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In pursuit of Pinot: The allure of New Zealand’s regional styles

Vineyards in Seddon, South East of Marlborough’s Wairau Plains in the Awatere Valley.

The purity of fruit, natural balance and elegance of New Zealand Pinot Noir is reason for this notoriously unpredictable grape variety’s surge in the south. Though the first commercial bottlings were only in 1987, New Zealand is now globally recognised for the quality Pinot it delivers.

From the cooler regions of Wairarapa (North Island), Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago (all South Island), among others, stylistic differences, due to climatic and soil diversity, have become notable, and regionality is now a topic of focus for wine experts and Pinot enthusiasts alike.

From Marlborough, red fruits and aromatic freshness are common markers of the region, Wairarapa is often savoury, while Central Otago Pinots can be darker in fruit character with spicy notes and more noticeable tannins.

Scroll down to discover 15 top-scoring New Zealand Pinot Noir wines from DWWA 2023

At the Decanter World Wine Awards, this is what the judges look for when awarding top medals: quality in relation to grape typicity and regionality. And at the 2023 competition, ‘Pinot Noir was an excellent performer’, commented Cameron Douglas MS, DWWA Regional Chair for New Zealand, noting ‘regional and even some sub-regional voices heard through the wines’.

Judging with Douglas on the New Zealand panel, the late Philip Tuck MW added: ‘I have always championed Pinot Noir. In the next 10 years, when people realise how well – given its freshness, soft tannins and often moderate alcohol – Pinot Noir goes with so many foods, it will become increasingly popular.’

An expert-rated guide to explore New Zealand’s regional expressions of Pinot Noir, below discover a selection of top-awarded wines from the Decanter World Wine Awards, with more to seek out at awards.decanter.com

In pursuit of Pinot: The allure of New Zealand’s regional styles

The regional standouts

Palliser Estate, Hua Nui, Martinborough, Wairarapa 2021

Best in Show, 97 points
A forthright and vital wine, which evokes raspberries and plums on the nose. Energetic and exuberant, its structure derives from that force of fruit, darkened by oak and lifted by ripe, fruit-dense acidity rather than tannins. Smooth, assured and impressive. Alcohol 13.5%

Rockburn, The Chosen Hillside, Central Otago 2021

Platinum, 97 points
Luxuriously plush red cherry and juicy redcurrant melt into a warming, toasty oak core. Rich and structured with a superb lift of acidity and a sumptuous pillow of tannin. Youthful and promising with a long, rustic finish. Alc 13.5%

Valli, Bannockburn Vineyard, Central Otago 2021

Platinum, 97 points
£33 (ib) Burnett & Herbert, Farr Vintners, Lay & Wheeler
An energetic burst of red berry, plum and cherry infused with a forest floor and truffly mushroom undercurrent. Exquisitely poised with velvety tannins and a beautifully youthful, autumn leaf texture. Long and peppery. Alc 13.5%

Central Otago

McArthur Ridge, Southern Tor, Alexandra Basin 2021

Gold. 96 points
A delightfully aromatic fruit basket of raspberry, plum and red cherry underpinned by a savoury, dried herb and stony mineral core. Juicy acidity and silky tannins. Alc 13.5%

Nanny Goat Vineyard 2021

Gold, 96 points
£19.99 Waitrose
Delectable dark cherry and dried raspberry with a whisper of bracken, stony mineral and thyme intricately enfolded in the mellow tannins and smoky, permeating acidity. Alc 13.5%

Wild Earth 2021

Gold, 96 points
£33.99 Available via UK agent Liberty Wines
Generously laden with dark plums, blackcurrant, raspberry and earthy spice, with a searing, youthful backbone of acidity and textured tannins. Intriguing and immersive. Alc 13.5%

Three Miners, Warden’s Court 2020

Gold, 95 points
Striking aromas of cherries and plums with a gorgeously plush velvety texture, an exquisite spine of acidity and charming, fine-spun tannins melting into the long finish. Alc 13.5%


Giesen Group, Ara Resolute Organic 2021

Gold, 95 points
£30 North South Wines
Ample blackcurrant, plum and raspberry aromatics with a plush, oaky undertone, shapely tannins and fleshy acidity. Lavish and charismatic with a black cherry finish. Alc 13.5%

Marisco, Leefield Station, Waihopai Valley 2021

Silver, 94 points 
Concentrated black cherry, bramble and forest floor notes with structured tannins and a supple, silky texture. Long and lingering. Alc 14%

Nautilus, Clay Hills Vineyard, Southern Valleys 2020

Silver, 93 points
£40 John E Fells
A delightful freshness of cherry and apple skin with a warmth of mocha and toast. Supple, plush and well crafted. Alc 13%

Saint Clair, Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek, Fairhall 2021

Silver, 93 points
£23.50-£28.30 Corking Wines, Grape Minds, Hallgarten Wines, Shelved Wine, Valvona & Crolla, Wine Direct
Energetic notes of cherry blossom, bramble and hints of forest floor with a supple, silky texture and expressive tannins. Alc 13%

North Canterbury

Greystone, Vineyard Ferment Organic, Waipara 2020

Silver, 94 points
£38.25-£41.50 (2019) Fintry Wines, Frontier Fine Wines, Uncorked
Lovely scented florals with red cherry and savoury, earthy overtones. Silky and bright with polished tannins and judicious oak use. Alc 13%

Tiki, Single Vineyard, Waipara 2020

Silver, 94 points
£16 Castelnau Wine Agencies
Charming red cherry, dried herb and bramble notes with an excellent intensity, chalky tannins and a long, savoury finish. Alc 13.5%


Martinborough Vineyard, Home Block, Martinborough 2020

Gold, 96 points
£29.99 (2022) Majestic
A classic bouquet of black and red cherry fruit intermingled with baking spice, dried herbs and a barrel-clay mineral note, all reminiscent of a Côte de Beaune. Breathtaking. Alc 13.5%

Te Kairanga, John Martin, Martinborough 2021

Silver, 93 points 
£26.99 (2022) Majestic
Plush black cherry and plum with some earthy, vanilla and baking spice characters. Focused and full with fine tannins. Alc 13.5%

Search all DWWA 2023 results

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