NZ Pinot Classification – additional thoughts

I have had the chance to reflect on a few more notions flowing from Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer’s 3rd Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification.

In particular I have been pondering whether a classification-type process (and it does not need to be this one – in fact I suspect that other wine writers, some of whom have already taken steps such as classic wine classifications, may be tempted to reconstruct their approaches to do something similar – in time one or other will win out as the most respected and de facto recognised authority) is part of the answer to the value for money discussion highlighted by Oz Clarke and others in recent times.

Adam Lechmere’s article on regarding the Classification ( is worth reading and, for me, helped to add a little context to the process followed by the Classification authors (including the fact the classification is based on “estate” and not reserve or single vineyard wines, plus reference to “commercial” releases) and consequently to these thoughts.

 (It is worth asking the questions whether the best equipped reviewers to handle a classification process will be local or overseas tasters/writers; or whether it should be some sort of jury/panel rather than individuals in order to remove personal taste factors?. My view tends to be that there are strong arguments each way, for each question, and that it may just depend more on the nature of the classification – the answer could, for example, be different for a classification of the top individual wines, than for a general rating of producers/estate wines.)

Ultimately I think the key is to be able to calibrate concepts of top New Zealand pinot noir alongside those of competing products, and the price points attracted by those competitors.  New Zealand can retain its reputation as a good value for money pinot noir producer and yet still raise its average price per bottle in a global sense as producers seek to move up the classification path, in so doing justifying sales by comparison to their competitors.

The volume of Pinot Noir that New Zealand produces is clearly not as large as the major producers elsewhere (especially France and California), but is still relatively large among “the rest”.

Reputation is another factor.  One thing New Zealand holds back in its Pinot Noir marketing is a simple statistic:  in how many other countries in the world (and certainly of those making enough to export at least as much as they drink) are 57% of all red wine grape plantings made up of pinot noir for table wine (the reported figure is 64% for all pinot noir)?  The state of Oregon, certainly, but not even 50% in Canada, Germany, Switzerland or Austria, for example.

Finally, another question: how important is New Zealand’s reputation for making a certain style of pinot noir relevant to helping it establish its reputation among aromatic whites, as distinct from the “sauvignon blanc” effect?  The reason for asking this is that, although New Zealand sauvignon blanc’s reputation is built on its “aromatics on steroids” image, that has probably helped pinot gris but not really rubbed off on exports of riesling, gewürztraminer, etc.  I would just like to pose the question whether the issue here is the nature of the drinkers of some of these varieties, and whether the reputation of some of these varieties internationally is such that they may appeal more as whites for red wine (including pinot) drinkers, who would rarely contemplate a glass of sauvignon blanc, rather than as wines for “swinging” white wine drinkers?

I certainly don’t know the answer!


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