Marlborough Pinot Noir

Marlborough is easily one of my favorite regions in the world for pinot noir.
They produce a variety of styles from lean and clean to dense and fruitful.

Central Otega is frequently credited as New Zealand’s hot spot for high quality Pinot Noir, but the lower island’s Marlborough region is increasing in competition. Of course Sauvignon Blanc is first to mind, but they actually succeed with a diversity of varietals. In general, both regions produce fruit driven wines with the potential for excellence. Central Otega tends toward a rich, lush style, and Marlborough towards the lighter and leaner. Shopping around Calgary, I generally see many more Marlborough wines available with only higher end (>$35) Central Otega’s.

The region...
The soil of Marlborough and Wairau Valley in particular is notable for its excellent drainage. It is comprised of much stone, sand, and silt atop large clay deposits in the ground. These conditions are stressing to the vine and naturally lower yields for remaining grape quality. The climate is sunny and dry in the summer, with very cool nights. This day/night temperature difference lends to the uniqueness of the growing region.

Here are two wines that I absolutely love. I think they represent the two spectrum ends of Marlborough pinot.

The Wairau River 2008 Pinot Noir...

Named after the central river that runs through the region, this healthy 7 vineyard operation has grown throughout the Wairau Valley to 160 hectares since 1978. Pinot Noir is the only red varietal they grow amongst several whites, Sauv Blanc being their flagship.

This wine is interesting right from the pour. It is essentially dark pink in colour with orange/brown undertones. Great clarity. The bouquet is quite light, reminiscent of dried cranberry and ocean side cherry. The palette shows zippy red fruits on the fore with an expansive mid body ensuing. The concentration is right, as is the balance. It’s plentiful in coastline terroir as well, and carries its weight elegantly toward the dry finish. Notes of cranberry, sour cherry, red current, sea salt, mineral, silt and stone terrain.

This is a light, delicate pinot, however not timid in flavour. The entrance is fresh and lively with acid, where the mid section bursts into a mouth filling sensation. It is elegant and complex, delicious, and fantastic value. I last served it as an intermediary course paring; a small plate of cauliflower puree with a roasted crimini mushroom, asparagus tips, and red pearl onion atop.

I bought my first bottle at Willow Park back in May. When I called them for stock last week, I was told they are the only carriers and have 127 bottles in house at $21.99. Sadly it wasn’t at the BowTrail location last I checked, you’ll have to see the main store by SouthCenter for it.

The Spy Valley 2009 Pinot Noir...

This is the company's mid level brand, with Satellite (<20$) below and Envoy (>35$) above.

This juicy Pinot has a purple center with garnet edges, excellent clarity. The bouquet is big and fruity of cherry and black current. On the palate the fruit is nicely concentrated with forest raspberry’s, wild cherry, and ripe current. Good acidity leads, being fresh and cool but not too sharp, puckering sweet fruit makes the mid palate with trailing tones of humid oak tree and fresh earth as the rounded tannins dry toward a supple finish.

A great example of the region's fruity behaviour, its good with food and by itself. Preparing for a fruity pinot that would hold its own, I decided to pair it with a fleshy fish and earthy sides. I did grilled Blue Marlin steak on beet puree with warm blueberry salsa, served with chilli kale and beet-dyed turnip slices. The paring was absolutey spot on. The Blue Marlin is naturally a slightly dryer meat, so the puree and salsa was great for moisture and contrasting textures. The blueberry brought out fruit and the turnip played well to the wines bottom end characters.

Please note that this article covers the 2009 vintage. I was distinctively unimpressed by the 2010 in May. Liquor Depot on 17ave carries the 2009 for $24.99.

New Zealand has shown great diligence with organization and quality assurance of their wines. Check out these government websites for a vast amount of information: (photo courtesy) and
August 2012