It has been a couple of years since the last Top 10 tasting of Pinot Noir at Winefolio Towers. The winner that time was from Terra Sancta – their Jackson’s Block Pinot Noir. You might notice that familiar name in our list again this year. Not quite the victor, but put up a solid performance in defence of the title.
Again we had entries from across the country. Marlborough as a region has emerged as a real contender for fine Pinot Noir over the last few years. They’ve always had some great sites – and that I think is key there – perhaps in the past Pinot has been planted in locations that didn’t really suit it, and with clones that didn’t work out too well. Elsewhere in South Island – Nelson, Kaikoura and North Canterbury are making some lovely examples. North Canterbury has the influence of limestone, and the standard of Pinot from this under-rated region is always high.
Central Otago is increasingly recognised as a set of specific sub-regions rather than a homogenous whole (a path that Marlborough is also heading down). Afficiandos will have their favourites – Gibbston, Lowburn, Wanaka and so on – and there are producers who now create wines from several of those sub-regions – these collections from one producer are definitely worth a delve into. Vintage will play a part here – Central can still be quite marginal in terms of what nature allows them to produce.
In the North island, the pioneering region would be regarded as Wairarapa – with Martinborough as the central point. Pinot here is distinctive, taking a path of savoury power and tannin over acidity as key components. There’s quite a bit of change happening in Wairarapa – new plantings, shifts in ownership, and some exciting new producers. Pinot of course does come from Hawke’s Bay. Maybe it is not what most people would think of when looking for a wine from there – but we had a couple entered in the Top 10 Tasting, and, again, site would be a key component.
Here are the Top 10 wines – congratulations to all in this list.
1. Schubert ‘Block B’ 2021
A defiantly ‘Old World’, traditional style, and none the worse for that. Europe has been making great Pinot Noir for a lot longer than New Zealand has, and still producing wines of jaw-dropping depth – the likes of which haven’t been achieved in our young industry. Block B is precise, elegant and complex. It wears big boots – it is a bold expression with power and structure to complement the smoky, inviting perfume. The palate shows a considered, but upfront, use of oak, and the tannin makes its presence felt – casing the bloody fruit in a supple grip. The finish is amazingly long, spicy and vibrant. “Seriously well-made” said the Boss.
The team at Schubert had this to say about the vintage and the wine:
“ The vintage had Spring frosts and less-than-ideal flowering conditions led to poor fruit set. A dry and not-too-hot summer brought favourable ripening conditions. Fruit was harvested from the 16th – 23rd March 2021.
Block B is a selection of Dijon Pinot Noir Clones. Specifically, the clones 115, 667, 777, 114 and 113. Hand-picked and carefully selected grapes. 100% de-stemmed, cold-macerated, fermented in stainless steel vats and left on grape skins for 3 weeks. Aged in 45% new and 55% used French oak barriques for 18 months.
The 2021 wine shows rich dark fruit, plums and black cherry; a lush and sumptuous Pinot Noir with some toasty oak yet complex intertwined with aromas of small-leafed herbs, rosewood and a hint of chocolate. Impressive body yet not overpowering it is elegant with soft, fine tannins that will allow it to age beautifully”.
2. Coal Pit ‘Tiwha’ 2021
Immediately draws you in with the perfume – very varietally pure and identifiably Pinot in character. Cherry, cranberry and black plum. David commented “Very complete, very Pinot”. Power and purity in the palate, where acidity and tannin sit in a comfortable balance. Great length in the palate, through to a sweetening, mile-long finish.
3. Terra Sancta Jackson’s Block 2019
A wine that had echoes of French style to it. An intriguing balance of lighter raspberry and rosehip flavours, savoury charcuterie notes and well-judged use of gravelly oak influence. Starts with a floral aromatic to the nose, progressing to star anise and a distinct kirsch-cherry note. Complex and well-rounded, with lot to see and do along the journey in the palate.
4. Misha’s ‘The High Note’ 2020
This wine had the judges returning to and discussing it possibly more than any other on the day. “Ying and Yang” was how one set of notes summed it up. A well-balanced expression that has that standard of Pinot being “an aromatic red wine” from the get-go. Dark plum, cherry cola, roses, blueberry, bitter chocolate and lilac on the nose. Spiced with pepper, cloves and thyme and held together with fine, tight tannins and framed with toasty oak. Another wine that seems to have ‘belief in itself’ – comfortable in its own skin.
5. Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ 2021
The previous Top 10 Tasting of Pinot, in 2021, also delivered two wines from one producer into the list – but two in the top five is quite an achievement. Our no.5 had “a calm poise and balance” throughout, despite the youthful nature of a wine that could well be drinking better in ten years time. The subtle interplay between silken tannin, rich fruit, mushroom savouriness and spicy oak is understated and seamless. Complex and graceful at the same time.
6. Astrolabe 2019
A wine with “brightness and vibrancy” according to our notes. A medicinal/herbal edge to the fruit again here – that sarsparilla, tomato leaf note leading one taster to think it was Marlborough fruit (correctly). Blood orange, strawberry and cassis show a distinctive, and lighter, edge to the flavours. Real personality alongside textbook structure from the core of acidity and plush texture.
7. Matahiwi ‘Holly’ South Series 2021
Big colour and big flavours. A whack of oak will please those who revel in Pinot where a toastiness is present and correct. Effusively fruit-forward but with plenty of Wairarapa-signature savoury nuances of cigar tobacco, umami and peat, to back it up. “A crowd-pleaser” – in fact, just a lovely glass of wine.
8. Greywacke 2021
The most-discussed perfume of the day. One calls it ‘smoky’, others talk of ‘barnyard’ on the nose. I settle on incense, root beer, shoe polish and sour cherry in equal parts. Vibrant fruit that seems cooler-climate – crunchy and herbal with chamomile and thyme. Plenty of savoury flavours and tannin here to balance that pop of fruit and juicy acidity. A bright, lengthy finish.
9. Pegasus Bay 2021
Full marks to Pegasus Bay for personality in this one. I could see this being a “Love it or hate it” expression of Pinot Noir – and I see no harm in going down that path – who wants to be boring? A moody, brooding sensibility sets the tone, through to the aromas of charry oak, blueberry, popcorn and morello cherry.
10. Maude 2022
The colour and perfume promises well – a vibrant, smoky complexity. The palate has a jube and cordial edge to the flavours of bramble, raspberry and black plum; plus a dusty, autumnal savoury-dried herb element. Another example where nothing sticks out, and it settles into a “velvet-smooth texture and balance”.