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New Zealand Pinot Noir

By Julia Jenkins, 6th September 2016

Traditionalists have long said that the only place that Pinot Noir grows well is in Burgundy and that the only Pinot Noir wines worth drinking are Red Burgundies. As a result many Pinot Noir winemakers wanted to build the same reputation for their Pinot Noir based wines as the Burgundians and (lamentably, in my view) started to emaulate and compare their wines and emphasise the similarities. In previous decades that was probably a help to positioning their wines in the particular price points as good Pinot Noir is never cheap. However as the vineyards come of age, as the right clones are planted in the most empathetic region and winemakers are aware of the best style of wine they can make from the fruit they have this is becoming unnecessary.

The great result of this confidence is that New Zealand winemakers amongst others are happy to make wines that reflect their provenance and also offer great tasting wines at prices below that of Burgundy but still tasting of the grape variety with the New Zealand twist of a sprinkling of pepper and spice with a bit of backbone!

Pinot Noir is probably the most frustrating and infuriating grape to grow. It is thin-skinned and forms tight knit bunches and grows best on well drained deep limestone based sub-soils. As it is thin skinned Pinot Noir based wines are lighter in colour, body and tannin although the best wines have grip, complexity and an intensity of flavour seldom found in wines from other grapes.

There are distinct regional differences appearing in contemporary New Zealand Pinot Noirs offering a range of styles and these are currently being promoted (mainly in independent wine merchants) to show off the caliber of these wines. Pinot Noir now has a home in three regions – Marlborough, Central Otago and Martinbrough. Marlborough Pinots like the MokoBlack have a lovely soft sweet strawberry fruit note and perhaps the least like the Burgundian example, though the Auntsfield example from this region has a lightness of touch and a hint of spice. Seifried Estate in nearby Nelson make a leafy more elegant version due to their less maritime climate.

In Martinborough in North Island the soft velvety mushroom Pinot Noir notes are evident and enhanced by a subtle vibrancy with a hint of spice as shown off by the King of Pinot, Larry McKenna in his Escarpment Pinot range. At the very Southern tip of South Island in Central Otago near Queenstown winemakers such as Two Paddocks’ renowned film director and actor, Sam Neill, is making stylish, elegant wines with more obvious but balanced tannins, spice, pepper and ripe fruit.

The delicious, stylish quality Pinot Noir wines available from New Zealand producers is evidence that winemakers have at last understood this variety that grows so well in their terroirs to be able to make longlasting wines that are well worth paying that little bit extra for compared to those from Chile but less than for a Burgundy of similar ilk but different style. There’s room for them all for us to enjoy.

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