Spotlight on New Zealand: Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006

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My next spotlight focuses on a country that is beginning to reassert its importance in the world of wine after decades of being known only for its unique brand of Sauvignon Blanc. While Kiwi “savvy” helped grow an industry and give an obscure wine country international name recognition, it is only recently that wine lovers are discovering that savvy is the least New Zealand has to offer the world of wine.

First to grab sommelier’s and wine writer’s attention was Pinot Noir, which is now being followed by Chardonnay and, increasingly, a few Bordeaux blends and some fascinating examples of Syrah. This spotlight will explore each of these grapes from some of New Zealand’s leading producers with the hopes of continuing the love and hopefully introducing a few readers to the unique wines of this remote island.

History, Climate and Grape

Pinot Noir is now arguably New Zealand’s most exciting grape and it has becoming increasingly easy to find good examples on store shelves in North America (B.C. had a particularly good selection after last year’s wine festival, which focused on New Zealand).

New Zealand’s varied climates (which range from semi-continental to completely maritime) are starting to find expression in the country’s Pinot Noirs, and it seems that New Zealand wine makers are starting to come into their own after a decade in the 80’s learning how to improve their canopy management techniques to achieve proper ripeness and in the 90’s exploring vineyard site selection. Arguably there is still room for improvement in site selection as most winemakers in New Zealand eschew challenging vineyard slopes, instead mostly going to flat lands. There are, of course, exceptions.

Small but Potent

Martinborough Vineyards is in Martinborough, a region within Wairarapa on the southern tip of the north island. Less than 4% of the country’s vines are planted here but there is a┬ádisproportionate┬álevel of quality amongst the region’s growers. Martinborough Vineyards is one of those producers, often competing for the moniker of the country’s best Pinot Noir producer.

The wine is made from some of New Zealand’s oldest Pinot Noir vines (around 30 years), which are grown on the well drained alluvial soils of the Martinborough Terrace. The climate here has strong diurnal variation, which is not true for many New Zeland vineyards. Hand picked, sorted, pumped, etc. This wine is cold soaked, fermented with indigenous yeast, and matured in French Oak barriques. So how is this stuff?

Highly Complex and Delicious Juice

There is lots of rich oak spice and cherry on the nose along with chocolate and indian spices like cardamom. The palate peaks considerable interest and is far less rich than expected from the nose. Deliciousness is high in this, a wine filled with bright and peppy cherry and strawberry fruit with some minerality and herbs developing through the mid palate into the finish.

There is good length, but the wine finishes a bit hot. However, The heat on the finish does not take away from the overall deliciousness and complexity of the wine. The oak is certainly present and may need more time to integrate fully, but it also adds good depth and structure to this wine. An impressive effort and a good start to the New Zealand spotlight.

With air I noted some reduction (struck matchstick odour), but the wine remained impressively long and complex. I found it to become a bit deeper and more brooding with air.

$71 at Everything Wine


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