Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Five top drops - Pinot Noirs to drink this July

This month marks the 14th consecutive one in as many years that I have written an annual Pinot Noir report for publication in Drinksbiz magazine. This time round, I wrote with a sense of awe at the explosion in volume, value and very impressive Pinot Noirs made in New Zealand. Needless to say, not all of them made it into the report, which is where this top five come in (and, yes, there are another five waiting in the wings).

Pinot Noir is the most important red grape and the second most important overall grape variety in New Zealand today. It is second only to Sauvignon Blanc in terms of volume planted nationwide and, like Sauvignon, the vast majority of Pinot grows in the South Island and in Marlborough. These wines represent a snapshot of the outstanding Pinot Noirs made in New Zealand today. Many are not easily available. Most are made in small volumes. A couple are relatively accessible to find.

This top five is an excellent starting point of stellar Pinot Noirs from producers with a long history of devotion to Pinot Noir. These are slightly off the beaten track Pinots, which are not widely available and all over deliver in taste.

2020 Astrolabe Comelybank Pinot Noir RRP $50

Pinot Noir is one of Marlborough’s best kept wine secrets and this outstanding example from Astrolabe demonstrates the consistently thoughtful and thought provoking winemaking of Simon Waghorn. This is a powerful Pinot Noir from its deep ruby colour to its intense, fresh aromas of bold, bright dark cherries, which are wrapped in a firmly structured wine with a youthful framework of acidity adding shape, length and depth to each sip. The Comelybank Vineyard is in the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough, which has the great benefit of cool night time temperatures to retain freshness. Great wine now with aging potential for up to a decade.

2022 Gibbston Valley Le Maitre Pinot Noir RRP $130

A big wine made in small volumes at one of the oldest wineries in Central Otago, Gibbston Valley Wines. Aromas of fresh cherry intermingle with plush plum aromas in a savoury structured wine, which pays homage to the 30+ year old vineyard in Gibbston Valley, which was planted by Alan Brady, who is considered le maitre – the father of the region in so many ways from his visionary pioneering days to his early plantings of Pinot Noir.

2017 Mora Kolo Pinot Noir RRP $115 

This sensational Pinot Noir is outstanding now and will unfold even greater layers of flavour over the next three to four years. It is made with hand picked grapes from Mora's Felton Terraces Vineyard in Bannockburn with natural yeast fermentation, 20 days on skins and 18 months ageing in French oak barrels (30% new), all of which bring layers of texture and taste to this full bodied Pinot Noir. It is seven years old now and it has plenty more time up its tasty sleeve; another three to four years. Decant, if enjoying now. Expect to be wowed. 

2020 Quartz Reef Single Ferment Pinot Noir RRP $90

This fleshy, earthy, full bodied Pinot Noir was made from hand picked grapes, which were fermented with natural yeasts which result in a full bodied, fleshy wine with intense dark cherry aromas and complex flavours with notes of spice, aged cedar aromas and firm savoury tannins. The grapes spent 22 days in total of skin contact time and the finished wine was matured for 13 months in French oak, 33% new.

Few people know Central Otago Pinot Noir as well as Rudi Bauer, founder and owner of Quartz Reef, which is famous for its outstanding still and sparkling wines (Pinot dominant, naturally enough for this winery). This wine is made from Demeter certified biodynamic grapes planted in 1998 on a spectacularly beautiful north facing slope in Bendigo on soils of fine sandy loam between 217 and 264 metres above sea level. 

2022 Forager Pinot Noir RRP $55

This stellar expression of North Canterbury Pinot Noir has layers of red fruit, earthy nuances and bright fresh acidity for depth and length. It is made from grapes grown on the evocatively named Isolated Hill Vineyard, situated on limestone slopes, 40 minutes drive from North Canterbury and devoted entirely to Pinot Noir. Winemaker Dom Maxwell hand picks the grapes for this wine, ferments the wine outside, allowing wild yeasts to do the work, followed by 15 month months of barrel ageing. It will age superbly for seven to eight years, potentially longer.