One of my most memorable moments in New Zealand came when Peter Yealands proudly assured me there were now more vines than sheep, which seemed a good thing. Peter knows a thing or two about sheep: he brought in the first Baby Dolls—Australian miniatures that offer a truly sustainable answer to weed control in the vineyard. (Interestingly, the trailblazers at Okanagan Crush Pad have just done the same thing.)
The even better news (unless you’re a sheep, maybe) is that many of those vines are Pinot Noir, something at which New Zealand excels.
Last week’s Vancouver Kiwi Pinot tasting (led by the inimitable DJ Kearney) yielded a wicked line-up of 13 wines from around the country. Flighted by region, they offered a worthy reminder that there’s more to New Zealand than great Sauvignon Blanc—and a diversity of regions beyond Marlborough.
Aside from the regional contrasts, what I took away was a message (again) of overall high quality, and, comparatively speaking, on a global scale, great Pinot value.
Dr. John Forrest says Pinot is the equivalent of Riesling, as it’s the red variety that best transmits its terroir. He also noted (with unabashed glee) that all of these wines are under screwcap.
Tough to narrow this field to just a handful but I picked (at least) one from each region.
Nelson (Small region on northwestern tip of South Island)
• Waimea Estate Pinot Noir 2012 (Waimea Plains)
Lifted cherry notes on top, followed by a plush entry with some mocha raisin hints. Went nicely with the chef Blair Rasmussen’s tuna tataki, served afterwards, which seemed to bring out the fruit further.($29.90 / 90 pts.)
Marlborough (Largest Pinot producing region, on northeast of South Island)
• Ara Select Blocks 2012 (Waihopai Valley)
Darker, more earthy, with some barnyard hints followed by a cherry toned palate with balanced tannins, acidity and some savoury hints that nod to Burgundy. Excellent value, BC $24.95 91 pts. Best Value Overall.
• Auntsfield Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012 (Southern Valleys)
More savoury, earthy top with plum and cassis, followed by a focused spicy, savoury and juicy palate with stony hints and a lengthy finish. N/A BC c. $33 / 92 pts
• Tohu Rore Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 (Marlborough, Awatere)
Leaner style, appealing, savoury and mineral entry with herbal notes wrapped in cherry and black fruit with well balanced tannins. BCLS $44.99 / 90 pts.
Waipara Valley (Central east coast of South Island, just north of Christchurch, with a variety of gravel and limestone derived soils)
• Greystone Pinot Noir Waipara Valley 2011
Lifted dark red cherry and spice notes, followed by appealing savoury on the palate with plush fruit and approachable tannins. N/A BC c. $35 / 90 pts
Waitaki Valley (Southern edge of Wairarapa, South Island)
• John Forrest Estate Collection Pinot Noir Waitaki 2011
Dark cherry and earthy notes on the nose followed by definite mineral peristent with spice notes through the finish. 90 pts
Central Otago (Mountain ringed region in the southern heart of South Island)
• Coal Pit Tiwha Pinot Noir 2011 (Gibbston Valley)
Dark, brooding character of savoury and herbal wrapped in black cherry with good length, plummy spicey notes, and balanced acidity. N/A BC, c. $41, 91 pts.
Wairarapa (Younger region producing some impressive wines, near Martinborough, south of North Island)
• Gladstone Pinot Noir Wairarapa 2011 (Wairarapa)
Very elegant, lighter style but with all the savoury, bright cherry chocolate, plum and spice elements, with violets up front followed by silky tannins and a good finish. A powerful wine for its weight. $44.50, 91 pts.