Friday, 27 January 2017

A Look at New Zealand Pinot Noir Regions

Financial markets have a saying – as January goes, so goes the year. So far, this month has been all about Pinot Noir. The La Paulée de Singapour (a celebration of Burgundian wine) has just concluded, an evening which saw several esteemed winemakers descend onto our island with treasured bottles of premier and grand cru wines. The dinner took place just a week after a tasting organised by New Zealand Winegrowers and Air New Zealand. While New Zealand’s fame as a wine producing country was built on Sauvignon Blanc, it is the Pinot Noir which has been gaining emerging as a serious contender to red Burgundy. The tasting was billed as a 360° View of New Zealand Wine, and through the creative use of a VR headset visitors were able to experience the magnificent scenery of New Zealand.

The continuing evolution of the wine industry in New Zealand has thrown the limelight on sustainability and regional characteristics. In a tutored tasting helmed by Andy Crozier of Burn Cottage and Mohamad Fazil of Salt Grill & Sky Bar, the different taste profiles of each wine region within New Zealand were shared. I am reproducing the content below for wine geeks, although in Andy’s opinion the general consumer is not quite ready to dive into excessive detail. “People get that New Zealand makes Pinot Noir, but I think that sub-regionality is an education for the long-term. Say with Sauvignon Blanc, most consumers are going – I want to buy a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, they are not saying I want a bottle of Sauvignon from the Wairau Valley, or from the Waihopai Valley or Southern Valley. As people become more and more interested, yes, they may start looking at that.”

Putting aside the influence of terroir and climate, it’s undeniable that the winemaker’s hand also plays a crucial role in shaping the wine. It is the classic nature versus nurture debate – how to tell how much of a wine’s character is due to its environment, and how much is owed to technique. While oak treatment is relatively easier to detect, the increasingly popular use of whole-bunch fermentation for Pinot Noir can subtly alter the wine by adding a savoury element and provide more scaffolding as a result of tannin from stems. My guess is that in choosing a wine from New Zealand, consumers are more likely to select based on the reputation of the producer than the wine region (which is precisely why these tutored tastings are aimed at trade and wine professionals rather than the general public). Since New Zealand, like most New World countries does not have a classification system for wine regions, in theory each region should be able to offer something as good as another. There is of course great joy in discovering a bottle of wine from a hitherto untasted region, and such is the consistent quality of New Zealand Pinot Noir that one is unlikely to be disappointed.

It is truly amazing to see how far New Zealand has progressed in their short history as a wine producer. Small is beautiful in this case, as the industry has coalesced around the common goal of sharing knowledge to improve the reputation of New Zealand wine as a whole. It struck me as unusual that a winery representative was speaking about wines made by other winemakers, but as Andy commented, “As a country we are relatively young, but there are no closed books. Most of us are interested in actually learning from each other and sharing the mistakes we’ve made and the things we’ve done right.”

Tasting notes:

Neudorf “Tom’s Block” Nelson Pinot Noir 2014 – Pure and rich with sweet, incisive aromatics and a vibrant palate of red cherries. There is delicious freshness to accompany this light-bodied and gentle wine.

Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2013 – Tasted right after the Neudorf, this showed more a more restrained and savoury profile. Slightly earthy with a note of sweet licorice. Round and elegant with fine tannins.

Seresin “Osip” Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 – Organically made using indigenous yeasts and no added sulphites. Earthy with a note of chalk. Quite a twist to the expectation of a New Zealand Pinot Noir. Bright acidity and lovely fruit but the chalky note stands out quite a bit.

Muddy Water Waipara Valley Pinot Noir 2015 – Polished and assured dark berry fruit complemented by smoky toast and coffee bean from oak aging.

Akarua Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 – A great example of the heights Pinot Noir in New Zealand can reach. Silky, sensuous tannins coupled with layers of abundant red cherries and redcurrants. A textural marvel with gorgeous depth.

Burn Cottage Central Otago Pinot Noir 2014 – I’ve rarely seen such an evocative label on a bottle of wine. Rich with symbolism, the motifs represent the various biodynamic influences on the wine. The winemaker is Ted Lemon of Littorai fame. Fortunately the wine lives up to its promise, displaying fine balance and structure with complex dark cherry, sweet plums and spice. Medium bodied with lipsmacking verve. This should reward several years of aging.

Urlar Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2014 – Fulfils the classic standards of New Zealand Pinot Noir – exuberant fruit, clean and precise with a subtle note of spice.

Schubert “Block B” Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2014 – Intensely perfumed and exotic, the wine shows tight acidity with lifted red cherry and brown spices. There is a firm structure and weight to this wine.

Regional profiles

HAWKE'S BAY: Varietal aromatics of cherry, berry fruits, plum, florals and spice, through to more savoury and earthy examples, all with beautifully soft and supple tannins and great richness of flavour.

WAIRARAPA: Darker fruit aromas, often with a savoury component. Rich, full, sweet fruit on the entry with flavours in the dark plum and chocolate spectrum. The structure of the wines are based around long, fine tannins.

NELSON: Fragrant, complex, earthy and savoury textured wines with rich, spicy, cherry and plum flavours. These wines are concentrated, balanced and supple with fine lingering tannin.

MARLBOROUGH: Red fruit spectrum aromatically and bright raspberry, cherry and plums on the palate. Wines typically have a freshness from subtle acidity that is complemented by their linear structure and even tannin backbone. The Southern Valleys tend to produce fuller bodied wines.

CANTERBURY & WAIPARA VALLEY: Red and dark berry fruit with spicy notes. Firm structure and acidity. Savoury earthy characteristics.

CENTRAL OTAGO: Gibbston Valley district has sweet, soft, upfront fruitiness with flavours of raspberry, strawberries and fresh herbs and spicy notes. The warmer Bannockburn and Lowburn areas produce fuller, more tannic wines with cherries and dark fruit. Undertones of dried thyme is most prevalent in Pinots from Alexandra.

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