- Discovering the Joys of New Zealand Wine

Newsletter for February, 2005

The short month of February is rapidly drawing to a close. Despite the promise of Spring in a few weeks, winter is reluctent to let loose its icy grip. This month we will review a few New Zealand wine brands that are not wineries.

I don't know how many readers who, like myself, have seen a bottle of New Zealand wine in the store, then try to look it up only to come up with no reference to such a winery. What is this stuff? Is it swell or swill? Nearly always it will be a Sauvignon Blanc with Marlborough on the label. Generally, it will be an arrangement between a producer and an importer who wants a value priced New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in their portfolio. Following are a few brands found on the shelves that are not overtly linked to a known winery

Monkey Bay

Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough

The Monkey Bay brand was unknown just three months ago and now it is showing up in stores across the country. Where did it come from? Monkey Bay is distributed by Canandagua Wine Company, part of Constellation Wines "the world's largest wine business". Monkey Bay is described as being part of Cloudy Bay in Marlborough. I suspect that on the marketing map, it is situated next to Gossamer Bay. A little research shows that the vineyards are part of Nobilo Wine Group and the winemaker is from Nobilo. Retails for $8 to $10.

See review below.

New Zland

Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough

This brand started showing up last fall. It is imported by Vintage Imports in Maryland, the US subsidiary of a company called New World Premium Brands (NWPB) in Wellington, New Zealand. The label indicates that the wine was vinified and bottled by NWPB. The website indicates that the wine comes from several producers on both the North and South Islands. Presumably the highest percentage must come from Marlborough in order to have that designation on the label. It looks like there will be a chardonnay and a red that is "pinot noir style". Perhaps a descendant of Modesto's "Hearty Burgundy. The SB was a pleasant wine, smooth drinking, a bit fruit driven. Retails for $14.


Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough
Pinot Noir - Canterbury

The brand is a humorous/curious reference to New Zealand's renowned sheep industry. It is imported by Low Country Imports in North Carolina. Their webpage for Dyed-in-the-Wool provides a link to Wairau River Wines. The Sauvignon Blanc has been marketed in the States for several years and recently we came across a pinot noir. The Low Country website also shows a brand called Trout Valley for a Chardonnay produced by Kahurangi Estate

See review below.

Blind River

Sauvignon Blanc

This brand was originally called Blue Duck but there were some trademark issues and it was renamed Blind River. It is imported by Billinton Imports in Virginia who contracted with highly-regarded Marlborough winemaker John Belsham to produce the brand. John is the owner/winemaker of Foxes Island Wines. Blind River is a consistently good wine in the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc style with crisp fruit, smooth on the palate and a clean finish. Wine Enthusiast gave it 89 points. Retails for around $11.

Chimney Creek

Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough

Until recently, I was unable to find out anything about this brand. The label says "Chimney Creek Vineyard in Marlborough" but there were no publications or sources with a mention of such a vineyard or winery. I did find a passage on a retailer's website that Chimney Creek is an export label for Giesen Wine Estate in Canterbury. A Pinot Noir has been added to the line-up. The SB retails for $12 and the Pinot sells for $15. Although not tasted recently, earlier samples were adequate in quality.

Zenith Vineyards

Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough
Pinot Noir - Marlborough

This brand has been imported for several years by Southern Starz Inc, a specialist in Southern Hemisphere wines. This brand is an export label for Sherwood Estate Wines in Waipara. Suggested retail price for SB is $13 and for Pinot Noir $16. The Wine Advocate gave the 2003 SB 87 points.

Summary: In general, these wines have several things in common. They tend to have catchy names and labels that will attract the eye of the casual shopper and they are value-priced. Don't expect greatness from these wines, but they will generally deliver reasonable to good quality for their price. The wines shown above are a sample of what is available on the East Coast. Some brands may only be found regionally based on the distribution of the importer.

Wine Reviews

Monkey Bay 2004 Sauvignon Blanc

Region: Marlborough

The nose was up front and very fruity with warm citrus and peach aspects. The fruit was still ever present on the palate and this wine will definitely not be mistaken for the grassier SBs. In general, I found the fruit to be a little bit too forward on the palate and those who prefer subtler SB will not be as impressed with this wine as some others might. Definitely a decent wine for its modest pricing in the $10 range

Rating: 87

A review From the Heartland by Erin M. Myers

Dyed-in-the-Wool 2003 Pinot Noir

Region: Canterbury

A surprisingly interesting experience. The label says it was "Reared from the oldest commercial vines in New Zealand" (??) and has "a seamless medium-bodied pallet"(??). The first impression was pouring the wine into a glass and thinking that this is the lightest pinot noir I've ever had. The color was a pleasant ruby hue, just light. With a full glass, you can see your hand through the wine. The nose and flavors were true to character for a pinot noir but light in quality. It suggested that the grapes were from young vines; good clones but not yet having the depth of flavor for a full-bodied red. Over time, the wine opened up and was rather pleasant. Retails for $14.

Rating: 83-85

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