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Principal New Zealand
Grape Varieties


This is an interesting emerging variety that several New Zealand winemakers are experimenting with. It is a traditional grape from North-western Italy that can be highly perfumed with aromas of citrus, grapefruit, almonds or marmalade, although sometimes dry, mineral and subtle. It can be a challenging grape to grow because of its low natural acidity and its tendency to get over ripe and it requires careful nurturing. Currently it is mainly grown in the Auckland area.


The third most widely planted grape variety in New Zealand (having been overtaken in recent years by sauvignon blanc and pinot noir), New Zealand's chardonnays are full bodied, with fruit flavours ranging from crisp, flinty apples and lemons through to the lush stone fruit, peach and apricot flavours of very ripe grapes. Styles produced range from fresh, unwooded wines through to mouth-filling multifaceted wines with malolactic fermentations. Those from the warmer areas such as Gisborne produce soft ripe wines that are fruit driven, uncomplicated and easy to drink. Chardonnays from Hawkes Bay are ripe with a rich fruit flavour, but the acidity is more apparent. In the cooler areas such as Nelson and Marlborough, a lemony quality appears in the fruit.

  Chenin Blanc

At their best, New Zealandís chenin blancs are full in the body, with a fresh, buoyant, pineappley flavour and mouth watering acidity. At their worst they are searingly tart and totally devoid of any charm. Chenin blancís most common role here is as a blending variety, adding body and 'spine' to its blends with muller thurgau in casks. mainly grown in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. It is rapidly declining in popularity as it struggles to gain an identity. and because of difficulties in successfully growing it because of its late-ripening nature and its susceptibility to botrytis.


New Zealand gewurztraminer can be intensely aromatic, with floral, lychee and spice aromas of cinnamon, cloves and ginger which gather in intensity on the palate  giving it an exciting racy character. New Zealand gewurztraminers tend to be lighter in style although there are some examples made of the fuller bodied, drier styles. This grape variety is mainly grown in Gisborne with lesser plantings in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay.

  Gruner Veltliner

This aromatic varietal which is primarily grown in Austria and surrounding countries is a relatively new variety to New Zealand. It is another variety that some winemakers are beginning to experiment with and, so far, results seem very positive. It has a steely, mineral, citrus character with hints of white pepper. Most is grown around Nelson and Marlborough with some in Gisborne.


In 1995 this grape was easily New Zealand's most heavily cropped variety but it has now almost completely disappeared from vineyards. It is rarely exported and the small quantities produced are more often packaged in casks rather than bottles. The best New Zealand muller-thurgauís have a flower-petal like fragrance with a ripe fruitiness reminiscent of crisp apples. There is a tendency for muller-thurgauís to lack acidity and often this has to be compensated for through back-blending. They are generally produced as light bodied, slightly sweet wines styled as easy drinking low-priced wines. It is mostly planted in Gisborne, followed by Hawkes Bay.


These comprise a wide family of high yielding white and red grapes which demonstrate intense sweet musky flavours. Mainly used to make very popular Italian style spumante sweet white sparkling wines and some dessert wines. Also widely used in cheap blended sweet white wines. Predominantly grown in Gisborne.

  Pinot Gris

An outstanding chardonnay substitute, pinot gris is rapidly becoming more popular in New Zealand vineyards and is now the 4th most highly planted variety. Savoury, with an earthy stone-fruit or apple or pear flavours, pinot gris offers an alternative to the higher profile dry whites. This is a variety which is becoming increasingly fashionable among the wine drinking public and it is predicted to have an enormous potential for New Zealand winemakers. Pinot gris is mainly grown in Marlborough, Otago and Hawkes Bay.


This is an early ripening, high cropping cross of muller thurgau. It has a light fruity character with a honey background taste, It is used mainly in blends to create inexpensive sweet white cask and sparkling wines. The bulk of reichensteiner is grown in the Gisborne area.


The best New Zealand rieslings are grown in the cooler parts of the country from Wellington south with more than 80% being grown in the South Island. Local rieslings range in style from bone-dry to sweet late harvest styles and everything in between
. The flavours tend to have a citrus character, good natural acidity with honied overtones and a rich honeysuckle bouquet when mature. New Zealand rieslings are much underrated!

  Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon blanc is the grape variety that put New Zealand on the international wine map.  It is now New Zealand's most planted variety and is successfully grown in each of the main wine growing regions. Those produced in the North Island tend to be softer and less herbaceous than those grown in the south. More than 80% of sauvignon blancs are grown in the Marlborough area, most displaying the pungent, grassy green flavours that overseas markets associate with the New Zealand style. New Zealand sauvignon blancs are generally unoaked with flavours including capsicum, gooseberry, nectarine or passionfruit. It is a wine that you will either love or hate. It may not be subtle but it is definitely delicious! 


Semillon has only been used in New Zealand for a relatively short time, most disappearing into blends although some winemakers are starting to make straight varietal wines. These wines have a spicy, herbaceous smell and taste of lime, lemon, melon or tropical pineapple flavours with a good natural acidity. It is a useful, zingy, flavour-packed variety and is often blended with sauvignon blanc to produce a crisp edge which enhances the wineís longevity. Most is planted in Gisborne with lesser plantings in Marlborough and Hawkes Bay.


Viognier is a relatively "new kid on the block" in New Zealand. This Rhone Valley variety was saved from the brink of extinction and is yielding very promising wines. Like chardonnay it can be oaked or unoaked. It can be full and richly concentrated with sweet fruit flavours of peach, pear, nutmeg or apricot. Its scented floral aromas makes it a good match with Asian cuisines, pork or chicken. Most viogniers are intended to be consumed young. It is often used to soften wines made predominantly with syrah grapes. About 80 per cent of the vines are grown around Hawke's Bay and Gisborne.

bullet  Cabernet Franc bullet

Cabernet Franc, a happier vine in cooler regions than cabernet sauvignon, is one of New Zealandís more important red wine varieties. These wines tend to be light and fruity, low in tannin with some acidity. It is usually used in blends with cabernet sauvignon or merlot because its sweet finish is useful to counter their savoury flavours. Plantings are concentrated mainly in Hawkes Bay and Auckland.

bullet  Cabernet Sauvignon bullet

Cabernet sauvignon has not always been a success in New Zealand. Too often the grapes are not fully ripe when picked especially because it is a late ripening variety and it requires late summer heat to ripen the grapes fully. However, with the improvement in vineyard management there has been a steady improvement in flavour. More than 80% of the country's cabernet sauvignon hails from the warmer North Island growing regions, namely Hawkes Bay, Auckland and Northland with very little growing anywhere further south than Marlborough. Most NZ cabernet sauvignons are made in more forward softer styles for drinking at 3-5 years. Much of this grape variety is also blended with merlot to produce an easier drinking wine. 

bullet  Malbec bullet

A highly tannic early ripening grape that is rarely used in New Zealand to produce stand-alone wines. It is normally blended in small quantities
with merlot and cabernet sauvignon to build structure into New Zealand Bordeaux style red wine blends. Primarily grown in Hawkes Bay with its warmer climate.

bullet  Merlot bullet

The potential for merlot in New Zealand is enormous. Over the lengthy ripening season in our cool climate, merlot is able to slowly build and concentrate its flavours. In the past merlot was principally produced as a blending variety, particularly with cabernet sauvignon because of its ability to soften its harsh tannins. Where cabernet may lack weight on the middle palate, when blended with merlot the flavour is filled out nicely and length and persistence are added to the taste. However, it is now seen as a premium variety in its own right. Merlot produces red wines of alluring richness, plumpness and suppleness and its early drinking appeal is a boon to wine lovers. About 70% of New Zealand's merlot is grown in Hawkes Bay with the majority of the balance split between Marlborough and Gisborne.

bullet  Pinot Noir bullet

Although a challenging grape to grow,  pinot noir has had a rapid surge in popularity and quality and is set to become New Zealand's next big wine style - a premium red to stand alongside sauvignon blanc on the international stage . It is the most important red wine grape variety in Wellington, Waipara, Canterbury and Central Otago. It yields wine which has a good colour and a soft, fruity palate. It can also be velvety smooth but with power strength and complexity. Its flavours and aromas are reminiscent of sweet strawberries, raspberries, cherries or plums. With age it develops complex mushroom and earthy characters. Pinot noir is also an important ingredient in New Zealandís best sparkling white wines produced in Marlborough. Pinot noir is now the second most widely planted and cropped grape variety in New Zealand.

bullet  Pinotage bullet

A cross between pinot noir and cinsault (also known as hermitage), pinotage, as a commercially grown variety, is produced mainly in South Africa and New Zealand with small plantings in other parts of Africa and in California. Sometimes regarded as 'coarse', a well made pinotage is a soft, medium-bodied, early maturing, peppery wine, less tannic than cabernet sauvignon, with a pleasant berry like flavour and a smooth finish. Some winemakers see it as the most underrated grape variety in New Zealand. Few New Zealand winemakers make wines exclusively from this grape, preferring to use it in blends. New Zealand plantings are mostly centred in Auckland, Northland, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.

bullet  Syrah bullet

Plantings of this relatively late-ripening grape have grown steadily since the 1990's, especially in Hawkes Bay (where more than 70% is grown) and Wellington. Not as bold as the typical Australian shiraz (the same grape variety), New Zealand's syrahs tend to result in earthy and spicy wines. Often blended with cabernet sauvignon to improve the balance and tannin structure. New clones are improving the ripening performance of New Zealand syrahs.

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