The day approaches to celebrate a grape that New Zealand has done most to bring back into fashion - Pinot Noir

Apparently August 18 is Pinot Noir Day and while I hate these artificial made-up days to focus attention on a particular grape, it did make me think that there is something about Pinot Noir that makes it ideally suited to this time of year. On a hot day it is happy in the fridge for an hour or so, just to add freshness to the flavours. Then as the sun goes down and the aromas of dinner are in the air this seemingly delicate grape has enough power and finesse to settle itself around a wide variety of foods, and complement it, without dominating proceedings.

Pinot Noir can be light, scented and filled with cherry fruit, or deep with darker, plums and raspberry fruit, edged with earthy notes and with the capacity to age for a decade or more. It all depends on where and how it is grown.

New Zealand is the country that has done most to bring Pinot Noir back into everyday drinking. As Burgundy has spiralled out of reach for most budgets, New Zealand Pinot has stepped into the price gap – not cheap but certainly affordable on the everyday to dinner-party price range. New Zealand has become the go-to region for a sliding scale of quality Pinot Noir.

There are three key regions of New Zealand that make great Pinot – Wairarapa, Marlborough and Central Otago. This week I am concentrating on the first two.   Otago needs its own space next week.

 

WAIRARAPA

This region is at the southern end of North Island, tucked behind a range of hills that keeps most of the rain off. At its heart is the bustling town of Martinborough which is what this region used to be called, but then to avoid confusion with a producer of the same name it became Wairarapa. Now they are thinking of renaming it Wellington Wine Country but I still favour Martinborough because, just like Bordeaux, it is both a town and a region. The style here is generally dark cherry fruit with a savoury backbone, but as vineyards develop and improve more styles are emerging. The region is based around an old river escarpment with stony, well-drained soils. It was one of the first to be planted and because vine stocks were difficult to get hold of, many were planted on their own roots. Now that phylloxera has marched up the valley, vineyards are being replanted with different clones and spacings. This is an exciting, if slightly challenging time for Wairarapa. Here are my top producers:

 

Martinborough Vineyards

One of the first to plant vines, hence the name, but now under new ownership with new investment going into vineyards and the winery. Paul Mason – whose father hails from Barnsley – is in charge of both vines and winemaking and the style is deep and savoury with the potential to age. Try Martinborough Vineyard 2013 (Majestic £27.50).

Escarpment

I have already written extensively about this vineyard and it still one of my favourites. Head to Harrogate Wine (01423 522270) and work through the range. Start with Escarpment Pinot Noir 2013 at £19.99.

Larry McKenna at Escarpment makes some of my favourite Pinot Noir

Ata Rangi

Long-established and now achieving icon status, Ata Rangi works organically but for various reasons doesn’t declare it on the label. The estate was founded by Clive Paton who not only has a deep interest in making top quality wine, but is also busy saving the natural habitats of New Zealand’s wildlife, so Helen Masters is head winemaker and is doing a terrific job. The wines have vivacity as well as depth of flavour.

Majestic has the 2015 Pinot Noir (£54 on a mix six) which I gave my top mark to for its deep, dark cherry fruits, layered with savoury notes and still-grainy tannins.   It really it needs another couple of years before drinking but it will be magnificent.

Halifax Wine Co. (01422 256333) has the superb 2013 vintage in magnum at £125 (limited stocks). This vintage came from their older vines, between 20 and 32 years old, some of which have now been pulled out. From a bottle the wine was absolutely on song, with positive, red berry aromas and silky, elegant fruit. Perfect for a winter dinner party.

Helen Masters makes terrific wines at Ata Rangi

Schubert

A small, family owned vineyard and winemaking operation making delightful wines that seem to have a Burgundian delicacy as well as New Zealand weight. Difficult to find in Yorkshire, so head to House of New Zealand Wine (01428 707733) and try Marion’s Vineyard 2014 (£26.99).

Schubert, small and perfect

MARLBOROUGH

More famous for its Sauvignon Blanc than Pinot, Marlborough, at the top of South Island, is gradually exploring its hillsides and finding good places to grow Pinot Noir. The style is lighter, easier and because Marlborough already has some of New Zealand’s largest companies working in the region, they have invested in vines and vineyards and are producing some of the more affordable styles of Pinot. Here are some to try.

Greywacke

Apart from buying in Pinot Noir grapes from the region Kevin Judd has now invested in his own tiny Pinot Noir vineyard on a blustery hillside in the Wairau Valley. The style is complex and full of fruit. Roberts and Speight has Greywacke 2014 Pinot Noir (£29.99). Also stocked by Field and Fawcett in York.

 

 

Kevin Judd now has his own Pinot Noir vineyard

Jackson Estate

This property makes exciting, lively Sauvignons, and has now planted Pinot on clay soils. The Homestead Pinot Noir 2014 (Waitrose £13.99) has lifted, dark cherry fruit with notes of pepper and spice.

Yealands Estate

Peter Yealands has established an amazing wine property in a very short time. 1000 hectares of land in the Awatere Valley have been transformed into vineyard and a low profile winery squats in the valley like a spaceship.  Ecological from the solar panels on the roof to the chickens in the vineyards, this is a young estate and is now producing seriously good wines. Try the dark-fruited, silky textured Yealands Pinot Noir 2015 (Latitude Wines in The Calls, Leeds, £15.99).

Yealands vineyards are close to the sea

Tesco Finest Marlborough Pinot Noir

Not from a single estate, but a great introduction to the region and Pinot Noir. Light red cherry fruit with a juicy character and long finish. At £8.50 this is a bargain.

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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