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16 June 2023

New Zealand Pinot Noir Part 1: Central Otago, North Canterbury, Nelson, Wairarapa, Hawke's Bay.

This stunning shot of Misha's Vineyard in Central Otago reminds us this wine region in the south-of-centre of New Zealand's South Island is distinctly 'cool climate', to coin that overused term. The Pinot Noir variety has adapted well to the climate and landscape here; and local winemakers can confidently claim to be producing some really delicious and fine Pinots, even if, inevitably perhaps, these wines now represent some of NZ's most expensive. Click/tap the link under the photo above to find out all the geeky facts about New Zealand's vineyards and Pinot Noir. For info, there are 1656 hectares of Pinot planted in Central Otago out of 2055 in total, giving you an idea of the belief they had/have in the variety. Here's half-a-dozen recommended Pinots from the region, which I enjoyed at a tasting in Dublin a few months ago:

Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir 2019 (organic / biodynamic, 13.5% abv): Open-top fermenters, long pre- and post-fermentation maceration with hand-punching, 16 months in mostly used barrels, no fining or filtration. Delicate and subtle style, concentrated with fresh acid structure layered with lovely sweet / savoury fruit, tight and fine finish; still needing more time in bottle to blossom, very good Pinot. Importer: Ireland North and South James Nicholson (also Highbury Vintners London). £50-£60 UK. €68.50 Ireland. $55-$60 US. $75-$81 NZ. $90-$110 AUS. €60 Germany. €63 Netherlands. $588 HK. $120 SG. CHF 65.
Domaine Thomson Wines 'Surveyor Thomson' Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019, Lowburn (13% abv): Organic and biodynamic, 14 ha vineyard - they also own vineyards in Burgundy (Gevrey Chambertin, Mercurey, Saint-Aubin). Aromatic elegant Pinot, surprisingly closed up still for its age, subtle perfumed sweet / savoury fruit, long finish although light touch too. Stylish. €39 Ireland. NZ $55. AUS $50. £44.50 UK. HK $305.
Also worth mentioning, although was just bottled when I tried it so a little out of kilter: the Thomson 2022 'Explorer' Pinot Noir (£22-£27 UK, NZ $35, HK $198).
Akarua The Siren Pinot Noir 2019, Bannockburn (14% abv): 18 months in used French oak. Rich and savoury with light hints of oak, quite dense and concentrated, closes up a little on the finish although has plenty of delicious lingering ripe and smoky sweet / savoury fruit; pretty classy Pinot. €65 Ireland (Ampersand Sales Dublin). £57 UK. NZ $100.
Pyramid Valley Central Otago Pinot Noir 2018 (13.5%, organic): Slightly wild-edged nose moving on to a concentrated yet elegant palate with tasty sweet / savoury fruit, fresh and structured still vs drinking quite nicely; delicious. €42 Ireland (Curious Wines). £30-£32 UK. $45 US.
Smith & Sheth Kawarau Pinot Noir 2019, Gibbston (13.5%): '100% barrique aged.' Lightly 'reductive' tones at first, delicious sweet / savoury fruit on the palate though, subtle and classy Pinot, once again drinking well but should age further. €42 Curious Wines. $50NZ. $50 US.

North Canterbury: Moving back towards the north of South Island, on the coast a little to the north of Christchurch, is North Canterbury wine region. There are 444 hectares of Pinot Noir here (total region = 1497 ha).
Pyramid Valley North Canterbury Pinot Noir 2018 (13%, organic): More perfumed and lighter than the PV Central Otago above, mature sweet / savoury fruit combined with fresh acidity still; very tasty Pinot. €42 Curious Wines. £33 UK.
Organic Pinot Noir 2019, Waipara Valley (14% abv): Planted in the 1970s, Greystone has over 60% of their vineyards with PN on chalky clay soils; wild fermentation, 16 months in French oak, not fined. Showing a tad of age, aromatic and floral with 'pungent' yeast-lees edges, complex sweet / savoury and berry fruit, maturing for sure with lingering aromatic profile (savoury fruit, earthy and riper red fruits); good acidity still while mellowing on the palate, quite weighty too yet soft with lingering ripe fruit, lees-y bite and freshness. Lovely Pinot. Barry & Fitzwilliam (Dublin & Cork). $49 NZ. £26 UK. $42 US. $46 AUS.

Nelson: As it tells us on nzwine.com, Nelson is 'found on the northern tip of the South Island.' With 164 hectares of Pinot out of just over 1000 planted overall, we're talking tiny obscure wine region.
Greenhough Hope Vineyard Pinot Noir 2019 (13% abv, organic): Less 'up-front' than the others in Curious Wines' considerable NZ Pinot arsenal with tighter mouthfeel, has nice freshness and subtle but lingering sweet / savoury fruit; leaner style perhaps but memorable. €35 (Dublin). $50 NZ. $298 HK.

Wairarapa: This evocative indigenous place name means glistening waters, which is located just across the Cook Strait on the southeastern tip of New Zealand's North Island not far from the city of Wellington. There are three subzones: Martinborough, Masterton and Gladstone. Another fairly small region with just over 1000 hectares of vines planted, although Pinot Noir makes up over half of it.
NZW Inc.: Craggy Range 1

Decibel Martinborough Pinot Noir 2019 (14% abv; dry-farmed, organic): Aged in French oak barrels, some of them new. Quite rich colour still, hints of smoky oak with perfumed sweet / savoury fruit, richer fruit than some of the others with fuller mouthfeel and a tad more grip, quite firm acidity yet rounded and fruity with herbal undertones. Good wine although I preferred the Greystone above (in a tutored tasting together). €38 The Irish Cellar (Dublin). NZ $35. SEK 299. US $29-$35.
Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2019 (13.5% abv): 11 months in French oak (one third new). Perfumed and intense, much more depth and concentration than some of the others with lingering tangy and savoury fruit and fresh acidity. Very good. One of the best-known pioneers of Pinot (hence the price I guess). €80 Liberty Wines Ireland. US $65. UK £52-£64. €59 Germany.
Dublin Street
Pinot Noir 2019 (14% abv): Tiny well-established three-hectare vineyard of Pinot Noir (indeed located on Dublin Street, Martinborough) under new ownership five years ago. Fairly intense and concentrated, perfumed yet smoky profile with fresh light mouthfeel while showing depth and weight at the same time. Still a little young even and closed up. Very good Pinot. NZ $34-$38.

Hawke's Bay: Not known particularly for Pinot Noir - most of the region's almost 5000 hectares of vineyards are planted with Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc and Merlot - the climate is milder and sunnier on the east coast of North Island.
Sileni Grand Reserve Plateau Pinot Noir 2020 (13% abv): Lightly smoky, fairly intense sweet / savoury styling with mature yet fresh finish. Tasty and good value. €19 Dalcassian Wines (Dublin). UK £15-£16. NZ $40.

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.