Sommeliers look to New Zealand wineries for value and flavor pairings.
New Zealand Pinot Noir is gaining prominence, largely because that country’s cool, sunny, dry climate yields perfect growing seasons for a varietal that has long been the quintessential autumn wine and one that has gained considerable popularity in recent years. Whether from New Zealand, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, or Burgundy, France, the wine is characterized by a bouquet of baking spices that eases into a palate rich with bright red fruit and a light, well-balanced body with silky tannins.
Pinot Noir is neither heavy, like a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon would be, nor is it a crisp, refreshing Rosé or white wine more suited for summer. Ideal for pairing with food, it’s a winner whether the table is ordering barbecued meats or vegetarian fare.
“Pinot Noir is a great wine, in general, for being very versatile,” says Joshua Orr, sommelier and bar manager at Marina Kitchen in San Diego.
As sommeliers increasingly turn to Pinot Noir for pairings, New Zealand has quickly emerged as one to watch and another favorite destination for growing Pinot Noir grapes, with regions like Otago and Marlborough coming into their own. What makes this country so solid for growing Pinot Noir?
“New Zealand’s climate—and particularly in regions from the Wairarapa through Marlborough and Central Otago—is exceptionally suited to Pinot Noir. The variety requires the whole growing season and in so doing is allowed to exhibit the full spectrum of Pinot Noir characteristics without being burdened with high alcohol,” says Dave Edmonds, winemaker at Nobilo Wines, which began making Pinot Noir from Marlborough grapes during the mid-1970s.
Nick Blampied-Lane, a winemaker at Cloudy Bay Vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand, agrees that New Zealand is ripe with opportunity for growing Pinot Noir. “In all the major Pinot Noir regions of New Zealand, the climate is cool, sunny, and dry. Another aspect that is often overlooked is the collegiate nature of the wine industry in New Zealand. Sharing information, ideas, and—of course—the occasional bottle is common among Kiwi winemakers,” says Blampied-Lane.
Indeed, each September Cloudy Bay hosts “Pinot at Cloudy Bay,” a trade-heavy event that attracts Pinot Noir enthusiasts from around the globe for seminars and tastings where the Pinot Noir bottles, from a country more celebrated for its wool and surfing, join those from New World Pinot Noir regions, such as Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Russian River Valley, California.