Distance-wise, you would not expect anything from New Zealand to find its way to Belgium and the fact that there is quite a range of wines available should tell you something about their quality. Why else would you bother shipping them across the world? It is all the more remarkable when you realize that there is only about 35,000 ha of wine planted, paling in comparison with 792,000ha in France and a whopping 1.02 million in Spain. The majority of this is Sauvignon Blanc, accounting for 60% of the total planted surface in 2015 (up from 40% only ten years ago), but the most important red variety is Pinot Noir at a steady 15%*.
I love New Zealand pinot noir because of its openness. Only rarely do I get austerity, which can be an issue in Burgundy in thin years and they are really characterized by an elegant, ever so slightly sweet fruitiness balanced with a bright sense of identity. In general I would say that they are ready to drink earlier in their lifecycle, whereas this may not always be the case with French or German pinot noir.
One of the regions that has seen increased plantings in recent years is Nelson, at 1123ha just last year, of which roughly a fifth is pinot noir. Vineyards are located in a valley in the middle of the Northern tip of the South Island protected by mountains on three sides. While the climate is sunny, it retains a sense of coolness thanks to the Northern exposure to the Tasman Bay, creating perfect circumstances for grape growing.
Tim and Judy Finn can rightly be considered pioneers in the region as they started their wine adventure in 1978 with Neudorf Vineyards. The estate is quite large at 33ha, and the conversion to full organic production is still ongoing even as sustainable viticulture has been a choice from the start. Tom’s Block 2012 is a blend from different vineyards, fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged for 10 months in French oak. The first word that comes to mind, even when pouring the wine, is savoury. Aroma’s jump out of the glass, redcurrant, cherries and a little bit of spice, all very vivid and attention-grabbing from the start. The crisp fruitiness returns on the palate, even with a streak of refreshing minerality that lingers on in the end. It’s a very open, honest wine that oozes charm and a welcome introduction to the beauty you can find in New Zealand Pinot Noir!
*statistics provided by http://www.nzwine.com/info-centre/statistics/