Exploring the Charms of Pinot: A Deep Dive into New Zealand’s Regional Styles

By | 7 March 2024

The elegance, natural balance, and purity of fruit found in New Zealand’s Pinot Noir are the reasons behind the sudden popularity of this notoriously unpredictable grape variety in the south. Albeit the first commercial bottlings only began in 1987, today New Zealand is worldwide recognized for the quality of Pinot it produces.

Noted stylistic differences have emerged from the cooler regions of Wairarapa (North Island), Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago (all South Island), among others, as a result of climatic and soil diversity. Consequently, regional variation has become a hot topic among wine experts and Pinot Noir enthusiasts alike.

Marlborough is associated with red fruits and aromatic freshness, Wairarapa tends to be savory, whereas Central Otago Pinots often display darker fruit character with more noticeable tannins and spicy notes.

At the Decanter World Wine Awards, the judges value quality in relation to grape typicity and regionality when awarding top medals. At the 2023 competition, ‘Pinot Noir was an excellent performer,’ noted Cameron Douglas MS, DWWA Regional Chair for New Zealand, observing that ‘regional and even some sub-regional voices were reflected in the wines’.

Judging alongside Douglas in New Zealand, the late Philip Tuck MW stated: ‘Pinot Noir has always been a wine I’ve advocated for. In the coming decade, as individuals discover how Pinot Noir’s freshness, gentle tannins and frequently moderate alcohol content pair wonderfully with a wide variety of meals, its popularity will rise significantly.’

For an expert’s guide on exploring New Zealand’s regional Pinot Noir expressions, see the list of highly recommend wines from the Decanter World Wine Awards below. More options can be found at awards.decanter.com

Palliser Estate, Hua Nui, Martinborough, Wairarapa 2021

Best in Show, 97 points


This vibrant and assertive wine calls to mind raspberries and plums from its aroma. Lively and ebullient, the structure of the wine is built on a strong fruit foundation, deepened with oak tones and lifted by ripe, fruit-dense acidity rather than tannins. Smooth, confident and remarkable. 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%

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%

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%

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