New Zealand Pinot Noir

Discover the country's top-rated Pinots


New Zealand is well known as a wine-producing country – the problem is it’s recognized almost exclusively for Sauvignon Blanc. The electric gooseberry style of Sauvignon Blanc popularized in the Marlborough region of New Zealand has been a boon to the country’s wine culture, but has overshadowed the grand wines produced from other varieties.

From north to south, New Zealand’s unique terroir, which features well-draining, stony soils in climates that can range from near-tropical to sub-Alpine, has proven ideal for a wide range of grape varieties. Much of the research into what to plant where remains in its infancy, making this an exciting and dynamic time for New Zealand’s wine industry as it works to diversify.

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Beyond the Blanc

Pinot noir is definitely a variety on the rise in New Zealand, with plantings nationwide soaring to over 4000 hectares from barely 500 in 1996. Still, this represents just 11% of New Zealand’s total annual production, having passed Bordeaux varieties and blends (8%) but still well behind Chardonnay, with 20%, and Sauvignon Blanc with a whopping 52% of the country's production.

That 11% of the nation’s production translates into some 14,000 tons of fruit, of which the lion’s share comes from Marlborough (about 10,000 tons) with Central Otago in distant second (3,000 tons), and Martinborough in third (with less than 1000 tons).

While it may be too early to discern distinct regional differences between these main regions, it’s never too early to try. In regards to Pinot noir, Marlborough produces the lion’s share of Pinot because the climate here allows Pinot to get nicely ripe, yielding a round mouthfeel with fresh fruit flavors. It’s a source for many great Pinots at favorable price points.

At a recent tasting I was able to do a little exploring and tasted through a few wines. Overall the quality of the wines was quite high, though in most cases nothing beat the value of the less expensive wines.

I hate to generalize, but I will: Most of the wines I tasted were fine but the common thread that bound them was that the fruit of New Zealand Pinot is delicate and fresh. That would seem to suggest that the wines should be made in a delicate and fresh style, though ambition seems to have gotten the better of some producers.

Check out page 2 for a Pinot lover's list of 8 New Zealand Wineries to watch. Make sure to tune in next week for part two of this series, when I take a look at New Zealand's North Island and taste the great Pinots being produced there.

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  • You must also try DOG POINT pinot is superb. Very difficult to find here in the USA but I was lucky enough to taste some with the wine makers/vineyard owner when in Blenheim. James, keep making that wonderful SauvBlanc and Pinot at Dog Point.
    Conrad Steely, Los Angeles

    Mar 24, 2010 at 3:36 PM

  • Snooth User: Karine05
    151996 11

    Love New Zealand Pinots! Thanks for listing a few I've not yet had the chance to try. I understood that the Felton Road Central Otago was not being exported to the U.S. Great to see that it might actually be available.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 3:41 PM

  • Snooth User: tgable
    188124 4

    I agree with the overview. We toured both north and south islands a few years ago and tasted at more than 30 wineries. Two other Martinborough-Wairapa candidates you might try for remarkable Pinot Noir: Ata Rangi and Te Kairanga.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:04 PM

  • Is Craggy Range (or Ranch) from New Zealand?

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:23 PM

  • I went to NZ in 2002 and found out about their great Pinot Noirs, but could never find them here in the US...glad they are being reviewed as they are terrific. However, the best ones go to Australia to savvy wine buyers and restaurants....we don't get their very reasonably priced + excellent Pinots here in the US -- only cheaper ones, or very expensive -- our loss.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:25 PM

  • Snooth User: tgable
    188124 4

    Craggy Range is from New Zealand, with vineyards on both islands. They have one of best wineries to visit on the North Island. Including a top-rated restaurant.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:36 PM

  • Snooth User: fwv
    104120 18

    Opawa pinot from NF --great and reasonably priced- $15 or under Find it!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:42 PM

  • Snooth User: Ewen
    232417 5

    I subscribe to the Winestate Magazine which each month features wine regions in NZ and Australia plus new releases etc. The best of each of these forms an annual "best of". NZ excels in Sauvignon Blanc as you would expect and in recent years has excelled in Pinot Nior as well. The wine picked as the best of 2009 across all classes was an NZ Pinot Noir from Peregrine.

    watch for NZ wines in the Syrah/Shiraz varietal as well.

    Must admit im also a kiwi!!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:44 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks everyone. With the trouble in the wine world I think you'll see more New Zealand Pinots at retail here. I love these wines, really a beautiful expression of the grape. Watch out for next weeks email with more specific info about the North Island and the wines from their appellations.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:44 PM

  • Snooth User: ssigaud
    299760 23

    Gregory - great piece (mouth watering!) but somewhat frustrating at the same time because several cannot be found in the States - at least, not on Wine Searcher. Any suggestions?

    Mar 24, 2010 at 4:50 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I know!

    Sorry to be the bearer of tantalizing news.

    the good side of this is that I recently tasted all of these and more here in New York at an event promoting the wines. Every producer was here in search of an importer so I expect we'll be seeing alot more of these wines soon!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:10 PM

  • Snooth User: mfahey
    363740 27

    Have you tried the pinot noir from Spy Valley? they make a fantastic one as well.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:21 PM

  • Snooth User: NancyReid
    241098 1

    The best is supposed to be Dry River (Martinborough). Hard to get even though my husband is great friends with the winemaker. We only get it when he comes to visit or we order it in a restaurant.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:27 PM

  • Snooth User: GhostLemur
    303526 118

    One of my favourites is Pyramid Valley.
    Along with Craggy Range, they take a share of the Felton Rd managed Culvert Vinyard fruit. I had the priviledge of try all three Pinot side by side. A great example of how the same fruit can be made into 3 very different wines. Martinborough Vineyards also make a top shelf version of pinot (only done two vintages since the first in 03) using there old vines (30+ years old) in good years called Marie Zelie.
    Another Central Otago Vineyard to keep an eye out for is Mondillo.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:38 PM

  • Snooth User: DanaJo
    435243 1

    Sherry Lehmann in NYC has an extensive range of NZ Pinot, including some of those reviewed, thanks to Ken an NYC based kiwi who works there -

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:49 PM

  • Snooth User: russell1
    Hand of Snooth
    95807 171

    A good overview that brings back great memories. In 2000 I worked at Martinborough Vineyards, learning from winemaker Claire Mulholland. In 2003 my wife Delphine worked at Mt. Difficulty with Matt and Roger.
    I know Mt Difficulty is available in Oregon.

    Good on ye!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Ewen
    232417 5

    I was actually down in Central Otago last week, holiday golf as well as wine. Tasted quite a number of the local Pinot's.

    my real wine passions are for the bigger red wines - cabernet sauvignon and shiraz.

    My current experience was that all the Pinot's now display good fruit and a strong varietal flavour.

    Historically I have found them (universally) a little lightwieght and apart from the "forrest floor flavours" - a little one dimensional.

    I personally now place the broader range of NZ Pinot's as having migrated to a new and different level, one which appeals to me a lot.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:59 PM

  • Snooth User: flirod
    209952 3

    Just returned from South Island, Marlborough region.
    Whither Hills 2005 and 2006 Pinot Noir were offered at the recent wine festival in February 2010 and they are excellent.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:02 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Wow Russell, that must have been an awesome experience for the both of you. Still in the wine biz?

    I know what you mean Ewen and think that many of the wines still are onthe lighter side of things, and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as the producer just go with the flow and don't try to pump up the juice . Now that they have more experience, understanding of terroir, and older vines to work with I'm sure we'll see progressively more juice that can be turned into richer styled wines.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:03 PM

  • Snooth User: GhostLemur
    303526 118

    Oh one other to keep an eye on is Quartz Reef.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:39 PM

  • Snooth User: hklatveria
    334591 25

    Can someone compare the N.Z. Pinot Noirs to those from Oregon?

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I'm not familiar with Quartz Reef, I'll keep my other eye peeled for that!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: tgable
    188124 4

    Quartz Reef makes some fine sparkling wine, too.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 6:51 PM

  • Snooth User: Poodle
    92849 1

    Hi There!
    I second the DOG POINT recommendation!! It is hard to find, but I do have one source here in Colorado that stocks it regularly and were the ones to recommend it to me!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 7:09 PM

  • Snooth User: cpolikoff
    394715 1

    Just returned from NZ last week. Highfield Estates pinot in Blenheim was fantastic. Need to keep on the lookout for the Dog Point :)

    Mar 24, 2010 at 7:40 PM

  • Snooth User: PinotSeller
    Hand of Snooth
    32875 3

    Greetings! Glad to see the NZ Pinots reviewed on Snooth. As the importer for Rippon Pinot Noir we wanted to let everyone know that the Pinots are out there, please keep looking! Check out our web site, or ask for the wines recommended at your local bottle shop and have the shop owner request them from their favourite distributor of wines to track them down. Hope that helps!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 8:12 PM

  • Snooth User: ssigaud
    299760 23

    Hey Gregory thanks for your response. Can you do a post on NZ PNs that are easily 'findable' in the States for us fans? BTW I had some Staete Landt a few years back at the Wine Library in NJ it was amazing!!! except from the name I thought it was from South Africa..oh well! ;-)

    Mar 24, 2010 at 8:26 PM

  • Neudorf from Nelson (NZ) are fabulous and will not disappoint. These wines are now available in the US - well worth keeping an eye out for... If I can assist you locate Neudorf, pls email me at!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 9:31 PM

  • Snooth User: MoneyWise
    435492 1

    Hi there, I recently read in Gourmet Traveller that Domain Road Pinot 2007 was chosen as the No. 1 NZ Pinot Noir. Anyone heard of them?

    Mar 24, 2010 at 10:46 PM

  • Snooth User: BG422
    343567 19

    Greg, I agree on the NZ Pinots. I like their subtlety, especially in terms of the oak. I love CA Pinots, but they can be just a bit overwhelming. You cite the Staete Landt, and I agree it is sedate but quite compelling in its own way. I have several bottles of the 2005 left, and they are still improving. I recently tasted Yealands 2008 Marlborough and the Mt. Difficulty 'Roaring Meg' 2008. Both are excellent -- and more than that, in today's Pinot market, they are extraordinary values. The 'Roaring Meg' is ready now, although I think it will get better. The Yealands has a fabulous finish, but I think that it's still a bit acid forward and needs another year or two to start to realize its potential. I've had a couple of bottles of the Tohu 2007, which was one of WS's Top 100, but I'm not as convinced of it as they are.

    Mar 24, 2010 at 10:47 PM

  • Snooth User: TJP131
    234613 1

    Try the Two Paddocks Pinot Noir from Central Otago too - the vineyard is owned by actor Sam Neill and the pinot noir is great! Apparently when asked why he only produced pinot noir his response was that that is the only wine he drinks, so if no one buys it he can drink it himself! No danger of that!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 1:57 AM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,299

    Looks like as quick and heartfelt a sense of responses as for the two recent threads on pinot noir in Oregon (and California). Is there something about this particular grape? ;-)

    Personally, I like NZ pinot noir better than the prevailing style of sauvignon blanc in the country. A good case in point is Dog Point (though I do like their SB better than Cloudy Bay's). I'm looking forward to trying many more Kiwi pinots, esp. from down south, as vines mature and winemakers get more comfortable with their terroir.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 3:47 AM

  • There are some fantastic pinots produced in the Waipara area, such as Waipara Springs, Pegasus Bay. There is a brilliant one from Canterbury from Kaituna (who also make my favourite ever Sauvignon Blanc) - do give these a try (I'm in NZ at the moment - have just been drinking the Roaring Meg 2008 - very fruity and young but delicious)!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 4:35 AM

  • Dont miss the wines of Prophet's Rock. A recent effort to identify "cru" designates in Central Otago identified only the hand of two very ubiquitous winemakers in the area, with the exception of two wineries where a real sense of place was distinguished: Prophets Rock and Rocky Point, which just happens to be the former's second label. Truly remarkable wines!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 7:35 AM

  • My husband and I own Stonecrop vineyard located on Dry River Road in Martinborough, with just 20 acres our production is small (we produce Sauvignon Blanc + Pinot Noir, both available at Sherry Lehmann). In a recent blind tasting, Eric Asimov of the New York Times, rated Stonecrop the #2 NZ Pinot Noir. We would love to hear what others have to say!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 9:31 AM

  • Snooth User: ksimback
    226880 33

    Great post on NZ pinots! I tasted the Martinborough Vineyard pinot (2005) a few weeks ago and was very surprised with the intensity of the wine (compared the the traditional delicacy of many NZ pinots). It had some of the typical berry fruit on the nose, but also hints of game and spice that added to the complexity factor.

    For those of you having a hard time finding these, I purchased the Martinborough Vineyard from Union Square Wines in NYC.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 11:54 AM

  • Snooth User: obenruth
    219336 1

    Paritua is new but makes some amazing wines too!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 11:57 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I've got a pair of follow up emails in the work about the north and south Island and their Pinots. I hope to be able to include many more wines, some easy to find, and some worth seeking out.

    Sally Stone Crop, yours will be included among them.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 2:26 PM

  • Snooth User: tcawthon
    246773 1

    Spy Valley is a consistently good producer of pinot noir in Marlborough.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 4:38 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I've seen the Spy valley at least once here in the States. Thought it was pretty tasty but to be honest I tried it because I liked the name!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 4:50 PM

  • Snooth User: poohbah
    319925 40

    Great comments from everyone. Thought the Tohu was very good but couldn't find any more while in NZ. The Brits and Aussies must get the best ones. Generally we all seem to agree that the Otago Pinots are more earthy than the Marlboroughs*. But, the Martinbouroughs seems to develop more complexity as they age. Has anyone tasted any that are older than 5 years.
    *Hunters 2005 was good; it is all gone now.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 4:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    I've had some Martinborough Vineyards more than 10, maybe as much as 15 years old. They were quite faded, but lacy and still were drinking well. They did not develop the complexity and texture of the best old world wines, but with the intervening 15 years of experience I bet todays wines will really blossom with age.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 5:25 PM

  • Snooth User: Drewid95
    348852 4

    We stumbled upon Chard Farms vineyards in the Central Otago valley about five years ago. (We were actually looking for a Lord of the Rings spot and saw a sign that said "Winery: 2 miles", so we went.)

    Great pinots, and a beautiful setting. We brought back six bottles, but sadly they are all gone.

    Mar 25, 2010 at 8:09 PM

  • Snooth User: joybirdie
    436728 2

    My most glorious wine-themed vacation ever was 4 weeks in New Zealand in 2004. I aim to return for my 40th birthday in 2012. Although the SB (in my opinion) was the standout, we had some fabulous Pinots from both Marlborough and Central Otago. I remember a particularly sublime Pinot from the Rockburn label enjoyed in a huge, deep-bowled glass at a tiny basement bar in Queensland next to a roaring fire on a drizzly afternoon. OK, too many adjectives/superlatives? I apologize. Thinking about New Zealand just does that to me.
    I believe Binny's in the Chicagoland area carries a very decent selection, including from the Rockburn and Spy Valley labels. Cheers!

    Mar 26, 2010 at 12:52 PM

  • Snooth User: joybirdie
    436728 2

    Oops---Queenstown, not Queensland. I DO know the difference!

    Mar 26, 2010 at 12:54 PM

  • Snooth User: ocks
    357374 1

    No one has mentioned Ata Rangi (Martinborough)yet - in my opinion up there with the "best of the best" - (Felton Rd & Martinborough Estate). Both intensity & elegance. Best vintages are 2006 & 2008.

    Mar 28, 2010 at 8:46 AM

  • Snooth User: PaulTan
    439244 1

    I agree that Ata Rangi is up there with the best. I managed to get a dozen 2006 vintage and they are drinking wonderfully now. The Martinborough Estate 2006 is also drinking very well. My preference is for the Martinborough area. I think the wines are a bit more refined than Central Otago.

    Mar 29, 2010 at 6:14 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Good call on the Ata Rangi.

    Haven't had one in several years but they were making memorable wines then. I'll have to search some out.

    Mar 29, 2010 at 10:25 AM

  • Snooth User: K2B
    439613 1

    Keep your eyes peeled for Foxes Island, Belsham Estate Vyd Pinot. John Belsham is a veteran in the industry and one of the most internationally recognized winemakers from Australasia. He is also a wine consultant to Air New Zealand - so those making the journey can enjoy some great juice along the way!

    Mar 29, 2010 at 3:07 PM

  • Snooth User: artyw
    296804 3

    Craggy Range is indeed in New Zealand. I grow grapes for them in Waitaki Valley in North Otago. Waitaki is one of our newest grape growing regions with a totally different soil structure to Central Otago. Pinot Noir as well as aromatic varieties do very well in this cool climate on a limestone sub soil.

    Apr 01, 2010 at 4:39 PM

  • Did anyone else have an opportunity to enjoy the NZ Winegrowers Assoc New Release tastings in LA or SF in the last month? I attended both. Great oppy to sample the major regions as well as a few lesser known. Marlborough and Central Otago were well represented. Unfortunately, Martinborough had fewer brands present despite the exquisite pinot noir and other varietals it produces. Of course I might be biased because I am co-owner of Alana Estate (borders Dry River) though reside in Los Angeles. For those who are fans, we recently committed to allocated some of our recent releases to the US while still lesser known to the US consumer. If interested in staying in the loop, check out locally through Facebook or Twitter at Flexer Wine Group, or at Cheers!

    Apr 01, 2010 at 6:19 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Artyw - would love to try pinot, and other varieties, grown on limestone subsoils. That sounds like a place with some serious fine wine potential.

    Very nice flexerwine. I'l keep on watch for your wines.

    Apr 02, 2010 at 10:51 AM

  • Snooth User: KIWIwines
    352690 32

    Please try the Rimu Grove Winery Pinot Noir.
    An array of complex aromas: Blueberry, black currant, blackberry, cinnamon, sage, roses and violets. Ultra-concentrated sweet ripe fruity flavours with earthy, savoury notes and hints of spice, finished with silky fine-grained tannins that spread throughout the palate.
    Please find it on

    Apr 05, 2010 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: wineoooo
    447205 6

    If you can hunt down a Summerhouse Pinot Noir it's well worth it! Delicious red cherries, and blackberries with a hint of violets and cedar oak.

    Apr 06, 2010 at 9:58 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 5,299

    Rippon, yes, and Felton Road, maybe, but where's Pyramid Valley? Probably the best winery in N.Z. now, bar none. Other good varietals, too...

    Apr 07, 2010 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Bartond
    105252 50

    Anybody ever visit the Villa Maria winery in Marlborough and try any of their Pinot Noirs? I can not find it anywhere around Denver but I visited probably 15 wineries in the Marlborough/Blenheim area and Villa Maria's Pinot (can't remember if it was reserve or from which area) was absolutely amazing! I would have bought a bottle or two but it was US$50 there at the winery. They now have quite a few Pinots listed on their website but when I visited in 2007 they only had a few. The one I loved was, of course, their most expensive. Either way it was awesome.

    I agree, too, with the earlier poster that mentioned Syrah and Shiraz from New Zealand - I had a few while down there that were awesome. I believe the two I had were Central Otago, which seems to be a bit more susceptible to creating reds with a bit bigger flavors.

    Apr 12, 2010 at 7:40 PM

  • Snooth User: Bartond
    105252 50

    Oh, and Amisfield just northeast of Queenstown produced one of the top wines I've ever tasted from New Zealand. Once again, their 2005 Pinot Noir was richer and darker than most Pinots I've had from Oregon or California, and the flavors were bolder too. Dark fruits and a little oakier, too.

    Funny, when I returned from NZ in November 2007 this wine was $21 retail at my local wine shop south of Denver; about 6 months later it was on the shelf for $38!!

    Apr 12, 2010 at 7:45 PM

  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    Don't forget about Tasmanian Pinots. The Pinot Shop in Launceston recently had a Trans Tasman tasteoff which was won by New Zealand "by a slurp" 119 to 115.

    Apr 15, 2010 at 8:06 PM

  • Snooth User: STS
    488248 1

    NZ Pinot Noirs are a whole new expression of terroir.The Grape Choice in Kirkland WA stocks a good selection of NZ Pinot's. My favourites are Craggy Range, Pyramid Valley, Martinborough and Ata Rangi. Try Dog Point as well. There are just so many good NZ Pinot's

    May 27, 2010 at 3:45 AM

  • Snooth User: Bobby Boy
    219559 29

    I am also a fan of NZ Pinot Noir. If I had to be critical they can be very ripe and sometimes over-extracted - a pinot for shiraz drinkers you could say. Having said that I have had some great bottles of Ollsen's Slapjack Creek (also their Gewurz) Felton Road's Block 3 and Block 5; Mt Difficulty's Pipeclay Terrace and finally Peregrine which is great value. A 1997 Bass Phillip Reserve (Gippsland, Victoria) had a few months ago puts them all in the shade - arguably one of the greatest Pinots ever produced in Australia.

    May 30, 2010 at 3:14 AM

  • Hi, I'm a recent convert to snooth and noted a brief reference to our wines, Domain Road, by Moneywise (24th March). The vineyard is in Bannockburn, Central Otago and we have started expanding our sales to Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK over the last year or so. I'd love to get any feedback if anyone has tried the wines, they are all well awarded but its customer comment thats most valuable.

    Jul 28, 2010 at 6:32 AM

  • Craggy Range 2008 Pinot Noir... #42 on the Wine Spectator's top 100 this year. The juice rocks!

    Feb 02, 2011 at 1:07 AM

  • Snooth User: arendg
    29766 1

    Has anyone tasted the Pinot from Wooing Tree? An award winning winery on the South Island that just captivated my taste buds. Would enjoy hearing from anyone that can source it in the States.

    Jun 20, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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