The popular pinot noir

This New Zealand red has become a favourite among wine drinkers and growers alike, for good reason.

Words Joelle Thomson.

When it comes to having all your eggs in one basket, New Zealand winemakers know a thing or two. Take pinot noir. 

It now accounts for 70 per cent of the red wine made in this country, for 80 per cent of the grapes grown in Central Otago (the country’s fourth biggest wine region) and for the largest wine conference ever held in New Zealand – Pinot Noir NZ 2017, held in Wellington. Drinkers have fallen for the variety’s soft, velvety,
red fruit charms and winemakers for its attributes in the vineyard. It buds early in spring and ripens early in autumn, which means it can be harvested early, avoiding frost – some of the time. 

On the flip side, the grape’s thin skins make it prone to fungal disease, and we’ve got that in spades in our relatively wet, relatively high rainfall climate here in New Zealand. And while wine drinkers may love pinot noir now, what happens if another movie like Sideways (2004) comes along and knocks it off its popular perch? The ‘Sideways effect’ is a well-documented trend that saw merlot fall from grace globally after the film gave it the thumbs down via its protagonist, Miles, who loathed merlot and fancied pinot noir. 

So, how sensible is it to invest so heavily in one variety? You know what they say about lies and statistics. While it’s true that pinot noir does account for 70 per cent of all red wine produced in this country, it is eclipsed entirely by a sea of sauvignon blanc, which not only accounts for 74 per cent of all grapes grown here, but also for 85 per cent of all wine exported from New Zealand. 

Pinot noir may dominate our red wine scene but, compared with sauvignon blanc, it’s not ‘big’ in the ‘big picture’ sense. 

Think about it like this: there are 36,000 hectares of grapes planted in New Zealand; 28,000 of them are white grapes (mostly sauvignon blanc), while just 7900 hectares are red.

So, while it may seem slightly scary that pinot noir rules the red roost, it remains a promising work in progress, with the lower priced pinot noirs being better than ever before (and offering exceptional value for money, in the best cases). Meanwhile the smaller volume, higher quality wines are stellar – despite their high prices. As the unparalleled visitor numbers to the big pinot gig in Wellington this February proved, pinot noir is so tricky to grow anywhere in the world that the fact New Zealand appears to do it so well paints a pretty rosy picture for the future, if you’ll excuse the pun. In the meantime, try our top picks. 

Drink these

North Canterbury is a region that consistently punches way above its weight, so here are my top reds from this southern region. 

· 2013 Bell Hill Pinot Noir

· 2015 Bellbird Spring River Terrace Pinot Noir

· 2015 Black Estate Home Block Pinot Noir

· 2015 Greystone Pinot Noir

· 2013 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir

· 2015 Pyramid Valley Angel Flower Pinot Noir

· 2014 The Bone Line Pinot Noir

· 2015 The Crater Rim Pinot Noir

· 2015 Tongue in Groove Pinot Noir

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