Hawke's Bay, a historic wine-producing area near the eastern center of the North Island with 28% of the country's vineyards, frequently records some of the country's sunniest weather. Chardonnay is its most important varietal, followed by the declining historic variety Muller-Thurgau, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Hawke's Bay Chardonnay is less forward than the Gisborne wines, but at its best exhibits strong citrus flavors and great elegance. The area's Sauvignon Blanc often has nectarine or stone fruit character, and is softer and less pungent than the better-known Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The Hawke's Bay reds are produced in a Bordeaux style. The Cabernet Sauvignons, sometimes blended with Cabernet Franc or Merlot, have intense berry, sometimes cassis flavors; they often have a slightly herbaceous character and show strong oak from barrel age. Hawke's Bay is widely considered to be the Merlot Capital of New Zealand, and though Merlot is produced in smaller quantities than Cabernet Sauvignon, these wines are also oak-aged and known for firm structure, as well as herbal, red berry and earthy flavors.
As with nearby Australia, New Zealand has over the past century proven itself to be a superb location for producing high quality wines in vast amounts, with much of the cooler regions of both islands being used primarily for vine cultivation. New Zealand wineries are notable for their enthusiasm in regards to experimentation, and for utilizing modern technologies and methods to make the most of the imported grape varietals which flourish in the rich, fertile soils and oceanic climate. In recent years, it has been the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines which have gained the most attention, as a result of their smoky character and ability to carry the mineral rich nature of the terroir they grow in. Changing consumer interests have brought about a considerable rise in the production of organic and sustainable wines in New Zealand, of which again, the Sauvignon Blanc varietals are leading the way in regards to excellence, flavor and overall character.