New Zealand wines in the UK on-trade

Peter Gordon of The Providores was one of the first to champion New Zealand wines in London in a big way

However, while Sauvignon Blanc remains New Zealand’s great white hope at most UK restaurants, Chardonnay is the star of the show at The Harrow, outselling Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, though this comes as no surprise, given that Jones is a diehard fan and has been pushing it strongly in recent years. “New Zealand Chardonnay is the closest you’re going to get to top white Burgundy – for a fifth of the price,” enthuses Jones, who reveals his customers are happy to pay more than £80 for the top expressions from Neudorf and Kumeu River because they’re confident about the quality and consistency coming out of New Zealand at the top end.

On the red front, Jones’s regulars have become such fans of Felton Road and Craggy Range that they specifically request it when they come in, while Trinity Hill Homage Syrah sells well at £150 a bottle. But when it comes to Pinot Noir, Jones believes New Zealand is facing increasing competition from South Africa, which is now putting out some seriously smart examples. Looking ahead, Jones believes that Pinot Gris will be the next big thing to come out of New Zealand, and has recently been investing heavily in it to lay down. “New Zealand will never make better Riesling than Australia, but it has a star in Pinot Gris, and Martinborough is making immaculate examples that are fresh and clean but with a lick of oak that gives them a textural element that makes them great for pairing with food,” he says.

Currently accounting for just 6% of vineyard plantings in New Zealand, The Providores’ former head sommelier, Melanie Brown, who now runs boutique specialist merchant The New Zealand Cellar, in south London, also believes Pinot Gris is one to watch, with the likes of Ata Rangi and Prophet’s Rock leading the charge. “Pinot Gris is starting to be a really big focus for us, and consumers are beginning to understand it. Producers in New Zealand have found their way with the grape and are now making expressions with style and class that are rich in texture, flavour and concentration,” she says.

Michael Seresin has noticed a growing thirst for NZ Pinot in the UK on-trade

Brown is also excited by the regional diversity that Pinot Noir offers, with consumers now able to choose a Pinot to suit their palate, from the bright and juicy expressions from Marlborough through to the ethereal Burgundian styles coming out of Martinborough, via the more structured and fruit-forward Central Otago expressions.

“The New Zealand wine offering in the UK has grown phenomenally over the past 20 years, and all the big suppliers and merchants have at least a couple in their portfolios,” says Brown. “New Zealand wines have personality and poise that wines from other countries lack.

Their fruit concentration and youthful energy make them a perfect partner for a diverse array of dishes.” Brown is as enthusiastic as Jones about New Zealand Chardonnay’s potential, particularly as it is made at a high level all over the country.

“New Zealand Chardonnay offers a pure, linear, mineral style that can comfortably compete with grand cru Burgundy,” she says. Sam Bennett, who makes wine at Te Pa in Marlborough, agrees: “New Zealand Chardonnay is going from strength to strength.

There are excellent examples coming out of all the major wine regions of the country that can confidently stand up to the best examples in the world,” he says.

Another London venue championing New Zealand wine is MasterChef judge and former Le Gavroche sous chef Monica Galetti’s solo venture, Mere, in London’s Fitzrovia, which pays homage to her New Zealand upbringing.

Galetti’s French husband, David, looks after the wine list at the restaurant, and believes the commercial success of Sauvignon Blanc at retail has been beneficial in introducing consumers to New Zealand wine. He’s on a mission to get diners to explore other grape varieties from the country, and is particularly keen to convert them to the delights of New Zealand Riesling.

Nigel Greening of Felton Road believes NZ Pinots offer fantastic value for their quality

“I love Riesling, but it’s one of the hardest grapes to introduce to consumers because they often associate it with sweetness,” he says. “While that can sometimes be the case, a dry Riesling from Felton Road in Central Otago or Pegasus Bay in Waipara can offer an array of exotic aromas and diverse food pairing capabilities.” New Zealand Pinot is currently flying out of the door at Mere, and is often one of the first wines diners ask for.

“They are such fantastic value and high quality, so it’s no surprise really,” says Galetti. Nigel Greening, the British owner of Felton Road, agrees. “People find New Zealand Pinot very reliable, and very few people are disappointed when they order it,” he says.

While interest and demand in his single vineyard Pinot Noirs far outstrips supply, Greening has made a point of not raising his prices so as to keep the wines within the realms of affordability for Felton Road fans.

“We’ve been careful not to put our prices up, having heard so many of our customers complaining about feeling let down by Burgundy because of the price hikes,” he says, though understands why prices have risen, thanks to lack of availability.

“Nobody sells top Burgundy by the case unless they’re mad or dead; that’s why the wines go for such bewildering prices at auction, but New Zealand Pinot is bloody close to Burgundy in terms of quality and terroir expression, and they’re getting better all the time,” says Greening.

Another producer benefitting from Burgundy’s price hikes is cinematographer-turned winemaker Michael Seresin, who has built up his biodynamic boutique wine brand – Seresin – in the UK through the on-trade via listings at a diverse range of restaurants including fine dining venues like The Ritz and The Goring; and trendy sites including Roka, Zuma, Pollen Street Social and Tredwells. “In the premium on-trade sommeliers are looking for Burgundy alternatives that offer a better quality to price ratio for their guests and New Zealand can offer quality Pinots with great terroir expression.

We produce seven biodynamic Pinot Noirs, which is just a glimpse of the different expressions of the variety available from New Zealand,” says Seresin. “As the vines age and the winemakers gain more experience, these Pinots are only going to get better.” While Seresin has noticed that UK consumers are starting to look beyond Sauvignon Blanc and explore the other varieties the country has to offer, he believes there is still a lot of work to be done by the industry to successfully promote New Zealand’s diversity.

Diners may have begun their New Zealand wine journey with supermarket Sauvignon, but they are starting to discover the country’s other liquid treasures, from Hawkes Bay Syrah and Central Otago Pinot to Bordeaux blends and aromatic whites like Albariño and Viognier. Helping to give them this confidence to explore is New Zealand’s consistency in its quality offering.

Going in at the top end of the UK market when producers began to export was a bold move that has paid off handsomely, as consumers view New Zealand wine as an aspirational product that will deliver the consistency they crave. As Roger Jones points out: “The New Zealand name acts like a quality guarantee, and we know the wines we serve are going to be perfect day in day out. You don’t get shoddiness from New Zealand – look at their rugby team – everything they do is precise.”

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