Several NZ Pinot Noir tasted in Toronto

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This was in response to this WB Thread: NZ Wine Event - Help me choose producers to target - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers

About a month ago I attended the New Zealand Wine Fair (marketed as “Discover New Zealand in a Glass”) in Toronto. While many varieties were being poured across many producers I was keen on getting exposed to what New Zealand is doing with Pinot Noir. In addition to being on a Pinot kick lately I wanted to try to disprove the theory that good Pinot Noir is impossible to find in our market for under $50. To be honest, several of The Nerds, myself included had accepted this sad reality. I have to say however that I feel that many producers dispelled this notion and I was able to track down several that will arrive between $22 - $40 that I scored 90 - 92 points.

While this tasting didn’t have any heavy hitters and I don’t believe any wines hit that classic 95+ score, what struck me is how lovely the prevailing style is. While you generally have to tolerate a little more fruit exuberance and more alcohol than say, Burgundy, these were generally red fruited, light and elegant. They really hit a sweet spot for me in style and quality. I have also had the pleasure of tasting how wines of this style age in the mid term (10-15 years), even under screwcap and they can evolve into something beautiful, so I am keen on grabbing a few for that very purpose.

While I did focus on producers that had been recommended to me, as the day went on I broadened my horizon. As many readers will know New Zealand has several growing regions and while the generalizations rang true in many cases, there are always exceptions. I expected to generally like Central Otago more than other regions and often I did, however a few producers even in this cool region didn’t really work for me. Marlborough, while often seen as a site producing mostly plonk, actually had a few appealing wines, especially when it comes to the sub-regions such as the Southern Valleys.

All in all this was a very well done, eye-opening tasting with many enjoyable wines. On to the tasting notes:

  • 2013 Schubert Pinot Noir - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa
    Pours light, fully transparent. Nose of cherry jam, sawdust, strawberry, soil, herbs, a kiss of alcohol and some very slight reduction (so little that I’m sure it will vanish with some bottle age or decanting). The palate reveals medium minus tannin, medium plus acid and a moderate finish of cherry jam, herbs and soil. I like the profile though the wine is showing a little simple. 100% destemmed and the 14.5% alcohol does show. (89 pts.)

  • 2011 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Single Vineyard Te Muna Road Vineyard - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa, Martinborough
    This is some pretty serious stuff. Still transparent in appearance though a hair darker than the previous. The nose shows a good deal of very ripe red fruit: strawberry jam, plant stems, just a bit of smoky whole cluster, pomegranate, cedar, peat, a hint of black raspberry, mineral, touches of espresso and a hint of nose tingling pickled ginger. The mouthfeel is lush and round. Low tannin, high acid and a wonderfully spiced fresh red fruit finish. A refreshing 13.5% alcohol with some inclusion of stems during fermentation. Re-tasted later and it was showing even better. Great wine. (93 pts.)
  • 2011 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Aroha - New Zealand, North Island, Wairarapa, Martinborough
    Funny enough I didn’t like this quite as much as the Te Muna poured previous. This pours a touch darker. Translucent, but with a darker core. Nose is also darker of plum, dark cherries, black currants, some obvious unintegrated oak showing and some whole cluster character as well. Overall this is a little heavy, gloopy and dark for me today to score any higher. I would like a bit more finesse and red fruit. Fortunately the palate is somewhat more refreshing than the nose; tannins are medium minus, with medium plus acid. (91 pts.)
  • 2014 Akarua Pinot Noir Rua - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    This was dreadful. Pours inky, purple and blue. Purple/blue candy and Kool Aid nose. Do not like. (78 pts.)
  • 2012 Akarua Pinot Noir Bannockburn - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Bannockburn
    This pours a moderate translucent ruby. The nose is earthy, driven on brown spice, leather (just a touch of Brett!), red pomegranate, root beer and cherry. The palate has medium tannin, medium acid and a slightly hot finish. Not bad albeit a bit wild and rustic. (89 pts.)
  • 2014 Rockburn Pinot Noir Devil’s Staircase - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    Another wine done in a style I can’t stand. Pours inky and dark. Purple and blue candy fruit, blue jujube, kirsh and alcohol on the nose. Ringer for a Cotes du Rhone, no idea how this is passing for Pinot. (80 pts.)
  • 2012 Rockburn Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    Pours a moderate translucent ruby. Evidently heavy on the oak. Nose of charred cedar, vanilla and marshmallow. Too bad because there is nice red fruit underneath: blood orange, pomegranate, cherry, strawberry and ginger. Alcohol is noted. The palate shows medium minus tannin, medium plus acid and is actually quite nice and savoury with mineral and red berry fruit. Sadly the oak and alcohol marrs this wine. (88 pts.)
  • 2012 Auntsfield Estate Pinot Noir Single Vineyard - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    This pours moderately dark, translucent ruby with a some purple toward the rim. Slightly modern leaning with the aromatics centered on the fruit. The nose is of grapefruit, blood orange, dried red cranberries, red currant jam and mixed plums. Medium plus tannin (a little too high for me) and medium acid. The 14.0% alcohol shows up a bit on the finish and almost seems like more. I love the light citrus and red fruit but there is also some dark fruit that detracts bit for me today. (90 pts.)
  • 2005 Auntsfield Pinot Noir Heritage - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    There is a fair bit of bricking on this wine at this stage. I can’t speak to other showings, but this example is marred by notable VA, very heavy on the nail polish remover. I’m okay with a little VA but this was dominated by it. NR (flawed)
  • 2013 Prophets Rock Pinot Noir Rocky Point - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    This pours inky dark with heavy blue/purple saturation to the core. The nose is of violets, black licorice, purple hard candy and grape juice concentrate. Very much Southern Rhone like. Doesn’t speak to Pinot Noir to me at all. (84 pts.)
  • 2013 Ara Pinot Noir Pathway - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    Really not bad for a budget bottle. The bottle lists a believable 12.5% alcohol and has no detected RS. Nose is mostly savoury of tar, leather, red currants, twizzlers, rubber (slight reduction, but not too bad) and a touch of red jujube. The palate has nice low dusty tannin and medium acid. Pretty short finish but what more do you want for $16? Coming to the LCBO general list this summer and I expect it’ll be a pretty good value in Pinot Noir. (88 pts.)
  • 2013 Waimea Estate Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Nelson, Waimea Plains
    This pours on the lighter end of the spectrum and is bright and punchy. Similarly, the aromatics are mostly red fruited with red currants, cranberries, ginger, cream soda, herbs, dry rocky soil, organic soil, blood orange and mineral. 13.5% alcohol listed which seems accurate. The mouthfeel is round with high acid and low tannin. Beautiful. Medium plus finish. This is remarkable considering retail in Ontario would be $22. Too bad the agent doesn’t have an order planned. (90 pts.)
  • 2011 Pasquale Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Waitaki Valley
    VA on the nose. A lot of nail polish remover I can’t get past. NR (flawed)
  • 2012 Loveblock Vintners Ltd Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    Wow, this one caught my attention! Such restraint and balance. This pours light and fully transparent. Nose is complex of fresh cut strawberry, fresh tilled wet soil, coffee, toast, mineral, blood orange, cranberry, pomegranate, red plum, thyme, cinnamon and raw beef. Balances the citrus tinged red fruit well against savoury non-fruit aromatics. The palate has everything in the right spot. Elevated acid, medium minus tannin with no perceived alcohol problems despite the 14.0% listed in the label. Long finish. If I’d bet on one wine in this room to age well, this would be up there. I’m impressed by the quality despite fully destemming the fruit. Lands at $40 CAD, occasionally coming through Vintages. This is a project by Kim Crawford. (92 pts.)
  • 2010 McArthur Ridge Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    This was a lovely wine in a style I quite liked. Elegant and light with pure red fruit. Nose of grapefruit, red currants, cranberry, ginger and dry soil. The palate enters with a core of wonderful optimally ripe red fruit. The palate has low tannin and medium plus acid with just a slight kiss of heat, 13.5% alcohol declared. Very good bottle. Flirting with 92 points, but a second pour later on didn’t stand up quite as well as the first pour. Lands at $33 via an Ontario Agent who is new to the business, Connectionz. (91 pts.)
  • 2013 Yealands Estate Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    This was reduced just enough for me not to enjoy it. NR (flawed)
  • 2013 Oyster Bay Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    I have to say that I was surprised and impressed with this. I expected commercial garbage but instead found a decent QPR play at $20. Nice light colour. The nose is of light cherry, red currant, cranberry, sulfur, some light brown spice, herbs and a touch of strawberry jam. The palate enters with sweet red fruit and has good refreshing acid and low tannin. This finish is a tad short replaying some strawberry jam and herbs. While there is a bit of jammyness to the fruit at least it’s entirely red. 13.5% alcohol with essentially no residual sugar. Well done. (88 pts.)
  • 2013 Elephant Hill Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Otago, Central Otago
    Pours quite dark in colour. Nose is fully in the candy, licorice, kirsh, blueberry and blackberry realm. Unfortunaely another wine that is a Southern Rhone look alike and doesn’t speak to Pinot Noir at all to me. (83 pts.)
  • 2012 Forrest Estate Pinot Noir - New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    This pours moderate in colour, mostly transparent ruby, somewhere in the middle of the pack. It is predominantly red fruited with just a bit of dark fruit in reserve and a nice savoury note as well. The nose is of red cherry, plum, pomegranate, wet soil, undergrowth, a touch of incense, pickled ginger, green peppercorns and a touch of caper brine. Actually quite savoury and almost a tad like a cool climate syrah. The palate repeats the savoury edge with medium minus tannin and medium plus acid. Ever so slightly elevated alcohol pokes through on the finish but that is picking a nit. I thought this was one of the best values for money at $31 from the agent and I participated in a case buy. While drinking nicely now I expect it should improve for at least 5 more years, even under screwcap. (92 pts.)

Many thanks for the notes Chris. I do think the range of 30-50 dollars can show NZ pinot noir very well, but impressed that some $20- wines performed well.

I tend to favour Martinborough over Otago / Marlborough, but seems like a decent showing from Marlborough. One wonder what happened in Otago in 2014. This is definitely cool climate normally (albeit often with good concentration of sun in a growing season clipped at both ends).

Great notes. Obviously quite a range of styles there, and it’s good to see some of the reasonably priced bottles with appeal.