The Best New Wines from New Zealand

New Zealand wine continues to grow in popularity in the U.S. market, driven by a mounting thirst for sauvignon blanc in general and by a growing realization on the part of consumers that New Zealand juicy, brisk examples are a slightly less expensive, and somewhat less rigorous, alternative to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. New Zealand has enjoyed a string of very good to excellent vintages since the late '90s, and 2001 and 2002 produced particularly vibrant sauvignon blancs and other dry white wines. In my most extensive coverage to date of new releases from New Zealand, white wines account for most of my recommended bottlings - not just sauvignon but chardonnay, riesling and gewurztraminer.

Pinot noir continues to be a hot grape in cool New Zealand, and each year I taste new examples with accurate varietal character and noteworthy verve. Still, I can't help thinking that the better New Zealand pinots don't quite match a good Bourgogne Rouge for texture, soil tone and savoir-faire, but compared to New Zealand merlots and cabernets they might as well be Romanee-Conti. While prices for New Zealand wines have scarcely budged in this market in recent years, very few New Zealand reds from Bordeaux varieties offer compelling price/quality rapport for American wine lovers with access to a world of riper reds at lower prices. Most of the merlots, cabernets and Bordeaux blends I tasted were herbaceous, thin and short, and very few of them are recommended in this article - at any price. But the best white wines are snappy, refreshing and affordable, and extremely flexible with today lighter cuisines.

On the following pages are notes on wines that rated 85 points or higher in my recent tastings. I also tasted scores of less successful examples. Many of the latter wines are listed following my notes; those followed by an asterisk rated 83 or 84 points. (For space reasons, I have omitted from my coverage another 20 or so producers whose submitted samples did not merit more than 84 points.)