New Zealand Wine’s Alternative Scene
Imagine that the only thing you could eat for the rest of your life was ham sandwiches.
Ham sandwiches are very nice but it would become very boring after a couple of days, let alone a lifetime.
But when it comes to New Zealand wine, most consumers are happy to stick to the same old thing: a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon or Central Otago Pinot.
More than eight out of 10 bottles that leave our ports are Sauvignon Blanc. Next closest in the variety stakes is Pinot Noir, which represents less than 1 in 10 bottle. Every other variety then battles it out for the scraps.
But there are more than 5000 grape varieties in the world so just sticking with Sav or Pinot means missing out on 4998 grapes of deliciousness (okay, 4997 – Pinotage doesn’t fit in the deliciousness box – bring on the vehement comments from my South African colleagues).
At the recent Wine Auckland wine show I tried to encourage consumers to try something different, In the last week I’ve received samples of Gruner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc and even Petit Manseng from Kiwi wine producers, attesting to the growing interest in lesser-known varieties among producers.
Plantings are still small – Gruner is one of the better known emerging varieties but there were just 42ha in the ground at the last count. That’s 0.01 percent of New Zealand’s vineyard area. Viognier, a little more prolific, covers a little more than 160ha or 0.04 percent!
In recognition of the growing diversity of vines in New Zealand’s soils, the Australian Alternative Wine Varieties Show is introducing a new award this year: the Trans Tasman Trophy for best alternative variety from NZ.
The challenge was originally founded as the Sangiovese Awards in 1999 by celebrity chef Stefano de Pieri and nurseryman Bruce Chalmers. The competition morphed into the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show in 2001. There are categories for everything from Arneis to Vermentino, Aglianico to Zinfandel.
There’s also time between judging for dinners, workshops and, having judged at the show in 2008, I can attest there’s also revelry involved. This year, the keynote speaker is Lado Uzunashvili, winemaker at Mukado Wines in Georgia’s Gurjaani region who will introduce the world of Georgian grape varieties while Italian wine expert Walter Speller will be joining a panel to discuss the move away from precision winemaking to more traditional methods. There’s also a game of lawn bowls to end proceedings.
Kiwi producers should show their Tasman rivals that they’re not the only ones who are excelling at non international varieties. I recommend Milton’s Chenin Blanc, Coopers Creek Albarino and Marsanne, Church Road’s Marzemino, Viognier from Elephant Hill and Rod McDonald, and Te Mata’s Gamay for starters.