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 not—they took a few hours’ decanting to unwind. As my Pinot-loving friend Richard observed, they needed “at least a three-course meal to show well.”

Teague’s comments reminded me of my experience at a Craggy Range tasting last year, Can you tell if a wine is any good just by tasting it? Impressions from a Craggy Range Tasting. I thought the wines tasted better and better as the evening progressed and were enjoyed over food. I never actually considered that the need to wait for the wines to open up was necessarily a uniquely New Zealand characteristic of pinot noir? But as Teague concludes:  “Is that another New Zealand Pinot Noir problem, or is it, perhaps, a virtue instead? The (best) wines take time to open up but deliver complexity, depth of flavor and finesse. Wine drinkers must be patient, willing to invest money and put in time the search.”

Good advice indeed! Let’s hope American drinkers are again able to find a decent selection of New Zealand pinot noir back on their wine store shelves soon!

Merrill Witt, Editor


Photo Credit: Wine Tastes Direct