Mark this date in your diary: Tuesday, Aug. 18. It’s the official International Pinot Noir Day.
I’m not sure who chose the date, but it certainly suits me. I’m a card-carrying member of the pinot noir fan club. Pinot noir is my desert island wine. It represents more than half the bottles in my wine storage cabinets. I love it.
I have already chosen the bottle I plan to open on Aug. 18: the Felton Road 2017 Block 5 Pinot Noir from Central Otago. It is the only red wine I have ever given a 100-point rating.
That said, it is not the greatest pinot noir I have tasted. That distinction belongs to the Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier 1985 Musigny, which I savoured in the mid-nineties in a restaurant in Beaune while touring Burgundy. The wine displayed a myriad of exotic flavours. It was sensational. I didn’t score it but if I had, it would have earned 100-plus.
Pinot noir is a thin-skinned grape variety. Because the skin is the source of much of the colour, flavour and tannins in red wine, pinot noir tends to be lighter in colour, with more subtle flavours and a softer texture than most other reds. It is very food-friendly.
The challenge facing winemakers is how to make a wine with power, complexity, and charm. They must start by finding the right spot. A few decades ago, that was tricky. Today, it is much easier. Marlborough’s pinot pioneers, for example, found that light, stony, free-draining soils produced light, nondescript wines. They soon discovered that clay-rich soils at the base of the Wither Hills gave them richer and more concentrated wines.
Today, every wine region from Hawke’s Bay to Central Otago is capable of making very good pinot noir. Different regional styles are becoming increasingly evident.
Which region makes the best? That’s a tough call. My database of 5545 pinot noir tasting notes puts Martinborough in the lead, just slightly ahead of Central Otago, with Waipara in third place and Marlborough fourth.
What are New Zealand’s top five pinot noir labels? The highest-scoring wines I have tasted in the past year are:
Felton Road 2019 Block 3, Central Otago $89
Smith & Sheth 2018 CRU Kawarau, Central Otago $50
Giesen 2014 Ridge Block, Marlborough $59.99
Burn Cottage 2017 Burn Cottage Vineyard, Central Otago $70
Lowburn Ferry 2017 Home Block, Central Otago $70
What are New Zealand’s most collectible examples of pinot noir? The Bell Hill is a hauntingly elegant North Canterbury pinot noir produced in tiny quantities. Kusuda Pinot Noir from Martinborough is a beautiful, ethereal wine that is also produced in small amounts. Both age extremely well.
My top five pinot noirs under $30 that have been tasted in the past year are:
Wild Grace 2017, Central Otago $22.99
Rocky Point 2019, Central Otago $28.99
Hunter’s 2019 Offshoot, Marlborough $24.99
Mount Michael 2018 The Mountaineer, Central Otago, $29.99
Dashwood 2018 by Vavasour, Marlborough $18
Did you know that …
Pinot noir is genetically identical to the white grapes pinot gris and pinot blanc
Blanc de noirs sparkling wine uses pinot noir (and pinot meunier) as its base grape
Pinot noir is one of the few grapes that is commonly made into red, white, rosé and sparkling wine
Marlborough is this country’s pinot noir capital, followed by Central Otago, Wairarapa, North Canterbury, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson.
Bob’s Top Picks
Investment Wine of the Week
Kusuda 2018 Pinot Noir, Martinborough $100
Hiroyuki Kusuda has become a cult figure to many wine enthusiasts. Each vintage, people travel from Japan at their own expense to take part in the incredibly rigorous grape-picking and selection process to eliminate any grapes with the tinniest defect. The result is a sublime pinot noir with incredible purity that ages magnificently.
Elephant Hill 2019 Sea Viognier, Hawke’s Bay $34
It might be the power of suggestion but I swear that I can smell the briny scent of the sea in every glass. From a coastal vineyard at Te Awanga. Sixty percent barrel fermented. Left on the lees for seven months. This is a delicious viognier with ripe pear, apricot and honeysuckle flavours.
Rocky Point 2019 Pinot Noir, Central Otago $28.99
From an impressively steep hillside vineyard in Bendigo. Rich, flavoursome and aromatic pinot noir with intense, ripe plum, dark berry, wild thyme, anise and subtle oak flavours. Delicious pinot noir that punches well above its weight.
You can read more from Bob at www.therealreview.com