Wine: New Zealand Pinot Noirs

Kiwi pinot fans should remember that New Zealand does not actually have a homogenous pinot noir style. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Kiwi pinot fans should remember that New Zealand does not actually have a homogenous pinot noir style. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Whenever I put on a tasting of pinot noir around the world, the country which wins the popular vote is New Zealand. So why has this relatively young wine country managed to produce such approachable succulent styles from this tricky grape where others have failed to capture our imagination?

It is not just one specific thing. The success of Kiwi pinot noir is due to a combination of searching out suitable microclimates and soils, planting the right combination of clones – and a bunch of passionate winemakers prepared to dedicate their time and money to this thin-skinned rot-prone grape. Added to this, the size of many of the country’s 700 plus wineries is relatively small – so these family-owned boutique businesses are ideally placed to focus on taming the fickleness of pinot in the vineyard and cellar.

The real sea-change came when the Kiwis started planting clones suitable for still, rather than sparkling wines. Now only 10 per cent of the current 5,000 hectares of pinot noir is used for fizz.

Kiwi pinot fans should remember that New Zealand does not actually have a homogenous pinot noir style. There is now a variety of fascinatingly different styles.

First stop is the original pinot region of Martinborough in the south east of North Island, the first place to put pinot on the map in the 1980s with its earthy Burgundian-style pinots grown on alluvial gravel terraces. Next to hit the headlines were the crisp elegant Central Otago pinots which emerged in the late 1990s from the riskier cooler valleys near Queenstown. Since then Marlborough, Waipara and the northern Otago region of Waitaki have emerged.

Marlborough has improved most in the last decade with this grape. I remember looking at all the bleak young plantings in the Brancott valley in Marlborough’s Wairau Valley – and then driving through acres and acres of new vineyards of tiny new pinot vines in Marlborough’s southern Awatere valley back in early 1990s with Villa Maria’s viticulturist. It seemed like pioneer country, with everything staked on pinot as the new saviour grape after sauvignon blanc.

Twenty years on Marlborough is now hitting the headlines. All those young vines (now 2,000 hectares of pinot are planted in Marlborough) have matured and the older they get, the more complex and concentrated the fruit. Wineries like Fromm, Dog Point, Greywacke and Seresin are producing show-stopping pinots. After the success of New Zealand’s zesty sauvignon blancs, we now have the most succulent, silkiest, gorgeous pinot noirs as well.


Location North Island

Style Earthy, savoury, Burgundian

Wineries to watch Ata Rangi, Escarpment, Martinborough Vineyards, Dry River

Martinborough: Te Tera Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough Vineyards

(£14.99 each for 2 or £17.49, Majestic Wine)

Much improved from earlier vintages: very savoury, herby and a decent price for Kiwi pinot if you buy a couple of bottles. BEST VALUE


Location South Island

Style Ripe, dark cherry fruit, silky and succulent

Wineries to watch Dog Point, Fromm, Greywacke

Marlborough: Dog Point Pinot Noir 2010

(£27.50, WoodWinters, Bridge of Allan & Edinburgh; Luvians, Cupar; Berry Bros & Rudd, London; £35, Majestic Wine)

“These boys know what they are doing,” says Jasper Morris MW. They sure do. Ex-Cloudy Bay viticulturist, Ivan Sutherland and winemaker James Healy have created another succulent, beautifully textured, ripe pinot. Always a winner at our tastings. STAR BUY


Location South Island

Style Spicy, hedgerow fruits

Wineries to watch Mountford, Waipara Springs, Pyramid Valley

Waipara: Mountford Village Pinot Noir 2008

(£24.99, Waitrose)

Quite pricey like many Kiwi pinots, but it shows the potential of this often overlooked region. Like many Waipara pinots this has more structure than Marlborough; ripe cherry fruits with savoury undertones.


Location South Island

Style Fresh, cool: still in its infancy

Winery to watch Ostler

Waitaki: Ostler Caroline’s Pinot Noir 2010


Raspberry and herb aroma, spicy undertones, some tannins but good finesse showing potential.


Location South Island

Style Complex, elegant, pure fruits

Wineries to watch Felton Road, Pisa Range, Rippon, Mount Difficulty

Central Otago: Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2010

(£29.99, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh; Waitrose)

Nigel Greening’s beautifully formed complex pinots are still my top Otago favourites amongst a crowd of serious competitors.

Join Rose’s New Zealand Masterclass at The Scores Hotel, St Andrews, Friday 31 January, £30,