Selecting wine can be a daunting task, and it gets even more challenging when it comes to listing the best wine regions in a country like New Zealand.
New Zealand is home to the world’s most southerly vineyards, and its wine regions stretch 1,000 miles from the north to the south. Each region has different terroirs and climates; however, all are within 80 miles from the ocean and enjoy long sunshine hours.
I’ve assembled a list of 5 best wine regions to visit based on my own experiences and also from chatting with winemakers and owners at ProWine China wine exhibition in Shanghai.
Marlborough, a wine region in the northeastern tip of South Island, is synonymous with Sauvignon Blanc. It’s New Zealand’s largest wine growing region, has over 140 registered wineries and 40 cellar doors welcoming you to visit for tastings and lunch. There are plenty of opportunities for wine enthusiasts to explore at their own pace. Grab a tour booklet/map from the New Zealand tourism office and map out your bicycle or self-drive tour. Some may require you to call ahead before visiting.
I, however, booked a tour at the Blenheim’s i-SITE Visitor Information Centre for a half-day tour to four wineries in Marlborough. Blenheim is the largest town in Marlborough providing places to sleep, eat and shop besides being the gateway to the wineries.
Some guided tours to check out before you leave for Marlborough: Marlborough Wine Tours, Bubbly Grape Wine Tours and Wine Tours by Bike.
For a list of wineries and more information about the region go to wine Marlborough.
Hawke’s Bay wine region stretches along the east coast of the North Island. It is the oldest and the second largest wine region in New Zealand. With weather similar to Bordeaux France, Hawkes Bay is the producer of full-bodied red wines – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. Chardonnay is the flagship of their white wines.
Just like Marlborough, you can grab a map and design your self-guided tours or join a professionally guided tour. This region has over 30 wineries open for wine tasting, and some of these restaurants offer alfresco and restaurant dining.
In summer, attend the Food and Wine Classic event featuring the region’s wine and food.
I didn’t make it to Hawkes Bay to visit the wineries but did taste Hawkes Bay wine and met up with owners and winemakers from Hawkes Bay at a wine show in Shanghai.
Visit Hawkes Bay Wine’s website for more information on the wineries, tours, and wines.
For the most scenic wine region, you must get to Central Otago. The region of Central Otago nestled in the foothills of the breathtaking snow-capped mountains of South Island is the home of the best Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Its distinctive mountainous terrain and climate give the region a suitable environment for aromatic Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc as well.
Most guided tours to Central Otago wineries leave from Queenstown. The most popular tours head to Gibbston, a narrow valley close to Kawarau River and about a 30-minute drive from Queenstown. Another sub-region to check out is The Cromwell Basin along the Pisa mountain range, Kawarau River, and Lake Dunstan.
Get more information from the Central Otago Winegrowers Association.
Wairarapa wine region is ideal if you’re on business or a short trip to Wellington and have only a day to visit New Zealand’s wineries. Take an hour scenic drive northeast of Wellington. Or go on a train from Wellington to Featherston and take the shuttle service bus from Featherston station to Martinborough. On arrival in Martinborough hire a bike and pick up a map at the i-Site Visitor Centre and enjoy your self-guided winery tour.
Wairarapa is compact and consists of mainly boutique wineries. You would probably have a better chance of chatting with a winemaker in Wairarapa than in other wine regions in New Zealand. It’s best for fans of Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll also find dessert wines in Wairarapa.
In Auckland, there is a vineyard island of Waiheke, Kumeu, and Matakana. Waiheke Island is only a 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Kumeu is a 30-minute drive from Auckland CBD and Matakana is an hour north of Auckland CBD.
Each of these sub-regions has a unique offering for wine enthusiasts looking for a place to visit and indulge in local wine. Of the three, Waiheke Island is one not to miss. There are over 25 boutique wineries, and vineyards, easy to get to without a tour guide and most of the vineyards and wineries have cafes or restaurants on-site.
Half day and full day wine tasting and winery tours are available from Auckland to Matakana, Kumeu and Waiheke Island.
For more information on Waiheke Island’s wine go to Waiheke Wine.
Article and photos by Claudia Looi