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Get to Know the Wines of New Zealand’s Marlborough Region

A 12-bottle introduction to one of the country’s most important wine regions

Vicki Denig By March 24, 2022
Sheep grazing in New Zealand coastal hillside
Sheep grazing in Marlborough Sounds (Okuri Bay), South Island, New Zealand. Photo by renelo/iStock.

Although best known for its acid-laden Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough’s wine production goes far beyond this signature zesty white grape. Located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, this versatile wine-producing region is home to around 66,718 acres of vineyards, 500 growers, and a dramatic coastline. It’s a region that everybody thinks they know, but which has many unexpected things to offer.

Quick Facts

  • Location: South Island, New Zealand.
  • Size: more than 66,718 acres of vineyards.
  • Main Grape Varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir. 

Marlborough is the most important wine-producing region of New Zealand, economically speaking. The area is responsible for three-quarters of the country’s entire production, and despite its reputation for mass-market wines, Marlborough is now home to more quality-over-quantity producers than ever before. Not sure where to begin? Here are 12 bottles that showcase the terroir characters of the region. 

Overview of Marlborough

Marlborough is bordered by the Cook Strait and the Pacific Ocean, which creates an overall maritime climate within the region. The area is also marked by distinct diurnal temperature swings, which can reach differences of more than 50 degrees Fahrenheit between day and night. These dramatic changes allow fruit to ripen without sacrificing precious acidity. Marlborough is best known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, though Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and other varieties are also cultivated within the region. 

Subzones of Marlborough

Marlborough is located on the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. This vast viticultural area is centered around the tiny city of Blenheim and is home to three distinct subzones: Wairau Valley, Southern Valleys, and Awatere Valley. 

Wairau Valley

Wairau Valley vineyards are planted along north-to-south running hillsides and valleys, which illustrate the Wairau River’s path over centuries past. Today, vines thrive in the area’s gravelly soils, which are stony, deep, and alluvial. Wairau Valley experiences ample sunshine and low amounts of rain, as the Richmond Ranges and Wither Hills create a rain shadow that protects the region’s vines.  

Southern Valleys

Marlborough’s Southern Valleys’ vines are rooted in old, heavy soils that have higher levels of clay than other parts of the region. This high level of clay allows for better water retention, which keeps vineyards moist all year long. Vines in the Southern Valleys are generally planted on hillsides, which receive ample sunshine. Pinot Noir is a key player here. 

Awatere Valley

The Awatere Valley is the driest and coolest subregion of Marlborough. It is also the windiest. Here, vines thrive in the alluvial gravel soils on the region’s river terraces, which render the region quite topographically distinct. Awatere Valley’s conditions are the harshest and coldest, which impart a distinct cool-climate character onto the region’s wines.

Now taste Marlborough for yourself:

Wairau Valley 

Bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2021 (~$30)

Established in Marlborough in 1985, Cloudy Bay was one of the first five wineries to be founded in all of New Zealand. Since its early days, the winery has been a pioneer for high-quality and site-specific wines from the country, believing that quality over quantity is always key. Their iconic Sauvignon Blanc is bright, vibrant, and intense. It remains a benchmark bottle for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc year in and year out. 

Bottle of Seresin Estate Leah Pinot Noir 2017

Seresin Estate Leah Pinot Noir 2017 (~$25)

Seresin is a leading pioneer of organic and biodynamic viticulture in Marlborough. Established by Michael Seresin in 1996 — and currently spearheaded by winemaker Tamra Kelly-Washington and viticulturist João Colbett — this environmentally-friendly estate has used a minimal intervention mentality since its early days. Leah Pinot Noir comes from two low-yielding vineyards averaging 25 years in age. The wine is acid forward, structured, and ideal for drinking now or laying down. The cuvée gets its name after Michael’s daughter, Leah. 

Bottle of Hans Herzog Chardonnay 2018

Hans Herzog Chardonnay 2018 (~$47)

In the realm of experimental New Zealand viticulturalists, Hans Herzog takes the cake. This organic, family-owned estate is farming some of the region’s most unique varieties, including Montepulciano, Tempranillo, Viognier, and beyond. The estate’s 2018 Chardonnay is produced from low-yielding vines dedicated to Mendoza and Dijon clones vinified into a dry, full-bodied wine that ages in French oak, 30% new, and is bottled unfined and unfiltered. Regular lees stirring adds texture and weight to this age-worthy bottle, which promises to get better over the next five to ten years. 

Bottle of Huia Pinot Gris 2019

Huia Pinot Gris 2019 (~$23)

This certified organic Pinot Gris comes from a single-vineyard site in Marlborough and is produced by Mike and Claire Allan, who purchased the site in 1990 and began vinifying wines from its land six years later. The Allans focus on organic and biodynamic farming, as well as leaving the soil in vital conditions for generations to come. Their Pinot Gris is intense, flavor-packed, and perfect for those with an affinity for aromatic white wine varieties. 

Bottle of Zephyr Riesling 2021

Zephyr Riesling 2021 (~$16)

Back in 1988, the Glover family was one of the first to plant grapes in Dillons Point, located within the overarching Marlborough region of New Zealand. In 2007, the couple’s eldest son Ben founded Zephyr, which focuses on single-vineyard wines produced from the family’s farm. Their signature single-vineyard Riesling is sourced from the lower Wairau Valley and is produced in a medium-dry style. The estate’s vineyards are planted just under two miles from the sea, which adds a distinct saline-tinged influence to their lineup of already refreshing wines. 

Awatere Valley

Bottle of Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc

Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$26)

Sauvignon Blanc is synonymous with New Zealand winemaking, and this attractive, easy-to-find bottle has made waves on the international wine scene. Fruit for this wine comes from a certified-organic vineyard and is harvested in the morning so as to maintain freshness within the fruit. Expect an aromatic, textured, and citrus-forward expression of this signature South Island variety, produced at the hands of famed winemaker Kim Crawford. 

Southern Valleys

Bottle of Folium Sauvignon Blanc

Folium Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (~$29)

Located in the heart of the Brancott Valley, Folium’s 20 acre vineyard is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, which thrive in the area’s drastic temperatures. Strong diurnal shifts keep acid high and ripeness in check, while the low vigor of Folium’s soils add to the concentration and quality of the fruit used in their wines. Folium is a leading pioneer of vineyard management in New Zealand, as they believe that different vineyard management is necessary for each specific clone planted on their site. For an added bonus, check out the estate’s off-the-beaten-path late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, produced in limited quantities. 

Bottle of Ant Moore Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Ant Moore Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$11)

Now with over 20 years of expertise under its belt, Ant Moore wines come from five diverse vineyards in Marlborough, all of which are certified by the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand program. The estate’s style meshes Old World know-how with modernized technology, which ultimately leads to bright, balanced, and vibrant final wines. Their signature Sauvignon Blanc is tasty and textured, the latter of which can be attributed to sur lie vinification and partial oak aging.

Bottle of Churton Natural State White Field Blend

Churton Natural State White Field Blend 2020 (~$26)

The vast majority of wines from Marlborough are produced varietally, meaning that only one grape variety is used; however, this tasty field blend from Churton is giving the region’s reputation a run for its money. Fruit for this wine comes from an organically-farmed hillside vineyard above the Waihopai Valley. Crafted from a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Petit Manseng, this aromatic and balanced wine promises to please a variety of palate preferences, especially those with an affinity for juicy, easy-drinking whites. The juice ages for three months on the lees and is bottled unfined/unfiltered

Bottle of Giesen Single-Vineyard ‘Clayvin’ Syrah 2016

Giesen Single-Vineyard ‘Clayvin’ Syrah 2016 (~$55)

Finding bottles of Marlborough Syrah are few and far between, though this single-vineyard bottling from Giesen is not to be missed. Produced from a certified-organic vineyard site planted to 30-year-old vines, this concentrated and aromatic Syrah is savory, powerful, and beautifully bright. The wine ages in a selection of new and used French oak barrels, which adds a layer of sweet spice to the wine’s multifaceted finish. Fans of full-bodied reds, this one’s a no-brainer.

Bottle of Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2017

Clos Henri Pinot Noir 2017 (~$37)

Clos Henri’s story begins in France’s Sancerre region, where the Bourgeois family has tended vines for over 10 generations. In 2000, the family purchased 240 acres of vines in New Zealand’s Marlborough region, where today, they bring their long-standing savoir-faire of cultivating Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir to the Southern Hemisphere. Their signature Pinot Noir is grown in clay-based soils in the Southern Valleys, which the family deems to be one of the top sites in the world for cultivating the grape. Expect a textured and fruit-driven wine perfect for drinking now or later — the perfect example of Old World meets New World in one sophisticated bottle.

Bottle of Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$16)

Big name Sauvignon Blanc brands from New Zealand are in no shortage, though few hold a quality-to-price ratio like that of Dog Point. This easy-to-find bottling is produced from hillside vineyards of Marlborough’s Southern Valleys and is vinified with a low-intervention mentality. Born in 1970, Dog Point is one of the oldest privately established vineyard sites in the region and is cultivated organically. Expect a ripe yet acid-focused wine perfect for drinking with oysters, cheeses, or a variety of fresh salads.