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Marlborough, though relatively young as a wine-growing region, has the largest wine acreage in New Zealand with more than 4,500 hectares (11,115 acres); its first vineyards were planted in 1973 and now make up 40 percent of all New Zealand vineyard area. This large flat river valley at the northern end of South Island contains a great variety of soil patterns, low soil fertility and good drainage, all of which allow winemakers opportunities for producing fine wines in a great variety of styles.
Marlborough wines first appeared on the international wine scene in 1985 with startlingly fresh, clean yet complex Sauvignon Blancs that made consumers sit up and take notice. Today Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted varietal, showing tropical fruit flavors and pungent capsicum herbaceousness that have come to represent the national style.
Chardonnay, Marlborough's second most popular varietal, is produced in a number of styles including sparkling. Like the Sauvignon Blancs, it often shows tropical aromas and relatively high acidity, and is rarely aged in oak. Riesling also thrives here and can produce both fine dry dinner wines and luscious botrytized dessert wines. The wave of the future is to be found in Marlborough's youngest vineyards, where Pinot Noir is making news and quite a reputation with oak-aged wines of finely balanced structure and supple red fruit flavors reminiscent of young Burgundy. Made into sparkling wines, Marlborough Pinot Noirs can also display a refined austerity. To the northwest, Nelson turns out some elegant Chardonnay with hazelnut and citrus flavors.