Pinot push

by Keith Stewart / 27 December, 2003

Next month, the whole wine world will be coming to Wellington to celebrate pinot noir, or at least New Zealand's burgeoning fame with the wine. Pinot Noir 2004 is party time for those in the pinot business, from Burgundy to Oregon and beyond, as well as the mob of fanatics for whom pinot is the wine with direct links to the gods.

Over a few days from January 28 to 31, Wellington will be the soft red centre of the wine world, buzzing with seminars, tastings and feeds both official and random at which pinot-spotters will pursue their latest fad by matching individual pinot nuances with precise food tastes. If you drink for fun, stay away, but if winemakers are your idea of celebrities, there will be more famous ones in Wellington than screwcaps in the Blenheim tip.

What all the fuss is actually about is the hip red wine that dominates drinkers' attention from Central Otago, Waipara, Nelson, Marlborough and from the first place to get the glimmer, Martinborough. For the wealthy, it is the perfect variety to match the architectural extravaganza on your new winter getaway block in Central Otago, whereas for the middle classes it is better dinner-party status than a second-hand BMW.

But while food- and wine-matching rampages through Wellington's restaurants, how are we going to sell all this pinot noir to the world that demands cultural extras with top red wines? Although the premium wine market is growing everywhere, one of the prime reasons it attracts sophisticated money is that it is sophisticated.

Take Champagne. It's not just phizz, but wine from the cultural heart of the French nation, source of their language and of French kings for centuries, scene of Northern Europe's defining battles for a millennium. Or Burgundy, France's rebel soul, capital of lush medieval arts, the monastic engine that succoured knowledge for a continent, and the centre of a great trade and cultural enclave that stretched from the Sôane to the Rhine mouth.

How do we compete with that? Well, we could have started by making Pinot Noir 2004 a cultural festival that celebrated what it is that makes New Zealand unique - why we are good at sensual opera, for example, and does this translate to our love of pinot noir? If so, what better than a performance to match the wine, or some poetry in honour of the Celtic roots that New Zealand and pinot noir share.

But that may be too much to ask - that we actually celebrate and enrich our pinot noir culture. Instead, we play parlour games in the hope that our guests will buy some to take home. In fact, if you were cynical, you could imagine that the conference is like a giant Avon party, which would be a disservice to the outstanding achievement of our top pinot producers. Don't forget your credit card.

TRY THIS: ESCARPMENT 2002 PINOT NOIR

No romance here, but plenty of sensuality and muscle, promising that it will give you some history over time. It has the richness and sleek nature of the best pinot noir, with grunt to ensure that it will mature with enough grace and sophistication to create its own legendary future. You get the feeling from this that Escarpment is here for the long haul.

PRICE: $45. AVAILABLE: momentarily.

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