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But the country has made great strides in recent years, consumption is increasing and its best products have acquired a world-wide reputation.

Sheer limitation of vineyard space means New Zealand will never be a quantity producer but she aims to turn those limitations to her advantage and direct her wine-producing energies towards the quality end of the market. It’s no coincidence that New Zealand wines are the costliest we purchase in this country, averaging out at £5.50 per bottle compared to an overall UK average price of £3.68.

Having already put rare Italians and hard-to-find Australians under the spotlight, Christie’s (10 per cent buyer’s premium) London rooms have now zoomed in on less familiar Kiwis with a focus on New Zealand for the February 5 sale in their South Kensington rooms, preceded by a £45 per head New Zealand Master Class the week before conducted by Anthony Hanson MW.

Ninety-five per cent of the 142-lot, NZ section gathered together for this sale had come from the producers or their agents who could doubtless see the market potential of this extra exposure. For their selection, Christie’s emphasis was on rarities, small producers and reserve versions of better known names. “This is not representative of what gets sold in the UK,” said Christie’s David Wainwright. “For some of these producers as little as 20 cases come into the country and some never go into circulation.” Indeed, some of the producers like South Island’s quality Pinot Noir producer Felton Road only actually make around 500 cases of each of their “blocks” in the first instance.

So how did these exotic Antipodeans go down with Christie’s buyers? They were blowing hot and cold, it seems, or to quote Mr Wainwright’s after-sale verdict: “Buyers were selective and we saw both record prices and some real bargains.”

With around 25 per cent of the lots unsold, the buy-in result was much higher than for a traditional wine sale, but then perhaps one shouldn’t judge this event by claret auction standards. David Wainwright said he was pleased with the results, with buyers almost exclusively private, a lot of cross-over interest from his regular customers and new clients as well, although he conceded that some of the results were hard to fathom. For example, an Imperial of Trinity Hill’s 1997 Cabernet Merlot made a double estimate £320 while Isabel Estate’s 2000 Sauvignon Blanc, an “outstanding wine” in Wainwright’s opinion, was going for a bargain £80 per case – “people left it alone”.

Buying tended to be briskest for the better known names, with most of the Cloudy Bay wines coming in over estimate. Their Sauvignon from the ’96 and the highly rated 2000 vintage and their Pinot Noir from the ’97 rated £240, £310 and £230 per case respectively. But other lots from less familiar names were selling below or at low estimate, which given their rare appearance on the UK market suggests perhaps a missed oenophilic opportunity.

One notable exception was the case of Esk Valley’s 1998 vintage The Terraces. Only 360 bottles of this have been released to the UK by this Hawkes Bay boutique winery, which specialises in hand-crafted premium red wines. Customers evidently appreciated the rarity of the opportunity snapping it up at a top estimate £550, the highest price in this section.