Category Archives: New Zealand Pinot Noir

Oct 10 2014

Marlborough Pinot Noir wins Six Nations Wine Challenge

Posted on October 10, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

New Zealand has a well deserved reputation for making some of the best pinot noir in the world. But until recently Marlborough on the South Island was far better known for its sauvignon blanc than its pinot noir.

A couple of weeks ago Marlborough’s Dog Point Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 picked up three very impressive gongs at the prestigious Six Nations Wine Challenge in Sydney – joint recipient of ‘Wine of the Show’ and individual awards for ‘Best Pinot Noir’ and ‘Best Red’ wine .

The Six Nations Wine Challenge is no ordinary wine show. An initiative of the Association of Australian Boutique Winemakers, wines are selected for entry by a leading wine writer from each of the six nations represented and then judged blind by the same wine writers. The six nations are the world’s top ‘New World’ producers: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Chile, Argentina and the United States.

Wine critic and show judge Huon Hooke described the Dog Point Pinot Noir 2012 “as arguably the greatest pinot noir yet seen from Marlborough, a wine that takes power and density to a new level in a region better known for white wines and lighter pinot noir.” (Six Nations Wine Challenge winners by Huon Hooke, Hooked on Wine, 15 October 2014)

The 80 hectare Dog Point Vineyard is run by winemakers James Healy and Ivan Sutherland. Working with their wives Wendy and Margaret, the team launched the Dog Point label in 2004 using fruit from the 2002 vintage. Rave reviews soon followed with the Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin describing their 2006 offerings of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir as “nothing less than exceptional.”

The partners have brought a wealth of experience to their very hands-on Dog Point Vineyard venture. Healy and Sutherland worked together for over a … Read the rest

Mar 03 2013

Whose Pinot Reigns Supreme? Australia versus New Zealand

Posted on March 03, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Acqua Panna Global Wine Experience, Saturday, 9 March 2013

When New Zealand winemakers’ Blair Walter (Felton Road) and Nick Mills (Rippon) opened their address with a very loud and captivating rendition of the Maori Haku, the stage was set for a very lively debate about whose pinot reigns supreme? (Wished I taped it, but my photo of Nick Mills give you a bit of an idea!)

The audience was collapsing with laughter while the two Australian winemakers on the panel, Michael Dhillon (Bindi) and Nick Farr (By Farr and Farr Rising), looked on with bemusement! No, unfortunately, they hadn’t prepared an Aussie comeback! (C’mon Aussie c’mon perhaps?)

The subsequent discussion, led by wine critic Nick Stock, was fascinating so I thought I’d share a few of the highlights:

Clonal Variety vs Vine Age – New Zealand vs Australia

Farr noted that due to stricter Australian quarantine rules, New Zealand has had the edge when it comes to choice of clones.

But according to the Australian winemakers vine age can compensate for the effects of less clonal variety. The vines of the MP6 clone used for the Macedon Ranges’ Bindi Block 5, for example, are now 18 years old. Dhillon believes he has seen increasing complexity, minerality and balance with each subsequent vintage of his wine.

Terroir is Key

Of all the varieties pinot noir is probably the greatest communicator of terroir.  Not surprisingly, the winemakers said their greatest challenge is finding the right location!

Nick StockMills noted that for New Zealand winemakers achieving wines with good fruitiness is practically a given, as New Zealand’s dramatic diurnal variation is very good for sealing in flavour and colour. The right terroir is what gives the wines their coveted subtle flavours, complexity and structure.

Winemaker’s Influence Read the rest

Sep 09 2012

Felton Road: Why it’s rated one of the world’s best!

Posted on September 09, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I recently read an article in Decanter by Blair Walter, the Chief Winemaker at Felton Road in Central Otago for the past 16 years, which got me thinking about the qualities that top wineries in the world have in common. Under Walter’s guidance, Felton Road’s reputation as one of New Zealand’s top producers of pinot noir has gone from strength to strength. (Welcome to my office by Blair Walter, Decanter, June 2011)

In the article Walter talked about how in his first two years at Felton Road he experimented with wild yeast and natural malolactic fermentation, and chose to bottle his pinot unfiltered. Today, most of these minimal intervention winemaking techniques are best practice for the world’s top wineries. Recognising the importance of paying meticulous attention to every aspect of vineyard management, the world’s great wineries want to let their exceptional fruit speak for itself. Walter described his approach by saying, “Less is more when it comes to making fine, and especially authentic, wine. You have to really believe in the quality of the site and the interesting aspects of the climate.”

At Felton Road the vines are biodynamically grown on sites that were originally chosen in 1992 by Felton Road founder Stuart Elms after considerable research into the best spots in Central Otago to grow pinot noir. The semi-arid north facing slopes of the original Elms Vineyard, for example, are surrounded by mountains, and the vineyards are positioned to minimise the risk of frost damage and maximise exposure to the morning sun.

The Elms Vineyard is only 14.4 hectares, but it’s broken up into 13 blocks of varying soil types, and it’s the slightly different soil profiles that give Felton Road’s two most famous pinot noir bottlings, the Block 3 and Block 5 Pinot Noir, their distinctive … Read the rest

Sep 09 2012

New Zealand Pinot Noir: What Sets it Apart?

Posted on September 09, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I was intrigued to read Lettie Teague’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled What Happened to New Zealand Pinot Noir? Fortunately, the article was not about a decline in the quality of New Zealand pinot noir, but rather a lament about its disappearance from the shelves of many American wine stores. Teague cited a few reasons that I’m sure would also ring a bell with Australian wineries: not enough distributors, an unfavourable exchange rate and poor brand recognition. (WSJ, 1 September 2012)

Teague also shared Felton Road‘s head winemaker Blair Walter’s comment that “The USA is about the only place where New Zealand Pinot competes directly with the other New World Pinots.” He noted that in other markets New Zealand pinot noir is second only to Burgundy since most U.S. pinot makers don’t export their wines.

Teague interviewed an Oregon wine buyer, Mike Dietrich, who happens to love New Zealand pinot noir and has managed to put together a reasonable selection for the Fred Meyer store in Tualatin, Oregon. He believes that New Zealand and Oregon pinot noir have a lot in common: “Oregon and New Zealand Pinots are less about fruit and more about earth and minerals,” he told Teague. “There’s an earthy complexity to the wines—they’re not just fruit-forward like California Pinots.”

While Teague was less than impressed with lower price point New Zealand pinot noir (around $20 a bottle), she believes that the higher priced wines express a uniquely New Zealand point of view: “The Pinots from producers such as Ata Rangi, Felton Road, Craggy Range and Greywacke were quite good. Some, particularly the Felton Road and Ata Rangi, were truly impressive, marked by dense, dark fruit, firm minerality and a pleasing savory quality. But as Mr. Dietrich had noted, ‘fruit-forward/ they were … Read the rest

Nov 11 2011

Can you tell if a wine is any good just by tasting it? Impressions from a Craggy Range Tasting

Posted on November 11, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Have you ever been unimpressed with a wine on first taste, but then fallen in love with it over the course of a meal?

Well, according to a very interesting article by Decanter’s Andrew Jefford “digestibility is as much a hallmark of truly fine wine as is sensorial intricacy and harmony.” Jefford goes on to explain:

Twenty-five years of reading wine assessments, as well as providing assessments of my own, have convinced me that tasting without drinking is, in fact, a monstrous (if inevitable) flaw in all wine criticism. I’d like to see wine critics append a ‘D’ or a ‘*’ to any numeric score or tasting note for a wine which has been drunk rather than merely assessed by tasting. Any critic who claims that they have never had to adjust, after drinking, an initial assessment based on tasting alone is lying. (Jefford on Monday: Thinking about Tasting by Andrew Jefford, Decanter, 7 November 2011)

Jefford’s comments resonated with me when I attended a tasting last night of the Craggy Range lineup hosted by NZ Wine Online. The event was held at the Roof Top Bar of Coast, but the sun hadn’t set so I was hot and thirsty. Not the best state to be in when tasting wines! Fortunately the weather cooled and big plates of antipasto arrived in time to whet our appetites.

All the wines on show were excellent, but the Craggy Range Old Renwick Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (26.95) was definitely an example of a wine that opened up with food. I was initially perplexed by its unusually dry, stoney and mineral character, but over time its delicious lime and grapefruit flavours also shone through.

Initially struck by the dark rich purple red colour of the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2009 (37.95), … Read the rest

Oct 10 2011

Masterclass with New Zealand’s Escarpment and Quartz Reef

Posted on October 10, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

On Wednesday night I attended a masterclass hosted by two of New Zealand’s leading winemarkers: Larry McKenna of Martinborough’s Escarpment and Rudi Bauer of Central Otago’s Quartz Reef. Organised by nzwineonline.com.au and held at the very picturesque Coast restaurant in Cockle Bay, the evening proved a wonderful opportunity to sample pinot noir from the two most acclaimed wine regions for the variety in New Zealand.

Both winemakers have drawn on Burgundy for inspiration for their pinot noir. Their winemaking practices reflect the very best of Old and New World traditions as characterised by complete respect for their respective terroirs and a willingness to experiment with new ideas to improve the quality of their wines. Austrian born Rudi did several vintages in Burgundy, as well as California and at Rippon in New Zealand before starting Quartz Reef in 1996. Larry grew up in Adelaide, studied at Roseworthy College and worked in Europe and New Zealand before co-founding Escarpment in 1998.

 

Larry talked about how the winemaking philosophy of the renowned Burgundy estate Domaine Dujac has influenced his own approach. Dujac vinifies its pinot noir with little or no de-stemming of the grapes, with winemaker Jacques Seysses being convinced that it gives the wines greater complexity. Larry explained that he includes whole bunches in the fermentation for his pinot noir. The fruit for the 2009 vintage, for example, was a little riper than 2008, so a slightly higher percentage of whole bunches (approximately 40%) were used to enhance the wine’s complexity and tannin structure. The fruitier and more savoury perfume aromas of the Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009 made it our table’s choice over the more subdued but still very good 2008.

The Wine Advocate’s Lisa Perrotti-Brown recently described Rudi’s winemaking style as “both understated and powerful.” Quartz Reef’s single vineyard … Read the rest

May 05 2011

Tasting Highlights: From New Zealand to the South of France

Posted on May 05, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Cellarit Wine Blog took a bit of a hiatus over the Easter break due to family and other pressing work commitments. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have time to sample some great wines! Here are a few that recently impressed.

My love affair with New Zealand pinot noir continues. The best that I’ve tasted recently have a bit of age and a hint of that savoury earthiness that I think probably all the best makers of pinot noir strive for. A couple of highlights:

Te Kairanga Runholder Pinot Noir 2007

Te Kairanga was one of Martinborough’s founding vineyards. Martinborough is at the foot of the South Island where the soils of the ancient river “Martinborough” terraces and the climatic conditions are remarkably similar to Burgundy. In less than thirty years, Martinborough has established an enviable reputation as one of the world’s best places to grow pinot noir, with Ata Rangi and Dry River, for example, attaining world class reputations.

Gary Walsh of The Wine Front scored the Te Kairanga Runholder Pinot Noir 2007 90 points:  “Has an attractive earthy beetroot character, dry herbs, rose oil and plum/cherry fruit with a good clip of quality oak. It’s fresh and medium bodied with an attractive Chinotto like bitterness and a good finish. It’s a style I like and one I enjoyed drinking – interesting and not too fruity.” (The Wine Front, 31 March 2010). Also affordable!  Vaucluse Cellars, where I bought my bottle, has this wine for a mixed case price of $28 a bottle.

 

Amisfield Pinot Noir 2007

I tried the Amisfield Pinot Noir 2007 at a friend’s home. They are passionate wine collectors, who obviously know what they’re doing! This wine was superb.  A slightly riper style than the Te Kairanga Runholder but … Read the rest

Dec 12 2010

Part 2: Ata Rangi, The ‘Grand Cru’ of Martinborough Pinot Noir

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In February 2010 the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir and the Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir were named  “Great Growths of New Zealand” at the New Zealand Pinot Noir Conference.

The honour, which is New Zealand’s equivalent to Bordeaux’s ‘Grand Cru’ status, wasn’t an audacious move on the part of the Kiwis to thrust their pinot noirs into the limelight. Rather, it was appropriate recognition that New Zealand pinot noir has come of age and is now the leading New World example of fine pinot noir.

Martinborough winery Ata Rangi has been at the forefront in showing the world that New Zealand is capable of making world-class pinot noir. Langton’s Andrew Caillard recently described the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006 as an example of how a wine can be so “profoundly beautiful when young” that it is capable of being articulated as a “great” wine, a wine which, in his opinion, “simply transcends its genre.” (The Evolution of New Zealand Pinot Noir by Andrew Caillard, Langton’s Magazine)

Owned and managed by Clive Paton, his wife Phyll and Clive’s sister Alison, Ata Rangi’s grapes were planted on an originally bare, stony 12-acre paddock at the edge of the Martinborough village in 1980. Today Ata Rangi harvests fruit from around 120 acres, including a number of leased and local contract growers blocks.

All of the carefully chosen sites are very similar in terms of soil type and micro-climate. Key features of the terroir include:

  • shallow silt-loam over deep, free-draining alluvial gravels that force the vines to dig deep for water leading to fuller flavours and minerality in the wine
  • speckled sunshine that allows for a gentle, slow and full ripening of the grapes
  • cool and windy spring weather that limits the risk of damage to the grapes from mildew and
Read the rest
Dec 12 2010

Martinborough Pinot Noir: All about the Terroir

Posted on December 12, 2010 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In my last post, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc: Top Producers Create an Exciting Alternative Style, 14 December 2010, I mentioned that our friends served the sublime Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc 2004 with a magnificent roasted prawn dish. Well, the follow-up course and wine were equally spectacular. This time they chose another New Zealand wine, the Dry River Pinot Noir 2002, to complement beautifully steamed John Dory with Asian flavourings and lightly sauteed greens.

New Zealand’s success with sauvignon blanc is in danger of being eclipsed by the Kiwi’s formidable achievements in creating superlative wines from one of the world’s most difficult noble grapes: pinot noir.

Top producers in the regions of Central Otago, Malborough and Martinborough are making an array of very fine pinot noirs at various price points.

Martinborough is the only one of the three regions on the North Island, but in terms of climate it is significantly cooler than neighbouring wine region Hawkes Bay and, according to the leading winemakers who call it home, the soil type and climate make it New Zealand’s closest approximation to Burgundy – home of the world’s most acclaimed pinot noirs.

Back in 1979 Neil and Dawn McCallum of Dry River recognised that the deep, free-draining gravelly ‘Martinborough Terrace’ was ideally suited to the pinot noir grape. They were very picky about their site selection, as within ten kilometres of where Dry River is located,  rainfall and soil quality vary enormously. Their efforts proved fruitful, and along with other pioneers like Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga they decided they would define and demarcate the terroir they had adopted, just as such areas are described and mapped in France and Germany. From 1986, wines made from within this area were given a seal of origin … Read the rest