“Unbelievable run” for little-known Pinot Noir enjoying global acclaim. As 2022 draws to a close, a little-known wine from Alexandra has claimed yet another coveted award, making it New Zealand’s most awarded Pinot Noir this year – and its winemaker couldn’t be more delighted.
McArthur Ridge Southern Tor Pinot Noir 2020 scooped a gold medal at the New Zealand International Wine Show (NZIWS) last month, hot on the heels of the 96 points awarded at the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) mid-year, and two trophies and a gold medal at the International Wine Challenge in London. Here on New Zealand soil, the wine was awarded Champion Pinot Noir at the New Zealand International Wine Show in February, and winemaker Matt Connell named Winemaker of the Show.
It’s a phenomenal outcome for the small but committed team based in the Central Otago town of Alexandra, where wineries have grown accustomed to playing second fiddle to their neighbours at bigger-name wine brands in Bannockburn and Gibbston Valley.
However Matt – who has been at McArthur Ridge since 2020 – says it is the unique site, and the Alexandra location that play the largest roles in creating a wine with the depth Southern Tor displays. “Because of our position and our very cool climate, we ripen later – and that gives the grapes the opportunity to develop some really interesting flavours,” he says. “When it comes to harvest, Chief Viticulturist Murray Petrie and myself are out on the vineyard checking on the vines all the time, with the intention of leaving the fruit hanging as long as possible before hand-picking and pressing.”
Matt says the method of “growing grapes right up to the edge” of what’s possible, balanced alongside the threat of frosts and weather events, keeps the work interesting. He’s passionate about the site, which delivers “natural complexity, exuberance, with earthy tones and herbal notes like thyme”.
“These vines are almost 20 years old,” he says, “so they’re not babies anymore. Pairing that with fairly new soil – rather than soil that has been farmed for hundreds of years – gives the wine a special clarity.”
Although any gold medal is something to be celebrated, says Matt, it’s the DWWA that is the most notable and rewarding wine competition, and regarded as the world’s most influential. Its judging panel described the McArthur Ridge Southern Tor Pinot Noir 2020 (RRP$39.99) as “bursting with bright, pure red and black fruit aromas framed by spicy vanilla. Succulent, expansive plum and raspberry character with lovely ripe and supportive tannins.”
As if it wasn’t honour enough to win gold for its hero Pinot Noir, McArthur Ridge also took home medals for two other reds in its family – a Gold/ 95 Points plus a medal for Best Value for the Brassknocker Pinot Noir 2021 and a Silver/ 94 Points for McArthur Ridge Reserve ‘The McArthur’ Pinot Noir 2020. Judges commented that the Brassknocker Pinot Noir displayed a “nice bouquet, pretty and fresh, a core of light red berry fruits with a fine savoury layer adding depth and charm. Lovely mouthfeel, delicious and long” and that the McArthur Ridge Reserve Pinot exhibited “Rich, bold and powerful bouquet with aromas of sweet raspberries, framboise liqueur and sweet vanilla.
“Lush and juicy, appealing,” they concluded.
At the NZIWS, McArthur Ridge Falls Dam Pinot Gris 2022 and Lilico Rose 2021 were also winners – both taking home double gold medals and 96 points apiece.
McArthur Ridge Sales and Marketing Director Mike Herrick says it’s been “an unbelievable run” for the winery this year, but agrees that the DWWA wins are the icing on the cake. “Being judged among over 18,000 wines from 54 countries and coming out on top is both exceptional and hugely exciting,” he says. “The judging process for any award is rigorous, but the DWWA especially so. It’s also wonderful to help shine a light on Alexandra as a wine-growing sub-region – we’re very proud of our little corner of the world, and the delicious wines that are produced here.”
Winemaker Matt hopes attention from the success of McArthur Ridge’s reds will help convince New Zealanders to try other wines from this seriously good producer. “It’s been a really challenging couple of years for the wine industry, particularly with labour shortages and COVID-19 impacts” Matt says. “But it’s testament to the commitment of McArthur Ridge’s ownership group and their continued investment that we’re in such a good position. And it’s due to the careful vineyard management of Murray and his team that I’m able to make the award-winning wine that I do.”