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New Zealand's "other varieties" under-exploited in the UK

Published:  18 November, 2016

The UK wine trade is well versed in New Zealand's top two exports-Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.

Wine educator, Jennifer Franich takes a look at the diversity of New Zeland.

The UK wine trade is well versed in New Zealand's top two export, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir.

Sauvignon Blanc, the country's most famous product, accounts for 66% of wine made, and 87% of exports in 2015 - a huge proportion of this drunk here in the UK, according to New Zealand Winegrowers.

Red wine accounts for a total of 14% of total wine production, and Pinot Noir accounts for the majority of this.

However, what is not well understood in the UK, and under-represented by both on-trade and off-trade, is the extent of the diversity yet to be properly discovered.

Recently I was shocked to be told by one manager at a major chain wine shop in London that New Zealand doesn't produce Riesling, despite actually stocking two on their shelves.

This highlights a widespread problem.

Riesling only currently accounts for 1% of all plantings, and 0.1% of exports, but it could and should be exploited further in both on and off-trade here, given current customer perception of quality, and the willingness to pay high prices for New Zealand wines.

Styles range from bone dry to lusciously sweet, and can pair brilliantly with a wide range of foods, making it a style well suited to the diversity of cuisine now offered in the UK as demonstrated at New Zealand Winegrowers' New Discoveries trade event in London on November 1.

Pinot Gris has been a rising star of late, in a richer Alsace rather than Pinot Grigio style.

Yet it has a typical NZ boldness of fruit, with apple, pear, honeysuckle, spice, and a savoury, baked bread aroma.

It was in fashion in a big way with growers a few years ago, but now accounts for 6% of New Zealand production, and 2% of exports.

Lesser Known

A range of styles bound in New Zealand, mostly due to the climatic differences between the north and south islands.

The country's Chardonnay has recently benefited from research and innovation, leading to a real breadth and some truly exceptional wines, from unoaked and fruity, to rich "Burgundian" styles.

Chardonnay currently accounts for 9.1% of total wine production and 2% of exports.

However, the real excitement for the future may lie in the lesser-grown varieties, such as the fashionable whites Albarino, and Gruner Veltliner, as well as varieties such as Sauvignon Gris and Gewürtzraminer.

In terms of red wine production, Pinot Noir makes up the overwhelming proportion of plantings, followed by Merlot (mostly in Hawkes Bay Bordeaux style blends), Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

New Zealand winemakers are also experimenting with varieties such as Malbec and Tempranillo, wisely exploring new terroirs.

In the future, these varieties could be increasingly important to New Zealand's viticultural landscape if climate change continues at its current pace.

The aim of New Zealand producers is to create new wines for future markets such as Asia-Pacific, and to woo back domestic drinkers.

Indeed, while exports continue to rise, domestic consumption has declined in recent years.

Some of these new wines aim to exploit the premium market, such as the Hans Family Estate Tempranillo from Wairau Valley, Marlborough 2012 (RRP £40).

Such styles of premium wine would be an exciting addition to the off-trade and restaurants in the UK.

New Zealand has a target to expand exports to $NZ 2bn by 2020.

Given that exports have grown 10% in the past few years to $1.6bn to June 2016, this figure seems highly achievable.