What is the best?

Posted by John Shearlock on

Whilst working on the Sunday mailer a couple of weeks back, which included a collection of Chardonnays spanning the country, I pondered on the notion of New Zealand’s best variety. Before I could say “medium toast” I realised a rabbit hole of epic proportions was opening up before me. 

There are certainly plenty of pundits out there for whom Chardonnay fills this role - but can a country like New Zealand, with so many varieties that apparently perform so well, actually have a best variety? And, for that matter, what does best even mean?

If you went by volume and sales, then of course Sauvignon Blanc tops the list. The grape performs an exceedingly valuable role here and is arguably our quintessential offering in this respect. But would you necessarily point someone to Sauvignon Blanc if you were trying to show them the best this country has to offer? 

What about Pinot Noir, a grape that has gone from strength to strength on our shores and is now responsible for stunning wines from multiple regions. Of course, there’s a certain nobility regarding the grape that might just have us rooting for it with a bit more passion - to prove we can play with the big kids on the world stage. 

What I really mean by this, is that our perception of a grape and its standing in the world probably affects our take on its importance. Pinot is classy, expensive and possesses a certain cachet that arguably Sauvignon Blanc does not. 

Essentially, the notion of best is not absolute and is clouded by subjectivity. When it's being used in a qualitative not quantitative manner - how can it not be?

My dad was over from the UK this summer and I wanted to show off NZ wine to him in all its splendour. We drank Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Bordeaux blends, Albarino, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Riesling and almost everything in between. I couldn’t begin to pick a best from these, but it’s safe to say that this myriad of varieties really did show NZ in a great light. 

It’s never really about the best variety - but more about making the best wine with the varieties available - and there are plenty of producers here doing exactly that.


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