Wine: Scents and sensibility

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Proof that New Zealand is not just all about sauvignon blanc comes in the form of pinot noir. Its rise in popularity has been so rapid over barely more than a decade that it's not fanciful to imagine that within a generation, we'll be talking about Kiwi pinot in the same breath as we now speak of Burgundy's fabled red wine villages of Nuits Saint Georges, Gevrey Chambertin and Clos Vougeot. Without the protective ring-fence of a tried and tested appellation contrôlée system, the Kiwi outline may still be a little hazy compared to its centuries-old burgundian counterpart. But as the vines and their human masters mature, a critical mass of pinot noir plantings has started to shape an identity and with it an expectation of premier cru quality today, grand cru tomorrow.

Nurturing the "heartbreak grape" that thrives only in marginal climates will never be easy. But with their natural gift of riverbed gravels, free-draining soils and polar breezes, Kiwis know that, but for a few exceptions, they hold the key to a reinvention of red burgundy in the New World. Hence plantings of pinot noir, second only to sauvignon blanc, have rocketed to 4,638 hectares this year. Yet New Zealand is very different from Burgundy in so many ways, in attitude, in climate and in the spread of regions that take in Martinborough on North Island, Marlborough and Nelson at the northern end of South Island, Canterbury/Waipara further south and the spectacular lake district of Central Otago close to the bottom of South Island.

Martinborough started the pinot ball rolling with Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyards and Dry River. Dry and low-yielding, it now produces some of the most "burgundian" styles of pinot like the 2007 Gladstone Pinot Noir, Wairarapa, £14.95 / £13.95 by the case, Lea & Sandeman, London shops (020-7244 0522), whose vivid fraise du bois perfume and textured rich raspberry and mulberry fruitiness leaves a lingering trace of spice on the palate. And Craggy Range's 2006 Te Muna Road Pinot Noir, £15.99, Waitrose, vanilla-infused, rich and spicy, heady pinot noir with a sleek strawberry fruit opulence and satisfyingly fresh balancing acidity.

Best known for its sauvignon blanc, Marlborough's sprawling valleys are starting to show that it can rival the two pinot HQs of Martinborough and Central Otago. The 2007 Delta Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, around £12.99, Marks & Spencer wine direct, Brinkley's Wines, Corks of Cotham, Bristol (0117-973 1620), Noel Young, Cambridge (01223 844744), is enticing with its juicy perfumes flavours. In similar vein, the 2007 Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough, £12.99-£14.99, Booths, Wine Rack (similar to The Wine Society's 2007 Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir, £12.95) is model Marlborough pinot with its succulent dark cherry and strawberry fruit concentration.

With its more extreme climatic conditions, Central Otago's picturesque sub-districts give this mini-Côte de Nuits down south another flavour spectrum. Try the scented strawberry 2005 Carrick Pinot Noir, Central Otago, £21, Great Western Wines, Bath (01225 322800), or the trophy-winning 2006 Wild Earth Pinot Noir, around £17.99, Bennetts, Glos (01386 840392), Philglas & Swiggot shops (020-7924 4494), The Secret Cellar, Tunbridge Wells (01892 537981), WoodWinters, Bridge of Allan (01786 834894). As it fulfils its promise in the world of wine, New Zealand pinot noir is coming of age.