For a nation roughly the size of Colorado, New Zealand produces an outsized amount of wine. Nearly 100,000 acres are devoted to wine production. On the North and South islands, where most of the population lives, grapevines dot the dry riverbeds, valleys, lake edges and rolling hills pocked with limestone boulders. Vineyards span the subtropical Northland region to arid Central Otago, the most southerly wine region in the world.\r\n\r\nWith no vineyard further than 80 miles from the ocean, New Zealand\u2019s maritime climate, cool nights and long hours of sunshine mean many of its wines are refreshing, with bright fruit, heady aromatics and abundant acidity.\r\n\r\nThese characteristics apply to New Zealand\u2019s unmistakable, gregarious Sauvignon Blanc. But New Zealand\u2019s diverse climate, soil and topography also delivers muscular reds, long-lived Chardonnay, traditional-method sparkling wines, Riesling of all shapes and sizes, as well as myriad other aromatic styles.\r\n\r\n\r\nThe main wine regions in New Zealand\r\nNew Zealand comprises 11 official wine regions, which received legal recognition in the form of geographical indications (GIs) in 2018. Small regions like Gisborne and Auckland in the North Island, and North Canterbury and Nelson in the South, are where some of the nation\u2019s artisanal and creative winemaking takes place. Here, they grow relatively uncommon varieties with exciting promise like Chenin Blanc and Gr\u00fcner Veltliner, as well as more traditional plantings like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.\r\n\r\nThe most prominent wine regions in New Zealand are Marlborough, Central Otago, Hawke\u2019s Bay and Wairarapa.\r\n\r\n\r\nMarlborough\r\nTucked into the northeast corner of South Island, with nearly 50,000 acres planted to grapevines, Marlborough is New Zealand\u2019s largest wine region. It accounts for two-thirds of the country\u2019s plantings, which includes the vast majority of New Zealand\u2019s Sauvignon Blanc. The variety thrives in Marlborough\u2019s abundant sunshine, cool nights and relatively fertile, free-draining soils.\r\n\r\n\u201cI like to think of Marlborough and Sauvignon Blanc as a lucky accident, or perhaps an educated punt, that resulted in something that was unique in the wine world,\u201d says winemaker Anna Flowerday. She and her husband, Jason, own Te Whare Ra, where Marlborough\u2019s oldest vines reside.\r\n\r\n\u201cSauvignon from here tastes like nowhere else in the world,\u201d says Flowerday. \u201cIt captures the amazing long sunlight hours in the fabulous array of thirst-slaking flavors, and our diurnal range contributes to the ripe, mouthwatering acidity.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\u201cIf you want Turangawaewae, [the Maori word for] a sense of the place, then Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has that in spades.\u201d\r\n\r\nMarlborough\u2019s three main subregions are the Southern Valleys, Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley. The former has heavier clay soils, while the Wairau Valley is on an old gravelly riverbed with stony, skeletal soils. Both produce tropical versions of Sauvignon Blanc with passionfruit and grass flavors.\r\n\r\nAwatere borders the Pacific Ocean and Kaikoura mountains. Its elevation and cooler, drier climate produce more herb-flecked Sauvignon Blanc, often with notes of salt, tomato leaf and jalape\u00f1o.\r\n\r\nThere\u2019s more to Marlborough than Sauvignon Blanc, of course. Subregions with heavier soils, like Southern Valleys, are home to Pinot Noir, the quality of which has evolved in tandem with the area\u2019s viticulture. These Pinot Noirs are increasingly structured, but still offer plenty of bright red berry fruit.\r\n\r\nPinot Gris, Riesling and Gewu\u0308rztraminer also find happy homes in Marlborough\u2019s cool, maritime climate. \u201cAromatic whites are arguably the unsung heroes of Marlborough,\u201d says Flowerday, who makes five wines from these three varieties.\r\n\r\n\r\nCentral Otago\r\nCentral Otago produces just 3% of New Zealand\u2019s wine, most of which is world-class Pinot Noir. The region\u2019s rugged terrain includes snow-capped mountains, arid hills and river gorges. It has New Zealand\u2019s highest elevation and most continental climate, though vineyards are still less than 150 miles from the sea.\r\n\r\nOtago\u2019s autumns are dry with low humidity, and its summers are short and hot. Winters bring frost and, occasionally, snow. These conditions, along with old, windblown loess, river gravel and sandy soils, create wines with both structure and finesse.\r\n\r\nPinot Noir comprises 80% of Central Otago\u2019s plantings, and styles vary by subregion. Expect vibrant Pinot Noir from lakeside sites in Wanaka, elegant iterations from the elevated vineyards of Gibbston and powerful Pinots from warmer sites like Bannockburn or Bendigo. Otago\u2019s diversity is an asset. Producers have the freedom to craft both single-site wines as well as blends.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s like questioning whether there is one clear Burgundy style, taking into account Chablis to Maconnais and everything in between, as Central Otago vineyards can be up to 100 kilometers [62 miles] apart with different climates, soils and major geographic features separating them,\u201d says Grant Taylor, owner/winemaker at Valli Vineyards. \u201cThe diversity in styles means there will be a wine from Central Otago that most people will enjoy.\u201d\r\n\r\nPinot may rule in these parts, but winemakers here also produce Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, both crackling with the region\u2019s natural acidity. A smattering of aromatic varieties like Riesling, Gr\u00fcner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Gewu\u0308rztraminer also make appearances, as does some ros\u00e9. But perhaps the most exciting Pinot alternative produced in the region are its traditional-method sparkling wines. Sadly, due in part to high production costs, little of it is made, and even less exported to the U.S. If you see it, snap it up.\r\n\r\n\r\nHawke\u2019s Bay\r\nThe first vines planted in Hawke\u2019s Bay date to 1851, which makes it New Zealand\u2019s oldest wine region. The country\u2019s second-largest region, it produces about 10% of New Zealand's wine.\r\n\r\nHawke\u2019s Bay is located on the eastern side of North Island between the Pacific Ocean and the inland Kaweka mountains. It has 25 soil types, from free-draining gravel and stone laced with red metal, to loamy clay, limestone or sand.\r\n\r\nTemperatures are on the warmest side of cool-climate viticulture, but abundant sunshine means a long growing season. It\u2019s warm enough to ripen the red varieties that the region is most known for: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. In addition, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris ripen well on the coast, hillsides and in river valleys.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nHawke\u2019s Bay\u2019s most famous wine growing district, Gimblett Gravels, is one of the only districts outside of Europe designated by soil type, not geographic location. At nearly 2,000 acres, its alluvial soils are a mix of coarse sand, stone and gravel known as greywacke, deposited onto the plains after a massive flood from the nearby Ngaruroro River in the 1860s.\r\n\r\nThis unique soil provides excellent drainage and low vine vigor. That, plus the area\u2019s considerable diurnal temperature range, creates powerful red wines such as Merlot-dominated Bordeaux-style blends and, to a lesser extent, Syrah, with stony character, distinctive tannin structures and pure fruit flavors.\r\n\r\nHawke\u2019s Bay\u2019s most planted variety, however, is Chardonnay.\r\n\r\n\u201cChardonnay is very comfortable in Hawke\u2019s Bay,\u201d says Nick Picone, chief winemaker at Villa Maria Wines. He\u2019s based in Hawke\u2019s Bay and heads up the company\u2019s North Island winemaking. \u201cThere is enough heat for it to fully ripen, but it\u2019s also cool enough to retain beautiful natural acidity, flavor and freshness. You could call Hawke\u2019s Bay \u2018Goldilocks\u2019 for Chardonnay.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWairarapa\r\n\r\nWai means water in Maori, so many places in New Zealand, particularly in wine regions, begin with the word. There's Waipara Valley in North Canterbury, the Wairau Valley in Marlborough, and the Waitaki Valley in North Otago.\r\n\r\nWairarapa is located on the North Island, an hour east of New Zealand\u2019s capital, Wellington. Technically, it consists of three subregions, Gladstone, Masterton and Martinborough. The latter is so well known, helped in part by the region's historic town center with which it shares a name, that many wine drinkers are familiar with Martinborough, but not Wairarapa.\r\n\r\nWairarapa produces just 1% of the nation\u2019s wines, primarily Pinot Noir. It occupies a dry, windswept valley near the Ruamahanga River and is protected by the Rimutaka and Tararua ranges to the west.\r\n\r\nThe occasional spring frost and southerly winds result in low yields of thick-skinned fruit that produce concentrated wines with structure and personality. Wairarapa Pinot Noirs can be elegant yet powerful, mineral and spice-driven with sinewy tannins and the capacity to age for more than a decade.\r\n\r\n\u201cMartinborough produces Pinot Noir that is distinct from this region,\u201d says Helen Masters, head winemaker at one of the region\u2019s founding wineries, Ata Rangi.\u00a0\u201cOther varieties may produce great wines year to year, but the voice is not as clear and defined as it is with Pinot Noir.\u00a0No matter who the producer is, it is as though [the wines] have been painted with the same brush, savory rather than fruit driven, with length defined by very fine tannins.\u201d\r\n\r\nWairarapa also produces distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. It\u2019s bright and boisterous like its Marlborough counterpart, but often more textural and mineral-driven. Chardonnay and Viognier, plus aromatic whites like Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewu\u0308rztraminer, make appearances, as does ros\u00e9. Wairarapa also occasionally produces spicy, heady Syrah.