I recently got to select three examples of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, at different price points, for a tasting we were hosting at West London Wine School. Being a massive fan of Pinot Noir (this grape is my usual Friday night tipple) I was rather excited by this mission.
For the purpose of the tasting, I chose wines that have wonderful people and great stories behind them. I believe that it’s not just the flavour and the texture of a wine that can bring pleasure – but also knowledge about the place, the people and how the wine’s made that can enable a fuller and more pleasurable experience.
My first two wines were from Marlborough. Although Marlborough has a cool climate – moderated by the ocean breezes, we also get a lot of sun. Around 700 hours more than is needed for grapes to fully ripen. Some of the grapes for the first two wines were sourced from the Wairau Valley. The Maori refer to the Wairau Valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – the place with the hole in the cloud. When you are in Marlborough, standing out in the sun, soaking up the big blue skies, you feel like you’re frying. Due to the angle NZ is to the sun, there is less ozone for the rays to shine through.
Marlborough is a region where sunscreen is a must. What this extra sun does to the grapes, is it allows the skins to get a bit thicker – giving more colour to the wine and a bit more tannin, as well as riper fruit flavour. Overall, a fuller, silkier style of Pinot Noir is produced.
To balance out this intense sun, in the late afternoon a cool, refreshing easterly breeze flows in from the ocean, dramatically reducing the temperature. Sometimes during the ripening season, there can be a 30 degree change in temperature, which grapes love. It allows the acidity to remain high and the ripening season to extend – giving more concentration of flavour.
My first selection was the 2012 Matua Pinot Noir, available from £8.99 (Tooting Bec Food and Wine) to £12.49 (Majestic). Matua produce great quality wines at affordable prices and won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2012.
This wine is made by head winemaker Nikolai St George. A touch of Central Otago fruit is blended to give depth. Three days cold soak prior to fermentation extracts more colour, tannin and flavour. A small proportion is aged in oak for 8 months.
I love this wine because I can buy it at my local food and wine in Tooting for under a tenner. When I drink it, it transports me home. The texture is smooth and the I can picture the big, blue sunny skies of Marlborough as I taste the ripe cherries and hint of sweet spice and smoky oak. Great on its own, but matches terribly well with lamb chops or smoked cheese.
Wine number two was the Jules Taylor Pinot Noir from Marlborough which is available at Vagabond in Fulham for £19.99. I’ve been a fan of Jules Taylor wines for a long time and have been especially impressed in the past by her Gruner Veltliner.
After initially training as a Zoologist, Jules studied winemaking and viticulture at Lincoln University and worked vintages in Piedmont, Sicily, Australia and Cloudy Bay before taking on her own venture and producing her first vintage under the Jules Taylor label in 2001. Jules won the IWSC trophy for New Zealand Producer of the Year 2013.
For her Pinot Noir she sources her grapes from quality contract growers in the Wairau and Southern Valleys. Grapes are handpicked and allowed to cold soak for 5-10 days. Indigenous yeasts and lees maturation bring complexity and rewarding weight to this wine. A vivid ruby colour leads on to ripe cherry, raspberry and plum on the palate with cocoa and a touch of savoury earth. The wine is clean with refreshing acidity and is simply stunning and remarkable quality for the price.
For my third wine, I head south, to the wondrous Central Otago.
The climate here is very cool and continental. It is too far from the coast to receive those refreshing sea breezes. The region warms up slowly during spring and then retains its heat well into autumn. One criticism of the Pinot produced here is that it is often all fruit and can lack complexity and finesse. In very hot years and often in previous vintages, this has been the case. However, as the vines get older and producers alter their harvest times (often a lot earlier than in the past) the wines are becoming increasingly taut and complex. Central Otago is a compact area over diverse landscape with vineyards experiencing various micro-climates due to varying altitudes and aspect.
Most people believe that N.Z is relatively new to the wine-making game, with most vines being planted in the 1970s. However Central Otago’s first gold medal was at the Sydney wine competitions in 1881 for a wine, simply named ‘Burgundy’. The vines for which were planted by Frenchman Jean Feraud. Even the French could see the potential of this area over a century ago.
My third Pinot Noir was the 2010 Two Paddocks First Paddock from Gibbston, Central Otago, available at Noel Young Wines for £49.
Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Peaky Blinders) planted his first 5 acre paddock of vines in Gibbston, Central Otago in 1993. At the same time, his good friend planted the paddock next door – and that’s where the name ‘Two Paddocks’ comes from.
Gibbston is the highest sub-region of Central Otago, with north facing slopes. Some years it is too cool here for grapes to ripen fully. But when they do ripen, they obtain beautiful elegance and balanced intensity of fruit.
The grapes are hand harvested and 50% went through whole bunch fermentation (whole bunch fermentation can give a touch more fragrance and slightly firmer tannins). A 5 day cold soak took place, followed by fermentation using indigenous yeasts. The wine is matured in French oak for 11 months – a mixture of new, second and third year oak barrels being used.
The wine has finesse on the nose with ripe strawberries, a slightly sharp tang of cranberry and vibrant spice. The layers and complexity flow through on the palate with taut, structured tannins, balanced by trickling acidity and a silky texture. Damson, strawberry, anise and floral notes thrill the palate. This is certainly one of the most intriguing NZ Pinot Noir’s I have experienced.
Sam Neill’s passion for Pinot shines through in what he produces in N.Z. The ‘First Paddock’ is only produced in exceptional years. It is not a greedy wine, and Sam has no intention of being a bulk producer. When it is made, it expresses the vintage and its environment – following a more ‘old world philosophy’ where wines should express a sense of place.
My Dad took my sister and I to the premiere of Jurassic Park when I was 12 years old at our local cinema. It was an 11pm screening which was super late for us! This was in 1993, the same year Sam planted his first vines. When I research, and drink this wine I admire the talent and vision of Sam. I think of all the things he’s done in his life and as my mind wonders, I remember being back in the cinema with those that I love, watching crazy dinosaurs! A beautiful thought to have whilst sipping a glass of wine.