NZ vs France

I fell in love with Pinot Noir in France. Exploring a French supermarché with baguette, ham and Camembert in hand, I entered the wine aisle to pick up a bottle of red to enjoy. Gone were the labels I was used to. Where was the Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé? Replaced with Chateau de something, Côtes of something else. I picked up a bottle of Vin de Bourgogne and my love affair began.

The French have a strong sense of regionality. Provinces have their own famous dishes, cheese and beverage. Equally, wines are labelled by region and family name. In New Zealand, each wine region is known for upwards of 10 different grape varieties, but vin de Bourgogne (or Burgundy to us anglophiles) has Pinot Noir (red) and Chardonnay (white) and that is it.

Burgundy – in the east of France, south of Champagne – is the ideal region to grow Pinot, with its limestone rich soils and cool climate. The contrast to New Zealand Pinot Noir, however, was almost incomprehensible. That first sip had me reeling. It was enigmatic, contemplative, sexy, earthy. Higher in acid, it was also lighter in colour than I was used to. Somewhat shy, I was left searching for the nuances on the nose. This wine had that little mysterious je ne sais quoi that the French always have.  My ‘new world’ palate would never have picked it for a Pinot. And when I say ‘new world’, I’m not meaning our local supermarket.

France is an ‘old world’ winemaking country.  Old World includes most European, some North African and some Middle Eastern countries. They’re the OGs, the winemaking pioneers. When drinking my first glass of vin de Bourgogne, I could taste the old-world history. I pictured Grandpa hand-picking grapes with a basket on his back.

In New Zealand, as ‘new worlders’ we’re a little bit more laissez-faire. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. This shines through in our renditions of Pinot Noir. Regionality plays a part here too with Marlborough, Martinborough and Waipara having stunning, yet markedly differing, examples.  Central Otago though is our most well-known Pinot Noir region.

This chameleon-like, fickle grape is sensitive to even the slightest changes in terroir – where it is grown, what type of soil, sunshine hours and rainfall. In New Zealand, our warm days and cool nights, different soil types (and the fact that we often use cultured yeast to ferment the juice) gives us cleaner, brighter and more fruity wines.

Compared to a Burgundy, Central Pinot is more medium-bodied, fruit forward with silky tannins.  Pour it and the aromas jump out and hit you in the face (with kindness of course). There’s no searching for nuances here. Don’t be mistaken, we’re not the poor cousin to our old-world counterpart. The quality is quintessential Kiwi – punching above its weight.

While Burgundy is a wine to have with a meal, we don’t necessarily need baguettes, ham and Camembert to imbibe with the Kiwi version.  I now equally love New Zealand Pinot Noir as it can be enjoyed anytime.

Rachel Baillie is a wine aficionado, with 28 years in the beverage industry.  Her new business – Provenance Distribution – provides consultancy and world-class service across wine, gin and cider brands.

Words by Rachel Baillie

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