How to taste New Zealand Wine


From Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to Central Otago Pinot Noir it is no wonder the world has fallen in love with New Zealand wine. New Zealand is a New World wine region with a moderate to cool climate with wines. The wines produced in New Zealand can share similar characteristics to other New World regions but there a few “tells” that make New Zealand wines unique. 


Anyone can taste and enjoy wine and there doesn’t need to be a special way. If you like wine then you are doing it right! However, if you would like a little insight into how we taste wine in Specialist Cellar HQ then continue reading… So there are 3 key things we look for when tasting New Zealand Wine. They are Appearance, Smell and of course the taste!


Take a look at the wine in your glass under natural light (it’s often handy to have white paper behind the glass). When we look at a wine’s appearance in the glass we are searching for answers about what to expect once we taste the wine. Look at the color of the wine, it’s opacity and its viscosity.


The smell of a wine can be intoxicating particularly with the aromatic varieties. When we smell our New Zealand Wine we first try to identify which category of fruit we can smell. It might start with Citrus fruit at first but eventually, we can drill the aromas down to Lemon curd. There are three tiers of aromas to focus on when tasting wines. 


The first is the Primary aromas, these are aromas that come directly from the grapes and are the most talked about. These aromas include fruit, herbs and floral notes.


The secondary aromas result from different winemaking practices including fermentation which usually has the biggest impact on white wines such as our New Zealand Chardonnay. Common secondary aromas from yeast include nuts & butter from Malolactic Fermentation. 


The tertiary aromas come from age. You might instantly think that it is not very likely to come across New Zealand wines with bottle age but the tertiary aromas can also come from the oak influences before bottling.


Now, this is the fun part… The one you’ve been waiting for! Taste is all about identifying the structure of the wine. Is it sweet? Sour? Bitter? Full-bodied? But more importantly, we are looking for a balance. 


New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is famous the world over for being super fresh and fruit-forward. The region which produces the country’s largest volume and most famous Sauvignon is Marlborough. 

See – Typical Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is pale yellow and can sometimes appear to have a tinge of green around the edge. Most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs haven’t been in contact with Oak during winemaking which keeps the wine looking clean and crisp. 

Smell – This is what Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is known for! The intense gooseberry, passion fruit, and lemongrass is bound to smack you in the face! Other interesting primary aromas include Capsicum, tomato vine, cut grass, and citrus. The secondary and tertiary aromas of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are not the star. 

Taste – Pucker your lips and prepare because the first thing you will notice is the racy acidity. The citrus fruits and acidity combined with the light body make Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc the perfect companion to fresh Seafood.  

Harmonious medley of ripe summer fruits, citrus blossom & floral notes. Intensely flavored, mouthwatering & crisp.

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Pinot Noir is the most planted red wine in New Zealand and like elsewhere in the world it’s unique terroir shines through wherever it is planted. The two most famous regions in terms of Iconic Pinot Noir are Martinborough Pinot Noir in the North Island and Central Otago which is the most southerly wine-growing region in the world. Central Otago is the most recognized globally so we will focus on it below:

See – Young Pinot Noir from Central Otago usually is deep red with a light ruby hue. Bottle aged examples of Central Otago Pinot Noir are becoming more and more common (thanks to the maturing industry) with these wines we can expect to see more transparency and slightly duller reds.

Smell – Central Otago’s Primary aromas are black Doris plums, red fruits, and black cherries. The most prevalent tertiary aroma from Central Otago is the sweet spice that comes from the amount of time Central Otago Pinot Noir typically spends in French Oak. 

 Taste – At first with Central Otago Pinot Noir expect sweet soft upfront fruitiness. Often raspberries, strawberries from the cooler Gibbston Valley region and dark forest fruits and black cherry from Bannockburn and Lowlands. The Central Otago Pinots from the warmer regions also tend to be fuller-bodied with more tannins.

Perfumed aromatics, plush dark red & black fruits of the forest. Striking precision & elegant tannin structure. 

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Chardonnay has been identified by wine royalty Jancis Roberson as the New Zealand grape variety of the future. It also happens to grow exceptionally well with unique characteristics in each of the wine regions. For that reason, it is fairly difficult to identify just one region to talk about. To make it fair we have selected the region responsible for the only perfect 100 score by New Zealand wine critic Bob Campbell – Neudorf’s Moutere Chardonnay from Nelson. 

See – Nelson Chardonnay can range from a pale straw color for the unoaked examples to a richer deep golden hue for the wines with a good licking of oak. When we see the richness in the glass we can expect to taste a big wine that has plenty of oak influence. With aged New Zealand Chardonnay the color usually drops out and can even go slightly brown as the wine comes into contact with oxygen.  

Smell – Nelson Chardonnay tends to be made with restraint and finesse so don’t expect to be overwhelmed with any one particular aroma. Instead expect layers of stone fruit such as peaches, minerality, and bursts of citrus. Secondary aromas usually shine through from partial or full Malolactic fermentation and the time spent in oak imparts sweet vanilla and spice.

Taste – Nelson’s maritime climate produces Chardonnay with a great balance between sweetness (or perceived sweetness from the fruit flavors) and crisp acidity. The wines usually sit in the medium body category and have been known to age exceptionally well. Think Chablis with a little more weight and mouthfeel.

Complex, dry & full-bodied with appealing textures & layers. Aromas of peach, vanilla, & grapefruit. Toasty layers & core mineral strength.

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