With this third piece in our series on New Zealand Pinot Noir, my focus shifts to the regions that have done the most to promote New Zealand Pinot, and all New Zealand wines, for that matter: the South Island regions.

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 Zealand

If 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.

2009 Mudhouse Central Otago $18.99 Not yet released

A restrained nose with spicy, smoky, and meaty nuances framing the fruity core of red berries. On entry this shows a bit of sweetness that resolves on the medium-weight mid-palate. The bright acids keep this fresh and fruity with spice and floral notes adding a bit of complexity, but this is a fun, easy drinking style of wine. 87pts

2008 Rippon Central Otago $49.25

This has a great nose that features candied raspberry tones, rainwater and seashell minerality and wonderfully complex vegetal and floral tones. On the palate there is wonderful transparency with an intensity to the slightly stemmy and beetroot-toned fruit that is edged with gentle sassafras tones that belie the wine's real weight. The core of amarena cherry fruit is light on its feet, and this wine appears neither large-scaled nor soft, yet fills the mouth and possesses just the right amount of tannin and bitterness to keep this vibrant in the mouth. The finish is long and complex.  A really fine effort. 93pts

2008 Nobilo Icon Marlborough $25.99

Very floral on the nose with a saline mineral edge that recalls seashells. There’s a suggestion of wood, but no fruit at this point.  Round on the entry with real snap and verve in the mouth and wonderfully transparent bitter raspberry and cherry fruit. The wood comes out on the backend adding mocha and coffee tones, which are a little strong at this point, but the fruit powers through on the finish which has a firm, fruity finale that retains that bitter tone on the palate.  This needs a bit of time to come together but the balance here makes this already appealing. 91pts

2008 Mt Difficulty Central Otago $34.95

The aromas fairly jump out of the glass with this wine, exhibiting great earthy and forest floor elements that are in balance with the rich fruit. On the palate the acidity keeps this wine impressively vivid with bitter cherry fruit that is set off by the lovely earthy elements and stemmy spice tones. This has a subtle gamy, wild edge to it and finishes with refreshing acidity and soft tannins. Wonderfully-expressed Pinot fruit in a gentle, elegant package. 91pts

2008 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 touch of toast and spice supporting it. Round and seamless on entry with an intensely-perfumed character. The red fruits are just a touch astringent, giving the mineral-tinged, wild raspberry fruit great cut on the palate and solid length on the finish. The oak treatment here is just barely noticeable and really just adds gentle complexity to the very naturally expressed fruit. 90pts

2008 Babich Winemaker’s Reserve Marlborough $25

Woody on the nose with mocha and baking spices accenting the dark, spicy berry fruit. On entry this reveals a floral element that is just hinted at on the nose. There is a bit of baby fat that this could stand to lose but this medium weight effort gains excellent focus on the mid-palate with a bit of tannic grab helping to cut the fleshy feel. There’s a bit of wood spice that can use integrating, and the finish is a touch hollow and even a bit hot at this point, but this has the elements and balance to improve over the next few years. 90pts

2008 Toi Toi Clutha Central Otago $16.00 -- Not yet available

Woody on the nose with a touch of coffee and pressed flowers floating over light red berry fruit. Cool and tight on entry with a round, almost lush mouthfeel. The flavors are subtle and restrained with a peachy edge to the dark raspberry fruit. The overall impression of the wine is one of elegance with really nice structure supporting the flesh of the wine and supporting the subtle flavors on the surprisingly long finish. This is subtle, to be sure, but complex and engaging, not to mention fun to drink. 90pts

2008 Brancott South Island $18.00

Sweet, stemmy, and slightly tropically-fruited on the nose with really nice layered complexity. On entry this is rather light and elegant with a very soft, round, caressing character. The strawberry fruit is fresh and set off by gently leafy and mineral tones that linger on the medium-length finish. 89pts

Two New Zealand Pinots We're Anticipating

2008 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.