Rolling green hills are one of the most iconic images of winemaking. You don’t get much greener and hillier than New Zealand, a country made famous through both mainstream media and the art of wine.
This New World wine region has worked hard for the past century to establish itself as a must-try origin. Alongside Australia and California, New Zealand has started to turn heads with its stunning white wine and sparkling varieties.
Thanks to a cooler climate and sandy soil, this country is well-suited to the production of high-end pinot noir and sauvignon blanc.
Are you interested in trying some of the best wines of New Zealand? We’re going to explore the country’s relatively recent winemaking history, top wineries, and wine bottles you can try this year.
A Brief Look at New Zealand’s Wine History
New Zealand is, ironically enough, a classic representation of a New World wine region. While winemakers technically started planting grapes in the 19th century, this country wouldn’t establish a solid winemaking culture until the 20th century.
The combined efforts of French missionaries and British oenologists crafted the New Zealand winemaking culture we know and love today.
These efforts were ongoing thanks to the already existing prominence of beer and spirits in several regions of the country. The first wine grapes to be planted were sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and syrah.
Today New Zealand exports the vast majority of its wine production throughout the Western Hemisphere. According to Statista, New Zealand wine revenue will increase to nearly $4 billion by 2024.
What is New Zealand’s Most Famous Wine?
Sauvignon blanc is the most popular New Zealand grape by a landslide. Over half of all New Zealand vineyards produce this white wine grape.
A higher volume of stony soil and salty winds makes New Zealand particularly well-suited to white wine production.
What is the Most Famous Wine Region in New Zealand?
Marlborough is a term you’ll find easily while browsing the wine rack. This wine region is the largest and produces the majority of New Zealand wines, which we’ll explore more below.
Wine Regions of New Zealand
New Zealand is home to ten wine regions, each with its own unique climate and soil quality. We’ll take a look at a few of them below so you can know which bottle of wine to try first!
Starting off with the largest New Zealand wine region, Marlborough is a name that automatically brings to mind sunny days and long beaches.
This region is famed for its ripe and acidic sauvignon blanc production, though you’ll also find a hearty supply of riesling and pinot gris. Overall, white wine fans are in very good hands here.
In contrast, Central Otago produces fewer wine bottles but is often considered a high-quality region. Pinot noir is the preferred grape thanks to the region’s cool climate and reduced humidity.
If you still want a little variety, Central Otago also produces rosé varieties, grüner veltliner, and chardonnay.
If you want to step off the beaten path, Nelson is your first stop. This small, lesser-known New Zealand wine region has carved out a reputation as a sleeper hit for wine aficionados.
Known for having a rare mesoclimate – a term for a small and highly unique series of vineyards – this region produces some of the most perfumed red and white wines you’ll ever find. Pinot gris, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnay are the dominant grapes here.
While not as large as Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay is arguably more popular thanks to just how old it is. This region is overflowing with diverse soil varieties, making it one of the most diverse locations for curious wine fans.
Chardonnay fans will adore the heavy lean toward bright acidity and tropical fruit this region provides. To contrast, Syrah and Merlot fans will be impressed by the complex mineral flourishes found in New Zealand vineyards.
Waikato is a rather small region, overlapping with the Bay of Plenty as a New Zealand region to be aware of. While sauvignon blanc is just as popular here as in any other area of the country, cabernet sauvignon is also commonly planted.
If you’re a fan of Lord Of The Rings, you’ll instantly recognize this region as where the famous Shire was constructed.
Wineries of New Zealand
New Zealand is home to hundreds of wineries big and small. While most will lean toward white wine production, you can still find red and blush wines with a little digging.
Below are a few established wineries that represent what makes New Zealand such a memorable wine destination.
Established back in the late 1800s, Te Mata Estate stands out for being one of the older New World wineries around. This business first got its start as a series of homesteads, gradually shifting to winemaking thanks to the inspiration of one of the later owners.
Te Mata Estate has been protecting its three original vineyards ever since, dedicating its time to creating a widespread portfolio of just about every grape you can think of. You’ll find red wine mainstays like pinot noir, merlot, and gamay right alongside white wine powerhouses such as chardonnay.
This portfolio is class personified, offering single bottles as well as wine packages in wooden boxes emblazoned with their stamp. The high price point and focus on prestige make this winery a top choice for holiday gift options.
If you want to seek out a winery with a more casual flair, Brancott Estate will meet you halfway. Previously known as Montana Wines, this winery is often considered the face of the New Zealand wine industry.
Known for planting the very first sauvignon blanc grapes in Marlborough, their wine portfolio comes with affordable pricing for casual sipping nights.
This award-winning winery was founded in the 60s and specializes in just a few grape varieties, winning awards at international wine competitions for their hard work.
White wine fans will adore the range of sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, though they also offer pinot noir to shake things up a little.
Whereas the previous two New Zealand wineries have been making waves for a while, Palliser Estate is as fresh as they come. Coming up on five years of wine production, these winemakers are keen on adding modern approaches to traditional vinification.
This wine portfolio is constructed on biodynamic and organic winemaking practices. Just two years ago they achieved organic certification for their Hua Nui vineyard, cementing their commitment to keeping soil and grapes free from chemical pollution.
Their wine portfolio is a medley of international wine grapes like chardonnay, pinot noir, and riesling. If you like to pair your wine with dessert, consider purchasing a few bars of their chocolate.
The Best Wines of New Zealand
The wineries we’ve chosen for this New Zealand wine list are exemplary of the region. White wine will be the dominant focus here, particularly sauvignon blanc.
We still added a few red and blushing wines to ensure all bases are covered. Without further ado!
Palliser Estate Pencarrow Sauvignon Blanc 2022
You don’t need to shell out half your mortgage to get an impressive bottle of sauvignon blanc. At a modest price point and a very recent vintage date, this is a low-pressure bottle with a powerful kick.
Expect a fruit-forward wine with a smooth, lush mouthfeel. This wine will bring out the flavor notes of any grilled chicken, white fish, or vegetable stir-fry dish.
Palliser Estate The Rose 2019
Ever wondered what the famed pinot noir is like grown on New Zealand soil? This wine has been carefully aged on yeast lees, the leftover dead yeast born from the fining process.
While most pinot noir is medium-bodied and smooth, this bottle has a uniquely full and creamy mouthfeel. Balance out its tangy red currant and raspberry notes with a beef or mushroom-focused dish.
Palliser Estate Single Vineyard ‘Om Santi’ Chardonnay 2021
If you have a little extra cash, consider saving up for Palliser Estate’s showcase chardonnay. They emphasize as minimal fining and filtering as possible to give you a soft and gentle approach to a usually robust white wine.
Expect a subtle medley of salty, mineral aromatics and a blend of vanilla bean, peach, and nectarine flavor notes. This stately bottle would go well with a cheese-based charcuterie or as a sipping wine after a full meal.
Brancott Estate Pinot Grigio
If chardonnay and sauvignon blanc isn’t your favorite white wines, you’ll want to check out this pinot grigio. While usually grown in Italy, New Zealand’s stony terroir lends an entirely new character to this grape.
Expect classic pinot grigio flavor notes like honeysuckle and pear alongside a surprisingly creamy texture. Try chilling this wine for twenty minutes before pairing it with a barbecue or salad.
Brancott Estate Letter Series B Sauvignon Blanc
This sauvignon blanc is an explosion of solid first impressions. With multiple gold medals and a competitively performing vineyard to its name, this bottle is a mean purchase for a relatively low price.
The quintessential tartness of sauvignon blanc is balanced by a heavily herbal and mineral finish, lending a complexity that’s sometimes hard to find. Save this bottle for a shellfish, white fish, or white cheese-based dish.
Te Mata Estate Syrah ‘21
Red wine fans, we still have more to satisfy your palate! Syrah is one of the more popular red wines in New Zealand, grown commonly alongside pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.
This bottle is a showstopper of what makes this grape so enduring. Expect a floral bouquet followed by dark, plummy fruit and a long, chocolate finish. Grilled vegetables, salty cheese, or stuffed red peppers will pair nicely here.
Te Mata Estate Cabernet/Merlot ‘20
Are you in the mood for a sumptuous red blend? This bottle takes the bold tartness of cabernet sauvignon and soothes it with the typically mellow profile of merlot.
Red fruit and dark fruit mingle together in this highly complex bottle, balanced out by an earthy undertone and shockingly smoky finish. This is one bottle you’ll want to save for a special occasion and a savory dinner.
Why You Should Drink New Zealand Wines
New Zealand may be a young wine region, but it’s filled with enough intrigue to keep wine fans of all shapes and sizes busy for years.
This country is best known for extensive white wine exports, particularly sauvignon blanc. Hawke’s Bay and Waikato are two regions also well-known for high-end cabernet sauvignon and syrah production. The country’s soil is beloved for being particularly salty and sandy, lending itself well to wines with highly acidic and earthy flavors.
New Zealand is a compelling wine region for both its unique spin on international wine grapes and the relatively new arrival of its wineries. Whether you prefer white or red wines, you’ll discover sides to your bottle you never thought possible.
Want to learn more about New World wine regions? We have a breakdown of German wines here! Also, check out our list of wine regions to help deepen your knowledge of wine.