By February 21, 2020 Read More →


You may have heard about the diva grape, Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir loves drama. Pinot Noir loves a challenge. Pinot Noir thrives in a cool to extreme climate especially with a maritime influence. In New Zealand, it thrives as the environment is cool to cold, is all maritime – it is two islands after all, and has no ozone layer, so grapes ripen fully with extreme UV. Think about how much sun you get when in the snow. It’s like that, but instead of a sunburn or deep tan, the grapes ripen fully like they do in California, but maintain a high level of natural acidity which gives them the freshness, tartness, longevity, and balance of red Burgundy from France. It’s the best of both worlds!

Pinot Noir thrives in these areas of the country:

North Island
– Martinborough

South Island
– Marlborough
– Canterbury
– Central Otago

Martinborough is the coolest and driest of the North Island’s GI’s (Geographical Indications). Clive Paton and his wife and sister planted the country’s first Pinot Noir at their Ata Rangi property here in 1980. On the South Island, the cool and sunny Marlborough GI, known the world over for its zesty, lively Sauvignon Blancs, produces Pinot Noirs that are just ripe, tart and easy to enjoy right away. The Canterbury GI south of Christchurch enjoys warm, dry summers, abundant sunshine, and a long dry autumn due to the Southern Alps providing rain shadow protection. Vineyards are nestled on the flats between the Alps and Pegasus Bay. Pending sub GI’s here are North Canterbury and Waipara.

Central Otago is New Zealand’s only continental climate. Landing in Queenstown gives one an idea of just how extreme the area is. It has the most dramatic rain shadow. It is the coldest and hottest place in the country. It is the most inland and elevated vineyard area in the county. Bannockburn is the warmest, driest area in Central Otago and is a pending GI. You can hike from rainforest to desert, ski and bungee jump in the same day!

The Pinot Noirs of Central Otago have the most depth, structure and ripeness, while still retaining the vibrant fresh natural acidity. Earlier vintages had slightly higher alcohol levels and more abundant and obvious oak influence. Current releases now hover around 135 % abv and there is rarely the taste or feel of oak. Central Otago Pinot Noirs are so serious and interesting that even Burgundian producers are spending time there. There are harvest and winemaking exchange programs, a shared vision for the future, annual events for the public and trade, and more. When producers like Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron, Comte de Vogue and Domaine de la Romanee Conti’s Aubert de Villaine get involved, you have to investigate!

A Master Sommelier’s New Zealand Pinot Noir Taste Profile

  • Red berry fruit
  • Sundried tomato
  • Dried Herbs
  • Spices – Cumin, Black Pepper
  • Floral
  • Meaty
  • Earthy

Excerpted from Ten Grapes to Know, The Ten and Done Wine Guide, by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

On the Floor – Service and Salesmanship – New Zealand Pinot Noir
– terroir driven, alive, expressive
– ability to pair with subtle dishes
– price compared to Burgundy
– screwcap; easy to open
– ripe fruit but fresh and not oaky
– not candied “chunky buggars” like other New World Pinot Noirs

Planet Grape Wine Review’s Top Ten New Zealand Pinot Noirs:

2016 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough: $60 – Very fresh, tart, silky and complex with notes of cranberry, cherry, sundried tomato, salami, black pepper, mushroom and cedar. Phenix Wine Distributors, Watsonville, CA

2017 Sacred Hill Pinot Noir, Marlborough: $20 – Lean, fresh, savory and dry with notes of raspberry, strawberry, pink rose, herbs de Provence, walnut and pecan. J Woods Beverage Group, Tracy, CA

2018 Dashwood by Vavasour Pinot Noir, Marlborough: $18 – Light, dry, lively and tart with notes of raspberry, cherry, rhubarb, sage, coriander seed and cumin. Foley Family Wines, Santa Rosa, CA

2016 Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough: $40 – Fresh, crisp, tart and dry with notes of cherry, mulberry, eggplant, cumin, sumac and cedar. Youngs Market Company

2019 Yealands Pinot Noir Single Vineyard, Marlborough: $31 – Tart, lean, earthy and dry with notes of strawberry, root beer, cinnamon, porcini dust, oregano and black tea leaf. Vegan. Taub Family Selections, Port Washington, NY

2016 The Crater Rim Pinot Noir Cycleroad Waipara Valley, Canterbury: $25 – Full, silky, supple and fresh with notes of Morello cherry, cherry cola, dark chocolate, singed meat and charred radicchio. Hilltop Wine Brokerage, San Francisco, CA

2017 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir, North Canterbury: $28- Lean, fresh, brisk and racy with notes of strawberry, raspberry, cantaloupe, pink rose, brown mushroom, toasted almond and cinnamon raisin bread. Youngs Market Company

2018 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir Bannockburn, Central Otago: $45 – Full, lightly chewy, fresh and dry with notes of raspberry, cherry, pink rose, dried porcini, tobacco, cedar and clove. Foley Family Wines, Santa Rosa, CA

2018 Mount Riley Pinot Noir Limited Release, Central Otago: $65 – Silky, delicate, complex and dry with notes of cherry jam, sundried tomato, fennel sausage, white pepper and cedar. Michael Skurnick Imports, NY

2018 Felton Road Pinot Noir Bannockburn, Central Otago: $70 – Light, tart, dry and lively with notes of strawberry, cherry, cumin, brown mushroom, peppered salami, cedar and leather. Biodynamically grown. Youngs Market Company

Check out our Planet Grape Wine Review VOD on New Zealand Pinot Noir here:

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