New Zealand and Oregon Pinot Noir: wines from the edge

Over lockdown, there have been quite a few remote tastings, and 67 Pall Mall, with their careful sample preparation, decanting wines under the cover of inert gas into dainty sample bottles (each sample is 72 ml), have lead the way. This 67 Pall Mall tasting was a collaborative event, bringing together two top Pinot Noir destinations: for both New Zealand and Oregon, Pinot Noir as their top red variety.

Eyrie Vineyard, Oregon

Oregon is on the 45th parallel of the northern hemisphere, and Central Otago is on the same latitude south. Outside of France, the first place to make decent Pinot Noir was Oregon, says Ronan Sayburn, who hosted the seminar (representing New Zealand) together with Bree Boskov (representing Oregon). Both regions are on the Pacific Circle of Fire, with active volcanoes and plenty of earthquakes. Hence ‘wines from the edge’.

Oregon has a dry growing season, with the possibility of autumn rains disrupting the harvest. It has less rainfall and more sunshine in the growing season than Burgundy. Grape growing would be impossible without the coastal mountain range which is quite low lying, but catches a lot of the rainfall that otherwise would make viticulture almost impossible. It’s a dry-growing region and there’s enough winter rain to replenish water reserves. Pinot accounts for 57% of the states vineyard plantings, with Pinot Gris second (14%) and then Chardonnay (7%). There are 8340 hectares of Pinot Noir in Oregon. The Willamette Valley was established in 1965.

Central Otago, New Zealand

In New Zealand, weather comes in from the west, and in the South Island this gets cut off by the Southern Alps. This makes viticulture possible on the east of South Island, where many of the best vineyard regions are. Currently, there are some 40 000 hectares of vines in New Zealand, with 27808 hectares in Marlborough. Hawkes Bay is the second largest region with 5000 hectares and Central Otago is third with 1900. Sauvignon Blanc dominates (25 160 ha) with Pinot Noir second (5642 hectares, 8% of all plantings) Chardonnay third (3222 ha) and Pinot Gris (2593 ha) fourth.

For New Zealand, Central Otago and Martinborough are the two most famous Pinot regions, followed by North Canterbury (including the Waipara Valley), and also Marlborough. Top wines come from all of these regions. There are also some impressive Pinots from Nelson, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay too, but they are quite rare.

Most of all, though, this was a chance to try six rather lovely Pinot Noirs. Tasted blind, would I have been able to place them? Hard to say. Maybe the New Zealand wines showed a brighter fruit quality, but it’s very hard to discern origin. They were all very impressive wines.

Marlborough from the air

Te Whare Ra Pinot Noir 2016 Marlborough, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Destemmed, 14 day post-ferment maceration, 30% new oak. This is fresh and fine with pure, taut red fruits. Very fresh and fine with a sappy edge to the compact red cherry and berry fruits. Very linear with good acidity, some tannin, and refreshingly bright fruit. This is really fine and expressive with nice precision. Chiselled and beautiful with nice precision. 94/100

Eyrie Original Vines Pinot Noir 2016 Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
14% alcohol. This is fresh but also generous with sweet cherries and plums, with some richness. There’s a silky texture with some herbs and spice, as well as some minty hints. This has real interest and complexity, with good structure. Really refined and with good density and generosity, and lovely balance. 95/100

Craggy Range Aroha Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
12% alcohol. This is bold, sweetly fruited and quite spicy. Concentrated with a fresh raspberry edge to the sweet red cherry fruit. Supple, bright and expressive with some floral notes, a bit of bolstering from spicy oak. It has some flesh here. Very polished and pretty impressive. 94/100

Sequitir The Union Pinot Noir 2016 Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon
14% alcohol. This is really elegant with fine-grained cherry and raspberry fruit. So silky with a beautiful freshness to the fruit, and some silky texture. Nicely structured showing impeccable balance. A really fine, pretty wine. 95/100

Valli Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2017 Central Otago, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Perfumed and highly aromatic with black cherries, a touch of coffee, and some wood spice. The palate has dark fruits, a hint of tar, some depth and lushness, but also some elegance. A hint of cola, too. Such an interesting wine: a definite outlier in this set. Bright and focused with nice freshness, but a dark, ripe character to the fruit, finishing with sour cherry. 94/100

Evening Land Seven Springs Pinot Noir 2016 Eola Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
There’s some richness here. It has lushness to the sweet black cherry and plum fruit, but also good freshness. Fine and elegant, offering generous, silky sweet with a bit of fine spice on the finish. Lovely juiciness on the finish. Has an ease to it. 94/100

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