When you look at the big picture of Pinot Noir in New Zealand, Pinot Noir from Marlborough seems to be getting better and better. From Marlborough? How can this be when its fame hangs on Sauvignon Blanc. But look closer at what is being planted in Marlborough and you will see that while Sauvignon Blanc accounts for about 66 percent of the planted grape vine area, which is over 11,000 hectares in size, Pinot Noir is in second place with almost 13 percent of plantings. While this doesn’t sound much in comparison to Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough has three times more Pinot Noir than the famous North Island region of Martinborough with the surrounding Wairarapa area lumped in, and 1.5 times more Pinot Noir in the glamour region of Central Otago. So the bottom line says there is more Pinot Noir being produced in Marlborough than anywhere else.
But Marlborough has had the majority of pinot noir plantings for some time now, so why are its wines suddenly becoming such palate seducers?
That would be because when the quest for top quality pinot noir started in the 1990's, growers sourced specific French clones of pinot noir that were more suited to the Marlborough soils and climates than what they had before. Now Dijon clones rule the region and new producers are sticking to the formula that works.
The wines being produced from the maturing grapevines seem to be getting better and better as passionate producers understand more about the viticulture and viniculture. And unlike Central Otago, a region that has been stricken with frosts at both ends of the season and poor flowering at other times, the weather in Marlborough is more consistent. The main problem in Marlborough seems to be drought but lack of water for established Pinot Noir vines seems to be no problem. It is possibly their struggle to penetrate their roots deep into the earth in their quest for moisture that makes them produce some intense and flavoursome fruit.
And why are so many of Marlborough's Pinot Noirs so affordable? Take the Delta Vineyard Marlborough Pinot Noir 2005 that won Champion Pinot Noir at the 2006 New Zealand International Wine Show, for example. This wine sold for under $25 at full retail with prices much lower on discount. Of course, after its trophy win, it quickly sold out.
One reason could be that producers are now making more than one level of Pinot Noir. For example, Delta Vineyard also produces the much more expensive Delta Vineyard Hatter's Hill Pinot Noir (also a gold medal winner at NZIWS), a wine with lower production levels in the strive for quality, and hence costs much more.
But there is another reason that is behind the excellence of some of Marlborough's Pinot Noirs, and that is the hills. As the flat land on the valley floor runs out, winemakers are moving outwards and upwards - out to the edges of the valley and up the slopes and flanks of the north facing hills.
One of these producers is Churton, the label of Sam (pictured) and Mandy Weaver, and the Pinot Noir that is being produced from their hillside vineyard in the Waihopai Valley on the southern side of the Wairau Valley shows the excellence that can be achieved.
Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 is not as deep in colour as many of the region's colour intense wines, but it is bright in its guava red hue. It smells earthy and savoury yet enticingly fruit sweet with its subtle cherry nuances. Savoury to the taste with a fruity tang, the texture is all satin and silk with just a little bit of grip. Bone dry with fantastic length, if you love the taste of Burgundy but can only afford New Zealand wine, then try the Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004.
The fruit for this wine came from the second vintage of Churton's hillside site that they call the Waihopai Slopes. It is 200 metres above sea level on a north easterly facing slope, which means the vines get the early morning sun but not the full onslaught of the late afternoon heat.
The fruit was hand picked and cold soaked before indigenous yeasts started the ferment, then after the ferment was complete the wine macerated on skins for 3 weeks before the wine was pressed off and put into French oak, of which 25% was new, where it remained for 12 months.
Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 is sealed with a cork, carries 13.5 percent alcohol by volume and costs about NZ$33 a bottle at recommended retail. It's a wine that might be easier to find in England than here in New Zealand, but it is worth the search. It is distributed nationally by Negociants but if it gets too difficult talking to a distributor then contact Churton Wines directly by email and buy this delicious wine on mail order.
Food Match - Venison Fillet Roasted Beetroot in a Balsamic Glaze
Now that my butcher sells fresh venison fillet it seems to end up amongst my purchases at last one week out of three. It's a quick cooking succulent cut of meat that is a beautiful accompaniment to earthy Pinot Noir and Syrah. I talked about it when I reviewed the Foxes island Pinot Noir 2004 in August and in subsequent weeks I've matched fillet of venison to both the Dry River Lovat Syrah 2005 and the Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2001.
Venison was to grace the table again with the Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004 and because of the tangy note in the wine, I used orange juice and orange zest along with earthy woody herbs for the marinade. But the real highlight of the meal, apart from the wine, was the accompanying beetroot dish. I was going to use orange zest and juice but after receiving a bottle of Mango Balsam as a present, I used that instead with spectacular results.
For two people you will need just one medium sized beetroot - find one that is bigger than a billiard ball but smaller than a cricket ball. With stalk intact, wash carefully and gently scrub off any dirt without breaking the skin. If the stalk is very long, cut to about 2.5 cm in length. Dry the beetroot and place in a baking paper-lined glass casserole dish. The baking paper is in case the beetroot 'bleeds' and thus makes it easier to clean the dish afterwards as the beetroot juice can caramelise and turn into beetroot juice toffee.
Cover the glass dish with its lid and microwave on medium high for 5 minutes, then turn the whole beetroot over and microwave on medium high for another five minutes. Let sit for a while, then remove lid.
When the beet is cool enough, cut off the top and peel off the skin, like you would peel off the skin of a blanched tomato or a roasted capsicum. It should come away quite easily. You can reserve the tops and skins for stock, if you wish.
While the above part of the process can be done in advance, this part needs to be done very close to plating time. Cut the peeled beetroot into 8 wedges. In a small frying pan melt about 1 teaspoon of butter (more if you are decadent) and saute the beetroot wedges until heated through. Now add 1 teaspoons of Mango Balsam, a delicious sweet yet sharp tangy vinegar made from "Carabao" mangos, which come from the Philippine Isle of Cebu. Keep shaking the pan and turning the beetroot wedges to make sure they get totally covered with this delicious balsam. Now add a teaspoon of tawny port and continue to shake so the beetroot gets covered with all the delicious juices. They will be ready to serve at this stage but to take the dish one step further add a couple of handfuls of washed New Zealand native spinach leaves to wilt down on the lowest heat. If it all gets too dry, then add a dash of water.
The result is a delicious earthy tangy dish offset by the natural sweetness of the beetroot, the mango in the balsam and the port. And with the Churton Marlborough Pinot Noir 2004, it is an absolute taste sensation. But do take note, your own output the following day may be a little darker than normal.
© Sue Courtney
9 October 2006