Astrolabe is a Marlborough wine brand, created in 1996, by Simon Waghorn, a winemaker who began his winemaking career in 1982, in South Australia, and moved to Gisborne New Zealand, with his young family.
Astrolabe is the name of a navigational instrument, but the brand is really named after the ship in which the French explorer Dumont D’Urville explored the Marlborough coast in 1827.
Since its launch, Astrolabe has carved out a strong, niche, position in the UK and the world, with its focus on pure, regional Marlborough fruit.
The winner of many accolades and awards in its relatively short life, it commands a premium price, and is recognised as one of the top, well-crafted producers in Marlborough.
It is riding high on the crest of the New Zealand success story, with an impressive range of wines all from Marlborough, and has one of the highest average price points of all the New Zealand wine brands, an impressive statistic in itself, considering that UK wine drinkers, in any case, are prepared to spend more money on New Zealand wine than wine from any other country.
From a tiny segment of the wine market less than 10 years ago, New Zealand now represents an impressive 6% of total sales in the UK, with Astrolabe amongst them, retailing mainly through independents and one high street retail chain.
Background & History
Astrolabe was founded in 1996, when Simon Waghorn, and his wife Jane, teamed up with friends Paul Davenport and Sarah Lewis, to turn their passion for, and fascination with the Marlborough region, into a business venture.
Simon had always explored and been fascinated by the difference in sub regions within Marlborough, such as Awatere, Wairau and Kekerengu, and his vision, with this new venture was to bring to market a range of wines, that, either alone, or blended, displayed the purity of fruit, elegance and regional variation that Marlborough had to offer.
Astrolabe is a winemaker wine; the company do not own vineyards, but their small team of dedicated viticulturalists and winemakers seek out the best vineyards, and work with growers in the best regions to secure the very best grapes from the very best terroirs. These have been handpicked, to ensure that true regional differentiation, and they have close links with a small group of growers, who understand the land, the grapes and how to get the most out of them. It is this close association that allows Simon and his team to get the right juice for the high quality wines that they are producing.
The philosophy at Astrolabe is to respect the soil, the grape and the climate and, with a focussed, highly modernised, yet minimalist approach in the winery, the team let the wines reflect their provenance via their expressive and regional characteristics.
Astrolabe has swiftly developed a cult following, especially in New Zealand and the UK, and Simon Waghorn has become one of the country’s foremost award-winning winemakers.
What styles of wine do Astrolabe produce?
The Astrolabe range of wines is entirely from Marlborough and celebrates the diversity and sub-regionality of that premium, and world famous area.
Simon Waghorn has devised 3 different tiers of wines, each reflecting the style and the sub-region from which they come.
Astrolabe Province Series – this is a range of wines, which are produced from a blend of the various sub-regions, including Awatere and Wairau. The range includes the now well-known Astrolabe Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and also comprises a tropically scented, cool climate Chardonnay, aromatic yet delicate Pinot Gris, racy and crisp Riesling and a rich, dark cherry soaked Pinot Noir.
Astrolabe Valleys range – these are wines that come specifically from one of the sub regions of Marlborough. The range includes the award winning, zestily fresh Awatere Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a Sauvignon from the lesser known Kekerengu area, plus a stylishly silky Kekerengu Pinot Gris, and a ripe, intensely flavoured Wairau Riesling.
Astrolabe Vineyard range – here the team has selected the best fruit from individual vineyards, and have created some unique wines, which have true expression, complexity and individuality. The range comprises Taihoa Sauvignon Blanc, Wrekin Chenin Blanc, The Rocks Pinot Gris and Astrolabe Farm Riesling.
Astrolabe Durvillea range – Astrolabe also produces a sister range, offering great value, named Durvillea, after a type of seaweed, which clings to the rocks on the Marlborough coast. The range comprises a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir.
Pairing Astrolabe Wines With Food
The Astrolabe range of wines varies considerably in style, within the one region of Marlborough, as the individual vineyards and sub-regions express different characteristics. It’s therefore difficult to generalise, but here some some overarching suggestions.
Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc – fresh, zesty, with intense tropical fruits, and a searingly citrus edge, this works with all types of seafood, is perfect with Indian and Chinese dishes, and a dead cert with tuna nicoise, Thai prawn curry, and goats cheese salad.
Astrolabe Chardonnay – clean, elegant and creamy, the rich, tropical fruit flavours work well with buttery roast chicken, creamy fish dishes, pan-fried salmon and soft cheeses.
Astrolabe Pinot Gris – the ripe, aromatic, fuller bodied style of Pinot Gris is growing rapidly in popularity; characters of ripe peach, elderflower, baked apple, and a hint of honeysuckle attract, yet are balanced by a tangy, citrussy dry edge. The weight and aromatic style of Pinot Gris make it a perfect wine to go with hot, spicy Thai food, some more delicate Chinese dishes, and modern, zestily flavoured and spiced Asian recipes. It’s also great with chicken or pork in fruity sauces, and fish or chicken with ginger, lime and chilli.
Astrolabe Riesling – a fantastic grape for New Zealand, the wines are fresh, vibrant, with a zesty, fresh lime and honeysuckle aroma, yet a delicious dryness and fruitiness on the palate; squeaky clean, with floral, lime zest, and honey character, they are perfect wines with smoked fish, and superb with all types of Asian dishes.
Astrolabe Gewurztraminer – with its heady aromas of rose petals, lychees, and sweet grapes, these wines are rich, and bursting with ripe fruit, but still retain a delightful freshness and acidity, due to their location – look no further than Indian and Thai food, spicy sweet and sour salads, very ripe and blue cheeses.
Astrolabe Pinot Noir – silky, smooth, velvety and lighter in style than many reds, with a naturally sweet edge, Pinot Noir is the classic accompaniement to roast or pan fried duck, all types of game, and is also the best red to go with spicy dishes, such as sizzling Chinese beef, Indian curries, and Thai stir fries.