New Zealand built its reputation on Sauvignon Blanc. As outlined here a few weeks back, Marlborough Sauvignon has become a favourite the world over. However, the country offers much more, including some great Pinot Noir.
My image of the New Zealand male as quietly spoken, possibly monosyllabic and dressed in a standard uniform of chinos and polo shirt, was shattered on my arrival in Central Otago in New Zealand for a three-day Pinot Noir celebration. Every event was preceded by an ear-piercing whistle and a lengthy (but usually witty) speech. All of the Otagan men competed with each other to appear in the loudest, most colourful Hawaiian shirts. There was a real sense of camaraderie amongst producers, possibly because they are so far away from the other New Zealand wine regions.
Central Otago (or ‘Central’ as they refer to it there) has come a long way in a short time. Although some form of viticulture had been practised here since the 19th century, it was only in the 1990s that the region started to make a name for itself as a producer of world-class Pinot Noir. One of the very first to plant vines was an Irish journalist, Alan Brady. Since then, the expansion has been rapid. I worked my way around 37 wineries at a tasting; apparently there are now 82. This is the world’s most southerly vineyard, with some of the most stunning scenery. Nearby Queenstown is one of New Zealand’s most popular resorts, for skiing in winter and every conceivable outdoor sport in summer.
Light cherry fruits, subtle oak, and a savoury finish.
Available from: Clontarf Wines; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Donnybrook Fair; O’Briens; 64wine Glasthule; Gibneys, Malahide; Wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford
Available from: Redmonds, Ranelagh; DSix, Harold’s Cross; Clontarf Wines; Donnybrook Fair; La Touche Greystones; Thomas Woodberry Galway
Available from: Redmonds, Ranelagh; Clontarf Wines; Donnybrook Fair; La Touche Greystones; Power, Lucan; Gibneys, Malahide; Thomas Woodberry, Galway
In New Zealand’s only continental climate, winters are bitterly cold and summers short but hot. Central Otago Pinot forged its reputation with a series of vibrant fruit-filled wines. As the vines mature, and producers become more confident, the wines are gaining in subtlety and complexity. There were some great wines here, and great people. In addition to the wines of the week, look out for Peregrine, Mount Difficulty, Two Paddocks (owned by local boy Sam Neil), Mud House and Wild Earth.
Moving northwards, Waipara and North Canterbury, two overlapping areas north of Christchurch are among the lesser-known regions of New Zealand. However, here you will find some delicious Chardonnays (something I can see New Zealand excelling at in the coming years) and some very good Pinot Noir.
Waipara can also compete in the beauty stakes with Central Otago. I spent a day foraging around some of the most wonderful scenery. If you have a relative helping rebuild Christchurch, Waipara is less than an hour’s drive away and worth a visit.
Pinot Noir here varies greatly in style, but the best are relatively full-bodied, sometimes spicy, with delicious soft ripe dark fruits and sufficient structure to age for a few years. Look out for Muddy Water, Pegasus Bay and Waipara Springs along with the wines featured below.
Martinborough, an hour’s drive from Wellington on the North Island, has long been seen as the best place to grow Pinot Noir in New Zealand. I am inclined to agree. The region has been expanded to include two other villages and renamed Wairarapa. A large blind tasting covering the entire region provided plenty of evidence that there are some really exciting wines being made here. Sadly few are available in this country. In addition to Ata Rangi mentioned below, look out for Escarpment, Martinborough Vineyards and Paddy Borthwick. Marlborough also produces Pinot Noir, but only a few can match those from Central Otago, Wairarapa or Waipara.
The standard of Pinot Noir in New Zealand is very high; I don’t think I tasted any duds and there were some exquisite wines. Most producers seem to be trying to tone down the exuberant ripe fruit of their Pinots to arrive at a more complex, balanced style. Sadly many of my favourites are not currently available in Ireland, largely due to a combination of cost and size. Central Otago, for example, produces a mere 2.5 per cent of New Zealand’s wine. Waipara is not much bigger and Wairarapa is responsible for a miniscule 2.8 per cent of national production.
The best wines from my two favourite New Zealand Pinot producers – Ata Rangi from Martinborough and Felton Road from Central Otago – both cost around €50, prices that might bring some out in a cold sweat. (Incidentally, both make excellent Chardonnay). I would argue that compared to Burgundy, Germany and other Pinot-producing regions, they are very fairly priced.