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New Zealand Pinot Noir: Latest Sips are Ripe, Bold and Fruity

New Zealand Pinot Noir, like its brethren from California and Oregon, takes on many styles from delicate feminine, and charmingly nuanced wines with lower alcohol and fruit intensity at one extreme, to big, extracted, ripe, fruit-driven wines with high alcohol at the other extreme. Eric Asimov, writing about a recent tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noirs in The New York Times in February 2010 points out, “We all had the impression that New Zealand Pinot Noir is still seeking an identity. I say this because of the profusion of styles we found among these bottles.”

I recently tasted a few New Zealand Pinot Noirs from the 2007 and 2008 vintages and found that most fell into the ripe, bold and fruity category. These wines will find fans, of course, but I believe that if this is a trend among New Zealand producers, the wines will inevitably be compared to those from California and lack a true Kiwi identity.

2008 was an excellent vintage in Central Otago and Martinborough where grapes were picked in good conditions. Marlborough was not so lucky, with rains arriving during harvest bringing the growing season to a rapid conclusion. The 2007 vintage grape harvest produced record crop levels throughout New Zealand and growers and wineries were enthusiastic about quality.

Seresin Estate produces a variety of wines from organically and biodynamically farmed estate vineyards located in Marlborough including Home Vineyard and Tatou Vineyard in Wairau Valley and Raupo Creek Vineyard in Omaka Valley. The winery and cellar door are located on the Home Vineyard property. The winery was founded in 1992 by Michael Seresin who chose the hand as the winery’s logo to symbolize the mark of the artisan. Varietals produced include Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. The winemaker is Clive Dougall and the estate manager is Colin Ross. The website is Imported by Sorting Table, LLC, Napa, California. At this time only 25 cases of Raupo Creek and Rachel are available in the United States. 150 cases total of Sun & Moon were produced and none has been exported as yet.

A side note: New Zealand is the world’s largest users of screw cap closures. The screw caps on the Seresin Estate bottles are very cool looking and as you unscrew the cap, an audible pop is produced at the end, similar to the pop heard when a cork is pulled.

All the Seresin Pinot Noirs are very dark in color with moderately firm tannins, plenty of fleshy fruit and bright acidity. They are very Caliesque in style. The fruit is de-stemmed, cold soaked, and fermentation started with wild yeast. Punch downs are done by hand daily. The wine is left on the skins for two weeks for post ferment maceration (a total of three and half weeks of skin contact). The wines are lightly pressed, barreled for natural MLF and matured in 40% new French oak for 15 months. The Sun & Moon was aged 11 months in French oak, and then blended and transferred to new oak puncheons for 6 more months. All wines were bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2007 Seresin Raupo Creek Vineyard Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.72, screw cap, $45. From a close-planted single vineyard in Omaka Valley with each vine thinned to one bunch per shoot. Clones 115, 777, and 10/5. · The savory nose improves over time in the glass offering scents of dark red fruits, Middle Eastern spices and oak. Dark red cherries and berries are overshadowed by tannins on the finish now. Smoothly textured with noticeable oak in the background and a citrus peel lift on the finish. Will benefit from decanting now. Good.

2007 Seresin Rachel Limited Release Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., pH 3.68, screw cap, $60. Sourced from Raupo Creek Vineyard. Clones 115, 777 and 10/5. · This Big Boy is deep, dark and intensely fruity. Perfume of plums, blackberries, peppery spice, herbs and oak char. A fruit bomb that attacks the palate with a vengeance filling every crevice with jammy blueberry, blackberry and plum fruit. Silky with fine-grain tannins and some persistence on the fruit-filled finish. The massive fruit is pulled into line with fine acidity. Very good for this style.

2007 Seresin Sun & Moon Marlborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.64, 70 cases, $60 (Est.), screw cap). 80% Raupo Creek Vineyard, 20% Home Vineyard. · Terrific aromatic interest sporting dark berries especially black raspberries, and black cherries, rose tea, oak spice and vanillin. I wanted to go on sniffing this one. Moderately rich and very tasty with flavors of plums, dark berries and toast. Smooth as a baby’s bottom in the mouth with moderate tannins and bright acidity in perfect harmony. There is a pleasing persistence of a citrus note on the finish. The impeccable balance predicts long term aging potential.

Felton Road Wines is located in Bannockburn, Central Otago. The latitude here is 45 degrees south, similar to the Willamette Valley of Oregon and some of the finest wine regions of France. The winery farms the original 75-acre vineyard planted in 1992 by Stewart Elms (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling), the estate 20- acre Cornish Point Vineyard (Pinot Noir), and has a long-term lease on nearby Calvert Vineyard (Pinot Noir). All the vineyards are farmed biodynamically. The winemaker, Blair Walter, is an accomplished artisan and the Felton Road Wines are considered by many the benchmark for all of New Zealand. The website is Imported by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, California.

2008 Felton Road Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., screw cap, $33. This is the flagship Pinot Noir from Felton Road. · This wine veers toward the more delicate and nuanced style rather than structural power. The fruity nose changes constantly in the glass revealing scents of black cherries, herbs, root beer, sassafras, and graham. Tasty and juicy medium-bodied melange of blue and dark red fruits with a hint of cream soda. Supple tannins and bright acidity make for easy drinking. Not spectacular, but Very Good.

2008 Felton Road Calvert Central Otago New Zealand Pinot Noir

14.0% alc., $58, screw cap. · Darker in color than the regular blended bottling. Subdued aromas of black cherries, plum sauce and woodshed. Delicious core of black cherries and dark berries front and center with complimentary savory herbs and spice. Well-structured with a balancing edge of acidity and moderate tannins. Velvety and very sensual in the mouth. Still very young and will need some cellaring to shed and integrate the tannins.

Craggy Range is a partnership between business man Terry Peabody and viticulturist Steve Smith, MW. Formed in 1998 with the purchase of wine growing land in Hawke’s Bay, Craggy Range has since acquired several Pinot Noir vineyards in other regions including the famous Te Muna Road Vineyard in the Wairarapa region of Martinborough. The 230-acre Te Muna Road Vineyard was planted in 1999 in the Martinborough Terraces subregion of Martinborough and is largely devoted to Pinot Noir. Craggy Range specializes in single vineyard wines including about six different Pinot Noirs. The current winemaker in Martinborough is Adrian Baker who works with Steve Smith. Craggy Range is one of the high profile wineries in New Zealand that have formed a collective known as the High-End initiative aimed at promoting high end New Zealand wines in the United States. It is part of the New Zealand government’s $19 million four-year project to improve the New Zealand wine industry’s profile in the United States. Imported by Korbrand Corp., New York, New York.

2008 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 2,600 cases, $33. Indigenous yeast, aged over 12 months in French oak without racking. · Moderately dark in color. The nose is typical of a young wine, needing time to reveal its charms. Black cherries, spice box, cut flowers and prominent oak aromas. Intense purple fruits on the palate with hints of pine sap and oak. Smooth and sexy with a lingering finish bright with fruit. Beautifully balanced. Very good.

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