Rebecca's Article: Marlborough Pinot - Work in Progress

February 12th, 2013

Marlborough accounts for nearly half of all Pinot Noir plantings in New Zealand, so why am I still unmoved by the majority of the wines that are emerging? 

There was a lot of chatter from critics getting excited by Marlborough Pinot Noir at conference Pinot2013 in Wellington, but I'm still not getting it. 

Dog Point's Ivan Sutherland admitted: “We are late starters” to the Pinot game and “still have a long way to go.”

There are some encouraging wines from producers including Auntsfield and Fromm, but they still haven't yet managed to attain a level of complexity seen in Pinot Noirs from Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago.

Hopefully, Marlborough will play catch-up in the coming decade, as it takes the red variety increasingly seriously. The ambitious producers have discarded the Pinot Noir clones that were planted for sparkling wine in favor of vine material better suited to decent red Pinot – and these vines are starting to reach some level of maturity.

Site selection is also playing a large part in Marlborough's attempt to become serious Pinot Noir producers. The clay soils of the region's southern valleys – including the Omaka, Brancott and Waihope valleys – show promise. The wines from these clay soils show a greater density than Marlborough has ever achieved, but Sutherland is right: The region still has a long way to go if it wants to become as well-known for its Pinot Noir as its Sauvignon Blanc.

Local winemakers believe they are starting to get to grips with this demanding variety, but on too many occasions the fruit is overpowered by oak, not having the fruit weight to cope with the barrel treatment it receives. 

I often prefer the lighter styles such as Jules Taylor's 2010, which isn't trying too hard to be something it's not. It is an easy-going style, juicy and soft with lifted red cherry and bramble fruits. It's one of those wines you could drink a lot of and would be happy to chill. I'd much rather have that than a Pinot Noir that tastes of toast.

Overall, I'd much rather have a Central Otago, Martinborough or Waipara Pinot over Marlborough, but patience might be all that's required to change my mind.

2010 Fromm Pinot Noir Clayvin Vineyard: Attractively fragrant nose with (good) herbal notes, lifted florals and black cherry. The fruit is pure, caresses the mouth and it is focused on the mid-palate. There's only 10-15 percent new oak on this and it's all the better for it – why can't more producers in Marlborough follow their lead? Tannins are relatively abundant for Pinot but they are fine and mouth-coating. Long length. A very good effort. 18/20

2010 Auntsfield Pinot Noir Road Ridge: Pure aromas reminiscent of damson and red cherry. Sweetly fruited on entry. Ripe and rich on the mid-palate. Relatively firm tannin for Pinot with firm acidity providing a taut and linear finish. A well-made wine that is holding its 35 percent new French oak astoundingly well. 17.5+/20

Rebecca Gibb is editor at Wine Searcher and lives in Auckland, a long way from her original home of northeast England. She recently passed the theory and practical parts of the Master of Wine exams and is now working on her dissertation.


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