The sixth celebration of New Zealand Pinot Noir is under way with 600 delegates descending on the capital Wellington to celebrate the grape. Michelin-starred chef Roger Jones is there for The Buyer and reporting back every day on events, as well as trying to taste and discover as many of the wines on show from 115 Pinot Noir producers. Pinot Noir NZ 2017 started with a road trip of New Zealand’s major Pinot Noir regions and with his butt cheeks alive (his words not ours) Roger went along for the ride.
A number of New Zealand wine regions are visited and a lot of NZ Pinot Noir is sampled on Day One, with particular emphasis on Central Otago.
Seems every Pinot fan is here in Wellington, over 600 delegates from every corner of the wine loving world, all with one singular mission – to celebrate New Zealand Pinot Noir.
This morning’s introduction by Ben Glover showcased the magic that will be embraced, enticed and evolved in the next few days.
One of my favourite Pinot gangsters, Larry McKenna then took central stage to highlight the diversity of the Pinot Noir Road Map, highlighting the diversity of five regional Pinot styles. Each region was showcased by individual regional specialists (winemakers) who championed their region and, very much like the All Blacks, there were no prisoners taken as each delegate fought their cause.
Marlborough which is in the South Island, is of course famous for Sauvignon Blanc, but with its coastal freshness gives way to some superlative Pinots. Long sunshine days and low rainfall give a perfect environment to produce clean fresh wines. In one standout speech, Anna Flowerday from Te Whare Ra expressed perfectly the vision she and her husband Jason had for their organic farm, where they even have pure bred cattle on their land to entice and encourage natural farming.
Now Nelson by helicopter is a mere distraction from Marlborough, but by road it is a fascinating Monte Carlo-style drive that keeps your butt cheeks alive.
On arrival you are entranced by a region that flourishes with small to medium sized wineries, that produce very fine wines, my favourite is Neudorf, a gothic Germanic-style winery, that produces wines of superlative quality, and a 2001 Moutere Pinot Noir was just a super expression of New Zealand Pinot at its best.
These guys have bigger fish to fry, such as outstanding Chardonnay and Syrah, but a few noteworthy names: Lime Rock – pretty much perfect – and Kumeu River where although Chardy is their kingpin, their Hunting Hill Pinot is spectacular.
This region is made up of Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton. Without stepping on too many feet I would highlight Martinborough as the dominate force, which itself can be split into two regions, but that is complicating the issue. To me Martinborough has always highlighted the very best of Pinot Noir, despite its tiny output. The wines here are world famous – names like Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyard, Dry River, Craggy Range, Escarpment, have established a superb brand. I also see a few new kids on the block such as Kusuda, with a Japanese influence of perfection.
Then there is Canterbury and for us guys who are not the best with the dictionary the area is called Waipara, don’t get it it confused with Wairapara on the North Island. This area, to me, is one of the most exciting areas in New Zealand for Pinot – here you have a small but hugely amazing group of winemakers, making a Pinot style that is so exciting, from Bell Hill to the hugely impressive set up at Pegasus Bay, it is an area that will evolve and attract hopefully many more winemakers, especially on the hills.
Finally we come to Central Otago which, despite its youth, has put New Zealand Pinot on the world map. Names like Felton Road are household names in the UK now, but Central Otago is also diversifying in sub-regional areas, and yes there are distinct differences. These are the winemakers I particularly rate:
Brennan Wines – I had tried their B2 on the flight over, which was an excellent, expressive young wine, but I was blown away by their single vineyard, aged wines, which in general they hold back for up to five years.
I tried a 2010 and a 2007. The 2010 had a luscious purity of juicy cherries, plums, blackberry, hints of Jamaican illicit smokes, savoury depth and a lingering good luscious aftertaste. The 2007, however, was just stunning – even after trying some 100 Pinots in a day, when you try this wine words cannot explain the enjoyment. Both delicate and deep flavours harmonised together – a seductive masterpiece!
Burn Cottage – I loved the clarity of these wines, and my favourite is the Moonlight Race 2015
Cloudy Bay – Tim Heath the winemaker st Cloudy Bay has certainly lifted his game and, with the purchase of some prime Pinot land in Central Otago, has evolved and devolved some pretty special wines. They are still young and in development but look out for Te Wahi 2015, with a good percentage of grapes from the Calvert vines.
Felton Road – What can you say, just sheer class, as I import these wines I will say no more
Folding Hill – New to me, but a boutique little winery run by a doctor. I loved the 2010, delicately perfumed, bright and precise – a stunning wine and one to look out for.
Grasshopper Rock – I had enjoyed this in flight with Emirates and the range I tried here was superb. The wines are sold in the UK through Naked Wines, a great partnership.
Valli – Brilliant wines, expressive, exciting and just deliver so well. Winemaker and founder, Grant Taylor, is passionate about his wines and with age they develop a superb. textured, layered complexity.
So day 2 ends with a blustering wind hitting the after math tasting with the marquee just about staying on the ground, lunch today for 600 delegates was quite superb with a sashimi of clams and Trevally fish, followed by some meats on the Barbie.
Today I was interviewed by both New Zealand radio and TV on my thoughts on Central Otago, which is why my highlighted winemakers are more plentiful for this region. The next few days will bring more in-depth tasting notes on the other regions.