If I were invited to choose any bottle of wine before being escorted to the guillotine, I would go for the 2017 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, double-magnum. It is the only red wine that I have ever given a 100-point rating. 

Pinot noir is necessarily expensive. It costs a lot of money to produce a wine with power and complexity. You need to find the right spot, plant it with an assortment of clones that will work together, devigorate the vines by planting them close together, pray that you won’t get hit by hail or frost, and get a bit of vine-age to gain concentration and consistency. I should add that you won’t know whether you have chosen the right spot until you have a few vintages under your belt. Producing pinot noir is not for the faint-hearted.

I have trawled through my wine database to select the top five pinot noirs I have tasted in the past three months as well as the top five wines under $30. 

What should good pinot noir taste like?

UK wine writer Simon Woods wrote: “Great pinot noir is like an orgasm. If you are not sure whether you have had one or not, you haven’t. And if you have had one, you want another one as soon as possible.”

Pinot noir is a thin-skinned grape. Grape skin is a source of colour, flavour and tannins (tannins give wine backbone and longevity). Pinot noir is often light in colour, less intense than thicker-skinned grapes such as syrah and cabernet sauvignon, and tends to have a silkier texture. The best, quickest and most pleasurable way to understand what great pinot noir is all about is to buy a bottle of 2020 Felton Road Block 3 or Block 5 Pinot Noir and enjoy it with duck confit. 

What is the best food to match with pinot noir?

Pinot noir is one of the most food-friendly red-grape varieties. It matches a wide range of dishes, from smoked salmon to braised lamb shanks. Avoid curries and similar spicy dishes. 

Does pinot noir improve with age?

I find that most pinot noir will benefit from a year or two in bottle to get over the shock of bottling. My top five picks will certainly not suffer from being aged in bottle for a decade or more provided they are stored in cool, dark and constant conditions. Expect the wines to gain a little more complexity and the texture to become smoother and mellower. 

Which region produces the best pinot noir?

For my money Central Otago and Martinborough share line honours, but Wairarapa, Marlborough and Nelson are all capable of producing top wines, while Hawke’s Bay and Central Hawke’s Bay also have the potential to make very good pinot noir. 

Top five pinot noirs

2020 Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $115
Refined, dense pinot noir with floral/violet, dark cherry/berry, spice and cedar wood flavours that are restrained by plum, ripe tannins. A very classy Felton Road pinot noir that clearly shows plenty of cellaring potential. It has a seductively lengthy finish.
Stockists: Felton Road, Central Otago; Moore Wilson’s, Wellington

2016 Giesen Ridge Block Pinot Noir, Marlborough, $55
Elegant and aromatic with floral/violet/red rose, ripe cherry, and five-spice tones. Impressive purity with an ethereal texture and lingering finish. Totally charming wine in an accessible style but with obvious potential.
Stockists: Liquor Legends, Auckland; Giesen Wines, Marlborough.

2019 Te Whare Ra Pinot Noir, Marlborough, $75
Concentrated and quite floral pinot noir with violet, dark cherry, mixed spice and dried herb characters. Packed with layers of flavour without allowing any single flavour to dominate. A wine of depth and intensity. Should age well.
Stockist: Te Whare Ra, Marlborough.

2019 Chard Farm Mason Vineyard, Central Otago, $79
This wine has more depth and finesse than any previous vintage that I recall. Beautifully poised pinot noir with wonderful purity and subtle power. Cherry, wood smoke and floral/violet characters. Approachable, but should develop well with bottle age.
Stockists: Glengarry Wines, Auckland; Liquor Library, Auckland.

2020 Rockburn Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $49.99
A blend of 85% Gibbston and 15% Parkburn-grown grapes. Rich, ripe wine with plum, dark cherry, thyme, anise, dark chocolate and spicy oak flavours. Elegant, intense and quite complex pinot noir.
Stockists: The Good Wine Co, Auckland; Vino Fino, Christchurch.

Top five under $30

2020 Luna Estate Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $26
Moderately concentrated pinot noir with bright cherry, plum, smoky oak, anise and subtle fresh herb flavours. Appealing wine with a nice balance of acidity with fruit sweetness. Accessible, but will benefit from aeration after opening. Excellent value.
Stockists: Wine Direct, Auckland; Regional Wines and Spirits, Wellington.

2020 Eight Ranges Trail Rider Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $27
From a single Alexandra vineyard, this elegant pinot noir reveals its cool-climate origin with a smattering of fresh herb flavours adding extra complexity to plum and berry characters. Moderately intense, with a plump texture and drying finish. Distinctive wine offering value at this price.
Stockists: Fine Wine Delivery Co, Auckland; Eight Ranges Wine, Otago.

2020 Mount Michael The Mountaineer Pinot Noir, Central Otago, $29.99
Delicately luscious pinot noir with moderately intense plum, cherry/berry, floral and subtle spice flavours. Appealing, accessible, and quite juicy wine underpinned with bright acidity and peppery tannins.
Stockist: Mount Michael, Central Otago.

2020 ME by Matahiwi Estate, Wairarapa, $23.99 
Deeply tinted pinot noir with black doris plum, dark cherry, wood smoke and spice flavours. Generously structured wine with a backbone of firm, drying tannins that suggest moderate ageing potential.
Stockist: Matahiwi Estate, Wairarapa

2019 Main Divide Pinot Noir, North Canterbury, $24.99
Fragrant pinot noir with floral/violet, dark cherry, mixed spice and nutty oak flavours supported by fine, peppery tannins. Appealing wine offering good value at this price.
Stockists: Fine Wine Delivery Co, Auckland; Vino Fino, Christchurch

Read more from Bob at therealreview.com