Tue 30 Jun 2015

Marlborough Pinot Noir: Individuality, Class and Distinction.


I was fortunate to work a number of vintages in New Zealand from 2010 to 2013, mainly at Wither Hills in their pinot noir cellar. The sun-filled days of vintage, the hustle and bustle of a working cellar and the smell of new French oak barrels, fresh ferments and pristine fruit left an unforgettable impression of not only New Zealand but also of their winemaking capabilities.

MarlboroughYou’d be forgiven for thinking that Marlborough is all about the sauvignon blanc grape. However, chardonnay and aromatic white varieties such as pinot gris and riesling thrive here along with the classic red grape pinot noir.

Situated to the North of New Zealand’s South Island, this remarkable region is bathed with large amounts of summer sunshine and is just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific with its cooling sea breeze. The region came to prominence in the 1970s when a number of producers experimented with growing the sauvignon blanc grape variety. The results, which have been remarkable, have led to many a winemaker aiming to replicate this unique style. Such was their success that the rest, as they say, is history.

Pinot noir was first planted here in the early 1970s. Critics were highly sceptical at first and many doubted whether this variety actually establish a strong regional base. Many producers didn’t begin to start growing or making pinot noir until the mid1990s, but by 2009 the region had around 2,000 hectares of area under vine – about half of the country’s entire pinot noir output.

Marlborough pinot isn’t red Burgundy and nor does it pretend to be. Producers have created their own unique style and each vintage gets better and better. Yes, there are certainly influences from the likes of Volnay and Pommard (indeed, many a New Zealand winemaker will have often worked a vintage or two in Burgundy and inspiration from the region is certainly evident), but they remain distinct.

Pinot from Marlborough is delicate, supple, balanced and, most importantly, a style which remains unique. It could be said that Marlborough pinot noir sits somewhere between that of the bolder and fruitier Central Otago style and that of the elegant, layered and spicy pinot of Martinborough, just a short hop north by plane.

Two Marlborough pinot noir highlights from our current New Zealand offer:

Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 (£10.50)
The 2010 vintage was the first to benefit from Wither Hills’s newly acquired and automated ‘vistalys’ optical berry sorter. This high-speed conveyer-based grape-sorting system selects only optimum grapes, free of any defect and also prevents any vineyard detritus from being included in the fermentation. The blend of individually sourced parcels from the southern Wairau valley vineyards of Ben Morven and Taylor River have produce a plush wine, with deep fruit, silky structure with smooth flavour. It also benefits from integrated acidity and tannin. Excellent depth of flavour and a superb example of a cracking value Marlborough pinot noir, which shows how long this variety can keep and improve. A worthy 2014 Wine Society Wine Champion that has repeated last year’s feat in this year’s competition too.

Cloudy Bay

The Cloudy Bay winery

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 (£23)
Fine and perfumed on the nose, with subtle red fruits which, builds slowly as it aerates in the glass. This wine has excellent balance and length of flavour on the palate. French oak has been delicately intertwined to produce a velvety texture with redcurrants and sour plum.

An unusually wet winter in 2010 provided the perfect conditions for rapid spring growth. Warm conditions followed and allowed for a high level of fruit set. This led to a heavy crop allowing the vines to be ruthlessly thinned at the start of 2011 to enhance fruit quality, advance the ripening of the grape leading to increased flavour concentration.

This is a classic and understated style with body but if resisted will stand the test of time.

Food matching
New Zealand’s diversity, sustainability, rich farming history and tradition provide all the ingredients for exciting food and wine match. Think fresh Easter lamb cooked on a spit over hot coals in the vineyard, fresh venison from the hills overlooking the Wairau valley and seared Asian spiced duck breast with a sweet pinot reduction… all of these certainly hit the spot!

Pour yourself a glass and enjoy!

Paul Shipley
Member Services

Categories : New Zealand

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