All eyes have been on New Zealand over the last few months. All rugby lovers’ eyes anyway. And in this house, buckets of New Zealand wine have been downed, too. Any excuse and all that. Besides, nobody I know is going to want to drink Kiwi beer.
My various neighbours in the Crescent are a thirsty lot and, since none of them has a proper job, it’s remarkable how early they’ve been prepared to wet their respective whistles. No matter that whatever match we were watching might have had a 9am kick-off, there were as many calls for Kiwi pinot noir with the trays of bacon sandwiches as there were for Heinz tomato ketchup.
It must be admitted, though, that a well-made bacon sarnie really is all the better for being partnered by a fine pinot noir, whatever time of day you fancy it. A pinot, say, from the ubiquitous but really very good indeed Villa Maria, or (marching up the scale a bit) Craggy Range, Seresin Estate, Mt Difficulty or Felton Road.
And having done my in-depth researches through several rugby breakfasts, I have discovered that a decent Kiwi pinot is also ideal fare for early-morning wine drinkers since the wines tend to be soft, silky, smooth, elegant and easy on the palate, without any of the searing acidity that would make a sauvignon blanc too sharp at such an early hour, and without any of the mouth-puckering tannin (of which I get plenty from my wife’s tea), which would make a syrah too boisterous and tough.
It’s not that I particularly favour early morning drinking, nor – before the Portman Group gets on my back – that I advocate it. It’s just that if you were thinking of indulging in such a thing, New Zealand pinot noir is where I would suggest you started. Well, there, or a nice chilled demi-sec champagne. Or now I come to think of it, maybe a bellini (prosecco and white peach juice) or a JoJo (prosecco and fresh strawberry juice), both of which are utterly delicious with warm almond croissants. But I digress.
The last few weeks have further cemented our love affair with New Zealand’s winemakers if not their rugby players. The UK is already the world’s biggest market for their wines. We nab around a third of all their exported bottles, added to which we’re prepared to pay far more per bottle of New Zealand wine than we are for any other: £6 on average, compared to £5.50 for the second-placed French, £4.50 for Australian and – God knows what folk can be drinking or where they’re getting it from – £3.50 for German. New Zealand is the best-performing country in Majestic, Waitrose,
Ocado and Laithwaites.
And it’s all happened so quickly. In 2002 there were 398 wine companies in New Zealand; today there are 698. In 2002, they produced 89 million litres of vino; this year they produced 235 million. And consider this: sauvignon blanc – the grape that initially put New Zealand on the wine map – was first planted there as recently as 1974. And yet some would argue New Zealand sauvignons are now the best in the world.
Then there are the exceptional pinot noirs of Martinborough, Central Otago and, increasingly, Marlborough, as well as the remarkable bordeaux blends and syrahs of the Gimblett Gravels in Hawkes Bay. There’s no doubt at all that the best examples of these are world-beaters.
I was at a blind tasting a couple of years ago comparing the top 2005 clarets against some 2006 Gimblett Gravels blends. It was no surprise that 2005 Château Lafite-Rothschild (at £975 a bottle) came first, that 2005 Château Mouton-Rothschild (£675) came second nor that 2005 Château Angelus (£295) came third.
What completely staggered us all was that 2006 Sacred Hill Helmsman, at an absurdly modest £18 a bottle, came fourth. Newton Forrest Cornerstone 2006 (£15) came sixth, only a couple of points behind the 2005 Château Haut-Brion (£700).
One of my very favourite wineries, Craggy Range, released its 2009 Prestige Collection in June and this is its best vintage yet. Craggy Range may be pricy but it’s exceptionally high quality and half the price of any equivalent French wine. And it’s a lot rarer, too – fewer than 500 cases of its chardonnay were made.
There’s so much to enjoy in New Zealand. If you’ve tried a Marlborough sauvignon blanc and liked it, why not try a chenin blanc from Gisborne, say, a pinot gris from Nelson or a merlot from Auckland?
The wines get better and more varied every year. And you don’t have to have them for breakfast. Unless, of course, you want to.

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