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A Glass of Red Wine with Strawberry Standing on Old Table at the Beach on the Pacific Coast, Auckland, New ZealandDespite a slow start in the 19th century, New Zealand’s winemakers have roared into the 21st century determined to carve out a place for their unique wines in the global marketplace.  Unlike their Australian neighbors who focused on winemaking from the very beginning - vines were sent to the penal colonies from South Africa with the first fleet - New Zealanders were slower to take up the craft, despite the climactic conditions which play a critical part in forming the distinctive flavors of New Zealand’s wines today.  Half-hearted attempts to grow grapes in the mid to late 19th century experienced total failure after a blight of phylloxera, the insidious grape-killing disease, which destroyed entire vineyards in Europe.  Instead of grafting American vines on to the local root stock as the French did, and thereby boosting the immunity to phylloxera but preserving the delicately-balanced flavors of the carefully calibrated European grapes, New Zealanders simply planted a hardier strain of American grape which thrived but produced poor quality wine, necessitating the addition of both water and sugar to make it palatable. 

New Zealand taste for wine was not rampant in the early 20th century.  Strong objections to alcoholic spirits from religious conservatives almost led to prohibition of alcohol in the country.  Although legal, alcohol consumption remained strictly monitored: as late as the 1950s, wine could not be sold in shops or restaurants and its sale in supermarkets was only introduced in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, New Zealand’s small but dedicated cadre of winemakers doggedly forged ahead.  The introduction of better quality vinifera grapes in the 1970s, coupled with stricter quality controls led to a steady improvement in quality and taste of New Zealand wines.  The rest of the world began to sit up and take notice, particularly of the country’s distinctive aromatic and grassy Sauvignon Blancs and bold and fruity Pinot Noirs.

Today, New Zealand’s wineries are reaching new heights of sophistication, garnering prestigious international accolades and an enthusiastic market for the country’s innovative wines.  Wine lovers visiting New Zealand will be intrigued by the development of the Sauvignon Blanc range, now tempered by oak barrels and blending with Semillon grapes.  New varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and even Bordeaux wines are beginning to encroach on the popularity of Pinot Noir.  Not to be outdone by their antipodean neighbors, New Zealanders are also rolling out excellent sparkling wines from champagne and chardonnay grapes.  Can there be more tangible proof that there is much to celebrate for both local winemakers and visiting gourmands!

Alexander+Roberts journeys pass through some of New Zealand’s popular wine growing regions on itineraries such as Spectacular New Zealand.

Posted: 9/17/2015 3:37:48 PM by Alexander + Roberts

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