ALISTAIR GIBSON: Kiwis v French in battle of pinot noir

Blind River - aromatic and fruity

Blind River - aromatic and fruity

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This time of year sees the start of the latest vintages.

In this case the 2016s arrive from the southern hemisphere and at the forefront of these are the latest New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

Mt Difficulty pinot noir

Mt Difficulty pinot noir

You may well have tasted one already and the 2016 vintage certainly looks to be another good one, as well as being larger than for several years.

However, for me the real interest in New Zealand currently is red and not white and, more specifically, pinot noir.

This is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, seemingly always expensive and, outside of its native Burgundy, very few regions have achieved any real success.

New Zealand however, in my opinion, makes the best pinot noir outside France.

It seems to be able to achieve great purity of fruit and good levels of acidity thanks to its cool climate and sympathetic winemaking.

Marlborough almost has a monopoly for Kiwi sauvignon blanc, but pinot noir has found a home in three regions, each bringing something a little different to the party.

So, starting on North Island and working south, here are three great value New Zealand pinot noirs to taste.

Russian Jack Pinot Noir 2014, Martinborough (Majestic £13.99 or £11.99 as part of a mixed six) is in essence the second label of Martinborough Vineyards, one of the oldest producers in this very small North Island region.

Named after a famous vineyard worker in the region, this has a lovely freshness with raspberry and cherry fruit and just a touch of savouriness, followed by ripe tannins, spice and sweet fruit on the palate.

I really like the elegance of this wine and would pair it with roast duck or perhaps a tomato-based pasta dish.

Moving to South Island, Blind River Pinot Noir 2014 (Majestic £16.99 or £14.99 as part of a mixed six) is from the Awatere Valley, a sub-region of Marlborough.

It has more aromatics and fruit than the Russian Jack.

There are black cherries, violets, clove and spice on its inviting nose, followed by a silky palate but with nice weight behind it.

This is gorgeous pinot noir to pair with autumnal guinea fowl or partridge.

Last, but by no means least, is Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2013, Otago (Waitrose £25.99), one of the superstar names for New Zealand pinot noir from Central Otago.

This is the real McCoy. A wonderful, fragrant bouquet of raspberries, brambles, dried herbs and spicy oak.

The palate shows great integration of fruit, spice, oak and a touch of earthiness, before a long, silky finish. This is complex wine. It’s not cheap but you would pay a lot more for something from the slopes of the Cote d’Or. Open an hour before you serve and match with smoked duck or venison.

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