The New Zealand Pinot Noirs Rivalling Australia’s

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Jun 26, 2017

by PETER BOURNE, Writer

New Zealand’s pinot noir punches well above its weight – but which region produces the best drop?

Australia and New Zealand love going head to head on the sports field. Now the trans-Tasman rivalry has extended to the vinous arena and the main game is pinot noir. To get their nose in front, the Kiwis invited 600 pinot-lovers to Pinot Noir NZ 2017, a three-day celebration held earlier this year. 

So which NZ region grows the best pinots? Central Otago makes the brashest claim, with bold, concentrated styles the norm. Martinborough has the historical runs on the board with its complex, savoury styles, and Marlborough is building a case for its lively, fruit-driven pinots as a worthy alternative to its sauvignon charge.

Nelson, on the northern coast of the South Island, has a special microclimate, with the Moutere Hills and Waimea Plains yielding subtle yet deeply flavoured pinots. Neudorf is the local hero, while Mammoth pushes the stylistic boundaries.

The fledgling North Canterbury and Waipara region caused a stir at the 2017 celebrations. Regional champion Pegasus Bay set the bar high; Marcel and Sherwyn Giesen’s minuscule Bell Hill also attracted attention. Pyramid Valley takes things to the edge with biodynamic farming methods and off-piste winemaking. Keep your eye out for The Boneline – its 2014 Waimanu Pinot Noir is terrific. 

Don’t overlook Marlborough, where several winemakers hosted the Pinot Noir Safari to reinforce the viticultural complexity of NZ’s largest region. It featured stalwarts such as Fromm, Nautilus Estate and Spy Valley; niche producers Dog Point, Seresin Estate and Greywacke; as well as new player Auntsfield and biodynamic-inspired Churton.

NZ’s pinot party started in Martinborough in 1979-80 with pioneers Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyard and Dry River. Martinborough and the nearby subregions of Gladstone and Masterton have been rebranded as Wellington Wine Country. The region offers stylistic diversity, from the power-packed pinots of Craggy Range and Escarpment to more delicate styles from Schubert, Gladstone Vineyard and Urlar. The featured pinot from Hiro Kusuda takes finesse to new heights.

Meanwhile, Central Otago continues to top the polls. The usual suspects – Felton Road, Rippon and Chard Farm – mingle with Grant Taylor’s Valli, Terra Sancta, Quartz Reef and Peregrine, as well as actor Sam Neill’s Two Paddocks label. 

No-one disputes that Kiwi pinot noirs punch above their weight but Australian pinot growers aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. Game on. 

2015 Maude Pinot Noir
Central Otago, $42

This juicy, bright and zesty pinot comes from Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen, who forsook the Hunter Valley and took their wine wisdom to Queenstown. Red cranberries and cherries mingle with warm spices. It’s sufficiently energetic to be paired with five-spice quail.

2012 Villa Maria Southern Clays Pinot Noir
Marlborough, $74 

When Sir George Fistonich began winegrowing in 1961, there were no vineyards in Marlborough. From the Ben Morven Valley, this is a sexy pinot with a dense bouquet of black plum and walnut shells. It’s bold enough to accompany a beef bourguignon.

2013 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir
North Canterbury, $69 

The Donaldson family planted grapes in the Waipara Valley in the early 1970s, with son Matthew recently completing his 25th vintage. A pinot of pure class, its dark berry fruits are underpinned by structural tannins, with an exquisite finale. Duck, please.

2015 Kusuda Martinborough Pinot Noir
Wellington Wine Country, $150 

The Japanese aesthetics of purity and precision define this delicate, transparent pinot with perfumes of red berries and subtle spices. Etched by fine acidity and gracious tannins, it’s singular, fine and long. It’s a perfect fit with tuna sashimi.

2014 Neudorf Moutere Pinot Noir
Nelson, $70 

Judy and Tim Finn (the winemaker, not the rock star) pioneered Nelson in 1978. They continue to impress with this deep, savoury, flavourful pinot. It has blueberries, dark plums and fresh truffles, with positive tannins to finish. Try it with pheasant pie.

Shop these wines at Qantas epiQure