We recently read an article in the WSJ concerning the disappearance of New Zealand Pinot Noir from wine shops and restaurants. Predictably, the article transitioned into a tasting report with the ultimate pronouncement that many of the wines were not so great. It got us thinking again both about the disappearance of some New Zealand Pinots and more particularly about how people decide what wines they like.
We know we fell in love with Down Under wines when visiting some of the countries whose wines we sell. So that’s a no brainer – happy vacation time, drink wine, develop fabulous associations. But how could the WSJ author taste some twenty New Zealand Pinots and declare herself underwhelmed except with the Ata Rangi, Felton Road, and Craggy Range Pinots?! Those are wonderful, of course, but really only those?
Part of the problem is that we all tend to hold tightly to our personal yardsticks. That’s why McDonalds and Starbucks are successful. We always know what we will get. In the same way, some of us think if a wine does not taste a certain way, it must not be good. If we don’t recognize any of the labels in the shop or on the menu, do we panic and give up? If we are in Cape Town or Buenos Aires for business, do we really want the Cabernet we ordered to taste like our favorite Napa Cabernet?
New Zealand Pinot Noir came to the US mainstream’s attention having garnered significant international acclaim, when the U.S. wine media and market leapt on board to promote the latest and greatest wine “discovery.” In the same period, Pinot from California’s Central Coast was beginning its stratospheric growth in popularity. The two wine styles could really not be more different. They were, and unfortunately still are pitted against one another making it virtually impossible to appreciate each wine for what it is, an expression of its region and winemaking style. With such a mind set, the generally earthy, minerally, tannic and ageable style of many New Zealand Pinots seem a poor alternative to an approachable rich, ripe and fruit-forward California style.
But that’s the thing people! The Central Coast is not Burgundy is not the Willamette Valley is not the Russian River, and none of these are New Zealand. We should celebrate and quite literally taste the differences in soil, climate, vine age, vintage, viticultural practices, and wine-making techniques. Didn’t our parents tell us that variety is the spice of life and weren’t they often correct about stuff?! Obviously preferences and choices are part of life; we just think people should try to experience and understand each of the wines in the running.
New Zealand Pinot Noir has not disappeared in the U.S. It has a happy home here at Southern Latitudes and at restaurants and small shops across the country. We know there are a number of wine drinkers out there who appreciate different expressions of a varietal and who like to keep their palates fresh by trying wines from all sorts of regions. Gut check. Are you going to be the Grinchy Grinch whose world view is constricted by a cave, or will you be Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus sailing off to the New World? Cheers!