Most wines can be made by following the textbook, a bit like following a recipe when you bake a cake. There are fundamental rules, certain processes to follow. Naturally, having grapes in perfectly ripened condition also helps. Where the winemaker tests his or her mettle is with pinot noir. It takes an accomplished winemaker to produce a truly great example.
New Zealand has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to selecting this varietal and at a wide range of prices. With pinot, more so than any other wine, you do get what you pay for and, frankly, not all pinots are created equally. There is a bit of dross out there but, by and large, we are well-served. My rule of thumb is: follow the producer. Two of the best are making pinot noir in different islands.
Grant Taylor plies his trade in Central and North Otago while Larry McKenna does the business in Wairarapa - Martinborough, in particular.
These men have been making fine wine for more years than they'd like to remember and seem to get it right (vintage willing) year after year.
Taylor, who has been making wine since the early 80s has impeccable credentials. His great-great-grandfather, who came to New Zealand in the 1870s, had an Italian winemaking background, so there was a fair chance he would follow suit.
Taylor did his apprenticeship in California's Napa Valley, then, following a stint at Gibbston Valley in the early 90s, produced the first Valli wines in 1998. His current clutch of pinots come from Bannockburn, Bendigo, Gibbston Valley and one of our newest wine-growing regions, Waitaki in North Otago. All the wines are different and reflect their particular terroir.
McKenna, another self-confessed pinot obsessive, left Australia to make wine with Trinity Hills' John Hancock. Back then they both worked at Delegats. In the mid-80s McKenna finished up in Martinborough where he quickly established a reputation for superb reds at Martinborough Vineyard.
His Escarpment Vineyard took off in 1998 and now he has a range of single vineyard pinots, from some of the oldest vines in the area.
The wines are stunning. Do taste his sublime chardonnay.
2011 Valli Bannockburn Vineyard Pinot Noir - $65
A classic Central Otago style with lots of flavour and finesse, big cherry, red plum fruit with savoury spice throughout. This is supple and sensuous, with a sweet fruit finish.
2011 Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir - $45
Little brother to majestic Kupe, but with this you still get those lovely soft, ripe tannins and elegant fruit flavours and some change from a $50 note. (Kupe is $85 and gorgeous). This is an exceptional, complex and a lovely textured wine that will cellar for 10 years.