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New Zealand Pinot Noir

By Julia Jenkins, 7th October 2021

It has been 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 in New Zealand and elsewhere wanted to build the same reputation for their Pinot Noir based wines as the Burgundians and started to compare their wines, emphasizing similarities and develop wines with similar character. Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot Noir is widely grown around the world, and is used in Champagne, sparkling white wines such as the Italian Franciacorta, and English sparkling wines. It has developed a reputation for excellent wines the US, South Africa and Australia as well as in wine regions of New Zealand.

Amongst the Burgundian fans it is great to find New Zealand winemakers happy to make wines that reflect their provenance and offer great tasting wines at more affordable prices than 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 a frustrating and infuriating grape to grow as it is thin-skinned and therefore susceptible to rot. Pinot Noirs are often 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. The name is derived from the French words for pine and black. The word pine alludes to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pinecone-shaped bunches of fruit.

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 is a major grape variety grown in three regions – Marlborough, Central Otago and Martinbrough. Marlborough Pinots have a lovely softer sightly sweeter strawberry fruit note and perhaps the least like the Burgundian example, though the Auntsfield Pinot 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 long lasting 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.

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