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Small Sips of New Zealand Pinot Noir

I recently sampled a number of Pinot Noirs primarily from Martinborough and Central Otago. All of these wines are readily available in the United States marketplace.


2006 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $44, screw cap. Imported by Epic Wines,Aptos. · Lovely and powerful scents of cooked cherries, smoke and baking spice. Medium-weighted black cherry fruits which are slightly tart and accented with tasty oak. Softly textured and nicely balanced with a pleasing cherry persistence on the dry finish.

Ata Rangi dates to 1980 when Clive Paton planted his first vines. He released his first wines in 1985, but he struggled mightily early on, growing pumpkins and garlic to help meet financial demands. With the contributions of Paton’s winemaker wife, Phyll Pattie, and highly educated winemaker Oliver Masters who is married to Paton’s sister, Alison, the foursome brought Ata Rangi worldwide recognition, winning the Bouchard- Finlayson Trophy from the United Kingdom International Wine and Spirit Competition three times. Ata Rangi produces a complete line of wines, but Pinot Noir is the star here. The website is

2006 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $45. Imported by the Kobrand Group, NY, NY. · The nose turned me on and I wanted to dive in. Fragrant melange of red fruits, especially cherries, with a sidecar of brown sugar, grass, earth and wet stones all of which carry over to the juicy flavors. All silk and satin with impeccable balance, perfectly integrated oak, and a notably persistent aromatic finish displaying cherries and raspberries. This is pinotosity exemplified. All world. Tasted twice.

Craggy Range is a partnership between businessman Terry Peabody and accomplished viticulturist Steve Smith MW. Formed in 1998 with the purchase of wine growing land in Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Road subregion, Craggy Range has since acquired several Pinot Noir vineyards in other regions, including Martin’s Road, Otago Station, and Te Muna Road in the Wairarapa region of Martinborough. The 230-acre Te Muna Road Vineyard was planted in 1999 in the Martinborough Terraces subregion of Martinborough, separated from the Terraces by the Huangarua River. The vineyard is largely planted to Pinot Noir, with lesser amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Craggy Range specializes in single vineyard wines that are produced in limited volumes and represent the most complete expression of the vineyards. American Doug Wiser, a protege of Ted Lemon (Littorai), was the winemaker here until his tragic kite surfing accident in 2004. The current Pinot Noir winemaker working under the direction of Steve Smith is Adrian Baker. Craggy Range is an ambitious project that could only be accomplished with significant financial resources (the vineyards alone are reportedly to have cost $36 million!). Visit the informative website at

2004 Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Terrace Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., screw cap. · This lovely Pinot shows off the redder side of Martinborough. Richly spiced cherries on the nose are duplicated in the flavors which add notes of cranberry and oak. Lithe and elegant with a silky mouth feel and a brisk, slightly tart, finish.

2006 Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Terrace Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $37, screw cap. Imported by The Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, CA. Clones are Abel, 10/5, 115 and Pommard 5. · A lighter-styled wine with appealing scents of fresh strawberries and Provencal herbs. Subtly oaked cherry and strawberry fruit that is soft in the mouth and bracing on the tangy and woodsy finish. Delicate for a Martinborough Pinot Noir.

In the 1970s, there were a number of wine tasting groups in Wellington whose members would later strike fame in the New Zealand wine industry. One such wine enthusiast was Dr. Derek Milne, a government soil scientist, who along with a group of five other enthusiasts, bought 16 acres in Martinborough and started Martinborough Vineyard in 1980. Milne was part of a research group that had concluded that Martinborough most closely aligned climatically with Dijon in northern Burgundy. The free draining soils, hot summers and reliable long dry autumn suggested that the area was ideally suited to Burgundian style wines especially Pinot Noir. It was a young winemaker from Australia, Larry McKenna, the first trained wine professional in Martinborough, who joined the partnership and brought Martinborough Vineyard into prominence. Although McKenna had never made Pinot Noir before, his first vintage, the 1986 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir, won gold medals. McKenna stayed until 1990, when he left to develop his own vineyard at Escarpment. Winemaker Claire Mulholland who had experience with Pinot Noir in the Gibbston Valley of Central Otago was hired in 2000. New Zealander Paul Mason joined the winemaking staff in 2004. Today five of the six original enthusiasts remain as the shareholders and four as directors of Martinborough Vineyard Ltd. The winery has a lovely tasting room and grounds and remains a mainstay of Pinot Noir in Martinborough. The website is The wines made by Larry McKenna have a track record of age ability. I drank the 1998 Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir with Larry while in Martinborough and it was excellent, sporting a lovely secondary bouquet and plenty of persistent juicy fruit with overtones of spice and leather.

2006 Pencarrow Martinborough Pinot Noir

14.0$ alc., $17, screw cap. Produced by Palliser Estate, Ltd., imported by Negociants USA Inc, Napa, CA. · Interesting nose of red cherries, strawberries, smoke and a touch of barnyard. Nicely presented red fruits rubbed with little spice and oak char. Needed about 30 minutes to open up. Easy to drink and would be a fine compliment to lighter fare. Excellent value.

2005 Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $25, screw cap. Imported by Negociants USA,Inc., Napa, CA. · Scents of ripe fruit, spiced raisins, anise and oak. Fully developed black cherry fruit with considerable earthiness and oak influence. The tannins arrive with a rush on the finish. I would advise further cellaring of this wine, expecting the hard tannins to soften.

Palliser Estate is the biggest winery in Martinborough and its production overshadows most other producers in the region. The first Palliser Estate wine was made in 1989 by Larry McKenna. The winery was part of the second wave in Martinborough that followed Dry River, Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyards. Palliser Estate produces a broad range of white wines along with Pinot Noir including a sparkling wine. I would be patient with the Palliser Estate wines. While in Martinborough I drank a 1999 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir that was still cranking out the good stuff. Pencarrow is Palliser Estate’s second tier brand. The website is

2006 Schubert Marion’s Vineyard Wairarapa Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., 1170 cases, $39. From a vineyard in 1989 on the Martinborough Terrace. 100% de-stemmed. Fermented in stainless steel vats, left on the skins for 3 weeks. Aged in 35% new French oak for 12 months. · Grape and black cherry perfume with a whiff of oak and alcohol. Lovely black raspberry fruit with a subtle and complimentary oak sidecar. Tangy acidity with a hint of citrus peel on the refreshing finish.

Schubert was founded by German Kai Schubert and partner Marion Deimling. In 1998, a small established vineyard was acquired in Martinborough and additional high density planting was started in 1999 with now 36 acres under vines. A small tasting room is located on the property. The website is

2005 Voss Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $38. Imported by Meadowbank Estates, Alexandria, VA.I cannot find any reviews of this wine on the winery’s website to buttress my impression. Tasted twice. · Very dark crimson. Port-like aromas with a hint of oak, earth, forest floor, char and smoke. A wood-driven wine fueled by overripe, raisiny fruit. Dark, dry and tannic and surprisingly poor from this well known producer.

Voss Estate Vineyard was established in 1986 by Pinot Noir enthusiasts Annette and Gary Voss. The original vineyard was planted in 1988 and a subsequent vineyard was established to meet the demand for Voss wines. The website is


2005 Cloudy Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $32. Imported by Moët Hennessy USA, Inc., NY, NY. · Engaging scents of cherry-berry compote, mushrooms, oak and spice. Soft and light, bordering on shallow, black cherry driven flavors with underlying earthiness, tobacco and a hint of wood. A decent wine that lacks cajones.

2006 Kim Crawford Marlborough Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $16. Aged in barrel and tank for 5+ months. Imported by Vincor USA, Esparto, CA. Winemaker Kim Crawford has left her eponymous winery, which was acquired by Constellation Brands in 2006 through the company’s purchase of Vincor. Winemakers Matt Large and Jules Taylor will take over. · Delicate red fruits, dried herbs and a little grassiness on the nose. Tasty red fruits which are a little leafy with some oak running through. Very light and elegant with a slightly dry and tart finish. A good daily drinker.

Central Otago

2006 Amisfield Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $33, screw cap. Imported by Pasternak Wine Imports,Harrison, NY. From single vineyard estate fruit. Partly barrel fermented with some whole clusters and part tank fermented with native yeast. · Deep crimson color. Opens with dark plumy fruit, oak and a kiss of dark toast. With air, many surprises unfold including redder fruits, caramel and a little good Pinot funk. Fairly light-bodied and very smooth and pristine to the finish. Juicy strawberry, persimmon and oak flavors. An immensely satisfying drink with plenty of charm.

Amisfield Wine Company uses sustainable practices at the Amisfield Vineyard located a short distance north of Lowburn near the shores of Lake Dunstan. Planting started in 1999 and consists of 150 acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The vineyard sits in glacial and alluvial schist soils at the foot of the Pisa Range. Australian Jeff Sinott has been the winemaker since 2001. The Pinot Noirs have had consistent success at wine competitions and in 2004, won the award for Best Pinot Noir at the San Francisco International Wine Competition (the winning wine was the Amisfield 2002 Pinot Noir). A modern winery was built at the Lowburn Vineyard in 2006. The winery maintains a spectacular tasting room and Bistro art Lake Hayes, just a 10 minute drive from Queenstown. When I visited, Amisfield was hosting an ambitious exhibition of outdoor kinetic and surreal sculpture by sculptor Phil Price. The website is

2006 Aurum Wines Mathilda Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., $36, screw cap. Imported by Via Pacifica Imports, Sebastopol, CA. A reserve wine named after the first born child of the winemakers. Matured in French oak for 10 months. · Very fragrant red fruit and baking spices. Delicate and silky with admirable elegance. The red fruits are demure and want for intensity. Currently the nose trumps the flavors but this one deserves another look in several months.

Aurum is a boutique family estate with two vineyards on the shores of Lake Dustan in Lowburn planted in 1997 and 1998 and Te Wairere Vineyard near Cromwell planted in 2001. Established in 2002 by Joan and Tony Lawrence, all Aurum wines since 2006 come from estate-grown grapes. A tasting facility is open daily during summer months. The website is

2006 Kawarau Estate Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $30, screw cap. Imported by Station Imports LLC, Colorado Springs, CO. · A complex wine with plenty of things going on, but the fruit never really comes to the forefront. Lean cherry, grass, earth, smoke, oak and a little vinegar scents. Earthy, grassy, woody and a touch green overshadowing the cherry core. Pushy tannins on the finish.

2006 Kawarau Estate Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $40, screw cap. · Dense reddish-purple color.Sturdy nose of toast, plum, blackberry jam and smoke. A ramped up, big and chewy wine that is all about extracted fruit. The tannins are nicely tamed and the mouthfeel is soft. A woody, green edge mars the finish. Trying for too much here. This wine could be from anywhere.

Kawarau Estate’s family owned estate vineyards are located against the foothills of the Pisa Range, an area where gold miners of the 19th and early 20th centuries roamed. The labels depict some identities from the Central Otago gold mining era. The wines are open vat fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak barrels (the Estate uses 1 to 5 year old barrels, the Reserve about 25% new barrels). Wild yeasts drive the ferments and minimal fining and filtration is used. The two wines here reflect the 2006 vintage’s long very hot summer.

2006 Matua Valley Estate Series Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $17. Imported by FWE Imports, Napa, CA. Sourced from Gibbston Valley. · Dark reddishpurple color. The aromas are from the dark side showing plenty of forest floor, oak, toast and shroom. Black berry and stone fruit flavors are earthy and tinged with oak and herbs. A good value wine, nicely crafted with nothing out of place.

Matua means “lead of the family” in Moari. Bill and Ross Spence were sons of a winemaking father. Ross trained in California, Bill in New Zealand. They began modestly in a tin shed in West Auckland in 1974. Success came quickly and by 1976 a partnership had formed with another Auckland family, the Margans. Located in the Waimaku Valley, 30 minutes from Auckland in the North Island. When the Margan family decided to depart, Matua Valley partnered with the Australian company, Fosters and its wine division, Beringer Blass. This winery produces varieties sourced from estates throughout New Zealand as well as their own vineyards in Waikoukou Valley near Auckland. Visitors are welcomed at Cellar Doors in Auckland and Marlborough. The website is

2006 Mt. Difficulty Central Otago Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $27, screw cap. Imported by American Inc, Phila, PA. From vineyards on the banks of the Kawarau River in Bannockburn. Some whole clusters used. · Fairly shy black cherry aromas shaded by savory herbs. Wood-fired dark red fruit with a mildly dry and citric finish.

2006 Mt. Difficulty The Roaring Meg Central Otago Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $17. Named after a local streamrich in history and character. From several vineyards. Aged 10 months in French oak. Mt. Difficulty’s second label. · Nicely oaked black cherries, herbs, allspice, candy apple and warm oatmeal cookies on the nose, dancing and changing constantly in the glass. Very nicely composed with rick dark red berries complimented by oak toast. Smooth and clean with fine grained tannins. A very satisfying drink that I preferred over the more expensive bottling.

Mt. Difficulty’s vineyards are situated in Bannockburn south of the Kawarau River and were established in 1992. All the wines are from vineyards supervised by the Mt. Difficulty management team. Winemaker Matt Dicey has been at the helm since 1999. A tasting room (cellar door) with panoramic views and a cafe invite visitors to the winery located on Felton Road in Bannockburn. The website is

2004 Olssens Jackson Barry Central Otago Pinot Noir

$13.0% alc., $23. Imported by Via Pacifica Imports, Sebastopol, CA. This wine is named after the first mayor of Cromwell who was quite a colorful character. I found this bottle in the back of my cellar. · Satisfying scents of red cherries, sandalwood and herbs. Juicy spiced cherries demurely presented with a smooth and soft texture and a clean and refreshing finish. This has mellowed beautifully and is showing much better than I remember it on release.

2006 Olssens Jackson Barry Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $32. · Plenty of toasted oak wrapped around a substantial black berry and cherry core. Very earthy, mildly tannic and dry with a touch of astringency on the finish. This wine is youthful and unevolved and needs some time to come together.

Olssens was established in 1989 making Olssens Garden Vineyard the pioneer vineyard of Bannockburn and the Cromwell Basin. Owners John Olssen (a forester by profession) and Heather McPherson engaged a landscape architect to work with the viticultural specialists to plant the vineyard. Planning was followed by earthworks and the establishment of 8,500 trees and shrubs and 6,000 bulbs. Spring in the vineyard is a sight to behold, and autumn has its own magic, offering a shimmering blaze of russet and gold color. Olssens established their own winery for the 2001 vintage. The entire winery and barrel room are temperature controlled. All wines are made from 100% estate grown fruit with production topping 5,000 cases annually. The Slapjack Creek Reserve Pinot Noir, only made in exceptional vintages, is Olssen’s flagship wine. The viticulturist, Karen Olssen, manages the 25 acres of vineyards. The winemaker is Matthew Connell who came to Olssens from Elk Cove Wines in Oregon. The website is

2006 Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., $40, screw cap. Imported by Meadowbank Estates, Alexandria, VA. · Lovely spiced cherry scent leading to a red-fruited, herbed and tenacious palate. Soft as an angel’s hair, velvety and seamless with everything wellproportioned. Still a little tight but your are going to like this one.

Peregrine is a spectacular Gibbston Valley winery that was built in 2003 on a former fine-wool sheep station along a bend in the Kawarau River. Peregrine Wines owner Greg Hay focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. A concrete bunker houses Peregrine’s tasting and production rooms, covered with a translucent corrugated-fiberglass wing to protect against summer heat and winter snow. The form is meant to remind of Peregrine’s namesake bird as well as the Karearea falcon that populates the river valley. The winemaker is Peter Bartle, who left Olssens in 2004 to join Peregrine. The website is

2006 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Growers Collection Calvert Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $35, screw cap. Imported by Terra Firma Wine Co LLC, Oakland, CA. Owen and Michelle Calvert were married on and cultivate the Calvert Vineyard in the Bannockburn region of Central Otago. The vineyard is managed by the team at Felton Road who also bottle a vineyard-designate Pinot Noir from the vineyard. · An intensely fruity nose of dried black cherries, dark ripe berries, cranberry and rhubarb is echoed in the flavors which make an entry statement. Fruit-driven with a hint of earthiness, soft, dry tannins and grippy acidity on the tart finish. Will pick up complexity with time in the bottle.

Pyramid Valley Vineyards is a boutique winery owned by Mike and Claudia Weersing who buy grapes by the acre from vineyards in New Zealand. The Weersings have planted their own vineyards in limestone-rich soils near Pegasus Bay in Waipara. Winemaker Mike Weersing has an impressive winemaking resume, having worked in many top estates in Spain, Germany and France and brings meticulous and hands-on attention to the management of his vines. Because of extra canopy management, yields are typically 40-60% of that realized by other buyers of the same vineyard (0.7 tons per acre in 2007) with significantly better maturity. Winemaking features a strict minimum of additions - little or no sulfur, natural settling, no enzymes, fermentation exclusively with natural yeasts, natural malos, no finings, and filtration only when necessary. Production is tiny. The obvious commitment here suggests this label is poised for future stardom. The website is

2006 Quartz Reef Central Otago Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $29. Imported by Vine St Imports, Philadelphia, PA. Fruit is primarily from Bendigo Estate. Clonal mix is 10/5, 5, 115, 667, 777 and Abel. Aged in 37% new French oak. Egg white fined. · Generous scent of Bing cherries and new-mown hay. Driven by medium-weighted strawberry and cherry flavors enhanced by savory herbs. Nicely balanced, elegant and eminently satisfying.

Quartz Reef is located in Cromwell, Central Otago and farms 37 acres of vineyards at Bendigo Station. The largest quartz reef deposit in New Zealand lies beneath the vines of Quartz Reef Bendigo Estate Vineyard. The winemakers are Austrian born Rudi Bauer whose resume including stints at Misson, Rippon and Giesen, and Clotilde Chauvet, who made the first bottle-fermented sparkling wine in Central Otago at Rippon Vineyard, where she succeeded Rudi as winemaker. The winery makes a Central Otago blend of two vineyards and a more expensive Bendigo Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir which I have not seen in the States. The website is

2006 Valli Waitaki Vineyard Central Otago Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., $40, screw cap. · The nose is a contrasting trio of fruity red cherries, floral notes, and stinky barnyard. Woody and vegetal flavors overwhelm the dark cherry fruit. Nicely weighted and silky in texture. Unusual flavor profile with some savory contributions I can’t put a finger on.

Valli Vineyards is a project begun in 1998 by Grant Taylor who previously garnered attention for his work at Gibbston Valley Winery, one of Central Otago’s first Pinot Noir producers. Taylor is attempting to highlight the sub-regional differences that exist in Central Otago from three vineyards including the estate Gibbston Vineyard, Bannockburn Vineyard and the Waitaki Vineyard. In 1995 he helped establish Oregon’s Archery Summit and has consulted there on a number of vintages since. The website is

2006 Wild Earth Central Otago Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $25, screw cap. Imported by San Francisco Exchange, San Francisco, CA. From vineyards on Felton Road and adjacent to Lake Dunstan. Crafted from 5, 6 and a range of Dijon clones. · A ripe, juicy, vivid and rich wine of great charisma. Great scent and flavors of fresh and sweet red and blue fruits. Supple tannins give it a caressing texture. A pretty Pinot that will charm the socks off you.

Wild Earth was established in 1998 and is a family owned business run by Quintin and Avril Quider. The 2006 Wild Earth PInot Noir (the third vintage of this wine) was awarded the coveted Top Red Wine trophy at the International Wine Challenge in London in September, surpassing thirty-one other red wine trophy winners from around the globe in the final judging round. Over 9,000 wines were submitted for judging making this the largest wine competition in the world. In addition to Top Red Wine, the wine won the award for Top International Pinot Noir, Top New Zealand Red Wine and Top International Red Wine. In May, the wine was awarded the Top New Zealand Pinot Noir trophy at the Decanter World Wine Awards. You might find the 2006 Pinot Noir sold out, but the 2007 vintage was released in September, 2008. Wild Earth wines are all estate-grown. Wild Earth owns 87 acres in two Central Otago locations - at the end of Felton Road overlooking the Kawarau River (the Bannockburn Estate) and the north Lowburn district beneath the Pisa Range (the Lowburn Estate). Intensive crop management practices are employed. The plantings include a mix of Dijon and UCD clones. For the 2005 to 2005 vintages, Michelle Richardson was the consultant to the winemaking and cellar team. Starting with the 2008 vintage, Grant Taylor joined Wild Earth as a consultant. A second label is called Blind Trail. The website is

Waipara Region of Canterbury

2006 Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $35, screw cap. · Charming perfume of spicy red fruits, cinnamon, and a touch of herb farm. Straightforward red cherry flavors, slightly raisined, with noticeable but fine tannins, and a slightly dry and tart finish. Decent but not exceptional.

2004 Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Waipara Valley Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $65, screw cap. Imported by Meadowbank Estates, Alexandria, VA. This wine is only made in small quantities from select barrels in special vintages. · Very sexy and rich scents of wild berries including olalliberries with complimentary dried herbs. Juicy and succulent black cherry and blackberry fruit with an appealing touch of earthiness, grilled meat and spicy oak. Not a bashful wine but light on its feet, with well-corralled tannins, and a clean and refreshing finish that goes on and on.

Pegasus Bay is a family owned and operated winery in Waipara, North Canterbury. The Pegasus was the name of the sailing ship which surveyed part of the South Island in 1809. The first mate of the brig Pegasus, William Stewart, gave Pegasus Bay its name. Waipara Valley is separated from the ocean (Pegasus Bay) by a range of hills which protect it from the cooling winds of the Pacific Ocean. To the West lie the Southern Alps (Main Divide) which shield Waipara from the hot northwest winds. The Donaldson family have been making wine since the early 1970s. Ivan Donaldson is a wine writer and wine judge and his two winemakers are his eldest son, Matthew, and Matthew’s spouse, Lynnette Hudson. Two other sons, Edward and Paul, also are involved in the business on the marketing and administration side. The winery operates a restaurant on the estate and a natural amphitheater hosts local and international acts. The website is

Well, that’s it folks. My primary conclusion at the end of my travel to New Zealand and my extensive tasting is that many of the wines are more akin to the New World (both California and Oregon), while a lesser number of examples are more similar to the wines of Burgundy. In truth, a truly individualistic and distinctive style has not emerged. As New Zealand attempts to distinguish itself on the world wine stage, it will need to avoid the trend toward uniformity, look to express its wines as truly unique and not succumb to the influence of the critics and press who often fancy a particular style. The New Zealand wine industry is still in its infancy but its potential for producing tasty and varietally correct Pinot Noir is evident and the evolution of Middle Earth Pinot Noir will be enthusiastically monitored by wine enthusiasts including myself.

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