At the recent Taste of Christmas event, I was intrigued by what seemed quite a niche offering; PureNoir, a wine club dealing solely in one grape from one country - New Zealand Pinot Noir.
Pinot's spiritual home is Burgundy in France, but of all the New-World countries to have a go at making it, New Zealand, with its moderate-to-cool climate and diverse terroir, has had perhaps the most success.
Moreover, Pinot is something of a finicky grape and good examples are not always easy to come by and rarely, if ever, cheap, so a club that focuses on providing reliable Pinot suddenly makes perfect sense - even if it still remains rather a specialist interest.
Ten to twenty years ago, New Zealand had no real reputation for Pinot Noir - and much of the country's initial buzz was based on Marlborough Sauvignon from vineyards planted as recently as the early seventies.
However, with a combination of New-World high-tech methods and an Old-World climate, New Zealand is now producing some serious wines.
Add in a stunning landscape, show-cased to great effect by the multi-part Lord of the Rings film series, its inhabitants helpfully speaking English (great for the Anglo-Saxon markets) and New Zealand, along with its wines, is suddenly one of the coolest kids on the block, combining New-World freshness with some old-school Romance.
|Stunning New Zealand scenery|
At the event, PureNoir director James Croft explained to me that the company's approach is refreshingly straightforward and concise:
1. Always great Pinot Noir
2. Be good, don't just look good
3. We always do what we say we're going
PureNoir has a tasting panel of three of New Zealand's best winemakers who blind tastes all wines and score them from which the company then assembles mixed cases for the year to come, trying to give each case a mix of regions and ensuring that at least half are not normally available in the UK.
PureNoir had four Pinots to taste to show the range of styles from New Zealand's various terroirs.
The first two were from warmer climates and had more fruit on the nose as a result. A 2008 Gladstone Vineyard from Wairarapa, had been matured in French oak barrels (30% new oak) for 10 months; elegant and balanced, it had plums and cherries on the palate, some spice and a long, savoury finish.
The next, a 2008 Terravin Pinot Noir from Marlborough, blended from three different hillside parcels of grapes and aged in 1/3rd new oak, was big and powerful.
The last two wines were both from Central Otago on the South Island and just about as far south in the world as wine is made. With this cool climate origin, these wines were darker, richer and more restrained than the two from further north with less on the nose and more texture on the palate.
The 2008 Maori Point Central Otago, made with a wild yeast ferment, was bright ruby in colour with cherries and plums, good fruit, a savoury background and some gentle oak, giving a smooth mouth-feel.
The final wine a 2007 from Hinton Estate had a full-but-velvety texture with savoury richness and cherry and spice aromas.
These wines are not exactly cheap; certainly you are doing very well - or are extremely enthusiastic - if this is your everyday drinking.
However, membership of PureNoir is flexible (there is no obligation to buy every quarter and membership can be put on hold) and it certainly takes the (potentially expensive) legwork out of finding good Pinot Noir.
1. 2008 Gladstone Vineyard Pinot Noir - Wairarapa, £17.50
2. 2008 Terravin Pinot Noir - Marlborough, £21.90
3. 2008 Maori Point Pinot Noir - Central Otago, £20.50
4. 2007 Hinton Estate Pinot Noir - Central Otago Cost: £ 23.60
All available from PureNoir.