Thursday, February 15, 2024

New Zealand Pinots


To say that Pinot Noir is not considered a "big" wine, like Syrah, begs a few words of explanation. Describing a red wine as "big," usually means that feeling of weight and texture of the wine on your tongue.

With New Zealand Pinot Noir, it's not the weight of the pinot that impresses wine drinkers, as much as the wine's super-sized reputation and quality.

Developing an appreciation of NZ pinots, starts with the understanding of the country's unique geography.  New Zealand's wine regions are spread over the North Island and the South Island.  And that means there is a wide range of different factors like color, wine weight and flavor profiles. 

There's one more important factor: A large part of New Zealand's reputation for quality Pinot Noir can be found in Central Otago and Martinborough. 

South Island  

In recent years, most of the attention for New Zealand wine has been focused on  Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  Truly distinctive, in every way, Marborough SBs, are fresh, crisp and layered with passion fruit and lime juice. 

Marlborough also boasts very good Pinot Noir, from the prime vineyard site resting along the northern tier of the South Island. Marlborough pinots have depth of color, are nicely structured with layers of dark cherry and spice flavors. 

However, the best South Island Pinot Noir, some say the best in New Zealand, is made in Central Otago, at the southern tip of the South Island. "Central," as the area is known by locals, is the only wine region in New Zealand with a continental climate and a wide daily temperature swing. 

New Zealand's first Pinot Noir was made in Central Otago in the late 1980s. Because of its location near the Southern Alps, the area is popular with lovers of winter sports, conveniently using the vibrant city of Queenstown as a hub for entertainment and gastronomy.

Sub regions in Central Otago, such as Bannockburn and Gibbston, are noted for rich and intensely fruity Pinot Noir and crisp minerally Pinot Gris and Riesling.  Bannockburn has become one of New Zealand's marquee wine regions.

Central Pinot Noirs, especially from Bannockburn, an area that is one of New Zealand's marquee sub regions, are intense, lush and silky, a style that fans of non-Burgundy Pinot Noir love.  Wines to look for include Chard Farm, Judge Rock, Mt. Rosa, Felton Road, Grey Ridge, Coal Pit, Mount Edward, Thyme Hill Vineyard. 


North Island/Waiarapa

In the southern hemisphere, the more northerly climes tend to be warmer. At the southern tip of the North Island, the region of Wairarapa, one of New Zealand's ten Geographic Indicators, is in a rain shadow, cool enough for some of the country's  top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Waiarapa is about an hours drive from Wellington, the nation's capital. There are a handful of sub regions in Waiarapa. Martinborough, a name easier for non-Kiwis to pronounce than Waiarapa, has established a solid reputation as New Zealand's foremost Pinot Noir, although it represents only 3% of the country's vineyard land. The reason being the area's cool climate, gravelly alluvial soils and the Ruamahunga River.  

In the 1970s, wine growers, looking for a site for wine grapes, settled on Martinborough, a place they reckoned had conditions similar to Burgundy. The prime vineyard location became known as the Martinborough Terrace, an alluvial plateau with a maritime climate. 

Martinborough Pinot Noir is more complex than those from Central Otago, but with the same dark fruitiness.  Representative wines include Ata Rangi, Craggy Range, TeMuna Road, Dry River, Palliser Estate, Martinborough Vineyard, Escarpment, Schubert Winery, TeKeiranga, Luna Estate. 


When you're thinking about what Pinot Noir to have tonight with a piece of grilled salmon, a juicy spit-roasted chicken from the supermarket, or a vegetable stir-fry, pull out that bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir you've been saving.  You won't be disappointed. 


Next blog: The Many Kinds of Muscat

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