The film 'Sideways' has become such a cultural phenomenon in the United States that it is affecting the way people buy wine. In the movie, when wine geek Miles said "I'm not drinking any f$*#&^g merlot", American wine drinkers reacted by shunning the variety that they knew how to pronounce and was soft and easy to drink. Miles loved pinot noir and when he gave some to his buddy Jack to try, Jack said "I like it". Suddenly pinot noir was in, was hip, was cool. It wasn't too difficult to pronounce and no longer did you have to be a wine geek to understand its sometimes complicated, hard-to-describe flavours.
Will it do for pinot noir sales in New Zealand, what it has done in the States? That is, increase its sales by 15% in as little as 3 months?
I don't think so.
But wouldn't it be great if it did because New Zealand produces more pinot noir than any other red grape variety. And it is going to produce much much more when you consider the rate that new pinot noir grapevines are being planted. In fact the producing area of pinot noir grapevines increased by over 1,000 hectares between 2002 and 2004, according to Wine New Zealand's grapevine statistics. It is the second most popular variety for new vineyards (an increase of 4,400 hectares in the same period), after sauvignon blanc.
But unlike sauvignon blanc, the prices of pinot noir wine have been out of reach of the average consumer. Until now.
Look around and with a bit of a search you will see them amongst the multitude of pinot noirs wine on the wine shop shelf that are in the $30-$40 retail price range and the ultra -premium's on the top shelf that are around $60. Those that are marked with an under-$25 price tag are slowly but surely elbowing in.
So what does under-$25 pinot noir offer? Some, I'm sorry to say, not much - because a recent tasting revealed some new vintage 2004 wines that were too confectionary, wines that tasted like cherry-infused lolly water and left a bitter-sweet taste in the mouth.
The top wine of the tasting, however, had the colour, the generosity of flavour, the curvaceousness of the body and the overall complexity that pinotphiles love. It was the Main Divide Pinot Noir 2003, a deep crimson red, purple tinged wine with a smoky, savoury and slightly earthy aroma and a redolence of sweet plum and guava fruit adding to the olfactory appeal. Smooth to the taste with velvety tannins, creamy oak and a savoury richness, good acidity brightens the finish and woody musk and spiced cherry flavours linger for ages.
The fruit for the Main Divide Pinot Noir 2003 came from the Canterbury region and being the second label from top pinot noir producer, Pegasus Bay, it is a wine that has been afforded the same care and attention as its premium sibling. The hand harvested fruit was rigorously sorted before destemming and pre-ferment maceration then fermentation in small open top vats and a period of post-ferment maceration before the wine was pressed into French oak barriques for maturation. The finished wine carries 13% alcohol by volume, it is sealed with a cork and has a recommended retail price of $23.95.
It is not a new release, because I tasted this the first time in July last year, but it is still very much a current release and has developed terrifically over the last 9 months in the bottle.
Find out more from www.maindivide.co.nz.
Also worth a mention are two under-$20 pinot noirs, which in reality are nearer to the price points of New Zealand's most popular supermarket reds.
Unlike merlot in the United States, our most popular supermarket reds are, in true Anzac spirit and camaraderie, Australian shiraz.
I can't see pinot noir knocking Aussie shiraz off its top position for quite some time but the Cairnbrae Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 ($19.95) has the bold colour, the sweet juiciness and the mouthfilling structure that shiraz drinkers will be used to. Add to that lots of creamy oak, ripe, juicy fruits of the forest, a touch of earthiness and a fruit cake cherry finish, it is a great introduction to pinot noir's charm for the novice.
Matahiwi Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2004 ($19.95) shows the savouriness that more complex pinot noirs should have by nature. It's a lightly coloured wine without too much opacity but the earthiness of the Wairarapa region comes through with sweet cherry fruit, musk, spices and smoke, the flavours carried through the palate by its silky tannin structure. This is a wine that has been specifically targeted at the supermarket sector and will cost significantly less when it goes on 'special'. It is one to look out for then.
© Sue Courtney
25 April 2005