The New Zealand wine industry took its first steps back in 1819, but has grown most dramatically over the past decade. Last year the New World country’s wine-makers sold NZ$168.8 million worth of wine to the world, a nearly tenfold increase on the 1990 figure of $18.4 million. And although not much of it is coming to Thailand, internationally-acclaimed New Zealand wine is definitely worth seeking out here for that special occasion.

New Zealand is most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, widely regarded as the benchmark for the varietal across the world. It also produces world class Chardonnays, and its Pinot Noir, M?thode Traditionelle sparkling wines, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends are also gaining increased recognition. Over 350 wineries grow grapes in regions between the latitudes of 36 to 45 degrees, covering a length of 1,600km – the equivalent area in the northern hemisphere would be from Bordeaux and to southern Spain.

The country’s wines fall into the mid to premium price range in Thailand, and indeed the rest of the world. As Vichai Kanchanasevee, assistant managing director of local distributor Vanich Wathana, says, "The production of New Zealand wine is still very small when compared to worldwide demand. You will not be able to find cheap New Zealand wines on the market."

Vanich Wathana distribute wines from three wineries: Villa Maria, Nobilo and Nautilus Estate. "Villa Maria, in particular, a big family winery, has a good reputation and has won many awards in many competitions worldwide," he says. However, his company presently distributes only to hotels and restaurants, not retail outlets – so keep an eye out for these wines on your wine list when you next dine out.

Tom Westbury of PTK Management and Marketing says that the Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region is particularly worth seeking out. "When people talk about wines from New Zealand, they’ll ask for Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough or Nelson; reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – Bordeaux style wines – from Hawkes Bay; and Pinot Noir from Canterbury. New Zealand wines are very expensive but they produce very good quality wines.They don’t produce table wines."

Again, however, Westbury says New Zealand wines tend to go directly to hotels and restaurants. "CJ Pask wines are bought by the Central Group of hotels – these are one of the best-selling New Zealand wines," he says, adding that their Cabernet Merlot Reserve and Cavernet Sauvignon Reserve have received many awards.

Also worth keeping an eye out according to Westbury are wines from Lincoln Vineyards and Babich Wines. "The latter is an old winery that produces some very nice young wines."

Villa management were unable to provide a list, but a look at their shelves suggests they only stock wines from winery Matua Valley. Their Hawkes Bay 2000 Sauvignon Blanc, Settler Series 1999 Pinotage Cabernet Sauvignon and 1999 Chardonnay Semillon/Pinot Blanc are all priced at Bt710. Matua’s Shingle Peak 1999 Chardonnay, which uses grapes from the Marlborough region, is priced at Bt805.

Villa used to stock Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc but have sold out; Uthorn Budhijalananda from The Wine Cellar says that three to four years ago this wine represented excellent value, but its price has since doubled. He no longer stocks any New Zealand wines.

Foodland stocks a single Kiwi wine: a Montana Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, priced at Bt797.

The worsening tax situation – the overall rate is now just below 400 per cent – isn’t helping lovers of boutique style wines, such as those from New Zealand, either. Bangkok Fine Wine’s Jonathan Glonek says his company currently doesn’t import from that part of the world. "We hope to expand to New Zealand in 2002 but it would probably be best to wait until the tax situation resolves itself."

Vanichwattana: 221 5354
Bangkok Liquorland: 285 4850-1
Foodland Supermarkets: 530 0220

/ Food