John Saker: The importance of drinking local to support our wine industry
The importance of being a locavore – one who eats locally sourced food – has gathered momentum in recent times. Given far less emphasis is the liquid equivalent: being a locabiber.
In Europe, there's a great tradition of locabibing. There are wine regions all over the continent whose output is almost entirely mopped up by locals. In New Zealand, as in most other new world wine countries, it doesn't work that way.
A visit to any one of our wine regions might convince you otherwise, that locabibing is alive and well in this country. The retail shelves and the restaurant wine lists in places such as Hawke's Bay, Nelson and Martinborough are dominated by wines made in each area.
But that's deceptive. What we do have over Europe is a more developed wine tourism sector. Tourists are the most determined locabibers around – remember all that ghastly retsina you swallowed when you holidayed in Greece? Most of the bottles sold in our wine regions are bought by tourists, not locals.
Once you move away from a wine region, even a short distance, you get a truer picture. We're really only semi-parochial, highlighted by the fact that nearly half the wine consumed by New Zealanders is imported.
A big reason for this is price. Most of the imported wine sold here is cheap stuff, a market segment in which Kiwi wineries can't compete. But it's also because we're outward-looking in regard to food and drink, not straitjacketed by longstanding traditions.
A number of our wine regions would like to receive more support from their neighbouring population centres. Behind the Wairarapa's rebranding as "Wellington Wine Country" was a desire to strengthen ties with the capital, which has always been a key market.
An interesting outcome of the Christchurch earthquake has been an upswing in the amount of North Canterbury and Canterbury wine moving through the city's wine shops and restaurants. Why? Because a greater sense of community grew from that catastrophe.
That's what it's about – supporting neighbours who have added a taste dimension to a region's profile, and who in most cases need that support. I'm not saying our wine purchases should entirely be local (wine has too many fascinating, varied shades to explore to entertain that). But there's definitely room to up our game.
Millton Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2016 $30
I love this wine's compact gait as it moves across the palate, dispensing apple, quince and stonefruit notes. It is underpinned by mineral acidity and resolves beautifully. A fine example of what can be achieved with chenin blanc in New Zealand.
Sacred Hill Wine Thief Chardonnay 2016 $35
Fabulous fruit left to be itself is the key here. Stonefruit, scroggin and meal notes are beautifully held by a fine, deft structure. A concentrated, curvaceous, balanced wine that lingers.