New Zealand’s North Island
A tour through the region
E Wine of the Week
By Bruce Cochran
One of the great things about the world of wine is that you never run out of interesting regions to explore, many of which today are making great wines in their own unique, local style. I’ve found another one, with a style that takes one of our favorite grapes to a new level.
Try a new wine this week!
Mills Reef Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand entered the world’s wine maps about a decade ago with a bang, renewing and redefining sauvignon blanc with a unique style emphasizing crisp, refreshing acidity, and fruit over oak. The capital has been Marlborough, on the north end of South Island.
Today we’re beginning to see some interest in the wines of North Island. Being south of the equator, the climate tends to be warmer in the north and cooler in the south. Here are some of the best regions of North Island from north to south.
Kumeu—North of Auckland, on the northern part of North Island, one of the first and still one of the best areas of New Zealand. A warmer area planted primarily in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay
Gisbourne—South and east of Auckland, on the country’s most easterly tip, on coastal plains sheltered from the west by a range of mountains. Long, sunny days. Planted mostly in white varieties, about half of it chardonnay. Gisborne calls itself the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand.
Hawkes Bay—Hawkes Bay is the country’s second largest region. Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape variety but because of the long sunny days a high percentage of later-ripening red grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon have also been planted in this relatively warm region. Sauvingon blanc in a style somewhat riper than the more famous Marlborough style, and for that reason sometimes oak aged.
Martinborough—Located in the southeastern corner of North Island, across from South Island’s Marlborough region and somewhat similar in climate. As in Marlborough, it is known for good pinot noir.
Mills Reef Sauvignon Blanc, from Hawkes Bay, is a very good example of North Island’s answer to Marlborough. The warmer climate gives a somewhat richer, riper style, which is better complemented by a touch of oak than the more famous, more acidic, South Island style. Still, it’s not heavy, nor overdone. It’s balanced, refreshing, and somewhat more complex than what has become the “typical” style of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It retails from around $20 and is available locally.