I’m often asked, “which region makes the best Pinot Noir”. My (safe) reply is usually along these lines: “Well it depends on how you measure quality. Is it the average score of all Pinot Noir tasted from each region or should we compare the top five from each region?”
To establish the list of top producers I simply found every Marlborough Pinot Noir from 2012 or later that has scored 95 points or better. It’s a bit tough on good producers such as Hans Herzog and Dog Point because I have only tasted one vintage of each. Obviously the more Pinot Noir labels produced the higher a winery is likely to be on my ranking.
Nobody remembers who came third in athletics or even a World Cup for that matter. The spotlight is firmly on the winner with minor illumination on the second place-getter. So it is with wine regions.
Local wine drinkers do seem to be obsessed with wines made from a single grape variety. Around 5% of all red wines made in New Zealand are blended while blended whites are virtually non-existent at just one-third of one percent, according to my tasting note database. Ignoring sparkling wines just 4.5% of the gold medal wines at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards were blended wines.
I’ve just completed my annual Pinot Noir tasting. A total of 275 wines were submitted by wineries in every region south of Gisborne. The best were better than ever and the same applies to the wines at the other end of the quality scale. I was surprised and gratified by the enthusiasm for our most prestigious, if not most prolific, varietal wine during a recent trip through Asia, Europe and the US. Pinot Noir lovers are enthusiastic. They are quick to appreciate exciting wines from emerging regions.
Five organic Marlborough wineries recently got together to form a group with the catchy name of Mana (Marlborough Natural Winegrowers). They are Fromm, Huia, Hans Herzog, Te Whare Ra (TWR) and Seresin. I tasted 53 of their wines. Collectively they are a cut or two above the Marlborough average. Does that mean that using organic winemaking and grape-growing methods produces higher quality wine? Possibly. But it might also indicate that these five wine producers are more quality-conscious than most. It’s hard to prove one way or the other.
I buy organic meat, fruit and vegetables when the premium over non-organic products is not excessive and when I believe that the food will taste better. Organic carrots, for example, seem to taste better than non-organic carrots although I haven’t been able to detect much difference in avocados. My daughter (a reformed vegan) likes to buy organic meat because she feels that the animals may have been treated more kindly. My wife leans toward organic foods because she feels they are less likely to be contaminated by sprays.
“It’s Sauvignon Jim, but not as we know it”. If Lieutenant Spock had sipped one of my chosen wines after a hard day navigating galaxies that’s what he would have said to Captain Kirk. Both are made from Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc grapes but they’re as different from mainstream wines as, well, a Bajoran is to a Klingon. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is normally pungently fruity with super-fresh acidity giving it plenty of bounce and drive. If it were a person it would be high-energy, bouncy and vivacious – a bit like Kylie Minogue.
Can you imagine Crocodile Dundee, Shane Warne or Kevin Rudd sipping on a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? According to a recent survey New Zealand now makes seven out of ten of Australia’s top selling white wines. We also occupy the top two slots (Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc is first, Giesen Sauvignon Blanc is second). All seven of our top sellers are Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
In Australia they call them “stickies”, the Brits use the unappealing term “pudding wines” while in America they apply the less romantic title of “sweet wines”. I prefer “stickies”.