Joelle Thomson's online wine guide

Category: Pinot Noir (page 1 of 9)

Craggy’s new top shelf reds launch…

It was frosty, clear, cold and intense start to the week at Craggy Range in Hawke’s Bay, but in the upstairs wine lab at Craggy Range, the following trio of reds shined a warmer light on the third strong New Zealand vintage in a row – 2015. Like all top shelf reds, this trio have been mellowing in barrel prior to their official release onto shop shelves and into our glasses this week.

Craggy’s top trio of 2015 reds

Craggy Range’s new Prestige Collection reds launched in June this year and represents the third consecutive strong vintage in a row, says winemaker Matt Stafford, who says yields were down 50% for 2015 Craggy Range Aroha Te Muna Pinot Noir and also, to a lesser extent, for 2015 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah, due to a cool start to vintage but a warm dry summer resulted in these beauties.

New Craggy Sophia

 2015 Craggy Range Sophia $115

Three grapes vie for attention in this top new red – made from 73% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Cabernet Franc, all contributing body and fruit weight. The soft richness comes from the hefty Merlot component while the two Cabernets provide dark fruity notes.

The 2015 Craggy Range Sophia was aged for 19 months in French oak (45% new).

It drinks… well right now but will further age for 9 to 10 years; possibly longer.


New Le Sol Syrah

2015 Craggy Range Le Sol $135

A cool spring provided plenty of nervous anticipation to the Craggy Range wine team but a warm dry spell in mid to late January saw temperatures rise over 30 degrees Celcius and the result is this lovely wine that’s intense in every way from its deep purple colour to its full body, high but balanced tannins and acidity and its long, smooth finish.

The 2015 Le Sol was aged for 17 months in French oak (30% new oak).

It drinks… well right now and has strong aging potential for 9 to 10 years +.


New Pinot

2015 Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir $135

First made in 2006 and produced every year since, with the exception of 2010, this Martinborough Pinot Noir is made 100% from grapes grown in the Te Muna area; 9 kilometres west of the township. A higher proportion of whole bunches are used than in the past – now 50%, which add what Stafford describes as a spicy note. And there has also been a significant reduction in the use of new oak (now at 30%).

The 2015 Aroha was aged for 9 months in French oak (30% new).

It drinks… well now with smooth full body, and can age for 9-10 years.


These wines are in store now at Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington where I spend a portion of my week working on tastings and all manner of other fascinating, tasty wine related things.

Pleasure of Pinot

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

The keeper

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.


Commanding Calvert

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.


Bendigo beauty

 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.


So good

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.

Soho Wines


Irish connection


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.


Organic Nelson

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.


Bendigo beauty


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.


Southern Pinot

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.


Red cherry

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.


Awesome Awatere

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.


Villa Reserve

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.


Earthy Ara

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.


Giesen’s gold

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.


Sacred Pinot

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.


Halo wine

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.


Te Muna

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.


Rock on

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.


Martinborough rocks

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.


Organic Vynfields

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.


Southern sensation

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.


Powerful Palliser

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.


Taylor Pinot

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.


New flagship

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.


Gold star

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.


Top Terroir

 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.


Wild ferment

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.


Original Stoneleigh

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.


Rewa rave

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.



Vineyard blend

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.



The star

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.

Meet the maker… Colere wines…

He uses unknown grapes to make uncommonly good (and sustainable) wines with ancient artwork on the labels and modern-with-a-twist flavours in the bottles… Meet Julian Richards and his new(ish) wine brand – Colere.

Richards was born and bred… in the South Island and remains there at his home base in North Canterbury (New Zealand’s most under rated wine region, in my view, but that’s another story).

He has worked everywhere from… the vineyard to the cellar floor of wineries, and his brand Colere is a new opportunity for him to curate, create and cultivate interesting and different wines made from mostly mainstream grape varieties and often from grapes that need to find a home – hence, the word sustainable in the headline of this story. That said, Richard’s is a pretty big fan of Pinot Blanc (a man after my own heart then). Even though there is a scant amount of this interesting French white grape still growing in New Zealand – a mere 29 hectares – he is a big champion of it. So much so that his latest one is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, which adds strong commercial appeal (since ‘Gris’ is better known), and this wine was then aged for a massive four years in old oak barrels, where it softened, gained savoury flavours and yet retains its varietal stamp of freshness (citrusy flavours) and white fruit (pear).

The word Colere is Latin… and means to farm, cultivate and worship. It’s a complex message that Richards wants to convey in wines that remain, importantly, extremely affordable. It’s incredibly refreshing to see a new wine brand like this one, which champions old artwork on the labels (it’s from the early 1800s and it really is a story for another day, so let’s park that for now).

Inside the bottles, the wines are modern with a twist… These are not orange wines and Richards is not pigeon holing them under any  ‘natural’ banners, either. He came into Regional Wines & Spirits in Wellington this week (where I spend a portion of my working week on tastings and education) to taste his new wines with a group of us.

The wines speak come from… vineyards around Marlborough and Martinborough and, as you read this, he is in the process of making a quirky new take on a traditional French blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend from North Canterbury. Quantities will be small and it is from the 2017 vintage. I look forward to trying it as I love the outstanding North Canterbury Sauvignon Blanc Semillon blend  from Pegasus Bay. But I digress.

Try these… 

Big beautiful Chardonnay

2011 Colere Kerner Marlborough Chardonnay 

Big, buttery and beautifully crisp – this Chardonnay was made from grapes treated like royalty – they were hand picked, whole bunch pressed, native yeast fermented in barrels for 8 months and then further aged in tanks…

Tastes of… tangy citrus fruit with big buttery and creamy mouth feel; like big fresh crisp Chablis with body to burn.

Silky seductive Pinot Noir 

2014 Colere Pinot Noir Wairarapa 

This new Martinborough Pinot Noir is bright ruby with juicy flavours of red plumd and cherries, with succulent acidity adding a long finish. A big elegant beauty from Te Muna – 9 kms east of Martinborough township.

Check out Colere winemaker Julian Richard’s new website:

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