NZ Winegrowers are an active bunch – their members (wine brands) troop around Australia’s East Coast annually presenting a tasting fair.

NZ in a Glass came to Brisbane last Monday with a swag of exhibitors: 71 stands that I counted, 350 industry persons in the afternoon and almost 400 drinking customers for the evening tasting (a good percentage expat Kiwis).

Strangely there was no presence of KEA, the NZ Business organisation although it could have been low key.

But then the latter had their main eye on fundraising for the Christchurch disaster.

Sauvignon blanc was everywhere and well patronised, though exhibitors were very keen to point out their retro-sauvignons (those manipulated during winemaking to conceal mainstream savvy character and replace it with modified taste streams).

However, the fact remains you can never hide a NZ savvy – that’s what made it famous in the first place, that irrepressible nose.

With the sales stats really showing the rise of pinot noir uptake it was a no-brainer that NZ in a Glass would promote this varietal this year and they did so with a seminar.

It was “The Ageability of Marlborough and Central Otago Pinot Noirs” with two typical South Island makers chosen; a big maker in Villa Maria who have a substantial investment in Marlborough and a small maker in Central Otago, Mt Difficulty of Bannockburn.

The wines were worth engaging with; expressive, but the ageability aspect took a back seat, maybe because few of these wines are found on the secondary market (auction). But several vintages were tasted.

Villa Maria’s pinot man Jeremy McKenzie

Jeremy McKenzie, Senior Winemaker for Villa Maria in Marlborough spoke mainly about the sites for pinot in the general region, saying that the luscious gravel riverbed vineyard sites are too vigorous for pinot (that’s where the savvy excels). Even the pinot in this environment is too herbal!

So now the newer pinot vineyards are sited on north-facing clay terraces, slowing the ripening and producing the flavours that Villa wants.

This was demonstrated with three very respectable serial vintages of a Marlborough vineyard blend in the Cellar Selection category.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2006 (USD 45), 14%, +++, from a hot year, has robust colours, cherry, jam, stewed fruit and oak, lots of sweet and sour fruit on the palate, lots of drying tannins.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2007 (USD 45), 14%, ++++, from the vintage of the decade, pure colour, dark and black cherry fruit dominance, oak char, plums and sap, mouth sweet and a little warming with alcohol.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008 (USD 45), 14%, +++1/2, from a warmer than average year, has perfume, sap, tar, char, lots of whole berry fruit punch, great fruit intensity, fine grained tannin layering, alcohol warming and flavour push.

Michael Herrick, an articulate and well informed fellow, Sales and Marketing Manager of Mt Difficulty presented his company’s wines.

Mt Difficulty’s Michael Herrick on pinot

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2006 (USD 50), 14.5%, +++1/2, from a warm, cool-affected year, has cherry colour, sap complexity, spice, black fruits, then blocky, powerful finish and tannin, big pinot.

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2007 (USD 50), 14%, ++++, snow at flowering, light crop, deep cherry, stylish nose, chunky, taste with talc from minerality, black fruits, lovely balance, honey and perfume, delicious.

Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir 2008 (USD 50) 14%, +++, a lot of fruit dropped, crop reduction, very oak-structured, cedar, sap, tight now, yet mouth sweet, aging slowly, will impress for those who keep it, rich.

Mike Herrick’s take home message was that aging examples develop forest floor aromas at 7-10 years; and now that the early plantings had 20 years of vine age, the best grapes have marvellous flavour intensity.

I walked around the tasting displays, discovering some new arrays of wines.

Try three new red wines: Northburn Station Pinot Noir 2008 (USD 42)-from a 30,000 acre sheep station, Man O’War Ironclad Bordeaux Blend 2008 (USD 45),-Waiheke Island near Auckland, merlot dominant and Alpha Domus The Barnstormer Syrah 2010 (USD 27)- from Hawke’s Bay, sexy texture here.

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