Preview of What to Look for at the New Zealand Wine Festival

For oenophiles, the food and wine cognoscente, or those that are wine curious and love a great party, this is Busan’s event of the year; the 3rd New Zealand Wine Festival featuring over 75 wines from 25 wineries this Saturday, June 13th.

Once again, the Park Hyatt Busan will be hosting this Kiwi Fest in the Grand Ballroom while its professional, classically trained chefs will provide the catering with a tasty tapas buffet. Last year saw a nearly three-fold increase in attendees in Busan. Therefore, you may want to save the date and book early.

For the skinny on the island nation’s wines, it’s been noted here that not only has New Zealand had a record level of production last year now ranking it the 17th largest wine producing country, it also charted seven of the top 50 “world’s most admired wine brands” list (including Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, and Babich available at the event). This exemplifies how the Kiwis remarkable upswing in quality is grabbing global attention.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]“New Zealanders are drinking more pinot gris and Central Otago are producing some stunning pinot noirs. However, the world can’t get enough of New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc.”[/su_pullquote]


Of course, it helps that NZ has benefitted from a string of great vintages from Hawke’s Bay in the north to the world’s most southerly wine region Central Otago since 2009. Especially with the widely available 2013 vintage, the industry leader Wine Enthusiast magazine gave “Excellent” vintage ratings for Marlborough sauvignon blanc, Martinborough and Central Otago pinot noir, and bestowed Hawke’s Bay first and highest ever rating of “Superb” for its reds. Furthermore, it’s New Zealand’s unique geography, microclimates, terroirs, and cool maritime influence that makes these wines not just special but exciting.

The big four NZ appellations — Marlborough and Central Otago on the South Island and Martinborough and Hawke’s Bay on the North Island — should not be missed. It’s in Marlborough where you would find Cloudy Bay and Kim Crawford sauvignon blanc, the winery that put Kiwi wines on the map and the United States’ most popular Kiwi import, respectively.

Also, this region offers approachable, food-friendly crowd pleasing medium bodied pinot noirs. In Otago, however, the pinot noirs are more introverted, challenging wines that bring more Burgundian complexity. That is why connoisseurs find these wines so contemplatively appealing.

In the southeastern part of the North Island is Martinborough. Like Marlborough, this appellation predominantly plants sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. It’s here, though, with Marlborough as a standard, where one can really experience how a winemaker’s decisions and a sense of place affects the wine’s taste. The wines of Palliser Estate, for example, stood out at last year’s event for it’s sauvignon blanc that was less citrusy than others and filled the glass with more stone and passion fruit.

Their pinot noir redolent with ripe black cherry and a flavor reminiscent of Dr. Pepper was unlike any other. Farther up the coast in Hawke’s Bay is where Bordeaux and Rhone varietals such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah flourish. Mission Estate, New Zealand’s oldest continually operating commercial winery, produces these Old World varietals. Wine lovers who are drawn to fuller flavors and texture on a sturdy frame usually gravitate to Mission Estate’s table at this wine tasting.


Recently I had the pleasure of catching up with Simon Walsh, President of TIWI Trade which is Korea’s number one New Zealand Food and Beverage company to discuss changes in the industry and what to look for at this year’s festival. Walsh, who co-founded the company in 2008 with business partner Sunny Myung, described since setting up TIWI “there have been dramatic changes.”

He continued, “The Korean consumer demands more value for their (Won) and is willing to pay for it. Companies that haven’t evolved have been left behind. FTA’s (Free Trade Agreements) and the relaxing of restrictions have been big factors. Koreans living abroad, Gyopos and foreigners introducing new ideas have also caused major change.”

In regards to wine, most wine drinkers know Marlborough for its refreshingly crisp sauvignon blanc and smooth, red-fruited pinot noirs. So I asked him what appellations and varietals are increasing in production, popularity, and others should know. Walsh’s response was food for thought for Saturday.

“New Zealanders are drinking more pinot gris and Central Otago are producing some stunning pinot noirs. However as you mentioned, the world can’t get enough of New Zealand’s sauvignon blanc. So there continues to be a lot of investment in planting areas of Marlborough with our most popular grape. If people get a chance to get down to NZ at some stage they will be surprised at the variety and quality being produced. A number of these varieties are still relatively small scale production. As such, most is consumed locally. This should hopefully change and allow for more exports. Another I would recommend is New Zealand Syrah. These have been turning a few heads internationally for a while.“

Finally, in regards to this year’s event, Business Korea reports these wine festivals have become “a highly-anticipated New Zealand tradition” for seven years running. Here in Busan, the scene here is rapidly changing. At the inaugural event, about 120 celebrated NZ’s fruit of the vine. Last year, over 320 in attendance imbibed some of the Southern Hemisphere’s finest. Therefore, I was wondering: how is the New Zealand Wine Festival in Busan different than Seoul’s? Again, Walsh generously replied.

“People always ask me this. One is not better than the other, as they are both special in their own way. Seoul is outdoors in the sun from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. While Busan is an indoor setting from 6.00 p.m. – 10.00 p.m. This will be the third time in Busan and it keeps getting better. People in Busan know how to have a good time. Throw in some excellent New Zealand wine and great New Zealand music and you can’t go wrong.”

I haven’t made it up to a wine event in Seoul yet. Though having been to the previous two wine fests in Busan and met Simon Walsh, Sunny Myung, and dozens of wine reps here; he’s right. I certainly second Walsh’s last sentiment. Salud!

To find out more about this weekend’s wine fest check out the event page here.


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Anthony Velasquez
Prior to moving to Busan in 2009, Anthony Velasquez worked in the Alexander Valley of Northern California as a winery lab tech. He has nearly a decade of experience serving, bartending and teaching wine in the finest farm-to-fork restaurants in Sacramento, California.

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