The Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification 2010 is the work of Brit Matthew Jukes and Brisbane-based writer Tyson Stelzer. This is the third classification, published inside their books Taste Food and Wine 2008, 2009, 2010.

Although the 2010 edition is not yet released the pair announced their 2010 classification on 4 February at Pinot Noir 2010 in Wellington.

There are two critical aspects of this Classification: first it is taken as a rolling average of five consecutive vintages, this year 2009- 2005 to provide a better assessment of “track performance”, and second the basic estate or main brand wine is tasted rather than special selections or single vineyard portions.

On this year’s activities Tyson reports ” We update the classification every year on the basis of new vintage wines released. Over the past year I have completed extensive regional tastings in Central Otago, Marlborough and Martinborough as well as the national tastings in Wellington this month, which alone covered more than 400 New Zealand Pinot Noirs.”

The classification is based on the star system; five through to one. The three five star properties were Ata Rangi (Martinborough NZD 65 for 2008), Felton Road and Mt Difficulty (Central Otago NZ 46 and 44.95 for 2008). Find full results on

I asked Mount Difficulty’s Matt Dicey what it takes to maintain a five star estate wine: his response was “we would like to think that the consistency of the estate pinot is one of the elements which is clearly extremely important – interesting to note that two of the 5 star wineries come from Bannockburn and perhaps this is a form of recognition for the Bannockburn sub-region being an excellent performer even in very different vintage conditions.” I guess he means his terroir is the most important factor.

Such a classification draws contrast with the Bordeaux AC system where French properties can escape detection of making poor wines while holding their high classifications for decades-tantamount to profiteering really-when so much wine is bought sight unseen through the indent system.

In comparison it has already gone out over the web waves that more Kiwi brands are improving with Craggy Range, Martinborough Vineyard, Pegasus Bay and Rippon moving up from three to four stars. There is no sign of demotion of the major brands as wine quality keeps lifting, probably as the vines keep developing more age.

I asked Blair Hunt from Bald Hills about his level of contentment for his brand’s rating ” We are reasonably pleased with three stars. There is still room for improvement for the very young Bald Hills and with each year of vine age our wines are improving considerably. Quite apart from vine age, we and our viticulturist are constantly seeking ways to improve the balance of the vine and thus the ripeness and intensity of flavour of the fruit at harvest.

Crop management plays a significant role: in 2010 for example, we are going with one bunch per shoot in two of our Pinot blocks. Our Winemaker keeps himself fully informed of technical developments too, and the excellent site we chose initially on which to plant the pinot noir grape continues to serve us well.”

”In short, our object has always been to make better wine each year; a process of continuous improvement. Recent vertical tastings show quite clearly that this is happening. Another comment we would make is that we think these sorts of rankings are far more valuable to the consumer than the wine show results which judge just one wine at a given time in a line-up in which hundreds of wines are tasted. Does the consumer want to know whether a particular wine has won a gold medal or whether a producer makes consistently excellent wines year after year? ”

Rankings such as these show us where we are and urge us to improve even more. They are more importantly, a continuing challenge for us to get to where we might believe our Pinot should be ranked. Three stars is an encouraging start.” Bald Hills rated three stars in 2009, and two stars in 2008.

And as a final aside on Kiwi pinot Tyson says ” The price of New Zealand pinot noir continues to rise, and it is here that Australia is able to play a unique card. New Zealand is not able to land decent pinot on our shores for less than AUD 20, and it is here that Aussie wines are still the best pick on the shelves.”

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