The Best of New Zealand Pinot Noir
by Alder Yarrow
November 6, 2013
Sometimes it almost seems possible to taste the beauty of a place when we’re sipping a wine. If this were actually possible, instead of just being a compelling romantic metaphor that we like to invoke about wine, then without a doubt, the world’s greatest wines would come from New Zealand.
There’s little to say about New Zealand’s staggering beauty that hasn’t been said in words well by others, and a million times over in photographs. It’s one of the most unspoiled landscapes on the planet, and its diverse topography defies easy description.
Not everyone can manage a visit to New Zealand, but luckily we can all drink its wines. The country became famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, but Pinot Noir was the grape that cemented New Zealand’s reputation as a world-class wine region worth everyone’s attention.
That was about a decade ago, and a lot has happened since. That was also about the last time I had been to the country. Then, in January of this year I had the occasion to return to New Zealand for their bi-annual New Zealand Pinot Noir conference in Wellington.
Returning to taste through hundreds of Pinot Noirs ended up being a remarkable experience. Akin to running into an old high school classmate only to find that she’s starring in Hollywood blockbusters. You remembered her as being kind of cute when you were seventeen, but now? Holy crap.
In short, there is now some seriously fantastic Pinot Noir being made in New Zealand. The finest wines (some from long-standing producers, some from relative newcomers) have reached new heights of quality and finesse, but more impressively, the overall quality of the middle of the pack, those hundreds of small and mid-size producers, has dramatically improved. This is true perhaps nowhere so much as in Central Otago. More about that below in the context of those wines.
New Zealand Pinot Noir provided anyone willing to focus an unparalleled opportunity to taste literally hundreds of wines from all over the country, and so I buckled down and focused. Over three days I tasted around 250 pinots, most from the 2010 vintage, with a good representation of 2011, as well as a smattering of wines from 2004 to the present.
My tasting notes and scores for these wines are grouped below by region. I hope you will take the opportunity to seek out some of these wines, as the best of them are truly world-class.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2009 Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough
Light to medium garnet in color, this wine smells of beautifully pure sweet raspberry and a hint of earth. In the mouth, the wine is gorgeously poised, with flavors of raspberry fruit balanced against deep wet earth and wet sawdust. The tannins are faint and luxuriously supple, and add to the wines generally velvety texture. Beautifully balanced and a remarkable first vintage for this producer. 14% alcohol.
WINES WITH A SCORE BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
2010 Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a wonderfully perfumed nose of floral, cherry and raspberry fruit. In the mouth the wine is earthy, and exceedingly silky and smooth on the palate. Raspberry cherry, and stemmy wood flavors swirl amidst a gorgeously slippery silky texture that is powdered with fine tannins. Sexy as all get out. 14% alcohol.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
2011 Greywacke Pinot Noir, Marlborough