By Rick Riozza
It’s been said that Pinot Noir grows at its best in cooler climates. What comes to mind bearing this point is looking to Burgundy and Champagne in Europe; Anderson Valley and the Russian River Valley in northern California; and, as we’ve found in the past few years, in New Zealand, especially in regions such as Marlborough and Central Otago.
So relatively speaking, Kiwi Pinot is the new-Pinot-Kid-in-town and everybody loves him. His sibling in the area—if you will, Sauvignon Blanc, known for its racy, bracing and juiciness, is on the wine map carved in stone, and, is the darling of so many of you here in the desert. And why not! That stuff is so refreshing—it’s probably the “honorary” white wine of our desert valley.
In the last 5 years or so, the Pinot Noir from Kiwi-land now competes with the Pinot world as it can be complex and multi-faceted with remarkable freshness, savoriness, vitality, and purity. The country’s cool climate and intense light (a hole in the ozone layer lets in more ultraviolet rays) translate into Pinots with lush fruit, charm, silky textures, and way more sophistication than they had a decade ago.
As your friendly neighborhood wine steward, I continue to see the exuberance of you shoppers in the Pinot Noir section of our aisles. Often, I’m asked for a recommendation where the customer desires to try a new label apart from the usual Pinot suspects. If I simply suggest a Pinot from New Zealand without any lead-up, I’ll get a look, a brief grimace, and a quick explanation that perhaps they don’t wish “to go that far”—whatever that really means. However, if I carefully and quickly build up a story they can associate with—I’ll get a taker.
For instance, I’ll ask the Pinot shopper if they enjoy a Marlborough Sauv Blanc. Most often they do, and, they are quite aware of the many producers and labels. And it’s not only the heavy hitters such as Kim Crawford, Nobilo, Matua, Oyster Bay and the like; it’s also other brands such as Santa Maria, Babich, Astrolabe, Brancott, Giesen, and many more a bit under the radar, but known to our desert dwellers none-the-less.
I’ll then offer the consideration that if they can appreciate their favorite Kiwi brand as to Sauv Blanc, they can perhaps rely on the quality of that same brand that also produces Pinot Noir. Many buy the reasoning and will give it a try.
We wine enthusiasts are used to seeing world wineries simultaneously produce Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the vines enjoy the same climate. In New Zealand, we not only see similar combinations with wineries producing both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but with its pristine vineyard lands, low rainfall, free-draining soil, and significant daily temperature variation, look for all white wine varietals successfully shining around the world.
You’ll recall last week we began our coverage of the 5th Annual Stars of Pinot event held in L.A. where new vintages of stellar Pinot Noir from all over the world were introduced and poured for the trade and later for consumers. We highlighted some great California Pinots and mentioned some new Burgundies from France. Now let’s turn to the tasty Kiwi Pinots showcased at this event.
There was a line of tables all in a row keen on Kiwis. As mentioned above, many of you would recognize some of the label names poured here because the wineries produce many well-known Sauvignon Blancs of which you are enjoying in our slow hot wind of summer, such as Craggy Range, Greywacke, Nautilus, Sileni and Brancott Estate. And as you would expect, we found some glorious and artistic taming of the very fickled Pinot Noir grape: aromatics of cherry, berry fruits, plums, florals, and spice; and a varietal palate of raspberry, strawberry, fresh herbs, spice, light forest floor, a freshness of subtle acidity that remains with some of the medium -bodied wines tasted, and other full-bodied wines that settle into dark berry fruits with a tannin backbone and a rich & savory mouthfeel with lasting finishes. A Pinot lovers delight!
So here’s the deal: without any real argument to the contrary, the world acknowledges the great Pinot Noir regions to be Burgundy, the north coast of California which include Napa/Somoma and Mendocino, the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Santa Barbara/Santa Ynesvalleys, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, specific areas in Argentina, Chile, Italy & Germany, and now, New Zealand with a wide range of regions such as Marlborough, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury & Wairarapa. Believe it or not, we desert dwellers will become acquainted with these regions and the particular flavor profiles they exhibit in the coming years.
Fortunately, at the Stars of Pinot event, I met with the Brand Ambassador, David Harlow, of the NZ Wine Navigator. Not too long ago, this organization took on the task of finding the finest small-producer wines New Zealand had to offer. On hand from David’s portfolio of the smaller and lesser known New Zealand wineries, we tasted some amazing Pinots. The craft and artisan quality of many of the family-estate wines really brought to light the excellence of Kiwi Pinot. Check out their website at nzwinenav.com for interest and great buys!
Some names to keep in mind are: Drumsara Wines, Ceres Wines & Alexandra Wines from Central Otago, Brightwater Vineyards out of Nelson, Forrest Wines from Marlborough, and Ostler Wines from the Waitaki Valley.
Again, I can write all day about all the aromas and flavors bursting out from this line-up of wines. But truth be told, you readers need to indeed taste these wonderful pinots, not just read about them.
I’m on board with you folks sampling these wines out here in the desert. I’ll be in touch with David and the NZ Wine Navigator to see if we can facilitate some tastings at some of our local wine venues. Now that’ll be a wine-win situation! As they say in Kiwi-land, “No dalmy plonk here, just cracker pinot—sweet as—bro!” Cheers!