Riesling and Pinot Noir take center stage in New Zealand

If you were stranded on a deserted island, what wines would you crave? I’m a Riesling and Pinot Noir gal. As two of the most flexible food wines, these noble varieties go with freshly-speared fish, roasted wild boar, and even homemade coconut cream pie. So, I’m not too far off then when I say my current favorites for both wine types hail from an island nation – New Zealand.

pinot noir conference 2pinot noir conference Actually two islands – North and South – Kiwi country is small but powerful in the wine world. As one of several international hot spots showing sales growth in the United States (the other is Argentina), New Zealand creates signature styles reflecting the unique place. The most well-known is herbal-scented, juicy Sauvignon Blanc. But New Zealand is far more complex than that. Notoriously fickle Pinot Noir has found a home there in the cool but sunny climate, as has Riesling and other aromatic white varieties like Pinot Gris.

After a recent trip to speak at an event dubbed, Pinot Noir 2010, I had a chance to revisit many classic wineries and discover numerous upcoming stars. All I can say is that for lovers of elegant wines packed with personality, seek out the duo of New Zealand Riesling and Pinot Noir. If I see you on that island beach, though, remember to share.

Producers and Places to know

nz wine mapAs the wine industry matures in New Zealand, the most striking development is how wines are starting to express a sense of regionality. Each of these wine-growing areas is distinctive and the producers highlighted have mastered letting the land speak. Most Pinot Noir prices range from $25-$45 but numerous wineries are crafting second labels that hit the sweet spot of $18-22. Rieslings span $12-25, making them relative bargains.

The combination of high quality and reasonable pricing is why New Zealand is generating such excitement these days.

Place: Martinborough

A bucolic town situated in the North Island’s Wairarapa region, Martinborough is home to New Zealand’s most historic Pinot Noir plantings dating back more than 30 years. Pinots hailing from Martinborough are intense and complex with Burgundian-style earthiness. Taut, racy Rieslings, meanwhile, weigh in on the dry side of the scale.

Top Producers of Riesling and Pinot Noir:

*Ata Rangi

*Dry River

*Palliser Estate


*Craggy Range

*Martinborough Vineyards


marlboro riesling Place: Marlborough

Located on the northern tip of the South Island, Marlborough is the most well-known of New Zealand’s wine regions. Made famous by producing pungent Sauvignon Blancs (can you say Cloudy Bay?) this sweeping swath of ancient riverbed is also planted with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Riesling. Their trademarks are vibrancy, intense fruit notes, and freshness.


Top Producers of Riesling and Pinot Noir:

*Villa Maria 


*Wither Hills

*Jackson Estate

*Staete Landt


*Wairau River

*Nautilus Estate




Place: Central Otago

As the southernmost wine region in the world, Central Otago is extreme. Gazing up to the Remarkables mountain range, you know this is a place where adventure abounds. Growing grapes in Central takes guts and gusto. It’s the wild, wild south and the Pinots make a statement.  Complex with dark fruit and wild herbal aromas, they reflect the rugged terrain. Riesling, however, is the surprise expressing purity of fruit wrapped with a fleshy texture.

nz mt edwardsTop Producers of Riesling and Pinot Noir:

*Felton Road


*Mount Difficulty

*Mount Edward

*Tarras Vineyards


Other places and people to watch

Nelson:As the artistic epicenter of New Zealand, Nelson attracts artists and craftspeople with its scenic beauty and relaxed atmosphere. Due to the maritime climate, Riesling and other aromatic varieties are the stars.

Top Producers of Riesling and other Aromatics:  




Waipara: Located near Christchurch on the South Island, the Waipara (pronounced Why-para) isn’t as well-known as other regions, but is home to two of the country’s cult superstars of Riesling and Pinot Noir:

*Pegasus Bay

*Pyramid Valley

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