An old friend once told me he “likes all sorts of dodgy drinks but can’t stand Marlborough pinot noir”. In his mind Marlborough, New Zealand, is sauvignon blanc-ville and shouldn’t attempt red winemaking.
Ten years ago I would have agreed that Marlborough pinot noir tasted like a dried-out prune, but today its best versions rival those from more respected pinot noir regions such as Central Otago, North Canterbury and the Wairarapa.
Not only are Marlborough’s best pinot noirs growing in quality (proving the only “old” part about my old friend is his staid mind-set), they are also shrinking in price.
Like so many wine regions around the world, Marlborough has proven to be annoyingly capable of adapting beyond our wildest expectations. In the last decade Marlborough pinot noir plantings have grown from 230ha to 1737ha.
Quality is key, however, and the cheapest wines are one of the best indicators of the rising quality of the top wines. Sound weird? What I mean is that grapes once destined for top-tier wines are now let loose in wines once deemed relatively simple. It’s a win-win situation.
The best wines are improving because the raw material in the vineyards is better and, like a domino effect, the once very simple pinot noirs are also improving because they, in turn, are benefiting.
Despite what you might think, pinot noir is anything but one grape. It is a highly diverse range of different “clones” that are growing in number and therefore in possible wine potential. (Don’t fret about the clone word – I’m talking about variations on the same theme rather than anything freakishly modified.)
The growth in potential flavour possibilities, quality and quantity is not confined to Marlborough, but it is more pertinent there because it is New Zealand’s largest wine region.
Total pinot noir plantings in New Zealand have grown from 4800ha in 1999 to 32,000ha today. Remembering that New Zealand wine accounts for a mere dribble of just 0.2 per cent in the world’s total vinous bucket, even Marlborough is not able to sate drinkers’ demands, but the region’s size gives it greater potential than most other areas to meet demand and to make a name – and a buck – for the country.
If you like pinot noir you owe it to yourself to wrap your lips around some from Marlborough. Instead of writing it off, risk the chance that you might just like it. As someone young at heart once said, there is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs: the risk of doing and trying nothing new.