Italian wine imports to New Zealand have nearly doubled in the past decade from 1.06 million litres in 2010 to 1.87 million litres in 2019. It’s mind boggling when you think about it.
New Zealand produces 297 million litres of wine each year, exports 270 million litres, leaving 20 million litres for five million people to drink from the current vintage, let alone past vintages on store shelves. And still we import wine in the millions of litres from other countries for our small population to enjoy.
The reason is variety. It’s something Italy has over everywhere else on Earth, when it comes to wine. I discovered the tip of Italy’s wine diversity in the early 2000s when writing budget wine guides for Kiwis and stumbled, literally, over several bottles of Sicilian rosso – low priced, high quality wines that rocked my world back then and still do today because the value to price ratio is incredible. For under $15, Italy delivers exceptionally flavoursome wines made from grapes that most of us don’t encounter elsewhere.
The country’s warm Meditteranean climate, which becomes hot in the south, is relatively close to the Equator, relatively mild to extremely hot in summer with most of its rainfall in winter. Add the volcanic soils that predominate and you have a winning formula for high quality grape growing. And the quality of the wine begins with the raw material.
Among the names we most often see on New Zealand shop shelves are Primitivo, Negroamaro, Nero d’Avola and Montepulciano. I love wines made from these grapes and rate two of them as among the greatest red grapes in all of Italy, but that’s enough story.
There are at least 1,368* wine grapes used globally to make wine and Italy has the largest number of indigenous varieties with 377 in total, ranging from Abbuoto to Vuillermin. See what I mean about many Italian grapes not exactly being household names?
Most Italian wines are made to drink now and with delicious big soft cuddly reds like Primitivo, how can we resist?
Statistics taken from the Bible of wine grapes, aka the book Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz.
Joelle Thomson is a wine writer, journalist and author. She’s an avid lover of wine and currently writes for Capital magazine, Good magazine, NZ Winegrower, Drinksbiz, and her own site,www.joellethomson.com
She also teaches, works in radio, and more, so we've enlisted her help to sniff out our amazing value wines!