Spellbinding sauvignon blanc secured New Zealand’s place on the world wine map back in the 1980s. But how’s this for irony: The island nation has since gone missing. Nobody can seem to find it, cartographically speaking. Cast your eyes to the south and east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and all you see is crystal-blue Pacific Ocean.
I’m only half-joking. New Zealand’s omission from no shortage of less-than-authoritative world maps has become a source of amusement and frustration to many in the country – the equivalent of a map of Canada without Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island. It’s also the theme of a hilarious short video featuring New Zealand’s awesome Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. (Yes, I’ll be serving up a wine angle shortly, so bear with me through the political content.)
Produced for Tourism New Zealand, the video went viral earlier this month and stars Kiwi comedian-writer Rhys Darby, best known for playing the band manager in the Flight of the Conchords TV series. In the role of a dim-witted investigator, Darby phones an amused Ardern, who plays herself, promising her he’ll get to the bottom of the mapmaking conspiracy.
“We’re quite a fiddly-looking-shaped country,” he tells her on the phone, “a bit like a half-eaten lamb chop. Perhaps people are just leaving us off thinking we’re a mistake.” Well, that’s his runner-up theory, offered at the end. His main suspicion actually comes with some digging.
Darby pores over the evidence, including maps from Starbucks, IKEA, a Spanish in-flight magazine and an English Rugby World Cup promo, among others. Embarrassingly for Canada, Vancouver makes a cameo as Darby tacks up a real photo on his bulletin board of the giant (and clearly New Zealand-free) metal globe outside the city’s International Village mall.
Finally, Darby turns his suspicions to his country’s constant rival, Australia. A quick internet search reveals that Australian tourist numbers have been on the rise, presumably thanks to New Zealand’s airbrushed disappearance. And, yes, another important sector is under threat. “Our wine!” Darby says to himself while gazing at an abbreviated world wine map. “Sacre Bleu! Sneaky Frenchies.”
He phones in his brainstorm to Ardern, whom he amusingly refers to as “Your Highness.” Australia wants New Zealand’s tourists, he declares. England clearly wants to get rid of the mighty All Blacks rugby team once and for all. “And the wine industry – they can’t beat our pinot or sav!”
The tourism campaign has its own Twitter hashtag: #getnzonthemap, which captures the self-effacing humour so pervasive in that gorgeous, tiny country of 4.7 million. I’m not sure about every point in Darby’s conspiracy theory, but I am certain the French, and most other wine-producing nations, ought to be nervous about the consistent quality of New Zealand wine. It may not yet compete with France or Italy in the high-stakes game of trophy wines or quirky, old-vine curiosities (its industry is mere decades old), but I’d say unequivocally that no country yields more consistent quality from producer to producer and vintage to vintage. Any world wine map that would leave out New Zealand gets a big fail in my geography course.
Nautilus Chardonnay 2016, New Zealand
SCORE: 94 PRICE: $27.95
Simply great. Medium-full-bodied and fleshy, with a crazy combination that brings together a generously creamy texture, flavours of toasted nuts, grilled pineapple and buttered popcorn and a nose-tickling quality of flint and mineral. Fans of Burgundian chardonnay would undoubtedly call it Meursault-like in style, but there’s more energy here than in most Meursaults you’d find at this price – and I suspect you couldn’t find a Meursault at this price unless you live near a discount liquor warehouse in Boca Raton, Fla., and this were the year 1990. Available in Ontario.
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon 2014, New Zealand
SCORE: 93 Price $39.95
An awesome producer, Greywacke is the label of Kevin Judd. He was born in Britain and raised in Australia, but made his fame in New Zealand as a winemaker in the 1980s for Cloudy Bay, the country’s first and still iconic trophy sauvignon blanc. This superpremium beauty exhibits impressive mid-palate density and silky texture, offering succulent and soft tropical fruit along with grapefruit, dried grass and flinty notes. The acidity is perfectly integrated. Top class. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta.
Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 93 PRICE: $37.95
The winery sits in the shadow of its namesake, a peak north of Christchurch in North Canterbury on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s also distinguished for the high intellectual standing of its founder, David Teece, a Kiwi who lives in California, where he is a professor in global business at the University of California, Berkeley. He’s also the author of more than 30 books and was named by international professional-services company Accenture as one of the world’s top-50 business intellectuals. More importantly, he makes superb wine, such as this concentrated, creamy and flawless pinot. Voluptuous for pinot noir, yet remarkably unsweet, it delivers ripe berry fruit infused with hints of coffee, baking spice and cedar. In Burgundy, you’d have to pay $150 for this sort of pleasure. Alas, quantities are extremely limited. Available in select Ontario Vintages stores.
Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015, New Zealand
SCORE: 92 PRICE: $44.95
From Central Otago, New Zealand’s pinot capital. Silky in the middle and filled with strawberry jam, balanced by crisp acidity and a proper bite of spice. Subtly earthy, too. Available in limited quantities in Ontario Vintages stores.
Elephant Hill Pinot Noir 2013, New Zealand
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $29.95
A Central Otago pinot noir with good concentration and, yay, five years behind it. It’s correctly evolved and showing nicely, with plum edging into prune terrain, a hint of leather and invigorating earthiness. Time in a bottle. Available in Ontario.
Trinity Hill The Trinity Red Blend 2014, New Zealand
SCORE: 91 PRICE: $22.95
Excellent producer, known especially for sumptuous and structured syrahs. There’s a splash of syrah here, too, but it’s mostly merlot, with the Spanish variety tempranillo and malbec providing added support. An unusual combo, but it’s compelling. Full-bodied, with a powdery tannic backbone, it’s firm yet generously fruited, with plum and blackberry and hints of coffee, dark chocolate, licorice and pepper. Decant it now or stash it away for up to eight years. Grilled red meats or beef short ribs would be grand. Available in Ontario.
Momo Organic Pinot Gris 2017, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $19.95
A shining pinot gris for the money (I wish Oregon could often do as well at this price with this signature Pacific Northwest white grape). Medium-bodied, fleshy and ripe with tropical fruit and pear backed by whispers of ginger, white pepper and minerality. Very good length and integrated acidity. Good for grilled salmon. Available in Ontario.
Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2016, New Zealand
SCORE: 90 PRICE: $21.95
A spring/summer wine, to be sure. Vibrant, green and grassier than Canada will be after cannabis legalization. There’s juicy tropical fruit and grapefruit in the middle, joined by snap peas as well. Classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc, fine for asparagus topped with crumbled goat cheese and chives – that sort of thing. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $18.02 in Manitoba, $20.29 in New Brunswick, $22 in Prince Edward Island.
Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Rosé 2017, New Zealand
SCORE: 88 PRICE: $17.95
Light candy-pink in colour, silky and with subtle sweetness that finishes dry. Strawberry chewing gum and watermelon. It won’t be confused with a delicate Provençal rosé, but it would be nice served over ice in the sunshine. Available in Ontario at the above price, $20.99 in New Brunswick (it was on sale for $12.99 at press time), $20 in Nova Scotia, $19.58 in Newfoundland (on sale for $16.32).