Shock and terroir: Pinot noir from different NZ wine regions does taste different!

Figure 1: Pinot Noir grape from the harvest (Copyright Jim Fischer)

Pinot Noir is one of the most popular red wine varieties in New Zealand and is considered as a premium product based on the price per volume. It attracts a huge number of fans that fall in love with its a ‘little bit smoky and chocolate’ flavour, fine-grained texture, and refreshing light to medium body.

When I drink New Zealand Pinot Noir, I appreciate its complexity and feel both its elegance and power at the same time. It is fresh but also has a nice structure to satisfy your mouth.

The planting area of Pinot Noir in New Zealand has increased markedly in recent years, as have export sales. It is now second only to Sauvignon Blanc in production volume. April, it is the time for Pinot Noir grapes to have their journey from vines to wineries.


The performance of the same wine variety can vary among different growing regions. There are four main Pinot Noir growing regions in New Zealand: Central Otago, Marlborough, Martinborough (also known as the Wairarapa), and Waipara, and the wine style and flavour from these four places are investigated recently by Dr Tomasino and colleagues from Lincoln University.

Terroir means “land” in French, and it is the word we usually use to describe the special wine flavour from a certain region. It is caused by the set of environmental factors that affect a crop’s phenotype (which means the characteristics of the crop caused by the outcome of the grape’s genes and its growing environment). Terroir includes the specific growing environment like micro-climate, latitude and altitude of the vineyard, farming practices like irrigating methods, canopy trimming technology, and a crop’s specific growth habitat. For example, grapes on the sunny side of the vine are usually sweeter and larger.

The significance of place is not unique to wine; terroir is also been studied in coffee, tobacco, hops, heritage wheat, maple syrup, tea, and cannabis. Nevertheless, the linkage between the subtitles of environmental conditions and the quality of the end product is found more strongly for wine than perhaps for any other agricultural product.

Figure 2: Regional plantings of Pinot Noir in New Zealand (Made by Mengran Zhu, data from NZWine)

In New Zealand, many wineries use place of origin for wine marketing and tourism, but little research had been conducted to determine if these wines taste different. Therefore, the main objective of Dr Tomasino‘s work was to determine whether there are different sensory profiles for New Zealand Pinot noir wines from different wine-producing regions as described by wine professionals.

The result indicates that the four wine regions were differentiated according to the attributes of aroma (barnyard, black cherry, herbal, raspberry, red cherry, oak and spice), in-mouth flavor (fruit density/concentration and red fruit), and mouth-feel (balance, body, and finish length).

Pinot Noir wine from Marlborough region was characterized by a greater intensity of red cherry and raspberry aromas, greater red fruit in-mouth flavor, and greater balance and finish length mouth-feel. Martinborough wines were characterized with greater intensity of black cherry, oak, and spice aromas and greater oak tannins mouthfeel. Waipara wines were characterized by greater intensity of barnyard, herbal, and violet aromas and greater fruit density/concentration in-mouth flavor. Finally, Central Otago was intermediate among the other three regions.

Dr Tomasino and colleagues‘ research has shown that Pinot Noir wines from the four regions of New Zealand are stylistically different due to all these differences of latitude, altitude, temperature, rainfall, micro-climate, soil and so on, and people don’t have to be wine experts to recognize the difference between different regions. Social drinkers have less experience and knowledge in wines when compared to experts, but the region that a Pinot Noir was from was still obvious.

Sometimes it’s quite hard for wine lovers to recognize some of the aroma or flavours from their glass. UC Davis has designed this Wine Aroma Wheel for people to identify the numerous fragrances and flavours found in most wines in a nice and easy-to-start way. Each of these unique fragrances found in wine are due to the grapes being used in the production of the wine, coupled with the soils and terroir the grapes were planted in and the choices made by the winemaker. The information found on the wine aroma wheel will help you identify what you are tasting and smelling.

Pinot Noir from Central Otago is very popular in New Zealand and around the world by its unique aroma with great mouth-feel. Personally, my favorite Pinot Noir region in New Zealand is Marlborough. Pinot from Marlborough is as powerful as the Otago ones, but its light body and stronger red fruits notes attracted me from the first taste. There are much more fun from New Zealand Pinot Noir for you to discover, let’s enjoy it together!

The author Mengran Zhu is a postgraduate student in the Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Science. She wrote this article as part of her assessment for ECOL 608 Research Methods in Ecology.


Tomasino, E., Harrison, R., Sedcole, R., & Frost, A. (2013). Regional differentiation of New Zealand pinot noir wine by wine professionals using canonical variate analysis. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture,64(3), 357-363.

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