Zenith Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 1999
New Zealand Pinot Noir has jumped onto the world wine stage with recent but rapid growth in quality and recognition. Pinot Noir didn’t develop a significant presence in New Zealand until the late 1980’s, and production stayed small in the beginning. But plantings doubled between 2003 and 2013, quality jumped and the world took notice. This is partly due to the propogation of one specific clone, the Abel clone (named after the customs agent who discovered vine cuttings hidden in a boot) that is rumored to be originally from Burgundy’s famous, Domaine de la Romanee Conti.
Pinot Noir is grown throughout New Zealand, but the majority hails from the South Island. The most important North Island region is Wairarapa, near the southern tip. Here the thin, poor soils and frost danger keep yields low. But the long growing season and dramatic diurnal temperature shift lead to dry, earthy Pinot Noir wines that in good years, show terrific red fruit and lovely depth.
The South Island in New Zealand has three regions of great significance. Marlborough Pinot Noirs hail mostly from the Awatere Valley, which is slightly drier and cooler than the Wairau Valley. The grape is grown for both sparkling and still wines, with the latter showing improvement as the vines age. The Canterbury region is composed of small producers making handcrafted Pinot Noirs that show tantalizing promise. Finally, Central Otago in New Zealand is the world’s southernmost wine region. Summers here are short but extremely sunny and dry, with cold nights that preserve grape acidity. Otago Pinot Noir wines show earthy and herbal notes, as well as vivacious red fruit flavors that are as bright as they are ripe. It is unusual, in fact, to find a Pinot that is under 14% alcohol. Taken together, New Zealand Pinot Noirs offer a wealth of delightful options for fans of this variety.