A leading British wine critic has warned New Zealand pinot noir makers not to flood the British market with cut-price wine, which he says has happened with our sauvignon blancs.
Oz Clarke was speaking in Wellington last night at end of the four-day Pinor Noir 2010 conference, which has been attended by 300 of the world's most influential wine critics.
Clarke said New Zealand sauvignon blanc was the best in the world when made "true to its cool, clean, birthright".
But "oceans of the stuff" were hitting British supermarket shelves at prices that undermined New Zealand's position as holder of the highest average price of any country in the British market.
He said German rieslings and Australian chardonnays and shirazes had similar experiences in going from premium products in Britain to flooding the market with inferior products at cheap prices, ruining those winemaking countries' reputations in the market.
"In 2009, New Zealand, the country which had fought so hard and so successfully to achieve its high-priced, high end exclusivity, decided to dump unwanted Marlborough sauvignon blanc on to our market at a giveaway price," Clarke said.
"The British supermarkets enthusiastically obliged and suddenly everyone is saying: hey, I thought New Zealand wines were supposed to be expensive. Was someone pulling our leg? What a pity that supply of the same cheap savvy, the 'Savalanche', is already earmarked for the British market for 2010. And if grape harvest predictions are correct, for 2011 too.
"Suddenly, that expensive, precious sought-after pinot noir from the world's most exclusive wine country looks far too dear. New Zealand? Top quality pinot noir? No. That's where the cheap sauvignon comes from. Don't think it couldn't happen. It's happened twice before in these last 30 years."
Clarke said pinot noir may have only been in New Zealand for a generation or two, but the country's pinot winemakers could cement their position at the top of the wine world in the next decade if they learnt from the "sauvignon crisis".
Clarke also said New Zealand chardonnay was now some of the greatest in the world, and compared New Zealand riesling, gewurtztraminer, cabernets and merlots favourably with the best Europe has to offer, while New Zealand syrah was "nothing short of astonishing".