New Zealand’s winemaking history dates back to the colonial days, when the British first settled on the tiny island. But it wasn’t until the 1960s and into the 1970s that New Zealand became a presence on the winemaking map. At this time there was an influx of New Zealanders traveling abroad to Europe, experiencing the wines and vines of that continent, and bringing home with them the knowledge and the passion to put their own “kiwi” twist on the Old World’s drink.
Though the New Zealand wine industry is quite tiny, producing less than 1% of the world’s wine, it is home to 11 different wine regions. And while the country’s “claim to wine fame” may be Sauvignon Blanc (indeed, nearly 70% of New Zealand’s vines are planted to the white grape, totaling about 200,000 tons harvested each year), there are certain regions where other grapes — like Pinot Noir — can claim a small kingdom.
The southern island’s coastal Canterbury/North Canterbury is one such region. Protected by the Southern Alps, rainfall is limited and sunshine is abundant. Though day temperatures can get quite hot, especially in the summers, the cooling breezes from the ocean provide a diurnal shift, allowing for even ripening — even for the picky Pinot grape.
When it comes to soil types, the terrain is quite diverse. Pinot Noir seems to thrive best near the Waipara Valley which combines gravel and limestone clay soils along the hillsides framing the Waipara River. This terroir reduces the vigor of the vines, producing low yields of intense fruit.
About the Wine: The Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes harvested from the estate’s southern-most vineyard which, according to the winery, has the highest elevation, allowing for extra warmth and less frost exposure.
All fruit was hand-picked, de-stemmed, and left to cold soak for seven days. Individual blocks were fermented separately with twice daily punch downs. The grapes were then pressed and juices transferred to oak barrels. The wine aged in 100% French oak barrels (25% new), undergoing secondary, malolactic fermentation while in barrel. The wine was racked once and fined with egg whites before bottling.
Flavor Profile: Open this bottle of Mt. Beautiful and breathe in aromas of dank wetness, dark fruits, muddy soils, wet rubber, and bits and pieces of woody herbs — a bit like a forbidden tropical forest. The Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir is a dusty light rouge on the pour, settling into the glass just a shade darker — more like a maroon jewel. Initial aromas are of the dank funkiness of an oak barrel cave, along with scents of rosewater perfume, and a delicate acidity. Swirl, and the Pinot Noir opens up to some green herbal notes like eucalyptus, basil and spearmint along with fruit scents of bright fresh cherries.
On the palate, the Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir is smooth like butter until about a quarter of the way when embedded spices begin to prickle the tongue. Tannins come forward about a half way through, but stay toward the back, as hazy as staring toward the horizon — creating that line, that backbone, that point of reference, but never disturbing the elements surrounding it.
Dominant flavors are of red cherries, orange blossoms, blood orange, and dull baking spices like nutmeg and, towards the finish, perhaps a bit of white pepper. With its fairly light tannins and amplifying acidity, this light to medium bodied red wine finishes on a lingering note. Indeed there’s a prickle and tickle of spices along the tongue that will have you yearning for another sip.
Food Pairing: I paired the Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir with a grilled salmon on top of a persimmon salad. One thing I will note here is that the wine opened up as the evening progressed, revealing fuller, plusher fruits that further hazed that tannic line. A sip of wine at this point was like taking a bit into a cherry bursting with juices — thin skin and all. This means that the silky, oily texture of the salmon filet absolutely complemented this Pinot Noir.
What I liked about the salad portion of this pairing was that the earthy sweetness of the persimmons brought out the funky earth elements in the wine. The salad greens highlighted that little spice kick at the end, in a most enticing way.
More Info: I received the Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir as a sample for review. (Cheers Suzanna!) Retail: $28. For more information about Mt. Beautiful, their wines, and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Mt. Beautiful website.
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