For the all the history and tradition in wine it’s easy to forget that the world’s fascination with Pinot Noir is relatively new. This is especially true in new world countries like the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Red Burgundy with its ancient vineyards, historic domains and stratospheric price points still occupies the high ground for lovers of Pinot Noir. No one questions the greatness of these wines and their rightful place as the godfather of the global Pinot community.
But over the last decade or so, the ground has started to shift beneath the feet of Burgundians. Australia has only been drawing off commercial quantities of Pinot Noir grapes since the early ’70s and New Zealand in the late ’80s or early ’90s. But the quality of Pinot Noir from each country has been improving each harvest as vines get older, winemakers and growers learn more and the drinker continues to ask for lighter fresher wines. The question many drinkers and collectors are asking now is ‘who is better?’ Does Red Burgundy still offer the best value or do the wines of Australia and New Zealand offer better return for your wine dollar?
Red Burgundy still offers the most hedonistic wine experience – its intricate network of vineyards and regions makes the Game of Thrones plotline seem simple – but there is no denying their quality. However, as their price points continue to head north, the work of recruiting new drinkers to the Burgundy fold costs more and takes longer.
Australian Pinot Noir has come of age in recent years, largely because of how vineyards are managed and fruit is grown which is the result of more plantings in the right areas. Australia also has incredible regional diversity and Pinot Noir’s quality is notorious for being reliant on a delicate balance between site, vine, grower and maker. Australia fashions outstanding Pinot Noir from vines in the Hunter across South Eastern Australia, Tasmania and across to Margaret River and the Great Southern region in Western Australia.
New Zealand Pinot Noir, in particular the wines of Central Otago and Martinborough, rattled the cages in the late 1990s and the grape rose from relative obscurity to be the country’s number one red wine. It’s safe to say that Pinot Noir to Kiwis is like Shiraz to Australians. As the younger vineyards begin to mature, Pinot Noir from typecast regions like Marlborough are also starting to reveal their potential
Today, a new generation of wine drinkers are rejecting the idea that richness, density and power are quality indicators for red wine and are seeking out Pinot Noir. Its subtly and elegance are traits celebrated by contemporary wine drinkers who demand, freshness, vibrancy and food responsiveness in wine. It would be safe to say the most significant improvement in Pinot Noir from Australia and New Zealand is that they have finally stopped trying to make it taste like Red Burgundy. Instead, they are celebrating where they come from and the unique environmental mosh pit of soil, climate and geography that makes them unique.