A review of some fine New Zealand Pinot Noirs.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers May 16, 2007
New Zealand is on a roll. Known for high-quality Sauvignon Blancs, Kiwi winemakers are hitting their stride with Pinot Noir, particularly the 2005 vintage. Plantings of Pinot Noir have increased almost tenfold in the past decade with a remarkable 1,100 percent increase in exports during the same time period. While some of the best examples are in limited supply, many very good New Zealand Pinot Noirs are currently available in the U.S.
Most of the Pinot Noir is grown in the South Island regions of Central Otaga and Marlborough and in the North Island’s Martinborough area. The proximity to cooling ocean breezes and large daily temperature variations promote a style with fine tannins and softer, occasionally spicy, fruit flavors. Low vineyard yields, small grape clusters and thicker grape skins were common in 2005, producing concentrated flavors, additional tannins and thus, more structured wines. While some of the 2004 and 2006 Pinot Noirs poured at a recent tasting were enjoyable, the best were from 2005.
The Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorites. Ross and Bill Spence established their winery in 1973 and have built a reputation for producing high-quality, value-priced wines. The Matua Estate Pinot Noir Marlborough 2005 ($20) is very good, with its candied fruit aromas, cherry and vanilla flavors along with a pleasant oakiness on the finish.
Josip Babich planted his first vines above a swamp in 1916. During the past 90 years, his family’s holdings have expanded to include vineyards in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Marlborough and Gisborne. Their Babich Winemakers Reserve Pinot Noir Marlborough 2005 ($24) is lovely with spicy red cherry and plum flavors, perfect acidity and a long finish.
Another family-owned winery is Saint Clair, established by Neal and Judy Ibbotson, who grew grapes for other winemakers before setting up their own winery in 1994. Their 2005 bottlings were not poured at the tasting, but their 2006 wines were really good and are excellent values. The Saint Clair Marlborough Vicar’s Choice Pinot Noir 2006 ($16) has blackberry, raspberry and cedar notes, while the Saint Clair Marlborough Pinot Noir 2006 ($17) is spicier, with black plum, red cherry and toasty oak flavors.
Several other Marlborough Pinots are worth trying, including the Spy Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir ($29), with crisp acidity, red berry, cola and currant notes as well as the Whitehaven Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 ($29) that has a more earthy background along with lovely raspberry, cherry and cedar flavors. Seresin wines are organically grown and often fermented with wild yeasts. The Seresin Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 ($27) has nicely balanced strawberry, black plum and spicy oak flavors.
The wines produced at Amisfield just keep getting better, and their Amisfield Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005 ($35) is one of the best New Zealand Pinots. It has gorgeous floral red fruit aromas with spicy red berry, blackberry and toasty flavors as well as a bit of minerality at the end. Also first-rate is the Mount Difficulty Central Otago Pinot Noir 2005 ($30), a beautifully structured wine with spicy strawberry, anise and plum flavors and vanilla oak at the end.
Located at the southernmost aspect of the North Island is the Te Karianga Winery that produces the impressive Te Karianga Runholder Martinborough Pinot Noir 2005 ($29), with complex minty black and red fruit, pepper and oak flavors. The Te Kairanga John Martin Reserve Martinborough Pinor Noir 2005 ($45) is even better, with more red fruit, cedar and coffee notes along with great balance and a long finish.