New Zealand’s better pinot noirs are wonderfully fruity, spicy and sappy wines—not to mention flexible at the dinner table. And most of them offer the additional advantage of being sealed with screwcaps. That means when I bring a bottle to my local BYO around the corner, I’m 99% certain that I’m going to enjoy a fresh, perfumed, clean wine without the light oxidation aromas that can make an otherwise good pinot a very dull boy. In other words, if I bring one of my favorite New Zealand pinots to dinner, it’s pretty much of a sure thing.
The catch is that the wines I’ve singled out below, all of which I’ve gulped down with great pleasure in recent weeks, are made in limited quantities and may require a special search of the retail market. They are not cheap, but by the standards of red Burgundy, or even of top collectible pinots from California and Oregon, they are certainly reasonably priced. These are wines that will please long-time pinot lovers, and they’re sure to put a smile on the face of any wine neophyte lucky enough to try one.
All of these wines merited outstanding ratings in my annual coverage of New Zealand, available now in the current issue of the International Wine Cellar; a two-month subscription providing unlimited access to the IWC can be purchased for $19.95.
The Amisfield Wine Company 2009 Pinot Noir Central Otago ($40; Vine Street Imports) shows ripe, sexy aromas of raspberry, smoke, minerals and chocolate. It’s juicy, concentrated and firmly built, with an enticing restrained sweetness to the flavors of dark cherry, pomegranate and minerals. This generous, complex, very long pinot finishes with firm tannins but a pliant texture.
Dog-lover Richard Riddiford, managing director of Palliser Estate, introduced his “Great Dog” series a few years old, based on two Burgundy clones planted in his best vineyard. The 2008 Pinot Noir The Great Walter Martinborough ($40; Negociants, U.S.A) offers a complex nose that melds red berries, flinty minerality, smoked meat, menthol and cinnamon. It’s rich, tactile and deep, with strong spicy lift and palate-saturating texture to its red berry and mineral flavors. The long, broad finish features a fine dusting of tannins. Delicious already, this pinot has the energy to age well.
From one of my perennial favorite wineries in New Zealand pinot noir, the Pegasus Bay 2009 Pinot Noir Waipara Valley ($42; Meadowbank Estates) offers expressive aromas of raspberry, smoke, spices and caraway seed. Silky, sweet and generous in the mouth, it boasts impressive breadth to its red berry and mineral flavors. While it’s not overly fruity today, this plush, complex wine should reward a few years of cellaring.
Like Amisfield, Quartz Reef is located in the continental climate of Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, the world’s southernmost wine region and prime pinot country. The bright, dark red Quartz Reef 2008 Pinot Noir Bendigo Central Otago ($33; Station Imports) shows Otago-typical dark fruit aromas of pure blueberry, black cherry and blackberry lifted by a floral topnote. This dense, ripe, creamy pinot possesses a terrific core of tactile dark berry and spice flavor, with lively acidity giving shape to the wine’s rich texture. The broad, vibrant, palate-saturating finish shows the restrained sweetness of a top Burgundy.
I also love the Seresin Estate 2009 Pinot Noir Estate Leah Marlborough ($32; The Sorting Table), which is fermented with wild yeasts and bottled without filtration. This pinot’s slightly high-toned aromas of raspberry, red cherry, peony and blood orange offer considerable sex appeal. In the mouth, it’s a pure, concentrated midweight with a savory quality and very good energy to its red berry and spice flavors. The suave finish features sweet, easygoing tannins and sneaky persistence.
Villa Maria Estate, a large producer of high-quality wines at numerous price points, makes a consistently satisfying pinot noir reserve. The 2008 Pinot Noir Reserve Marlborough ($35; Ste. Michelle Wine Estates) displays cool, precise aromas of blackberry, cherry, smoke, spices and herbs. On the palate, it’s concentrated, dense and suave, with nuanced dark berry and spice flavors framed by harmonious acidity. I especially like this pinot’s complexity and inner-mouth tension. This suave wine finishes with fine tannins and subtle spicy length.