One of the considerable pleasures of travel in New Zealand is the chance to try some of the country’s admirable wines. The first wine was made in 1839 by a Scotsman named James Busby. In the ensuing years, little of note happened. A vigorous temperance movement put a damper on most ventures. It wasn’t until the 1960s that wine could be sold in restaurants by the bottle, and then only until 10 p.m.
But the potential was always there. Located roughly equidistant from the South Pole and the Equator, New Zealand enjoys a cool maritime climate, just the kind that grapes favor for gentle ripening. And given the long, narrow shape of the North and South islands, no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the sea. The wine culture of today began to grow in the 1980s, its momentum sparked by the advent of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. This became a wine that created excitement all over the world. New Zealand now has more than 700 producers making wines from 25 different kinds of grapes.
Sauvignon Blanc remains a star varietal and has been joined by Pinot Noir. Other wines to look for include Cabernets (often in Bordeaux-style blends), Chardonnays and sparkling wines.