For those who follow wine industry news, it comes as no surprise that the United States is now the biggest export market for New Zealand wines. According to the 2015 Annual Report of New Zealand Winegrowers, released last week, the American market has overtaken Australia, and is now valued at $372.2 million (around one quarter of wine exports), up 13 percent from last year.
Australia slipped to second place at $362.2 million, down 5 percent, while the United Kingdom was the third biggest export market for Kiwi wines, with exports growing 11 percent to $353.9 million. The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom consume nearly four times as much New Zealand wine as Canada, the next biggest export market.
Most of this growth is due to the ongoing popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Indeed, overall exports of Sauvignon Blanc soared from 160.5 million liters in 2013-14 to 177 million liters in 2014-15. Total wine exports (now at 209.4 million liters) grew 7 percent (up from 186.8 million liters the year before) to $1.42 billion in 2014-15. Of course, with the forthcoming short supply of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (as we noted previously), this volume will not be sustained.
As Steve Green, the New Zealand Winegrowers chair, notes in this report, “We expect further growth in export value in the year ahead, but volume growth will be constrained due to the smaller 2015 harvest.” On the plus side, as we’ve previously noted, the quality of the 2015 vintage is expected to be great, due to a fabulous summer creating excellent conditions for ripening grapes.
There are just two kosher New Zealand producers, Goose Bay and O’Dwyers Creek Vineyards. We are fans of both producers, as both offer some great quality and value. As we recommended the 2013 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc ($20) fairly recently, consider the competition. O’Dwyers Creek Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 ($17): This mevushal, single estate-grown Sauv Blanc offers that iconic grapefruit profile of the Marlborough region, with some lovely peach and tropical notes, a grassy, slightly vegetal (bell pepper?) edge, some lovely acidity, and good balance. Crisp, interesting and refreshing, this is a lovely wine that also delivers great quality for the price.
Spirits-wise, our thoughts turn to Japanese whisky. Japanese whiskies have for some time been besting Scotch whisky in international distilled spirits competitions. Consequently, the range and availability of these Japanese whiskies here has grown steadily. Of course, this new-found demand is straining stock levels, so the supply side has opted for a familiar re-jig: non-age-statement whiskies. As we’ve noted before, NAS whiskies have a greater marketing hurdle in the single malt category, as years of “age matters” marketing has taken root. Blended whiskies tend to be more forgiving, since folks will often drink them with ice and/or soda. One of the newest NAS whiskies to hit the market is a lovely blend called Hibiki Japanese Harmony from Beam Suntory (the rebranding of Beam Global after it was acquired by the Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd of Japan for $16 billion). A blend of more than 12 malt and grain whiskies from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries, as well as five different types of cask treatment, including Mizunara Japanese oak, American white oak and sherry casks. It is wonderful, though expensive. Without further ado:
Hibiki Japanese Harmony (43 percent abv; $65): with an enchanting nose of apricots, lychee, pineapple, orange blossom, lemon zest and clove, followed on the creamy palate with apricots and citrus fruit, honey, caramel, butterscotch, pastry crust, a little peppery spice, building to a finish of sweet woody spices with a dollop of toffee and oak char. With a honeyed core that holds it all together without being too sweet, this is a wonderfully complex, elegant and balanced, whisky. L’Chaim!