New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is one of the world's great success stories. The popularity of the country's signature zesty style continues to rise, and vineyard plantings have tripled in the past decade. Yet red wine production here is increasing, too, driven by world-class Pinot Noirs from the Central Otago and Martinborough regions and outstanding Syrahs from up-and-coming districts like the North Island's Gimblett Gravels.
With its vast vineyard holdings on the South Island and beyond, Brancott has a geographical reach that helps make it one of New Zealand’s most successful producers. Brancott Vineyard is credited with being the birthplace of commercial Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (the first plantings date back to 1975). Although Sauvignon Blanc remains the estate’s signature wine, its lineup also includes a cross section of popular varietals.
Steve and Barbara Green gave up careers in local government and nursing, respectively, to become novice vintners in Central Otago in 1993. They bet wisely: Two decades later the fame of their estate-grown wines (now organically farmed) has grown in tandem with that of Otago itself. Though the Greens are known for their layered, polished Pinot Noirs, lately their white wines have been outshining the reds.
This famous Marlborough winery put New Zealand on the world’s wine map with its iconic citrus- and green bell pepper–inflected Sauvignon Blanc. Arguably the country’s best-known wine brand, Cloudy Bay has toned down its herbaceous style in recent years. At the helm today, Nick Blampied-Lane and Tim Heath turn out vibrant Sauvignon Blancs, plus crisp Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
New Zealand’s climate favors whites, but Craggy Range founder Terry Peabody is a big believer in the country’s ability to produce world-class reds. Acclaimed winemaker Steve Smith cherry-picks fruit from vineyards all over New Zealand, then crafts single-vineyard bottlings from each. The resulting wines are outstanding, though Peabody confesses that Craggy Range’s Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc is actually his favorite.
Dog Point Vineyard
Dog Point Vineyard’s wines debuted in 2002 to much anticipation, thanks to the fame of founders James Healy and Ivan Sutherland, the talents behind New Zealand’s emblematic Cloudy Bay brand. Ten years later, Dog Point wines, from the Marlborough region, have lived up to the hype, with Healy’s minimalistic winemaking approach teasing out new levels of complexity from familiar grapes.
The most famous winery in Central Otago, Felton Road helped establish New Zealand’s reputation for extraordinary Pinot Noir in the 1990s with its coveted Block 3 cuvée. Skilled vintner Blair Walter uses fruit from organic and/or biodynamic estate vineyards for Felton Road’s graceful wines, which also include small-lot Chardonnays and Rieslings.
On a vacation in New Zealand in the late 1980s, Swiss winemaker Georg Fromm found the country’s wines so compelling that he started his own Marlborough winery. Fromm teamed up with a fellow Swiss winemaker already working in New Zealand, Hätsch Kalberer (who is still in charge of the cellar). Together they honed the Fromm style, which combines pure, succulent fruit flavors with minerally depth.
Martinborough Vineyard occupies a privileged slice of Wairarapa geography: It lies in a rain shadow created by the Tararua Range, which creates long, dry summers; and vines dig their roots into the cobblestones of an ancient river terrace, which helps give small, extra-flavorful berries. The resulting wines show unusual concentration.
Visionaries Ross and Bill Spence were the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. Today the Matua Valley winery, now run by Treasury Wine Estates, is one of the country’s larger producers, with a range of mostly mid-priced wines. But its focus on quality comes across most clearly in its Estate Series offerings. The basic Sauvignon Blanc is a terrific value.
Mt. Difficulty Wines
Though planted only in 1992, Mt. Difficulty’s vineyards are among Central Otago’s oldest. Made by the affable Matt Dicey, who comes from a family of South African vintners, the terrific lineup includes the famous Pinot Noir–focused Mt. Difficulty label, plus the more affordable Roaring Meg bottlings.
Owned by Australia’s Hill Smith family, which also owns that country’s venerable Yalumba winery, Nautilus makes a fabulous Wairau Valley Pinot Noir. For its noteworthy Sauvignon Blancs, winemaker Clive Jones blends riper fruit from sites throughout Marlborough to capture a complex range of flavors, from green nuances to lusher fruit character.
Neurologist Ivan Donaldson moonlighted as a garagiste winemaker (a French term for vintners who craft small wine lots in nontraditional wineries) for decades until 1985, when he and his wife, Christine, founded Pegasus Bay, in the Waipara Valley. Their boutique winery quickly became one of the region’s finest estates. Today their son, Matthew, and his wife, Lynnette Hudson, make Pegasus Bay’s seductive Pinot Noirs and elegant Rieslings.
Lindsay McLachlan left a business career to found this Central Otago winery with Greg Hay in 1998. Thanks to top vineyards and to former winemaker Pete Bartle, Peregrine rocketed to the top ranks of South Island producers. In 2010, replacement Nadine Cross arrived with serious Pinot Noir cred, including stints at California’s DuMOL and Buena Vista.
Rippon Vineyard & Winery
Situated on the pristine shores of Otago’s Lake Wanaka, Rippon produces graceful, richly textured wines—chiefly Pinot Noir and Riesling. Founded by Lois and the late Rolfe "Tink" Mills, the winery is now in the hands of son Nick, who polished his winemaking chops in Burgundy for four years before bringing that region’s traditionalist techniques back home.
Michael Seresin left New Zealand for Italy in the 1960s to pursue his dream of becoming a cinematographer. While there, he developed a love of wine that ultimately led him back home to the booming Marlborough region in the early 1990s. Though he still keeps his hand in cinema (with a Harry Potter film to his credit), it’s his elegant wines that have brought him fame.
Spy Valley Wines
Named for a mysterious U.S. spy station located near this Marlborough estate, Spy Valley relies primarily on its single (albeit enormous) 360-acre vineyard. Owners Bryan and Jan Johnson, along with winemaker Paul Bourgeois, have earned Spy Valley a reputation for bright, richly styled whites (such as its Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Riesling) and aromatic reds, all at reasonable prices.
Villa Maria Estate
A son of Croatian immigrants, George Fistonich sold his car to help fund Villa Maria’s first vintage in 1962. Thanks to a knighthood, he’s “Sir George” these days, and he runs one of New Zealand’s largest wine companies. The estate crafts four tiers, with offerings that range from reliable, everyday wines to often outstanding Estate Line cuvées.