Exploring the Diverse, Vibrant Personalities of New Zealand Pinot Noir

I was delighted to attend the Made in New Zealand Pinot Noir Seminar held at Pier A Harbor House in NYC last month. The seminar was an extension of Pinot Noir NZ 2017 held in Wellington New Zealand. The 3 day event, as described by The Drinks Business Magazine: “New Zealand’s entire wine industry gathered alongside a host of international sommeliers, buyers and writers to debate all things Pinot, letting their hair down in the process, in true Kiwi fashion. It was the sixth time that the Pinot Noir NZ event had been held, hosted every four years, with 115 New Zealand wineries showcased this year representing seven regions.”

From left to right, Joe Czerwinski, Brett Feore and Michael Henley.

Hosted by New Zealand Wine, the NYC event was under the direction of David Strada, the marketing manager for New Zealand Wines USA. The distinguished panel of presenters were Joe Czerwinski, managing editor of Wine Enthusiast, Brett Feore, sommelier and wine director at the New Zealand influenced Muskat Room in NYC, Laura Williamson, Master Sommelier and wine director at Mandarin Oriental in NYC, and Michael Henley, CEO of Trinity Hill Wines.

With such an esteemed panel, the tasting was an engaging, informative journey through the different personalities of New Zealand Pinot Noir. Here are my impressions from the seminar:

Wine regions of New Zealand. Courtesy of New Zealand Wine.

  • There is a wide range of style and diversity within New Zealand Pinot Noir. There are 10 growing regions, each displaying distinctive, regional character ranging from fresh and bright, graceful and subtle, to bold and tannic. For example, the hillside areas in Marlborough are known to have red fruits, fresh acidity, good structure and tannic backbone. Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir, with its cool climate, along with water and wind issues, tend to the more savory and earth side, with spice and supple tannins.
  • The average vine age is 15 years. Pinot Noir is a relatively new adventure in New Zealand winemaking. As Joe Czerwinski stated, “While there is a maturity being seen in both the wines and winemakers, winemakers are still figuring things out”.
  • Committed to protecting the land, nearly 100% of wines produced are certified sustainable, with many also being certified organic and biodynamic.
  • The majority of wineries take their name from the dominant feature of the land that they cultivate.
  • As seen also with many Italian winemakers, there is a drive to move away from oak to allow the fruit to come thru. Wine with oak aging generally has a low percentage of new oak.
  • Alcohol levels have to be within .5 % of what is stated on the label. For those of us familiar with the fun “11%-14%” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ alcohol level commonly seen on Italian and French labels, the accuracy is striking.

All of the wines below are 100% Pinot Noir. Prices listed are the average online cost.

Trinity Hill Pinot Noir Hawke’s Bay 2015

Winemaking Notes: No new oak was used in order to let the fruit express itself; the structure comes from the abundant fruit, not oak.

Tasting Notes: Bright aromas of cherry, raspberry, wild flowers and clean minerals. Fresh and fruity with a streak of granite minerality, silky tannins compliment the fruity, dry finish. Accessible and fun, fantastic on its own or a great companion at the table.
13% Alcohol

Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Pinot Noir Martinborough 2015

Winemaking Notes: Savoury notes are derived from the stems, a percentage of the grapes were left in whole cluster bunches. Aged in 25% new French oak.

Tasting Notes: Smoky fruit and herb aromas, a savoury expression of Pinot Noir. Big and bold with dark fruit, clove and a shake of white pepper. Great acidity keeps everything bright, red berries, herbs and earth notes comprise the dry finish. Wonderfully unique, the savoury edge keeps you reaching for more.
13% Alcohol

Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ Pinot Noir Martinborough 2014

Winemaking Notes: Grapes were sourced from the best parcels of a terraced vineyard with clay and stony soil. Produced with 50% whole cluster bunches and fermented with native yeasts. Aged in 30% new French oak for 10 months. [‘Aroha’ means love in Maori.]

Tasting Notes: Engaging aromas of red berries with a kiss of funk. Raspberry and cherry integrate seamlessly with fresh herbs and velvety tannins. Peppery spice, earth and a trace of vanilla infused oak on the plush finish. Fantastic on its own, and a versatile companion at the table.
13.5% Alcohol

Greenhough ‘Hope Vineyard’ Pinot Noir Nelson 2014

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from clay rich, gravel soil. Unlike the previous 3 wines, grapes were totally destemmed. Batch fermented with wild yeasts. Aged in 20% new French oak for 12 months. Bottled without fining or filtering.

Tasting Notes: Cheerful aromas of cherry, black current, candied flowers and a hint of summer woods. A subtle herbaceous streak and flinty mineral edge illuminate concentrated blackberry, cherry, black current and peppery spices. Chocolate dusted berries and a trace of menthol linger between each sip. Well integrated oak and a great balance of fruit and peppery spice keep you reaching for more.
14.5% Alcohol

Tohu Awatere Valley Pinot Noir Marlborough 2015

Winemaking: The first Maori owned winery; grapes were sourced from high elevation vineyards in the Awatere Valley of southern Marlborough. The climate is cooler, drier and windier then other areas, as well as more exposed to cold weather from the south, which tends to create a later ripening crop and even longer growing season. Aged in a combination of old and new French barriques.

Tasting Notes: Lively cherry and floral aromas. Tangy cherry, red current, pomegranate and a nip of eucalyptus glide atop silky tannins. Crushed white peppercorn and toasted oak round out the lengthy finish. Whilst the oak is present, the fruit is really the star; so energetic and fresh, it pops with bright, pure fruit.
13.5% Alcohol

Greywacke Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011

Winemaking: Headed by Kevin Judd, one of the pioneers of New Zealand wines, Greywacke takes its name from the high amount of greywacke river stones found in the vineyards. Aged in 45% new French oak.

Bringing the funk in the best way, bright fruits [cherry, raspberry, strawberry] are draped over an oak frame. Forest floor, dried flowers and the slightest trace of truffle comprise the plush finish. Well balanced fruit/earth/spice make this an engaging sip that keeps you reaching for more.
14% Alcohol

The Boneline ‘Waimanu’ Pinot Noir Waipara Valley 2014

Winemaking: Boneline takes its name from the high amount of fossils found in the soil. Their tag line is “wine grown on the shoulders of giants”. Besides being cool to have fossils in the soil, they make the soil rich in calcium. A small portion of whole bunch fermentation, aged for 12 months in Burgundian French oak.

Tasting Notes: Concentrated aromas of Baked fruit [think cherry, strawberry and plum] with a hint of sweet oak. Rich plum and cherry fruits are dusted with graham cracker and white pepper. Food friendly acidity and a mineral backbone harmonize with the fruit and oak on the dry, lengthy finish. Focused and refined, fantastic on its own or a versatile companion at the table.
14% Alcohol

Mount Edward Pinot Noir Central Otago 2014

Winemaking: Located in what is known to be some of the most beautiful spots in New Zealand, famous for its huge mountains and wild countryside. Minimal intervention in both the vineyard and cellar. 25% whole clusters, fermented with indigenous yeast, unfined and unfiltered, and aged for 11 months in 20% new French oak.

Tasting Notes: Sweet, ripe fruit with a hint of cigar box spice aromas. Well structured, with velvety black and red cherry notes balanced by dried herbs and dusty earth. Firm tannins fuse with the harmonizing lengthy finish of fruit and spiced oak. Intense and lively, an engaging sip.
13.5% Alcohol


Media event hosted by New Zealand Wine.

Mud House Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014

Processed with Snapseed.

Winery: Established in 1996, with a focus on the earth and environment, the Mud House name reflects their “origin and link to the earth, where the wine begins”. Mud House has vineyards in 3 different regions of New Zealand’s South Island; Marlborough, Waipara Valley and Central Otago, along with two wineries, one in Marlborough and one in the Waipara Valley. Employing a combination of innovative technology along with the “passion and artisan skill of the winemakers” they strive to capture the essence from where the grapes come from, “ensuring the unique complexities of each region travelled through the earth through the vineyard to the glass”. The Mud House range of wines are crafted to be “everyday wines to enjoy at any occasion”.

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from the Woolshed vineyard [clay and loam soils] located in Upper Wairau Valley, Marlborough. Planted in 2001, the 105.5 hectares of vines are nestled “in the shelter of a steep sided triangular hill called the ‘Delta’”. Grapes from Woolshed are designated for the Single Vineyard Woolshed Sauvignon Blanc and the Mud House Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Tasting Notes: Pale gold in colour with aromas of peach, pineapple and tomato leaf. Super fruity and refreshing, with lush, tropical fruits sculpted by racy acidity and herbaceous hints, finishing with energizing citrus zest notes.

100% Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand
Produced and Bottled by Accolade Wines New Zealand Ltd, Riverlands
13% Alcohol
Enjoy now thru 2017

Rated 89 points by Wine Spectator

Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015


Winery: Loveblock Vintners was founded by Erica and Kim Crawford and is located in the high hills overlooking the Awatere Valley in New Zealand’s famous Marlborough region. The estate vineyard, ‘Loveblock Farm’ is certified organic, whilst the other vineyards are practicing organic, as with the majority of vineyards in New Zealand, synthetic/chemical products are not used. Many sustainable methods such as “natural compost, cover crops and livestock are used to enhance soil health”.

Philosophy: “Creating the best wine we can to express this extraordinary place and its unique aspect. We follow our deeply held belief in ethical farming which enables the wine to show its true and naked terroir.”

Winemaking: Grapes are sourced from “from estate vineyards in Marlborough, two in the lower Awatere valley, and one at the base of the Waihopai valley”. The soil is a blend of alluvial loam with clay over stone. “A small portion of the wine goes through natural and malolactic fermentation, cutting the sharp edge off the palate.”

Tasting Notes: Super pale gold in colour with aromas of yellow apple, melon, papaya and green olive. Tropical in character, with bright pineapple, peach, papaya and apricot flavours balanced by vivid acidity. The herbaceous hint on the dry, citrus finish is a lovely compliment to all of the fruit.

Sauvignon Blanc with small amounts of Arneis, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer [I was unable to confirm varietal percentages.]
New Zealand
Produced & Bottled by Loveblock Vintners
13.5% Alcohol
Enjoy now thru 2020

Villa Maria ‘Private Bin’ Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015


Estate: One of my favorite New Zealand wineries, Villa Maria was founded in 1961 when George Fistonich leased 5 acres in Marlborough from his father. Today the family estate has more than 250 employees, exports wine to over 50 countries and is New Zealand’s most awarded winery. Practicing sustainable farming and possessing a long term view of both the environment and the wine business, Villa Maria believes that “sustainability is not an end point but a journey and therefore we are always finding ways to embed sustainable principles into the culture of the organization”.

Winemaking: Grapes were sourced from vineyards across the Marlborough region, specifically from the warm Wairau Valley [which contributes “richness and riper tropical flavours”] and the cooler Awatere Valley [providing the “zingy acid structure and pungent herbal aromatics”]. Cool, slow fermentation in stainless steel tanks to “retain distinctive regional and varietal characteristics”.

Tasting Notes: Pale gold in colour with vibrant aromas of fresh peach, lime and tomato leaf. Juicy peach, melon and sweet mandarin orange run atop an undercurrent of zippy citrus zest. Tomato leaf and grass make an appearance on the crisp, dry finish. With wonderfully well balanced fruit and green notes, this is a fantastic expression of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at a stunningly affordable price.

100% Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand
Produced and Bottled by Villa Maria Estate
13% Alcohol
Enjoy now thru 2019

Rated 90 points by Wine Spectator

Villa Maria ‘Bubbly’ Sauvignon Blanc 2015


Villa Maria ‘Bubbly’ Sauvignon Blanc debuting at The New Zealand Wine Fair in NYC, accompanied by George the Sheep.

Estate: One of my favorite New Zealand wineries, Villa Maria was founded in 1961 when George Fistonich leased 5 acres in Marlborough from his father. Today the family estate has more than 250 employees, exports wine to over 50 countries and is New Zealand’s most awarded winery. Practicing sustainable farming and possessing a long term view of both the environment and the wine business, Villa Maria believes that “sustainability is not an end point but a journey and therefore we are always finding ways to embed sustainable principles into the culture of the organization”.

Winemaking: “Fruit for this wine was sourced from a selection of vineyards throughout New Zealand spanning a range of different climates and soil types. Cool, slow fermentation in stainless steel tanks”, bottled soon after fermentation to capture its freshness. This is a brand new offering from the estate. Made in the style of an Italian frizzante [lightly sparkling].

Tasting Notes: Cheerful and sunny, with melon and citrus buoyed by small, fizzy bubbles. Good acidity compliments fresh juicy flavours; the clean, zippy finish keeps you reaching for more. Fantastic for summer sipping!

100% Sauvignon Blanc
New Zealand
13% Alcohol
$15 [average price]
Enjoy now


Media event hosted by New Zealand Winegrowers