Pinot Noir may be the most popular red in this country (the biggest production, best known, most planted grape and all that jazz) but it’s easy to forget just how recently it’s been that way. In 1990 there were 178 hectares of Pinot Noir grapes in New Zealand, which pales in comparison to the 5653 hectares today.

Numbers of grapevines overall were small in this country back in ’90. Pinot Noir wasn’t even the most planted red in the country. That happened in 1998 when Pinot grew to 582 hectares, overtaking Cabernet Sauvignon with its 532 hectares. Statistics have dramatically changed since then too.

Not only has Pinot Noir grown hugely, but Cabernet Sauvignon has shrunk  to just 249 hectares and Syrah has climbed from being not mentioned at all to a miniscule 69 hectares in 1997 and to a still modest 435 hectares today.

It’s a big change all round. And while quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah remain tiny in comparison to Pinot Noir, the quality of wines made from these later ripening grapes has never been better. For proof, look (or should that be taste?) to the annual top 12 wines from the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers’ Association, which commissions Master of Wine Andrew Caillard to blind review a vast range each year to come up with his best.

One of them is among my top trio of wines this week. More will follow in weeks to come.

Bargain buy

17.5/20

2017 Main Divide Merlot Cabernet $20.99

Main Divide wines are named after the Southern Alps (Kā Tiritiri o te Moana), which divide the east coast from the west in the South Island of New Zealand. It’s a fitting name for a great range of wines from Pegasus Bay in North Canterbury. This blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% each of Malbec and Cabernet Franc was fermented in stainless steel with regular draining and spraying back over the cap of the skins to gently extract tannins. It was aged in French oak for 18 months, just 10% new oak, ensuring minimum wood flavour and maximum softening effects.

www.maindivide.com

Treat of the week

18.5/20

2016 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah $59.99, 13% ABV

Hand harvested grapes were were picked over a two week period, fermented, then aged for 16 months in French oak by winemakers Tony Bish and Jenny Dobson, who collaborated on this full bodied, bone dry Syrah. Just 25% of the oak was new, which flatters the wine rather than dominates the ripe dark fruit and spice flavours that come through. Drinks well now. Definitely has aging potential. One of the top 12 reds selected by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard for the Gimblett Gravels’ Winegrowers Association.

www.sacredhill.com

 

Reaching for the stars

17.5/20

2016 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago $99, 13.5% ABV

The new Te Wahi Pinot Noir from Cloudy Bay is a blend of grapes from two vineyards in different areas of Central Otago, namely, Calvert Vineyard in Bannockburn; 230 metres above sea level and a vineyard at Northburn on the east bank of Lake Dunstan which rises from 220 to 275 metres above sea level. The altitude helps avoid the ever frost risk in the deep south.

Grapes were given a five day cold soak before wild yeast fermentation in open top fermenters with 15% of whole bunches. The wine was then aged for 12 months in French oak, 30% new, and bottled in July 2017. It has pH of 3.65 and TA of 5.2 grams per litre.

The 2016 vintage had a chilly start in Central Otago with slow spring growth and warm temperatures in early summer followed by heavy rains, leading to larger than average berry sizes. Harvest was slow with dry weather allowing a long hang time for ripe flavours. This wine is youthful, dark and needs time to shine. One for the cellar.

www.cloudybay.co.nz