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Wine of the Week for week ending 8 August 2004
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Saddleback Pinot Noir 2003
Central Otago, New Zealand

Pinot Noir is New Zealand's most planted red grape variety. From 415 hectares and 6.8 percent of the vineyard total in 1995 the growth in popularity of Pinot Noir over a ten-year period sees the grape covering land totalling almost 3000 hectares in 2004 with 17.5 percent of the vineyard total. It is now our 3rd overall most popular grape variety after Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, a change from 10 years ago where it trailed behind Muller Thurgau and Cabernet Sauvignon as well. Pinot Noir is an important grape commodity and while some goes into the production of sparkling wine, that market isn't really growing as more and more of the 'still red' style gets produced.

Given the large tracts of vineyards we now have under Pinot Noir in New Zealand and given the big dollars that many producers are asking for their Pinot Noir wines, there has to be a point where the 'lots of wine / high price' scenario can not be sustained. Sure, there are the pinot noir aficionados who are prepared to spend the big bucks in pursuit of the Holy Grail but to get more consumers interested in Pinot Noir you have to get the wine style in front of them in the first place. Pinot Noir newbies are not likely to fork out $30 to $40 or more just to try it, no matter how good the accolades. Price is such an important factor and cheap imports, whether Pinot Noir or not, are far more tempting to the wallet.

Fortunately the producers are realising this too as it seems suddenly there are more cheaper Pinot Noirs than ever before coming onto the market. Granted, most of the wines are from bigger producers, those that have been making a Pinot Noir for years and getting great reviews and accolades for them too. So to keep up the standard of their top tipple as their vineyards and production expand they have to be selective, either in the vineyard or in the winery. Hence the emergence of lower priced second tier, or second label wines.

Looking for the perfect under-$25 New Zealand Pinot Noir, if there is such a thing perfect that is - led me on a tasting with several highs and some very ordinary experiences as well.

But there was one wine that stood above the rest Saddleback Central Otago Pinot Noir 2003.

Saddleback is a second label of Peregrine Wines in Central Otago, a company that is no stranger to top awards with the Peregrine Central Otago Pinot Noir 2002 winning the Champion Pinot Noir title at the Sydney International Top 100 competition earlier this year.

2002 was a glorious vintage in Central Otago in terms of Pinot Noir ripeness and flavours then 2003 came along and some decisions were made and for Peregrine Wines that decision was made in the winery rather than in the vineyard. Winemaker Michelle Richardson decided that not all the barrels met her criteria for the top Peregrine label in 2003. Some barrels of wine, made from grapes that had all the attention and care in the vineyard and in the winery, would become their second tier wine, a wine to sell at the under-$25 price point. Stylistically different but not lacking in quality, they named it Saddleback after one of New Zealand's rarest birds, the Southern Saddleback called Tieke by the Maori, a bird that is like under $25 Pinot Noir slowly increasing in the deep south.

Saddleback Central Otago Pinot Noir 2003 is deep in its hue, almost opaque at the centre of the bowl with a purple glow to the dark ruby red. Spicy oak, a little cedary on the nose with black cherry, a hint of chocolate and a gamey scent, I like the fruity richness in the wine and the long spicy, slightly earthy aftertaste. Red and black fruits, a hint of thyme, flashes of anise, velvety tannins and a chocolate and cherry finish, nicely balanced with good acidity, 13% alcohol and a screwcap closure to boot, this is undoubtably Central Otago Pinot Noir and a bargain at the price.

I've seen it ranging in price from $19.95 on super special to a more common $24.95 or buy it straight from the source. Check it out on the 'shopping' page on the Peregrine Wines website.

Main Divide Canterbury Pinot Noir 2003 ($23.95 with cork) was a close second. Bright in its colour with black cherry hues, seductive vanillin oak and a silky texture on entry make this wine one of the top under $25 selections. It's quite savoury with a gamey richness, tart fruits in the cherry, tamarillo, red guava and cranberry spectrum and rose pepper and musk on the spicy, slightly woody more velvety finish. It's smooth, long and definitely moreish a wine you can drink without really thinking about food. The aftertaste goes on and on.

Coming in third and offering plenty of satisfying drinkability was the Villa Maria Private Bin Marlborough Pinot Noir 2003 ($22 with screwcap). It is purple hued in its deep ruby colour, similar to the Saddleback in appearance with smoky slightly meaty aromas, bright cherry and red fruit flavours, good acidity, hints of liquorice, a crushed velvet texture, a fruity finish and a smoky, earthy aftertaste. Cherries linger with an earthy richness. It just lacks a little of the complexity of the other two.

It great to see that there is a choice of good, under-$25 Pinot Noir to woo even the Pinot aficionados like me. Just keep it up guys!

© Sue Courtney
1 August 2004

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