50 shades of Pinot Noir… the beginning

I’m beginning to understand why a friend was inspired to come up with a 50 Shades of Pinot tasting at Winetopia a couple of years back.

There are so many variations on the New Zealand Pinot Noir theme today, partly due as a reflection of regional styles that are starting to emerge. North Canterbury and Wellington’s nearest wine region, the Wairarapa, are both regularly chart toppers for me, when it comes to savoury, earthy, structured styles of Pinot Noir. But they often fly under the mainstream radar of bigger wine regions with more marketing clout and a more solid reputation for higher volumes of wine. Still, that’s no reason to ignore these exceptional regions’ Pinot Noirs, as this week’s trio of wines below all show.

Winemaker Ben McNab from Matahiwi Estate hand picked one tonne of Abel clone Pinot Noir on 30 March 2019 at 25 brix (sugar measurement for the grapes) to make the second version of Matahiwi Holly Pinot Noir – the winery’s top Pinot Noir and one of this week’s top drops.

Wines of the week

Here are three Pinot Noirs that put this sensitive grape’s best foot forward in such different ways that you could almost think the wines come from three different countries, thanks to being grown in different climates, on different soil types and being treated extremely differently during production.


2019 Matahiwi Wild Holly Pinot Noir $46

I am impressed and surprised by the depth of colour in this deep ruby coloured and incredibly structured Pinot Noir. Winemaker Ben McNab puts this wine’s full body down to fruit architecture and concentration during the 2019 vintage, which was a season with unusual flowering which caused a hen and chicken fruitset (large and small grapes), with very small intense berries. This, coupled with high fruit zone exposure on the vines, built a deep purple colour, which remained stable from the start of ferment. He used extremely gentle cap management and a short time on skins.
The grapes were grown on the Matahiwi Estate vineyard and are the Abel clone Pinot Noir; renowned for intense flavour and fresh acidity.
All grapes were hand harvested and intact clusters were fermented with gentle hand plunging and wild yeast fermentation. Skin contact was 11 days and the free run wine was moved to seasoned French oak barrels for seven months. There was no fining or filtration and residual sugar is less than 1 gram per litre with 13% ABV. Both suggest good aging potential. As does the screwcap.
This is the second Wild Holly Pinot Noir. The first was made in 2018.


2016 Bell Hill Pinot Noir $125

This is the best New Zealand Pinot Noir I have tasted in an extremely long time – and there’s been no shortage of Pinots poured into my glass.

Bell Hill Pinot Noir comes from the small hillside vineyard at Waikari in North Canterbury; a place full of limestone and potential – as the wines consistently show. It is the long term labour of love for winemakers Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuisen, partners in wine and in life.

They used grapes from all of their Bell Hill vineyard blocks to make this Pinot Noir. These blocks include the Shelf, Quarry (clone 10/5 and rootlings), Slope, Roadblock, and Westbank blocks.

Whole bunch fermentation was used on some of the grapes and it ranged from 10 to 40 per cent. The remainder were fully destemmed giving a high number of whole berries. The wine spent 24 to 32 days on skins with cold pre-ferment and warm post-ferment macerations. It was basket pressed into 100% new French oak for 12 months and then spent another six months in tank. The wine was bottled in early November 2017 with a pH of 3.6, TA of 5.5 g/L, and alcohol of 13%. Just 6,360 bottles were produced.

Available now via email order: email info@bellhill.co.nz


2017 Johner Gladstone Pinot Noir $33.99

Karl Johner is one of the most sensitive and talented producers of Pinot Noir in New Zealand from his small home base in the back blocks of the Wairarapa region on Dakins Road in East Taratahi – a windy road that shows the arid landscape of the region. He also has a winery in Germany where he studied viticulture and oenology and continues to make wine each year, so he’s a dab hand at travelling between both hemispheres and at identifying vastly different strengths in both countries when it comes to Pinot Noir.

His Gladstone Pinot Noir is made from grapes on his home vineyard and he uses 30 to 40% new oak in the wine, which supports the dark fruit flavours and adds savoury appeal rather than dominating the style. The 2017 vintage was a tricky one late in the season but the flavours in this wine are outstanding. It’s youthful but velvety right now, and definitely has strong potential for aging — at least up to five years.


It’s not as if we have to confine ourselves to just three or even to 50 different shades of Pinot Noir, given how many wildly different interpretations there are.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *