Rebecca Gibb: My New Zealand Red of the Year 2014

Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2009 3.11024 x 4.25197 inches

Think New Zealand red, think Pinot Noir but there’s more to New Zealand red wine than one variety: some of the best reds I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months reflect New Zealand’s ability to produce classy Bordeaux styles as well as sexy Syrah, particularly in the warmer climes of Hawke’s Bay.

When it comes to Pinot Noir, Central Otago is the must-have region on most wine lists but quality abounds across the country with key players in the Martinborough and Waipara regions, in particular, continuing to impress in 2014.

My wine of the year was a five year-old Pinot from Canterbury’s Pyramid Valley that is ripe for drinking now. Be quick if you want to get your hands on a bottle as there’s not much left.

Here are My Seven Superlative Reds reviewed in the past 12 months…

Pyramid Valley, Earth Smoke, Pinot Noir 2009, North Canterbury
Hailing from Waikari in North Canterbury, 2009 was the warmest year owner-operators Mike and Claudia Weersing had experienced in their 9 years on the farm. Yet the wine remains delicate and ethereal. It is now a cloudy garnet in the glass, showing its 5 years of age. The flavours are alluring, offering up smoky notes, game and plum fruit but it is the silken texture that really impresses. And, while it is incredibly delicate and light bodied, it manages to combine this with mahoosive density of fruit, pointing to the site’s low yields. This is all topped off with fine chalky tannins. Well done guys.


The Wine Advocate’s Latest Reviews of Pyramid Valley Vineyards by Lisa Perrorti-Brown

Wine Advocate logo

You may think you know New Zealand wines but I can assure you that until you have tasted Pyramid Valley, you have no idea. When I first sampled the earliest releases from this left-of-center producer, I was so drawn to the signature, ground-breaking if, at that time, not altogether flawless wines that I vowed to pay them a visit as soon as possible (which, given their location, is easier said than done). There was a spark of “otherness” about the wines that was so unlike anything else in New Zealand, it was difficult to say if proprietors Mike and Claudia Weersing were geniuses or mad or mad geniuses. I’m still kinda thinking there’s an element of the latter going on here but at least my first visit in 2011 and follow-up visit this year have confirmed to me that they are most definitely wine geniuses.

Having searched New Zealand for their ideal plot of land to produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the very highest quality, the Weersings were tempted by comradery to plant amongst their friends in Central Otago. But it was the unique, clay-limestone soils and scarp slopes near Waikari in North Canterbury that stole their hearts. In 2000 they planted vines in one of New Zealand’s newest and remotest wine regions…so new and remote it still doesn’t really have a name other than “North Canterbury”. Claudia is the biodynamic green-thumb and Mike is the Burgundian trained winemaker in this small-scale, hands-on operation. Everything in the fields and winery is as natural as natural can be and anyone who has followed the wines over the years will know, from tasting if not knowledge, that Mike has tested the boundaries of no / low sulfur additions and now seems to have a knack for adding just-enough to ensure stability without compromising the couples’ ethics. The results speak for themselves: astonishingly good, terroir-expressive wines that will challenge all your preconceptions.

Pyramid Valley was my most impressive visit this trip to New Zealand and indeed of all my Australia / New Zealand visits this year. I cannot shout enough about the dedication and diligence of Claudia and Mike Weersing, not to mention the special little patches of terroir they’ve carved out of nowhere (honestly), but then I don’t have to rave too much because the results are patently clear for anyone who tastes their most recent releases – the 2012s. Forget that they’re biodynamic and all the trials and tribulations of the past with no / low sulphur wines plus the use of bespoke amphorae, which are made of clay layered with beeswax covered with a stainless steel lid, to make the wines; their lengths and unconventional methods are simply means (however you want to read them) to a worthwhile end. These latest releases are wines of great purity, singularity and complexity and come highly recommended. I can’t wait to keep following these guys”!

Home Collection

Lions Tooth Chardonnay 2012            95+ points

Field of Fire Chardonnay 2012           93+ points

Lions Tooth Chardonnay 2011            96 points

Field of Fire Chardonnay 2011            92+ points

Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2011             95   points

Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2011             92   points

Angel Flower Pinot Noir 2012            94+ points

Earth Smoke Pinot Noir 2012            93+ points

Growers Collection

Moteo Chenin Blanc 2013                  90+ points

Kerner Pinot Blanc 2012                     91+ points

Calvert Pinot Noir 2012                      90  points

Howell Cabernet Franc 2013             91  points

Californian Making Mark in New Zealand Wines with Pyramid Valley

By Pamela S. Busch

Pyramid valley landscape

I don’t think there is a delicate way of putting this, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: An American makes the best wines coming out of New Zealand. Californian Mike Weersing arrived in New Zealand in 1996 by way of enology school in Dijon, France, and several stints at some of France’s best wineries, including De Montille in Burgundy and Kreydenweiss in Alsace. In New Zealand, he initially went to work as the winemaker at Neudorf Vineyards in Nelson, and in 2000, he purchased an old farm in North Canterbury with his wife on the South Island.

Weersing’s vision was to make wine biodynamically, but it would take a few years before he would be able to work with the fruit from his land.

In the meantime, he rented parcels from growers in other areas. His stipulation was that they let him farm his section his way. While some may have thought his method was strange at first, a few have actually followed his lead and are undergoing organic and biodynamic conversion.

Now that the estate fruit is ready to go (and has been since the 2006 vintage), Pyramid Valley has the home and grower collections. Weersing uses native yeast and adds very little sulfur. Depending on the wine, he ferments in stainless steel, older barrels and increasingly, amphora.

While Pyramid Valley is not the only one to make wine naturally in New Zealand, the vineyard seems to have taken it to a greater degree than most with unsurpassed results, based on complexity and age- worthiness.

Here are a few to try:

Pyramid Valley Grower Collection Pinot Blanc, 2011 (Marlborough, New Zealand): If I had this wine blind, I would have pegged it for Alsatian pinot blanc, or so I’d like to think, as it has the honeysuckle and spice and tangerine I associate with pinot blanc from Alsace. Every vintage I’ve tried has been impressive, but this wine is truly astonishing. Suggested retail: $26

Pyramid Valley Riesling, Riverbrook Vineyard, 2009 (Marlborough): Weersing has been working with two riesling vineyards over the years — this and Rose, which has a slightly cooler microclimate. It is hard for me to choose one over the other, but for drinking now, I’d go with the 2009 Riverbrook. There is a hint of a little petrol in the nose at first, but it blows off in the glass, giving way to floral aromatics, green apples and fennel. Pressed on its skins for 16 hours, the wine has a lot more texture than most rieslings, allowing it to match a wider spectrum of dishes. Suggested retail: $26

Pyramid Valley Pinot Noir, Earth Smoke, 2009 (Canterbury, New Zealand): Earth Smoke is made from a small block on the home vineyard. Unfined and unfiltered, this is not a bashful wine. However, recognizing that it is pinot noir, Weersing allowed it to remain true to its delicate nature. With tobacco, dried herbs, a rusty, iron note and black-cherry fruit, there are a number of characteristics playing off one another, but in a graceful manner. Though pricey, it is one of the few pinot noirs made outside of Burgundy that is worth it. Suggested Retail: $85

Pamela S. Busch has been working in the wine industry since 1990 as a writer, educator and consultant and co-founded Hayes & Vine Wine Bar and Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen. In 2013, she launched, a blog covering a variety of wine-related topics. 

Published: The Examiner. San Fransisco
July 27 2014