Over the past 30 years, New Zealand’s Pinot Noir has gone from strength to strength and become a serious player on the world stage. Here, Bob Campbell MW highlights the stylistic differences between each of the country’s five main regions, and the key estates and wines to watch...
Amisfield’s estate vineyards, at the food of the Pisa mountain range in Central Otago
The rapid and sustained growth of Pinot Noir quality has been the most exciting development during my 40-year involvement in the New Zealand wine industry. Thirty years ago, New Zealand Pinot Noir was a curiosity; a mixed bag of experimental wines that were mostly a bit thin, green and acidic. Today, it is our second-most planted variety; an international brand that has found a place on the wine lists of many famous restaurants in Europe, America and Asia.
At first, winemakers tried to reproduce the Burgundy benchmark before chasing the charm of greater fruit and alcohol ripeness as they began to get a sense of regional, and in many cases sub-regional, style. As the number of Pinot Noir vineyards grew, winemakers began to understand which combination of soil type, aspect and climatic conditions were best suited to this fickle red variety. Pinot Noir winemakers gathered once a year at a Pinot Noir workshop to taste samples and compare methods. That annual event probably contributed more to Pinot Noir quality in New Zealand than any other single factor.
Regional styles are now well accepted and understood despite the blurring effect of winemaking methods and vintage variation. An experienced taster should have a fighting chance of correctly identifying wines from the main five regions.
Since the moderately challenging 2008 vintage, the seasons have been kind to Pinot Noir growers in the top five regions: Wairarapa/ Martinborough, Nelson, Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. 2010 and (provisionally) 2013 are the strongest overall vintages, with 2009 and 2012 in Central Otago also worthy of special mention. Recent trends include the addition of greater quantities of whole bunches to provide more tannic structure, longevity and ultimately complexity, though sometimes at the cost of early drinkability. New Zealand Pinot is, like the men and women who make it, exuding greater confidence than ever before.
The big five
Written by Bob Campbell MW