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August 9, 2010 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Pinot Noir

Despite being highly elusive, early ripening and extremely sensitive to ‘terroir’ (physical environment) Pinot Noir is one of the world’s most sought-after and respected varieties. The French region of Burgundy is the spiritual home of Pinot Noir, and a top-quality bottle demands a top price. An Auckland retailer currently has a bottle of 1996 Domaine Romanee-Conti LaTache for $3700. ‘Nuff said.

The charm of Pinot Noir has seen many growers attempt to cultivate the grape in various countries and regions around the world, however, only New Zealand, Oregon and the coolest areas in California and Australia have had any luck. Pinot Noir loves a cooler climate, hence why it does so well in Central Otago. When planted somewhere hot it will ripen too fast and fail to develop any of the intriguing and complex aromas and flavour compounds its relatively thin skins can harbour.

Alongside Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir is another variety that has helped New Zealand ‘crack’ the global wine industry with many of the wines, particularly those from Martinborough, gaining world-class status. Pinot Noir first appeared in this country in the 1970s in the Auckland region. Within a decade the variety had made its way to Martinborough, Hawkes Bay, and most wine-growing regions in the South Island.

Given its international and domestic success, Pinot Noir in New Zealand is relatively expensive when put alongside other varieties. It really grinds my gears when I hear people preaching that only good New Zealand Pinot Noir comes from Central Otago and Martinborough. Yes, these regions do produce fine examples, but so too do Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and, more recently, Waipara. Lately I spoke to a respected Hawkes Bay winemaker who said that international demand for his locally grown Pinot Noir is huge, but on a domestic scale it suffers, potentially because consumers appear to be limiting themselves to the Central Otago and Martinborough hype.

Wine of the week

This week’s selection comes from Marlborough and is the Delta Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($19-21). Delta Vineyard is situated to the west of Blenheim, located at the mouth of the Waihopai Valley on the West Coast Highway, where a steep-sided triangular-shaped hill splits the wide valley. The shape of this land mass is very similar to the symbol for the capital Greek letter delta, hence the name given to this site on detailed topographic maps of the area.

This wine is fantastic because of the complexity it achieves at the price level it demands. Instead of smelling like some sort of fruit spray paint, as some cheaper Pinot Noir tends to, the wine has red fruit, chocolate, spice and earthy aromas that combine awesomely with a silky and rich texture.


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