PINOT NOIR (November 2018)

Pinot Noir is New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed red-wine style, with countless labels – about 1000 – now on the market, including export brands that you and I have never heard of. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon-based reds, which can take five years to exert their charm, Pinot Noir is typically delicious within a couple of years of the harvest.

But it’s not cheap to make. Pinot Noir is vulnerable to spring frosts and its compact bunches are very prone to rot; low cropping is essential to achieve fine wine. As a result, it’s unusual to find a decent Pinot Noir under $20. Most New Zealanders resist paying over $15 for a bottle of wine, but only one of the wines in this month’s Pinot Noir tasting was under $20. Over 40 per cent fell into the $20 to $29 category; nearly 40 per cent were priced between $30 and $49; and the rest were over $50.

A glance at the statistics for the country’s total producing area of Pinot Noir – rising by less than 4 per cent between 2015 and 2019 – suggests the Pinot Noir boom is easing. In Central Otago – the most high-profile region for the great red-wine grape of Burgundy – Pinot Noir plantings are expanding at a snail’s pace, from 1496 hectares of bearing vines in 2015 to 1542 hectares in 2019.

Marlborough and Central Otago produced almost 90 per cent of the wines in the tasting, mostly from the 2016 and 2017 vintages. Watch out for the 2017 Pinot Noirs from Central Otago – currently filtering onto the market – where the low-cropping, cool, late-ripening season has produced notably rich reds.