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NZ Wines That Don’t Come From Marlborough

By Alex Russell on June 16, 2011 in Food

Whenever I drink with friends, I always try to pick something a bit different and interesting to broaden their wine horizons. A few months ago I went to an awesome wine bar in the Cross (Time to Vino – check it out) and noticed that they didn’t have a single Marlborough Sauv Blanc on the menu. I thought it was a ballsy move, shunning the most popular wine style completely – ballsy, but inspiring.

This month’s article is about wine regions in NZ that aren’t Marlborough – looking at what’s made there, the styles and the labels to try.


Marlborough is on the northern bit of the South Island, while Martinborough is on the southern bit of the North Island. They’re not that far away from each other but have quite different climates. Martinborough is mostly known for Pinot Noir but you’ll also find some lovely whites (Sauv Blanc and Pinot Gris mostly) that are a bit more textural than the Marlborough whites. Textural refers to the way the wine feels in your mouth.

The big names to look for here are Ata Rangi, Martinborough Estate and Escarpment, all particularly famous for their Pinot Noirs. If you can get your hands on anything made by a winery called Dry River, you’ve done very well for yourself. They’re very hard to find but they’re some of the most amazing wines you’ll ever try – particularly the famous Pinot Noir, the Syrah and the Gewürztraminer. You’ll also find some great budget drinking from Palliser Estate (and their second label, Pencarrow).

Hawkes Bay

A little further north, on the east coast, you’ll find the region of Hawkes Bay. There are some brilliant reds coming from this region, and not just Pinot Noirs. Look for amazing Shiraz/Syrah and Bordeaux style blends (Cabernet Merlot, basically). Labels like Craggy Range and Te Mata in particular are making world-class wines, even though their actual wineries are in different regions. You’ll also find some amazing Chardonnay grapes grown in this region.

Central Otago

Let’s head on down to the South Island now, all the way down. I have no idea how they manage to grow grapes in Central Otago, it’s frigging freezing. While a few whites are made here (Chardonnay, Sauv Blanc, Riesling), it’s the Pinot Noir that everyone raves about. They’re pretty full-on in flavour too – almost meaty in style, as opposed to the elegance of other regions.
Labels to watch here are Felton Road (maker of some of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tried), Mt Difficulty (including the cheaper Roaring Meg label), Peregrine, Gibbston Valley and Two Paddocks (including the cheaper Picnic label).

Other wineries from Central Otago can be very good too, although I’ve found their quality a little hit and miss over the years. The ones listed above are consistent performers. While you can get decent Pinot Noir from Marlborough and Martinborough starting at around $20ish, it’s rare to find a Central Otago Pinot for under $30 and the regular ‘estate’ labels start at around $60ish. They are some of the best Pinots out of NZ, but they’re quite expensive. But then again, it’s not cheap to run heaters.

Other regions

Nelson is on the tip of the south island, not far from Marlborough, and makes similar styles to Marlborough. Auckland up north is making some decent Cabernet and Merlot (although you never hear about them). The other regions to watch are the Waipara Valley (near Canterbury) and Waikato (right up north).

Marlborough makes some very easy to drink wines and they’re always a pretty safe bet but try something from somewhere else from time to time. You might just find the best wine you’ve ever drunk. I did.