This story was first published in Drinksbiz magazine, New Zealand, June-July 2017
If Pinot Noir is your go-to red then you’re not alone because it accounts for 15% of New Zealand’s total wine production, second only to Sauvignon Blanc
2013 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir RRP $49
Hot days, cool nights and long autumns are the story of the intense flavours of this heavy scented wine, with its dark cherry, spice and earthy flavours. It drinks well now and has the ability to live a long, beautiful life – up to at least 10 years in the bottle. It’s a keeper. (And it is consistently among my top five South Island Pinot Noirs.)
The main event
2014 Main Divide Pinot Noir RRP $24.99
This is an exceptionally tasty young Pinot, cruising into our glasses for less than $25 a bottle retail. Its flavours of dark plums are supported by earthy aromas, smooth tannins and firm acidity, which carries its complex flavours to a long finish.
2015 Felton Road Calvert Pinot Noir RRP $75
Powerful and subtle. This wine comes from the 44 hectare Calvert Vineyard on Felton Road, which has a history as a gold sluicings site in Central Otago and is now producing another sort of treasure with its biodynamically farmed grapes. The vines were first planted in 2001 by Felton Road Wines, says winemaker Blair Walter, who produces this silky, succulent, earthy and intense Pinot Noir – one of my top five Otago Pinots every year.
2015 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir RRP $112
Big, bold and intensely perfumed with aromas of red and black fruit (cherries, plums and white flowers) with big firm tannins gained from whole bunch fermentation. This dry, full bodied Pinot drinks well now but will continue to evolve for up to a decade, possibly beyond.
2014 Folding Hill Pinot Noir RRP $45
This Bendigo beauty is made from grapes grown by vignerons Tim and Nicki Kerruish, whose off-the-grid home adjoins the sun drenched vineyard on which the grapes (Pinot clones 5, 6, Abel and a mix of Dijon) are grown. They were fully destemmed and fermented with wild and indigenous yeasts, barrel aged for 10 months with no fining or filtering to create this deliciously savoury, earthy Pinot Noir.
2015 Soho McQueen Pinot Noir RRP $50
This is a big full bodied Central Otago Pinot with dark fruit and spice flavours, which is made by one wine icon – Grant Taylor of Valli Wines – and named after another – the late fashion designer, Alexander McQueen. It drinks well now and can age for five to six years.
2015 Two Paddocks The Fusilier Pinot Noir RRP $80
This is the second year tthis full bodied, earthy Pinot Noir has been produced by vigneron Sam Neill, who named it in honour of his father, Major Dermot Neill. The 5.6 hectare Fusilier vineyard is in sun drenched Bannockburn, one of the warmest corners of this cool climate wine region where the grapes ripen consistently, gaining red and black cherry flavours, which gain from smoky oak maturation in this lovely wine.
2014 Mahana Nelson Pinot Noir RRP $39.50
Moutere based winery Mahana Estates released this organically certified Pinot Noir this year as part of a range of newly branded wines. Winemaker Michael Glover says the new look of the label offers a clue to the innovation that goes into his winemaking. This lithe, fresh Pinot Noir tastes of red fruit flavours, which reflect the grapes’ cool climate origins in the Upper Moutere in Nelson.
Omihi Pinot star
2014 Silver Wing Waipara Pinot Noir RRP $30
One of my top 10 wines this year – and no wonder because the words Omihi Hills draw Pinot Noir lovers like moths to a flame and this full bodied, savoury but fruity expression of that place shows why. Winemaker Andrew Fox produces this wild fermented Pinot and uses just 15% new oak for the wine’s maturation to allow the fruit in this wine to shine. It is unfined and unfiltered, sealed (unusually) with a cork.
2015 Mud House Claim 431 Central Otago Pinot Noir RRP $32.99
Shelter, altitude and warmth are key to the story of this wine made from grapes grown in Bendigo – one of the warmest areas of Central Otago and where winemaker Cleighten Cornelius sources these grapes. This wine is dry and medium bodied with intense red fruit and dried fruit flavours.
Out of left field
2016 Left Field Marlborough Pinot Noir RRP $17.99
Juicy red fruit, refreshing zesty acidity and a silky lightness shine in this wine, which was made with grapes from our largest New Zealand wine region – Marlborough. It drinks well now and will develop savoury characters over the next two to three years.
2015 Thornbury Pinot Noir RRP $24.99
If there’s one great description of Central Otago Pinot Noir, it’s these two words: intense fruit. And this dry southern red has it in spades. Dark fruit and dried fruit flavours shine in this Pinot Noir made from grapes grown on the silty slopes of the Bannockburn Valley, 9 kms outside Cromwell. Nearly a quarter of the wine was aged in new French oak barrels for 11 months.
2015 Vidal Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir $24.99
The Vidal wine brand is one of the oldest in this country and based in Hawke’s Bay but its owners buy grapes in from Marlborough to make this dry, smooth, red fruit-driven Pinot Noir. It’s a spicy, savoury wine – an ideal match with baked or roasted mushrooms.
2016 Esk Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir 2016 $24.99
Esk Valley winery is small, coastal, historically important New Zealand winery and winemaker, Gordon Russell, sources grapes from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough to make this Pinot with its aromas of plums, red cherries and dried cranberries.
2014 Villa Maria Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir $49.99
Grapes from four vineyards went into this big bodied beauty from Marlborough, which expresses that cool southern wine region and its hot summer days in this wine, whose bright and fruity flavours are underpinned by refreshing acidity and a long finish.
Top shelf Villa
2014 Villa Maria Single Vineyard Attorney Pinot Noir $59.99
The Attorney Vineyard was certified organic in 2012, so this 2014 single vineyard Pinot is the second organic wine off the block. It’s a big broody Pinot with heady aromas of coffee bean, black olives and fresh blackberries; all intense and youthful, suggesting that this wine has a long life ahead. It also drinks well now. Decant for an hour, serve in a large glass and drink with savoury slow cooked winter foods.
2014 Ara Single Estate Pinot Noir RRP $24.99
This accessibly priced Marlborough Pinot Noir tastes fresh, dry and medium bodied with red fruit flavours driving its youthful style with its juicy acidity and a light note of earthiness.
2013 Giesen The Brothers Pinot Noir RRP $34.99
Spicy, firm and full bodied, this Marlborough Pinot Noir is made by one of the region’s largest wineries and is a smooth, approachable red to drink now as well as keeping for the next three to four years.
Take me to the river
2015 Delta Pinot Noir RRP $24
This wine was made from grapes grown on the 27 hectare Delta Farm vineyard in the Wairau Valley; a farm established in 1848 and purchased for wine production in 2000 by winemaker Matt Thomson, London based MW David Gleave and Marlborough Viticulturist Neal Ibbotson (of Saint Clair). It’s a medium bodied, fresh, fruit forward Pinot which drinks beautifully now.
2016 Sacred Hill Orange Label Marlborough Pinot Noir RRP $19.95
Sacred Hill’s Orange Label Pinot Noir is all about red fruit – and lots of it. Think strawberries, cherries and raspberries and all held together in a light bodied, refreshingly silky smooth red. Widely available and very good value.
2015 Sacred Hill Halo Marlborough Pinot Noir RRP $27.99
Sacred Hill’s Halo Pinot ups the ante with winemaker Tony Bish harvesting grapes early in 2015, thanks to record heat, which ripened the dark plum flavours in this wine, which are flattered by sweet dried herb, vanilla and spice flavours from oak maturation.
Grasshopper’s great value
2015 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Pinot Noir RRP $34
This is an outstanding and ageworthy wine made from Grasshopper Rock’s Earnscleugh vineyard in Alexandra, which is devoted to one grape and one wine – Pinot Noir. The vineyard was established in 2003 by a group of Pinot loving friends and their wines can age for the long haul (10 years plus). The grapes in this wine were destemmed and fermented with a mix of yeasts, some wild, then aged for 10 months in oak; 28% of it new. Red fruit flavours are flattered by smoky notes and earthy overtones.
2014 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Martinborough RRP $42.95
Te Muna Road is 9 kilometres west of Martinborough and four hours south of Craggy Range Winery’s HQ in Hawke’s Bay, andits cool climate is well suited to Pinot Noir and this big, full bodied Pinot proves the point with its powerful fruit flavours, big smooth body and long finish.
2015 Rockburn Pinot Noir RRP $49.99
Pinot Noir is hot property in Central Otago, accounting for 78% of the overall grape varieties planted in the region (New Zealand’s third biggest when it comes to wine production). Winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis makes the fruit shine in this bold, drink-me-now wine, which will also age well for up to a decade.
2014 Wild Rock Pinot Noir, Martinborough RRP $20.99
This is the second label of Craggy Range, whose Pinot Noir is made solely from grapes grown along the terraces carved out of the banks of the Ruamahanga River along Te Muna Road. Wines from here have zesty acidity, which adds a sense of freshness to the bright fruity appeal.
2012 Vynfield’s Pinot Noir Organic RRP $45
A classic Martinborough Pinot Noir with earthy flavours from a typically small winery in one of the tiniest wine regions in New Zealand (the entire Wairarapa region produces just 2% of this country’s wine). This is concentrated and juicy with a long finish.
Heart of Pinot
2013 Desert Heart Mackenzies Run Reserve Pinot Noir RRP $48
Big fruit flavours burst onto the palate in this voluptuously fruity Pinot from Bannockburn; that heat filled corner of the world’s southernmost wine region. It’s stunning now and has five to six years’ of positive aging up its youthful sleeve.
2014 Nautilus Pinot Noir RRP $43
Nautilus Pinot Noir is made with grapes grown in Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, which provides the plump rich flavours of dark plums and cherries, supported by elegant oak, which provides body and roundness. This is a great drink now and has the concentration of fruit flavour, the vibrant acidity and the firm tannins to carry it through for at least a decade.
2015 Palliser Pinot Noir RRP $58
Palliser Estate first forged its name for top quality Martinborough whites, but from the late 1990s, winemaker Allan Johnston also focussed on pushing Pinot Noir to new heights. This wine is the result of that journey: a perfumed dry red with a long, succulent finish.
Wither Hill’s newest
2014 Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir $19, 14.5% ABV
High acidity adds freshness to this lovely Marlborough Pinot Noir, which is smooth and full bodied – it drinks well now and has the ability to age too, for at least 5-6 years.
2014 Wither Hills Taylor River Pinot Noir $29, 14.5% ABV
Cellar door and some restaurants are the only places to buy this superlative Wither Hills Pinot Noir, which is made in smaller quantities than the winery’s standard bearers. Its intense concentration of flavour, high acidity and long finish are all reasons to beat a path to this wine.
2014 Wither Hills The Honourable Pinot Noir $75
This is the new flagship Pinot Noir and it’s made from Ben Morvan and Taylor River vineyards – an interesting combo which provide juicy acidity to this big but approachably drinkable South Island stunner.
2014 Whitehaven Pinot Noir RRP $32.90
Whitehaven is a large Marlborough winery producing classic styles, such as this gold medal winning, full bodied, dry Pinot Noir, which highlights again the fact that our largest wine region has another strong string to its winemaking bow.
Brancott top tier
2016 Brancott Estate ‘T’ Pinot Noir RRP $26.49
This is an outstanding Marlborough Pinot Noir, offering particularly good value for the modest money it is priced at. A stunner.
2016 Brancott Estate Terroir Series Pinot Noir RRP $19.95
Marlborough’s Awatere Valley is home to the grapes that went into this stunningly good value Marlborough Pinot Noir, where the fruit is underpinned by notes of spice and a zingy finish.
2016 Stoneleigh Wild Valley Pinot Noir RRP $18.99
Marlborough winemaker Jamie Marfell highlights interesting flavours in this wine by using wild yeasts which accentuate earthy flavours as well as fruit-driven ones.
2016 Stoneleigh Marlborough Pinot Noir RRP $17.29
Talk about a red that punches above its weight and consistently by offering exceptionally fresh, vibrant red fruity style that is recognisably Pinot Noir-esque and delivers top value for money from the eponymous vineyard in Marlborough.
A high note
2013 Misha’s Vineyard High Note Pinot Noir RRP $44.95
Misha’s Vineyard is fast rising to become one of the most respected Otago producers. This dry, full bodied Pinot looks deceptively delicate in colour (pale ruby) but is intensely flavoursome with aromas of red and black cherry, smoked mushrooms and a long, silky finish.
Take me to the river
2015 Dry River Pinot Noir RRP $95
Dry River was one of the first four wineries in Martinborough in the 1980s and while its ownership has changed, the quality of the wines continues to rise, as this dry, full bodied, deeply colour Pinot Noir shows. It drinks well now and will continue to age for 9 to 10 years, possibly beyond. It is sealed, unusually, with a cork.
Cool southern red
2014 Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir RRP $44.95
This deep southern wine is made with grapes grown in the highest altitude sub-region of Central Otago – the Gibbston Valley. Its cool climate origins allow slow even ripening before being hand harvested and aged in French oak which provides a big dark earthy and spicy flavour to this wine.
2014 Domaine Rewa Central Otago Pinot Noir RRP $39
This Central Otago Pinot Noir is made from a 5.5 hectare vineyard in the foothills of the Pisa Range in Central Otago and although the vines were planted back in 1997, the first wines were only made in 2011 by a team of four, led by Philippa Shepherd, whose dream it was to produce top tier Pinot Noir from here. She has achieved just that, thanks to outstanding winemaking from Pete Bartle.
Mount Ed rocks
2013 Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir RRP $65
The rugged natural beauty of Central Otago often eclipses the best wines from this, the world’s southernmost wine region, but Mount Edward Morrison Vineyard Pinot Noir has forged a reputation for itself as one of the top five wines made in the region every year.
2013 Seresin Tatou Pinot Noir RRP $80
This wine ticks all the boxes: it is certified organic, intensely fruity and has earthy undertones, which come from healthy, low cropped grapes as well as a hands-off winemaking approach from winemaker Clive Dougall, who bottled this Pinot Noir unfiltered and unfined. Its dialled up flavour intensity matches its long, smooth finish.
Omaka Valley Pinot Noir
2013 Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir RRP $52.50
Made as a tribute to winemaker Michael Seresin’s late mother, Rachel, this wine is made with grapes grown on the clay soils of the winery’s Omaka Valley vineyard, Raupo Creek. It’s full bodied with dark fruit flavours and has a long life ahead of it, thanks to its firm earthy flavours and tannins, which underpin the bright juicy fruit on the front palate – and will preserve this wine for the long haul.
Long life ahead
2013 Seresin Raupo Creek Pinot Noir $71
This wine is made from the clay rich soils of the Raupo Creek Vineyard, where vines are pruned heavily so that each one provides just one bunch of grapes to produce a super concentrated Pinot Noir with ripe dark fruit flavours, supported by savoury notes of mushrooms and earth. It has great concentration, big firm tannins and high acidity, all of which will integrate further; it drinks well now and has a long life ahead.
2013 Seresin Leah Pinot Noir $90
Leah Pinot Noir is named after Michael Seresin’s daughter with grapes grown on three of the company’s vineyards and is more full bodied evidence of the fruit concentration and earthy undertones that make Marlborough’s best Pinots such compelling wines. It drinks well now and has the potential to age for eight to nine years.
2013 Seresin Sun & Moon Pinot Noir $125
Winemaker Clive Dougall suggests this wine has at least 15 years’ of time up its sleeve to evolve, unfold and age, thanks to its intense concentration of fruit, high acidity and tannins, which act as preservatives in this wine, which was made from vines thinned to less than 1 kg of grapes per vine – super pricey to produce, in other words. It’s impressive Noir now and will continue to age for up to 15 years, possibly beyond.
Excellence in a glass
2015 Momo Organic Pinot Noir $24
Momo means offspring in Maori. It’s a reference to this being the more youthful sibling to the big, full bodied Seresin Pinot Noirs and this ‘second tier’ Seresin wine absolutely over delivers, thanks to its ripe and succulent black cherry flavours. It is certified organic.