanc is due on shelf now, down from £9.99 to £7.49, Sainsbury's, while the green bean and gooseberryish 2013 Villa Maria Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is also here, £13.99, buy two = £10.99, Majestic.
From a one-grape country two decades ago, New Zealand has evolved into a country of wine diversity. Its chardonnays are relatively unsung because of the worldwide competition, but it produces some of the best, as you'll know if you try a superbly rich and complex, meursault-like Ata Rangi 2011 Craighall Chardonnay, £27.99-£31.99, New Zealand House of Wine, The Wine Reserve, Noel Young. Aromatic grapes, which include riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, and latterly even grüner veltliner, have now taken over from chardonnay, accounting for more than one in every 10 hectares planted. Try the delicately off-dry kabinett-style of the 2011 Greywacke Riesling, £18.95-£20.99, Flagship Wines, Colchester Wine, and you'll see why.
In reds, syrah now matches cabernet sauvignon in quality, thanks to the discovery of Hawkes Bay's suitability for the variety. The 2012 Elephant Hill Syrah, for instance, £18.95-£21.99, Hedonism, Selfridges, is magnificent, peppery red that wouldn't disgrace Côte Rôtie in the northern Rhône. But it's in pinot noir that New Zealand has made great strides towards the finest that red burgundy can offer. You get some idea of the value with the mulberryish 2012 Ribbonwood Pinot Noir, £14, Oddbins, the raspberryish 2012 Gladstone Vineyard Jealous Sisters Pinot Noir, £11.49, All About Wine, the toasty oak- and raspberry-scented 2012 Carrick Unrivalled Pinot Noir, £14.50, Great Western Wine, and the spicily fragrant 2011 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir, £22.50-99, Majestic, Waitrose.
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