With the bulk of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc coming from Marlborough, it's no surprise that these regions have done much to promote kiwi wines across the globe, but they've also brought a wine-as-business culture to the South Island, with both good and not-so-good consequences. For Pinot Noir, I'll focus on the good, including the awakening of the search for terroir throughout the island, as well as an influx of skilled wine industry folk and the businesses to support them.
Getting to Know New ZealandIf you've missed our series on New Zealand Pinot Noir, now's the time to catch up. Check out the first installment, a New Zealand Pinot Noir Overview, and then spend some time with our breakdown of New Zealand's North Island. Still want more Pinot news? Check out our features on Oregon Pinot Noir and the differences between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio.So, what does this all mean? Put simply, it means that many small, and even not-so-small producers are able to ride the coattails of the Sauvignon Blanc producers, more so in today's world where the nation might be making more Sauvignon Blanc than the market can absorb. Everyone is jockeying for top spot, and as everyone knows, Pinot Noir is still occupying the pole position. All you need to do is look at the response to Snooth's articles on Oregon Pinot Noir if you need convincing that it's is still the flavor of the month.
While we still think of New Zealand as two regions -- most people can break down the country into the North and South Islands. Though, it's more likely that the North Island is overlooked and that the South Island is broken into two regions in people's minds: Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and, with any luck, Pinot Noir from Central Otago. From my brief look at the North Island it's obvious that this is not the case, and that there is a lot to learn about New Zealand's terroir, both for the consumer and the country's best producers, for that matter.
The South Island is more varied and larger than the North Island, so it's no surprise that one encounters both a more varied geological array of meso-climates, but more examples of producers striving to harness what those bits of land can do best. From the Marlborough and Wairau Valleys to the southern edges of Otago, exciting wines are being produced in New Zealand. It's a young, dynamic wine industry, and frankly it's exciting to be able to share each new development and learn along with the producers as they discover the what's, where's, and why's of their vineyards. So here are just a few of those points to get you started.
Nelson – This young region is still finding its way though plantings of Syrah and Pinot Noir have been promising, benefitting from the relatively high amount of Sunshine the region receives, highest in the country in fact.
Marlborough and the Wairau Valley – this is the largest wine region in New Zealand and it is totally dominated by Sauvignon Blanc. The home to the vivid gooseberry rich style that made New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc virtually a household word over the last decade.
Canterbury/Waipara – This is really an amalgamation of several smaller regions. There has been success here with Riesling in particular though more of a focus now lays on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. The Waipara is different from most of the valley regions in New Zealand in that the valleys generally run north-south, as opposed to the more common east-west and to the ocean orientation.
Central Otago – This, the most southerly wine region in New Zealand, or the world for that matter, is different from most of New Zealand’s wine regions in that it is an inland wine region, and thus has New Zealand’s highest vineyards, though at only some 600 to 1550 feet above sea level. This is proving to be Pinot Noir country.
Keep reading for tasting notes and recommendations for South Island Pinot Noir.
Two New Zealand Pinots We're Anticipating2008 Staete Landt - Marlborough - $32.95
This has a lovely, complex nose with floral and stemmy top notes over a bright core of rhubarb and cranberry fruit that has a barely noticeable touch of oak adding gentle complexity to the very naturally-expressed fruit.
2008 Toi Toi Clutha - Central Otago - $16.00
This tremendous value is elegant with really nice structure supporting the flesh of the wine and the subtle flavors on the surprisingly long finish. Subtle to be sure, but complex and engaging, not to mention fun to drink.