Pinot noir is the second most planted grape variety in New Zealand, with more than 4,500 hectares of the total 30,000 hectare vineyard. And New Zealand is arguably the second best place in the world to be making pinot noir.
Despite their very short history of production, there are some really classy pinot noirs from both islands, though as in Burgundy, it’s still a case of know-your-producer. And the country is setting its sights high. David Cox, director – Europe, for New Zealand Winegrowers, the generic body that promotes NZ wine abroad, said “if anyone is going to turn die hard old world pinot noir lovers over to the new world, then New Zealand can do it.”
He added New Zealand pinot noir was getting an “increasing reputation around the world and in the UK. They’re getting better and better each year: the vines have been in the ground longer, and they’re getting confident about pushing regionality and stylistic differences in the five main regions” for pinot noir.
Those top five regions account for 95% of plantings:
Source for both: NZ Winegrowers
For me, Central Otago stands out as having an aromatic and primary-fruited focus, with a sweet succulence of fruit density that’s not often matched elsewhere. The Otagans are even sub-sub-dividing their styles, but let’s not go there just yet.
Some pinot noir from Martinborough does seem to have an earthy, forest floor/forest berry component, and can be a more full-bodied style, but still within the pure pinot noir genre. I’ve also found notable earthiness and weight in some Canterbury/Waipara examples.
Marlborough may lead the plantings field, but it is also notably variable, and sometimes patchy, in style and quality. We’re told Marlborough has bright red fruits such as cherry and raspberry, and a lean core of acidity, and I do find these in some wines.
Whether regional styles are truly emerging or wines are still more a reflection of individual winemaker philosophy is still a subject for discussion. The New Zealand pinot noir industry is still too young to observe categorical differences.
For the new 2008 and 2007 pinot noir releases onto the market, tasting notes below, I wasn’t aware of particularly strong regional identities, more aware of good wines and less good wines.
General observations from the tasting include:
- the idea of perfume as a quality indicator – those wines with enticing aromatics also tended to show well on the palate.
- the fact you need to pay at least £15 to have the chance of getting something decent
- tasting lushness and sweetness of fruit does not contradict with a dry wine.
- the subtlety of tannin volume and texture is crucial to quality perception.
A selection of my tasting notes, November 11, 2009
Escarpment, The Edge Pinot Noir 2008, Martinborough, £10.75
Bright cherry red; aromatic sweet allspice perfume and stewed raspberries; lush, sweet attack and mid palate with fresh acidity. Quite full body, but good fresh fruit with hints of cinnamon spice. Good flavour at this level, mid length finish.
Escarpment, Pinot Noir 2008, Martinborough, £17.25
Translucent cherry red; aromatic spice, long palate length; sweet, smooth texture, some good refinement of texture and volume of fruit. Medium to full-bodied, with hint of aromatic tar and marmalade-toast. Rich palate fruit and good length of finish. Very nicely balanced and wholesome.
Old Coach Road, Pinot Noir 2008, Nelson, £9.99
Pale cherry red; lifted spiky redcurrant nose, some restrained fruit, with hints of allspice in the background; perky freshness without mid palate succulence, but with mid palate restraint. Gentle red fruits, nicely balanced with fresh acidity, medium-ish weight, and no great complexity.
Waimea Pinot Noir 2008, Nelson £11.99
Mid cherry colour, faintly confected red cherry nose, cheers up on the palate into straightforward red cherry fruit, nice fruit, though no great complexity.
Babich Winemakers Pinot Noir Reserve 2008, Marlborough, £ 11.99
Stewed forest berry fruit, but other than that and mid-pale cherry colour, difficult to recognise as pinot noir. Alcohol of 14% becomes too evident on the back palate.
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £12.99
Medium translucent ruby; sweet blackberry on the nose, lacking a bit of perkiness mid palate which makes the fruit appear flabby; nice black cherry fruit comes through on the palate. OK, but doesn’t shine.
Hunter’s Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £12.95
Medium translucent cherry; aromatic allspice and cinnamon nose with strawberry compote notes peeking through, fresh palate attack, red berry fruits to the fore, with attractive slippery texture, and rich intensity of primary fruit mid palate. Lifted medium palate, finishes a tad short, otherwise nicely balanced. Very decent.
Momo Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £12.95
Medium pale cherry; nose is a bit weedy – leafy; palate attack has an edge which softens mid palate into a black cherry spectrum allowing sweetness of fruit to emerge. Medium-plus weight and sweet succulence comes out nicely. Warming 14% alcohol is noticeable but not dominant. Sweet finish.
Framingham Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £12.99
Medium deep black cherry; spicy, almost mulled nose, which is not replicated on the palate. Palate is still dark berry fruited. Full bodied for a pinot noir. Rich, sweet density and volume of fruit. 13.5% seems a little warm on this wine. A bit rustic.
Jackson Estate, Vintage Widow Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £14.99
Pretty deep ruby, not opaque by any standards, but dark. Nose a bit closed, hint grippy and oaky on the palate attack. This softens into sweet, glycerol-laden black berry and cherry fruit. Not subtle or delicate, in the bruising style of pinot noir, but not necessarily unattractive for that. Long finish.
Staete Landt, Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £15.95
Medium translucent red cherry; perky freshness, attractive, fresh, crunchy red cherry, with some sandalwood complexity, medium weight. Lean rather than lush – a Marlborough thing?
Huia, Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £16.00
Medium deep translucent black cherry; savoury and red cherry nose, lush red berry fruit, with freshening acid core; focus on primary fruit without too much complexing character; finish has the faintest hint of a bitter note.
Saint Clair, Pioneer Block 14, Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £17.99
Medium translucent cherry red; perfume and wild strawberries on the nose; linear attack of sweet raspberries and redcurrants; enchanting slender and aromatic mid palate, fresh core with restraint and some magnetism. Decent palate length.
Saint Clair, Pioneer Block 4, Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough, £17.99
Medium translucent dark cherry; hint leafy on the nose, palate attack also so, but also has slippery rich texture and dark berry fruits. Some savoury notes add a hint of complexity, but I’d like to see a little less leafiness.
Mt Difficulty, Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2008, Central Otago, £13.99
Medium pale red cherry; smells a bit sharp; simple crunchy red cherry fruit on the palate; adequate, possibly even decent at the price, but not quite what the region or the variety can do well.
Quartz Reef Pinot Noir 2008, Central Otago £15.00
Medium translucent red cherry; dusky cherry nose; sandalwood and spicy wood notes overlay subtle sweet red fruits; hints of savouriness, with a core of refining acidity. Has lush, sweet, dark brooding cherry mid palate, spicy finish. Some nice notes of non-fruity complexity, which make it stand out. Alcohol of 14.5% is very well integrated but does just pop up on the finish.
Carrick Crown & Cross Pinot Noir 2008, Central Otago, £17.95
Medium pale red cherry; muted nose, bit lightweight on aromatics, and with a dusky mid palate note. Fresh acid core, but I’d expect it to show better. Alcohol of 14.5% is not best integrated.
Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2008, Central Otago, £19.99
Medium red cherry; soft spice red cherry compote; enthralling fruit attack, soft fruit mid palate, with fresh acid backbone, delicate and slender; attractive fresh finish of some elegance creates very good impression.
Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2008, Central Otago, £29.00
Medium cherry red; dark cherry and graphite nose falling into sweet dark cherry palate, with the smooth depth of a black hole you can’t help but want to fall into. Refined and layered; integrated and beautifully balanced. Sublime.
Neudorf, Tom’s Block Pinot Noir 2007, Nelson, £16.00
Medium pale ruby; smoky red cherry lift; sweet/dry combo fruit attack, slippery texture, dark, brooding cherry palate, supremely smooth and enticing, dark chocolate and savoury back palate notes and very long; flinty notes tucked away in the layers.
Neudorf, Moutere Pinot Noir 2007, Nelson £26.00
Medium cherry red; graphite and cherry nose, sweet cherry and tamarind palate attack. Understated, refined palate, very smooth, long and textured with layers of complexity; savoury/umami sensation; supple, subtle texture and well-proportioned weight. Sweet fruit with dry core, acidity fresh yet swathed in richness of fruit and texture making it very good.
Clos Henri, Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, £18.00
Bit reductive nose which blows off; dark crunchy fruit but no great subtlety; dark, slatey notes among tangy dark chocolate, cherry and tamarillo; some good complexity and depth
Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, £25.00
Medium translucent ruby; dark spices on the nose, rich mixed berry compote palate, with sweet core and lush texture; could be a tad fresher on the core? Rich, fat style with supple texture.
Seresin, Rachel Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, £25.00
Medium deep cherry; sandalwood and allspice aromatic perfumed nose, enticing sweet red berry fruit palate, silky texture, succulent, complexing black pepper twist mid palate, lush and complex; more-ish in a simple, focused spectrum.
Seresin, Raupo Creek Pinot Noir 2007, Marlborough, £25.00
Medium deep cherry; spicy, hints graphite, lush and savoury palate core. Full weighted palate, without being full bodied – the weight of lush sweet berry fruit; palate fresh and complex, enticing, smooth and delicately spiced. Long finish.
Pegasus Bay, Pinot Noir 2007, Waipara, £22.50
Medium pale bright red cherry; toasted spice nose; full bodied dark berry fruit with smooth, succulent texture, dark chocolate and blueberries. Full, rich, alcohol on the finish but integrated mid palate. In the big, rich, not-quite-bruising style of pinot noir.
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