New Zealand's ocean-influenced climate--markedly cooler than that of its neighbor Australia--yields wines with admirable fruit intensity and crisp acidity. Fully two-thirds of New Zealand's wine production is white, and more than half of the wine it ships to America is Sauvignon Blanc. The U.S. market has developed a major thirst for these juicy, fresh New Zealand Sauvignons, which are mostly free of oak influence. But New Zealand Pinot Noir, too, is growing rapidly in popularity here, thanks in large part to the emergence of the Central Otago growing region, which has exploded onto the world wine scene in the past five or six years with some stunning, fruit-driven Pinots.
High labor costs, considerable recent investment in frost-protection measures and the strong New Zealand dollar are just three of the reasons why the average bottle of New Zealand wine is relatively high--significantly higher, for example, than the average bottle from Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, and Argentina. There's virtually no dirt-cheap wine produced in New Zealand. On the other hand, very little New Zealand wine sells for more than $40--a handful of bottlings of Bordeaux varieties or Pinot Noir--and white wine prices are mostly moderate.