The Great Potential of New Zealand Pinot Noir

Can this 'ugly duckling' wine turn into a swan?

Sauvignon blanc is the variety most widely planted in New Zealand and the best known.

I am totally intrigued with the potential for New Zealand wines.

It has only been for the last 30 or so years that plantings have increased to the point where the wines are now widely available. The sauvignon blancs with their crisp grapefruit and herbal-tinged flavors are lovely wines that I enjoy with fish and lighter foods. This is the variety most widely planted in New Zealand and the best known. But, there are other varieties as well and the one that really intrigues me is pinot noir.

The most recent one that I have tasted is the 2007 Palliser Estate Pinot Noir from Martinborough, New Zealand. To be honest, this wine is an enigma to me. But, it is exactly that quality that intrigues me. Why? Because I know that the New Zealand pinot noir grapes normally do not get as ripe as in some other New World growing areas. This can produce a wine that has Burgundian character — but that is a double edged sword. Sometimes this Burgundian character is herbaceous and even peppery, which occurs when the harvest grapes are not fully ripe or when there are a lot of green stems included. This character is often referred to as stemminess, herbaceousness, or greenness. And, it is something that can be found in many 2004 red burgundies. But, with enough fruit and from the right producer and vineyard, that character diminishes with time and can actually add complexity to the older wine. This is the vinous equivalent of the maturation of an ugly duckling into a swan. So, with burgundy, I have experience and know what to look for. With New Zealand pinot noir I do not have the same frame of reference. That is the twist.