An Introduction to Bordeaux-Style Wines in New Zealand
France is pretty much the OG of wine, which is why you’re probably familiar with the name and reputation of Bordeaux even if you know next to nothing about vino. One of the oldest grape-growing regions in the world, Bordeaux produces highly coveted wines in the form of single-varietal versions or blends of the area’s signature grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot.
Bordeaux’s had such a huge influence on the wine world that even New Zealand, in its isolated spot halfway across the globe, grows Bordeaux varietals and crafts wines inspired by this legendary region. Here’s a quick introduction to Bordeaux-style wine in the land of the Kiwis!
Bordeaux Varietals in New Zealand
Bordeaux varietals need heat to ripen properly, which is why they’re grown predominantly on the North Island of New Zealand rather than the South. North Island regions such as Hawke’s Bay enjoy warmer growing seasons moderated by the influence of the ocean, mirroring the climate of Bordeaux (which gets that maritime influence from rivers) and enabling Kiwi winemakers to produce styles that resemble those from the great French region (concentrated and balanced, with bright fruitiness and freshness) as opposed to the bigger, bolder, more ripe-fruit-focused styles that come from über-hot regions like Australia.
The name of the game in New Zealand’s beautiful Hawke’s Bay? Sun! With a warmer climate, minimal rain, and a long growing season, Hawke’s Bay offers Bordeaux varietals a very happy home indeed — and because the sea laps the coast to the east, temperatures don’t veer too far into ‘hot’ territory (in fact, average temperatures hover in the same range as those in Bordeaux).
This means that the beautiful Bordeaux-style blends Hawke’s Bay winemakers produce exhibit that classic elegant balance between fresh fruit (red and dark), floral notes, and earthy undertones. Hawke’s Bay yields some truly stunning single-varietal examples of the Bordeaux grapes (with merlot being the most widely planted and the most common), but it’s best known for its deeply complex and flavourful blends.
Look out for reds from Trinity Hill — located in Hawke’s Bay’s Gimblett Gravels sub-region — a winery that produces award-winning blends made with varying percentages of the Bordeaux varietals. Their vegan-friendly beauty ‘The Gimblett,’ in particular, is dominated by cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, with smaller amounts of merlot, malbec, and petit verdot.
We’re also big fans of the good folks at Te Mata, a family-owned establishment dating back over a century that produces mouthwateringly tasty blends of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc — all from their vineyards in the Havelock Hills and Gimblett Gravels sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay.
Matakana is a charming little village less than an hour’s drive north of the bustling city of Auckland. It boasts a gorgeous cinema and an always-packed-to-the-gills Saturday farmers market — but as wine regions go, it’s tiny (we’re talking less than 70 hectares of vines).
Don’t let the size fool you, though: Matakana makes up for its small stature with big and beautiful Bordeaux blends, crafted in a temperate maritime climate much like that of Hawke’s Bay (although Matakana sees a bit more rainfall). Many of the wineries here sell their wines only on-premise or in local establishments, so your best bet for a taste of a Bordeaux-style bombshell from this area is to head out on the gorgeous Matakana Wine Trail.
Though it’s much better known for its world-class pinot noir, the slightly cooler-climate, low-rainfall Martinborough nevertheless generates some standout examples of Bordeaux-style wines. Plantings of cabernet sauvignon and merlot yield elegant, peppery wines that combine in blends for a more subtle overall style.
Ata Rangi is perhaps the best option for Bordeaux varietals in this region — but we’d also highly recommend getting your hands on either the 2010 or 2011 BDX from Terroir Wines. The 2010 features cabernet sauvignon and merlot while the 2011 adds cabernet franc to the mix!
The little gem that is Waiheke Island sits a short ferry ride off the coast of Auckland, and it’s got a hotter microclimate that makes it ideal for growing Bordeaux varietals. Cabernet sauvignon and merlot in particular thrive underneath the warmth of the Waiheke sun, but the three other Bordeaux grapes do just fine as well.
The climate here resembles that of Matakana and Hawke’s Bay: warm days and lots of pleasant sunshine, with the moderating influence of the water to keep the heat from shooting into the stratosphere. Like in those other regions, this combination allows our five Bordeaux varietals to ripen completely without beginning to show the more concentrated (and sometimes overblown) fruit-forwardness evident in the same grapes from other, hotter regions.
Remarkable single-varietal versions of all but petit verdot can be found from Waiheke wineries, but one of the best-known (and a favourite of ours) is Man O’ War — a picturesque jewel that produces Bordeaux-style wines of distinct power and strength.
So there you have it: a quick introduction to Bordeaux in New Zealand!