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2012 – The Fifth Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification

By March 21, 2012No Comments

Writers Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer have just released their fifth Great N.Z. Pinot Noir Classification. The classification has been created to promote discussion about New Zealand Pinot Noir, a category of wine they are truly passionate about. The 2012 classification highlights 116 Pinot Noir makers, “each of whom produce this mesmerizing grape variety at a level of excellence that we believe is worthy of your attention”. And there has been some discussion about this year’s classification. Not all of it is good, and some critical of its worth and reasons behind its creation. Do we need such a classification? Are people interested, and what purpose does it serve? Are the criteria noble and practical? Is it an exercise in self-promotion by the authors?

I believe the classification is very interesting and beneficial for wine producers, wine lovers and wine drinkers. The 2012 list is the fifth, and I’m sure the authors would not persevere if there was no interest. Many if not most New Zealand Pinot Noir makers will be aware of this classification, and their position on it. If they are not at the top of the list, I’m sure they’d like to be there, if not strive to improve. Such is the nature of competitions and lists. Therein lies the usefulness of such ratings – improving the breed. This classification by Jukes and Stelzer is a ‘rolling’ one, where a winery’s position can change up or down according to their continued performance. I’m also sure the number of wine interested people who are looking at this classification is growing too, as authors Jukes and Stelzer promote it. I certainly have no issue in self-promotion, as that is how one sets standards and goals and makes a living!

One needs to judge the classification by the credibility of the authors. Matthew Jukes is a very highly regarded U.K. wine writer who is growing in influence, his weekly wine column is with the Daily Mail, with a readership of over 9 million. Although he lectures and judges around the world, he has a particular interest in the wines of Australia and New Zealand. Australian Tyson Stelzer is also well-known in New Zealand as a prolific writer, as is Jukes, and is seen regularly in New Zealand visiting and tasting. Both men are regularly invited to speak at conferences and to judge at wine shows. Both are seen as young, up-and coming, if not already there; and each has been commended for their works over the years. I see their views and opinions, especially on New Zealand Pinot Noir, which they are particularly passionate about, as being very interesting and relevant.

Interestingly, there have not been many classifications or ratings of N.Z. Pinot Noir published, New Zealand writer Michael Cooper has his list of ‘Super Classics’ and ‘Classics’ which is kept up-to-date. In the top category are: Ata Rangi, Dry River, Felton Road ‘Block 3′, Martinborough Vineyard, Pegasus Bay and Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Marlborough. Under that in the ‘Classics’ tier are: Dog Point, Felton Road ‘Block 5′ Fromm ‘Clayvin’, Gibbston Valley ‘Reserve’, Greenhough ‘Hope’, Neudorf Moutere, Neudorf Moutere ‘Home Vineyard’, Palliser and Pisa Range ‘Black Poplar’. These can be seen on www.michaelcooper.co.nz

John Saker’s book ‘Pinot Noir – The New Zealand Story’, published in 2010 profiles 35 of the country’s top producers, with the inference they are the best, but John himself would admit the list is a personal collection of biographies of those that he was interested in, rather than a rating or classification. Before that, Keith Stewart published his book ‘Great Wines of New Zealand’ in 2005 which had these Pinot Noirs listed and rated as ‘Atua’ (Elite): Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyard, Dry River and Gibbston Valley ‘Reserve’. Stewart’s next level was ‘Tuarua’ (Reserve), which had: Palliser, Daniel Schuster, Neudorf ‘Home Vineyard’, Rippon, Te Kairanga ‘Reserve’ and Chard Farm ‘Red Gate Vineyard’.

Inspired by Jukes and Stelzer’s classification, New Zealand on-line critic Jayson Bryant published a classification of N.Z. Pinot Noir in November 2011 in his ‘Unscrewed’ blog. His 5-Star wines were: Ata Rangi, Felton Road and Pegasus Bay. The 4-Star wines were: Craggy Range, Cloudy Bay, Escarpment, Fromm, Herzog, Martinborough Vineyard, Misha’s, Neudorf, Pyramid Valley, Seresin, Schubert, Te Whare Ra and Wither Hills. (Click here to view.)

For 2012, Jukes and Stelzer have as 5-Stars: Ata Rangi, Bell Hill, Felton Road and Mt Difficulty. 4-Star producers are: Craggy Range, Dry River, Escarpment, Martinborough Vineyard, Mountford, Pegasus Bay, Peregrine, Pyramid Valley and Rippon. This year, there were no demotions, but 16 new additions.

I certainly do not whole-heartedly agree with their selections and ratings, but find them ‘in the ballpark’. Being a New Zealand resident, I see many of the wines regularly and in the context of how they fit in within the scene in New Zealand. It could be said someone involved relatively closely with the industry like me has a more detailed understanding of the wines and their standing. It would be fun to argue the merits of choices with the authors over several glasses of Pinot Noir, and I’m sure the discussion would go well into the night. But I respect their choices, as they have done the work, tasting hundreds of New Zealand Pinot Noirs and thought hard about their decisions. Those decisions are based on their world-wide experiences and wide perspectives, which offers more than what a local writer or critic can. As significant international wine commentators, their opinions are to be valued. It is a reflection of one’s closed mindedness if they are ignored or scorned.

To see the complete 2012 Fifth Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification by Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer, click here. The classification also gives an overview of the changes for 2012, a description of the ‘rolling classification’ and an explanation of their rating system. It is worthwhile visiting their websites: www.matthewjukes.com and www.tysonstelzer.com

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