New and 'wacky' New Zealand varieties find place on wine lists

Imbibe Editorial

19 January 2017

New Zealand's 'monoculture' of Sauvignon Blanc is being nibbled at by varieties like Albariño and Grüner Veltliner, some merchants are reporting.

While quantities are tiny – Pinot Noir and Sauvignon still account for 70% and 74% of red and white plantings respectively – 'New Zealand is trying to show the world they are more than Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc', as one buyer, Sergio Persi of Hallgarten Druitt & Novum told Imbibe.

And distributors such as Negociants UK, Berkmann and others report considerable success with more unusual varieties.

Tom Grundy of Negociants said Nautilus Albariño from Marlborough was now in London restaurants Temper, the Glasshouse and the Social Eating House, while the Clove Club had taken the entire allocation of the 2014 vintage. 'Sommeliers are looking for lesser-known grapes from established regions,' he said.

At Berkmann Wine Cellars, purchasing director Alex Hunt said their Albariño, from Gisborne producer Cooper's Creek, was 'a sustained success. It's outsold Riesling, Viognier and Chardonnay. Albariño is not a novelty any more.'

Meanwhile Les Caves de Pyrene's Doug Wregg considers Grüner Veltliner 'great and solid' and reports some interest in Verdelho. He added though that New Zealand is essentially a 'very conservative' region, compared to California and Australia, 'where there are dozens of different grape varieties.'

However hidebound New Zealand may be, there is 'a thirst for new and wacky varieties,' Hunt said. 'It's been a monoculture for so long, people want something different.'

Others agree, although the combined might of Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc is unlikely to be dented. As Persi said: 'Sommeliers ask me what I have that's new. They love the Grüner, and then they buy the Sauvignon. If your sales are healthy you can afford to have a look at different varieties, but if you need to make day-by-day sales, it's Sauvignon Blanc. It sells by itself.'

Finding new styles rather than new varieties is another strategy being adopted by buyers looking for points of difference. 'New Zealand's trying to find a new edge, a new dimension,' Persi said. 'There are producers like Rod Easthope [in Hawke's Bay] trying to make Sauvignon more discreet, less bombastic.'

'My antenna flutters at Sauvignon Blancs with amazing texture, using more indigenous yeast, for example,' said Hunt, citing a new listing from Julicher in Martinborough. 'Instead of looking for new varieties we should look for variation within the varieties.'

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