We remain in New Zealand’s Central Otago region this week, to look at some lesser-known but excellent pinot noirs. New Zealand has emerged alongside Oregon and northern California in the United States and Australia as the home to some of the best alternatives to red Burgundy.
Pinot noir plantings in New Zealand more than doubled in 2009 to 4,824 hectares. It is New Zealand’s second most exported variety – about 6 million litres a year – versus the dreaded sauvignon blanc (91 million litres). New Zealand sauvignon blanc has flooded the market with sour-smelling acidic dross. Where I live in Australia it’s possible to buy 20,000 litres of this white wine for about 12 RMB a litre.
Pinot’s success is a much more pleasant story. Grasshopper Rock is one of the more promising pinot makers. Indeed, they only make this most difficult of wines. Its home page says: “A single vineyard wine producer dedicated to production of quality pinot noir”.
The 2009 is dark cherry in colour. The bouquet is restrained at first but later reeks of raspberries and violets. This is a wine to savour with duck and a fruit sauce – cherries, perhaps? – but ideally should be cellared for three to five years. The tannic backbone offers a dusty note to the palate.
The vineyard takes it name from a rare grasshopper, sigaus childi, found only in Central Otago. Grapes come from the Alexandra sub-region. The site gets a high number of hours of sunshine. The climate is harsh and the vines work hard to produce good fruit.
The 2006 vintage achieved acclaim when Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate magazine rated the wine as outstanding in 2008. The 2007 vintage received three gold medals at the Hong Kong international wine show. The 2008 vintage was awarded two gold medals at London’s International Wine Challenge.
The 2006 and 2007 are sold out but the 2008 and 2009 can be purchased from the web site. The vineyard does not appear to have an outlet in China.
Another small producer with big wines is Mondillo. The 2009 vintage was one of only 10 pinots to win a gold medal at this year’s Romeo Bragato wine awards held in Blenheim in August.
The 2009 pinot noir is dark cherry in colour with soft tannins. The flavours are restrained at first but open up to offer a luscious combination of spice and plums. Soft and seductive tannins give the wine structure.
Michael Cooper, author of the Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wine, described Mondillo as “an emerging star”. Rudi Bauer, the international superstar of wine making based at Quartz Reef vineyard, makes the wine.
* “Back to quality pinot noir” in China Daily, 27 November 2010, 12.