Regional Discovery: Explore New Zealand’s Marlborough Wine Region

Regional Discovery: Explore New Zealand’s Marlborough Wine Region

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Vintage Cellars
January 9, 2019
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Do you have a fondness for fresh, crisp whites? It's time to discover the Marlborough wine region, New Zealand's home to sauvignon blanc.

At the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island sits the country’s most important and popular wine region. It is, of course, Marlborough and one grape rules supreme: sauvignon blanc.


As far as the eye can see, there is row upon row of vines; all up 26,000 hectares with about 85% planted to the unmistakable, pungent and aromatic white, sauvignon blanc. And flying into Blenheim, the region’s main town and foodie hub, based in the Wairau Valley, offers one of the best views for the lay of the land. Although Marlborough spans 12,484 square kilometres and takes in more than 75% of the country’s total vineyard plantings, many areas are mountainous, including the Kaikoura Ranges close to the Awatere Valley, and the Richmond Ranges flanking and protecting the most densely planted Wairau Plains.


Māori call Marlborough "Kei Puta Te Wairau" – the place with the hole in the cloud, which is apt as it’s one of the sunniest and driest regions. There are in fact three disparate subregions: Wairau, an old river flood plain with soils ranging from deep alluvium to stony river wash; the Southern Valleys, which is cooler and drier than Wairau, full of stony gravels, higher levels of clay and loess (a silt that forms fertile topsoil); and lastly the Awatere Valley, the coolest, driest subregion with vines planted across alluvial gravels, clay and loess. All these elements combine and meld together to create an ideal region for growing sauvignon blanc.


The variety is a New Zealand success story, as it accounts for a staggering 80% of the country’s total wine production and with that has come worldwide acclaim, especially in Australia and England. There is just no mistaking its aromas and flavours, which can be pungent and zingy, tropical and herbal, leafy and deliciously fresh with crisp, mouthwatering acidity. But its outrageous success meant that some winemakers jumped on board the "savalanche" bandwagon and still produce boring, insipid and slightly sweet renditions. In other words: homogeneous wine.


However, the better producers know sauvignon blanc is not a one-trick pony. The finest are wonderfully flinty, lemony-briny and dry, usually made in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness. Or, there are those made more textural and savoury as they undergo wild fermentation with time on lees in seasoned old oak. Equally exciting, yet on a much smaller scale, are the other excellent wines such as chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris, albariño and especially riesling.


Beyond the wine landscape, Marlborough offers a veritable feast of exciting places to eat and fantastic accommodation options for the lone traveller, couples and groups alike. So take a sip, relax and discover the beauties of New Zealand's Marlborough region.


Where to stay


Hans Herzog Vineyard Cottage

The comfortable Hans Herzog Vineyard Cottage caters for either the solo traveller or a couple, but the aim is the same: to relax in seclusion while taking in the vineyard view and beyond towards the Richmond Ranges. Eating and drinking well is a given thanks to the customised food and wine pairings at the excellent restaurant and bistro attached to the estate.


The Peppertree

The Peppertree is a stylish, five-star Edwardian villa built in 1901 comprising five suites, all surrounded by a manicured garden, olive groves, an orchard and vineyards. Breakfast in the regal dining room or on the verandah, then plan a day visiting the region’s best tourist attractions or chill by the pool.


The Bell Tower on Dog Point

Dog Point is regarded as one of the finest producers and what better way to visit and taste than by staying on-site. In the main house, there are two self-contained bedrooms, the tariff including a continental breakfast. Or there is the self-catering option with breakfast provisions provided in another building called the French Barn.


Where to eat

Scotch Wine Bar & Wine Shop

Scotch Wine Bar & Wine Shop is where the local winemakers hang out when they come to Blenheim town and for good reason. The bistro food highlights seasonal produce with a menu that changes weekly and a killer wine list comprising 500-plus bottles from across the globe. Naturally, a top selection of Marlborough’s best is available.



The finest restaurant for dinner or in the region? Arbour wins hands-down. This gem of a place offers beautifully crafted courses by co-owner/chef Bradley Hornby, who takes inspiration from the local produce while his partner, Liz Buttimore, is brilliant at front-of-house. Arbour features an excellent drinks list

of mostly New Zealand wines.


Twelve Trees

The walnut trees lining the entrance of Allan Scott winery give name to the restaurant that serves coffee all day, with lunch kept casual and easy. The menu is not too big, not too small, with starters to share such as pork rillettes and mains as standalone dishes. Think marinated chicken with panzanella, and dukkah-crumbed halloumi.


Wineries to visit


Cloudy Bay

Cloudy Bay can lay claim to placing Marlborough sauvignon blanc on the world wine map, so no wonder this spacious cellar door is so popular. The stylish tasting room extends out onto a seated courtyard, a perfect spot to try the range, including pinot noir and the sparkling, Pelorus.


Star wine: Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ.


Saint Clair Family Estate

Since 1978 Neal and Judy Ibbotson have been at the forefront of Marlborough viticulture, first selling grapes, then in 1994 establishing their label, Saint Clair. A raft of sauvignon blanc styles can be tasted alongside cool varieties such as riesling, grüner veltliner and pinot noir.


Star wine: Saint Clair Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ.


Brancott Estate

Home to the region’s first plantings of sauvignon blanc, back in 1975, today Brancott Estate boasts a top restaurant and cellar door with one of the best panoramas of the region. The cellar door showcases about 36 wines with premium tastings available.


Star wine: Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough NZ.