“The State of Play” – Rebecca Gibb MW on New Zealand whites

Rebecca Gibb MW joined the Vinous editorial team in September 2020 and yesterday posted her first regional report, on the white wines of New Zealand.

The report starts with the current status of Sauvignon Blanc – apposite, because the grape makes up “88% of the wine that leaves New Zealand”. And although she believes “there are now a lot of high cropped, homogeneous Sauvignon Blancs filling the shelves”, she finds that, “in the right hands Sauvignon Blanc can offer both finesse, depth and longevity”. Her report continues by highlighting the unique producers that are offering something new to the Sauvignon Blanc world. Three of those producers have Sauvignon Blancs featured in the table of her top wines below.

In the secondary market, Sauvignon Blanc has made up only 3.5% of New Zealand trade by value in 2020. The top traded variety for the region is Pinot Noir, followed by Chardonnay and Syrah.

Although most of what is planted in New Zealand is Sauvignon Blanc (68%), Gibb believes, “there’s a strong case that Chardonnay produces New Zealand’s finest white wines”. She notes the difficulty however of building a brand around the varietal due to its mass production around the world. She scored two 2019 Chardonnays 96 points, seen below, with the variety taking eight out the top ten scores.

Gibb further adds her assessment of the growing seasons, 2017 and onward, as well as the difficulties faced during the 2020 harvest due to Covid-19.

To close her inaugural report, she finished with an interesting metaphor, “If New Zealand were a planet, it would just be completing its first orbit such its youth”. The first trade of New Zealand wine on Liv-ex took place in 2003 – 82 cases of Cloudy Bay, Sauvignon Blanc 2002. Back in those days, it was the only Kiwi wine with a global footprint. Secondary market trade of New Zealand wine has yet to fully take-off. But as more critics, like Gibb, bring eyes to the region, it’s just a matter of time before it finds the limelight (see our most recent coverage on Fine Wine in the US).

The full report with notes and scores is available to Vinous subscribers.