Primarily we produce wines in New Zealand that are a reflection of the varietial character and for the most part are one variety dominant, for example Chardonnay. Within a variety there can be a huge range of variation on aromas and flavours created by the different regions, soil types and climates. Sauvignon Blanc can vary from the crisp green herbal though to the more mouth filling richer flavours of pineapple and passionfruit with huge range in between.
There are huge variations and some white wines taste sweeter than others because even though they have the same sugar level, the fruit reminds us of sweet flavours. For example, Sauvignon Blanc often reminds us of flavours of fresh herbs and red capsicum, while Pinot Gris will remind us of ripe fresh pear. Both wines will be as sweet as each other in the amounts of sugar they have, but the Pinot Gris will appear to have a sweeter flavour.
Dry White Wines
Do not taste sweet. Varieties include:
Medium White Wines
These wines are slightly sweet when you first taste them and will leave a rich, slightly sweet aftertaste. These wines often have “medium” or “off dry” on the label. Varieties include:
- Medium Riesling
- Medium Pinot Gris
- Medium Gewürztraminer
Sweet White Wines
These wines are very sweet and luscious and will often have on the label “Noble”, “Late Harvest”, “Late Pick” and “Botrytis”.
As well as having different flavours, red wines also contain a compound called tannin in varying amounts. Tannin is the product that provides the astringent character in black tea and will make the wine 'taste' bigger and fuller in your mouth.
Full Bodied Red Wines
These wines are rich and have masses of flavour. Varieties include:
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Franc Merlot
- Shiraz and Syrah
Lighter Bodied Red Wines
These wines are softer and are often less intense in your mouth. Varieties include:
- Pinot Noir
- Some lighter styles of Merlot
How to choose wine
Unlike a lot of consumer products, with wine you tend to get what you pay for. That's not to say that there aren't great bargains available, but the difference in quality between a $5 dollar bottle and a $30 bottle of wine is usually quite significant.
Fortunately, there are very good wines available for the shrewd buyer in the $15 to $25 range. This is where using medals and awards that wines have received, helps you make the best decision. The New World Wine Awards is the only New Zealand wine competition where wines must retail under a certain price ($25).
In terms of grape varieties, Riesling and Chardonnay will normally give better value for your dollar spent quality-wise than some of the higher profile varieties such as Pinot Noir and Syrah.
In Europe and the United States, there is huge production of very cheap ordinary wine. Whereas in New Zealand we produce, by world standards, tiny volumes of wine.
E & J Gallo, America's largest wine company, produces in less than 4 months New Zealand's annual production. We are fortunate that New Zealand is a low volume but high quality producer by world standards, as this makes selecting wine a lot easier. Basically any New Zealand produced wine should be of good quality which when selecting wine makes the task a lot easier.
Wine and food matching is fun and a great way to learn more about different varietals of wine. With food and wine matching, be adventurous - as one wine judge recently remarked, one of the most outstanding matches he had tasted with New Zealand Syrah was Singapore Chilli Crab!
While there are no hard and fast rules, here are a few tips that help when selecting the perfect food wine. Look at the weight, flavour and texture of the wine and relate it to the food. A big hearty Australian Shiraz may well swamp the delicate flavours of a lightly poached chicken dish, but could also be perfect with sautéed mushrooms with garlic and parsley.
There are a few combinations that aren't so great. A red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon and a pan fried white fish tends to be high on the 'this doesn't work list'. The red wine flavour swamps the flavour of the fish and red wine can sometimes give fish a metallic flavour which is very unpleasant. High acid wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling wine and Riesling don't work well with creamy sauces, but having said that there will always be the exception to the rule.
When buying wines for gifts, sparkling wines are always a safe bet, as are food friendly wines that display award and medal stickers. Again be bold and use the stickers to choose wines and varieties you haven't tried before. Talk to your New World Wine department staff, they will be happy to help you make that stand-out selection.
Jim Harre, Chair of Judges, New World Wine Awards