Producer: Lake Chalice Wines
Country Hierarchy: New Zealand
Grape/Blend: Pinot Noir
Food Suggestion: Meaty and Oily Fish
Wine Style: Red – Light and Perfumed
Marlborough is by far New Zealand’s most important wine region. Situated at the northeastern tip of the South Island, this dry, sunny region produces around three-quarters of all New Zealand wine. It is particularly famous for its pungent, zesty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
The region consists of two parallel valleys, the Wairau and the Awatere. It stretches up the Pacific coast from Kaikoura to Picton, a small port town in the Marlborough Sounds. The long, straight Wairau Valley is slightly longer-established than the Awatere and has a greater share of Marlborough’s 58,300 acres (23,600ha) of vineyards.
River terraces in the Awatere Valley ©NZWA/Babich Wines
Although some vines were planted by settlers in the 1870s, commercial scale viticulture did not begin in Marlborough until the 1970s, when the Auckland-based wine producer Montana (now Brancott Estate) surveyed the area and bought its first land there. The first large-scale vineyards were planted in 1973 and, despite early challenges with the region’s dry soils and strong winds, Marlborough wines were already making a name for themselves by the early 1980s. Rapid expansion followed and, by 1985, Marlborough was awash in a sea of average-quality wines. A government vine-pull scheme helped to re-establish balance somewhat, during which the high-yielding Muller-Thurgau vines that once dominated the region were replaced with the now-iconic Sauvignon Blanc. Such was the success of Sauvignon Blanc here that Marlborough is widely regarded as the variety’s New World home.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc exploded onto the world wine scene in the 1980s and 1990s, to the rapture of wine critics and consumers around the globe. It is noted for its complete lack of subtlety, its intense flavors of green pepper and gooseberry and a sweaty character that has been famously described as “cat’s pee on a gooseberry bush”. There are few New World wine regions so closely associated with a single grape variety as Marlborough is with Sauvignon Blanc (with the possible exception of Mendoza and its Malbec).
Marlborough’s valleys were created millions of years ago by a large glacier. The Wairau Valley, home to the region’s main center, Blenheim, and the Rapaura and Renwick sub-regions, has a warm, sunny climate cooled by winds from the Pacific Ocean. The Awatere Valley, just to the southeast, has a slightly cooler climate due to its added proximity to the ocean on both northern and eastern sides. Sea breezes are a vital part of the Marlborough terroir. Sunshine during the day is tempered by the wind, leading to a substantial diurnal temperature variation. This, along with a sunny, dry autumn, creates a long growing season, which gives the grapes times to develop full, expressive varietal character without losing their characteristic acidity.
The region’s soils are geologically young and largely alluvial, having been distributed around the two valley floors by the Wairau and Awatere rivers. Gravelly soils are common on the river terraces, while silty loams can be found in the hills. These soils are excellent for viticulture because of their rapid drainage and low fertility. The vines are forced to work hard for hydration and nutrients, meaning that they focus their energy on the production of small, concentrated grapes, which translates into intensity of flavor in the finished wines.
Although Sauvignon Blanc dominates the Marlborough vineyards, several other varieties also perform well here. Among the white-wine grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Rieslingare the most common. In recent years, the region’s earliest Pinot Noir vines have come of age, and are now producing some first-class wines. Marlborough Pinot Noirs are lighter and fruitier than those from Otago and Martinborough. Marlborough is also an important producer of quality sparkling wine made in the methode traditionnelle.
Pinot Noir is the red wine grape of Burgundy, now adopted (and feverishly studied) in wine regions all over the world. The variety’s elusive charm has carried it to all manner of vineyards, from western Germany and northern Italy to Chile, South Africa, Australia and, perhaps most notably, California, Oregon and New Zealand. It is the patriarch of the Pinot family of grape varieties – so called because their bunches are similar in shape to a pine cone (pinot in French). Other members of this family include Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Aligote and Pinot Noir’s white-wine counterpart, Chardonnay.
Pinot Noir causes more discussion and dispute than any other grape, most of which centers around finding and describing the variety’s “true” expression. Examples from Santenay are undeniably different from those made on the other side of the world in Central Otago, and yet they are all unmistakably, unquestionably Pinot Noir. It takes a great deal of care and skill to make Pinot perform, and the results vary wildly from watery, acidic candy water to some of the richest, most intensely perfumed wines on Earth. This elusive perfection has earned the variety obsessive adoration from wine lovers all over the world.
A cluster of Pinot Noir grapes
In Burgundy (Pinot’s homeland), the traditional vigneron focuses more on soil and climate than on the qualities of the grape variety itself (this is, after all, the home of terroir). Even very subtle differences in terroir are reflected in Pinot Noir wines made there. There are clear and consistent differences between the wines of Volnay and Pommard, for example, even though the villages are separated by just one mile.
The effects of terroir aren’t limited to Burgundy, of course – every region has its own particular terroir, and these are reflected in its wines, particularly when it comes to terroir-sensitive varieties such as Pinot Noir. Although many winemakers in the New World attempt to emulate the Burgundy style, the newer Pinot regions in Oregon, Washington, California and New Zealand have their own individual expressions and interpretations of the variety.
The essence of Pinot Noir wine is its aroma of strawberry and cherry (fresh red cherries in lighter wines and stewed black cherries in weightier examples), underpinned in the most complex examples by hints of undergrowth (sous-bois). Well-built Pinot Noirs, particularly from warmer harvests, also exhibit notes of leather and violets, sometimes approaching the flavor spectrum of Syrah.
The question of oak in Pinot Noir winemaking is frequently raised, as are the length of fermentation and the option of a pre-ferment maceration (cold soak). Cooler temperatures lead to fresher fruit flavors, while longer, warmer fermentations and pigeage result in more extracted wines with greater tannic structure. In order to retain as much Pinot character as possible, many producers have turned to biodynamic viticulture, avoiding the use of commercial fertilizers that may disrupt the variety’s sensitive chemical balance.
Although Pinot Noir earns most of its fame from its still, red, varietal wines, the variety is also a vital ingredient in the production of sparkling white wines. For these, it can be used alone (to produce blanc de noirs), but is most commonly blended with its cousin Chardonnay, and other members of the Pinot family – most obviously Pinot Meunier in Champagne and Pinot Blanc in Franciacorta. The highly successful Pinot – Chardonnaysparkling wine blend has been adopted by regions all around the world, in Europe, the Americas, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
Synonyms include: Pinot Nero, Pinot Negro, Spatburgunder, Blauburgunder.
Food matches for Pinot Noir include:
- Pappardelle pasta with a porcini ragu
- Roasted duck breast with plum sauce
- Seared chicken livers on toast
(sources : wine-searcher)