Not all the smart, sought-after pinot noir is coming out of Central Otago, Martinborough or Waipara. Ignore Marlborough at your peril, as the local producers, anxious to avoid the one-trick-pony of sauvignon blanc, are forging ahead with this varietal.
Initially Marlborough was so consumed with its worldwide reputation for super sauvignon blanc that other varietals tended to be overlooked. But a balanced portfolio makes a lot of sense and now, with some vine age, meticulous winemaking and a determination to succeed, Marlborough pinot noir is no longer an oxymoron.
Often described as sitting between the bright, fruit-driven, herbaceous style of Central Otago and the more truffle-infused, barnyard flavours of Martinborough and Waipara, Marlborough is developing its own distinctive character.
There are serious pinot winemakers in the Marlborough hills and they are starting to strut their stuff with all the confidence and aplomb of Corey Jane or Israel Dagg under the high ball.
Although the climate may be too cool to enable cabernet sauvignon and merlot to fully and consistently ripen, it has turned out to be ideal for some of the country's best pinot noir. Producers with an excellent track record here include Churton, Clos Henri, Cloudy Bay, Delta, Dog Point, Fromm, Hans Herzog, Nautilus, Seresin and Wither Hills.
Not only is Marlborough producing pinot noir of exceptional quality, its output is significant - it accounts for almost half the country's total vines of this grape, not forgetting that this varietal continues to be our most recognised and awarded red wine internationally.
Notoriously temperamental, pinot noir can try the patience of the most obliging, clever winemakers and it often falls victim to fluctuating weather patterns and is prone to being felled overnight by a brutal sudden frost.
As John Saker notes in his book, Pinot Noir, The New Zealand Story: "Pinot noir will always be a Marlborough subset that is becoming more assured with every passing vintage."
2009 Nautilus Four Barriques Pinot Noir
Quite outstanding and released only in exceptional vintages. Just four of 120 barrels are chosen for the first expression of this wine. It has finely balanced tannins and restrained use of oak, producing complexity, concentration and a smooth finish. Price: $85
2010 Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir
Made with grapes from an exceptional vineyard above the Waihopai Valley, this wine is always reliable and produced in a distinctive style. Full-flavoured with black cherry fruit and hints of earth and spice, it is wonderful. Price: $44