The Dirt on New Zealand Pinot Noir

Where in the world does that alluring heartbreak grape, Pinot Noir, excel?

Burgundy, Oregon, BC, Sonoma might spring to mind. Champagne if you’re trying to get tricky. It’s a finicky grape, not easy to grow well, demanding of care and attention

But what about New Zealand?

Yup – here’s the dirt. New Zealand pinot noir is tumeke! (Maori for outstanding).

This tiny, amazingly diverse Island country has proven it does not just grow Sauvignon Blanc, or zorb-riding daredevillers, or sheep. The kiwis make damn fine pinot noir as well. Even though you can fit 3.5 New Zealands into the province of BC and our populations are on par (approximately 4.5 million coastal-loving folks), New Zealand is 4th in the world for pinot noir production, behind France, USA and Germany.

Tucked away in a remote, unspoilt oceanic landscape 94% of New Zealand vineyard areas operate under sustainable programs, and the entire country has a goal of 90% renewable energy sources across the board by 2025 (they’re already at an impressive 70%).

More surprises? The vines are predominantly young, and the juice is fantastic. Pinot noir is a terroir-transmitting grape, and in a very short time – less than 15 years – we’re seeing incredibly nuanced, fresh, pure-fruited and elegant examples. The wines have a very special and sought after combination of crisp, cooler-climate structure associated with the Old World, and vibrant and generous fruit intensity, linked to the New World. It is predominantly grown in the cooler southerly regions, with the wide diversity in microclimates and soils giving way to a wide range of styles.


The five main regions for NZ pinot noir, and their respective characteristics:

Nelson – Fragrant, complex, softly textured with bright cherry and plum flavours.

Wairarapa / Martinborough – Fuller, supple style, with plum, cherry, savoury and game. Wairarapa is a wider, younger region beyond Martinborough, with slightly more lift to flavours.

Marlborough – The largest region for pinot noir. Bright red fruit, raspberries, cherry, plums. Linear structure and some tannins.

Canterbury / Waipara Valley – Limestone influences in some areas. Red fruit, darker plumy, sweet fruits, hints of peppery spice. Firm tannins and acidity.

Central Otago – World’s most southerly wine region. Ranges from the cooler red fruits, dried herbs and plums of the cooler Gibbston Valley, to the black cherry, dark fruit, savoury spice and full tannins of the warmer Bannockburn.


Though long famed for the success of its sauvignon blanc, pinot noir has proven to be a highly viable contender for the Islands’ top grape, currently ranking in 2nd place behind the grassy, crisp sauvignon blancs the world has come to know. It’s no big secret however – word is out. There has been 129% growth in total export sales of NZ pinot noir in the last 5 years, with sales to Canada up 209% over the same period.

And lest you think you can only be pairing pinot noir with salmon or mushroom risotto or duck, here are some fantastic west coast / Vancouver-inspired pairings that Chef Blair Rasmussen developed to partner with NZ PN :

Portobello Mushroom Curry, Crispy Pakora
Seared Halibut, Pata Negra Iberico Chorizo Butter
Ginger Chicken Jiaozi Potsticker, Braised Burdock
Tombo Tuna Tataki, Fresh Wasabi, Smoky Tentsuyu Sauce



Mission Hill Winery
5 Vineyards Pinot Noir 2012
Okanagan Valley, BC
$18.99  +118844

John Simes has been instrumental in building and shaping British Columbia’s biggest winery as winemaker at Mission Hill since 1992. However, before he met Anthony von Mandl the year prior on a trip to outback Okanagan, NZ born and raised Simes worked his way up through the Kiwi wine world, leaving at the top of the peak and as Chief Winemaker for Montana Wines (and the crafter of Montana’s benchmark Sauvignon Blanc).

He continued his successful hand at Mission Hill and with their very popular Five Vineyards (newly reborn as 5V) series. This pinot noir has light and lifted youthful cherry, beetroot and raspberry jam aromas leading to a medium body, dominated by iced black tea tannins, black cherry, light earthiness and plump plummy fruit. Another solid entry in the popular 5V series from Mission Hill, and an identifiable and approachable pinot noir for under $20 – challenging no matter what part of the world you’re from, but particularly impressive from BC. I paired this to a porchetta and cranberry sandwich with tasty success. 87 points.


PegasusBayCellar Dweller

Pegasus Bay
Pinot Noir 2011
Waipara Valley, New Zealand

When you’re in as fringe a wine growing region as New Zealand, vintage can make a big difference. La Nina visited in 2011, resulting in an extended and warm growing season, lingering far into autumn. Here, north of Christchurch, the Greystone limestone has proven an ideal base for the dozen clones of pinot noir planted, many reaching 2 decades or more, and own-rooted. Whole berry fermentation and extended skin contact has preserved the affluent perfume – alluring floral, dark violets on the nose. The palate continues the same, with spicy earthiness, black plums, dark cocoa and chalky grained tannins, lifted with a wave of spiking acidity and rush of minerality. A very exciting wine, and one that lingers on the palate for quite some time. 92 points. 



Pinot Noir 2009
Marlborough, New Zealand
$15.99  +682542

Pinot Noir is not an easy grape to make, by any means. The fact that this clocks in at $15 and bears more than a passing to pinot is noteworthy. Medium-bodied, this opens with ripe raspberry, toasty smoke and baking spice, before moving into notes of earthy cherry and cranberry. Approachable, fruity, soft tannins, straightforward and fresh – what more can you ask of a pinot at this price? 86 points.


Akarua Pinot NoirAdventurer

Pinot Noir 2011
Bannockburn, Central Otago, New Zealand

What’s more adventuresome than making wine in the world’s most southerly wine region? How about making serious, terroir-driven wine in this very cool climate (we’re nearing Antarctica here folks) region. The region’s location affords it very high radiation, sunshine hours and very long days. This wine is from Bannockburn, a slightly warmer enclave subregion, but the 14 year old vines are sitting around 270m on schist based rock. Big musky perfume, with strawberry, black pepper, medicinal cherry and sweet dried raspberry complexities. Ripe and powerful fruit, very well knit together with some weight and depth. 89 points.


Marc du SoleilNo Wineos

Long Table Distillery
Marc du Soleil
+541789 / 375ml

This beautiful slip of a spirit is the collaboration of two boutique BC craftsmen, both artisan producers in their own right. Long Table Distillery, Vancouver’s first inner-city distillery and Similkameen Valley’s Clos du Soleil Winery have come together to weave grape pulp into liquid gold.

From Clos du Soleil’s 100% organic estate grown merlot pomace (leftover from the winemaking process), Long Table has created a smooth and sultry marc. Merlot isn’t a typical grape to use for this clear spirit, but the results here are highly rewarding. Marc (the French name to Italy’s grappa) is a spirit distilled from the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (a.k.a pomace) – products that are often just discarded. Here they’ve rested this marc in barrel to infuse the cool, spiced plum and fragrant cherry silkiness with a soft cushion of vanilla warmth. Fantastic length, the lingering fruitiness remaining far after my last dram. A very cool partnership project from two of BC’s foresightful and progressive producers – and well worth seeking out. I have batch 001 – here’s hoping there are many more.

Each week Treve highlights 5 timely and tasty picks. Her weekly choices include Locavore (BC wines), Cellar Dweller (wines to lay down for a while for maximum enjoyment), Budgeteer (wallet-friendly bottles under $15), Adventurer (wines for geeks, enlightening or pushing the envelope) and No Wineos (a non-wine pro-alcoholic beverage). So what are you waiting for? DRINK This!

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*Asterisks denote wines that are only available at the winery or select private liquor stores. All other wines are available through BC Liquor Stores. The price is suggested retail price, and may fluctuate depending on source. Wines are scored out of 100 points.

Written By:

Treve Ring is a wine writer, editor, judge, consultant and certified sommelier, and has been with EAT Magazine for over a decade.\r\n\r\nIn addition to her work with EAT, she is a Wine Critic and National Judge for ...

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