Flag debacle aside, 2015, the year this wine was released, was a great one for John Key (IMAGE: TINA TILLER)

The Spinoff Reviews: John Key’s personalised pinot noir

A bottle of the (former) PM’s Pinot All Noir came into our correspondent’s possession via a shady route of backdoor deals and dirty politics… but no ponytails were harmed.

This weekend, I sat in my rented Grey Lynn villa as the wind blew literal puddles of rain through the huge gap under the front door, and drank a wine that was chosen for me by the erstwhile leader of our country, John Key.

He did not directly gift me this bottle. This honour is usually reserved for people who work in his office, do something for him, or whose ponytail he has yanked in an ill-advised attempt to be fun.

Instead, it came to me via a shady route of backdoor deals and dirty politics, otherwise known as a friend of a friend who doesn’t really drink wine gave it to me because I’m an enormous nerd. If being a nerd means random acquaintances gift you bottles of wine, then bring on a life of defending Elon Musk on the internet.

The wine in question is a bottle of Central Otago pinot noir from the 2010 vintage, made by the good people at Prophet’s Rock. The part of Otago it comes from, Bendigo, is just north of Cromwell, and is one of the warmer parts of the region. This means the wines tend to be a bit bigger and a bit fruitier, and end up being the kind of wines that – with all due respect – wine bros LOVE.

John Key isn’t the only prominent wine bro with an interest in Central Otago wine. Mark Weldon, whose attempt to update the news programmes at MediaWorks was famously met with widespread mutiny, owns Terra Sancta wines in Bannockburn, and beloved actor Sam Neill owns Two Paddocks, where he makes wines, spouts wisdom on Twitter and lovingly tends to his pigs.

The wine, which came out in 2015, doesn’t look like a regular Prophet’s Rock wine. It’s branded with a fancy, stylised JK, and has been signed personally by our man in Parnell. It looks very stylish, but the best part about the bottle is the blurb, clearly written by somebody who was having an enormous amount of fun.

“Where rocky soils are as negotiable as a TPP agreement, and temperatures plunge faster than a stock in Shanghai,” the bottle cheekily tells me about Central Otago, flashing back to a simpler time, pre-Trump, when all we had to worry about was whether we were going to be saddled with an ugly-ass flag.

It’s almost heartbreaking, looking at it now. This wine was made in the days when John Key still thought his legacy was going to be a garish monument to sport flying off the top of the Harbour Bridge. “My arms were like lead from waving our silver fern flag,” the bottle says optimistically. “Now there’s a good idea.”

Harking back to simpler times (photo: supplied)

Flag debacle aside, 2015 was a great year for Key. His bestie, Richie McCaw (along with the rest of the All Blacks) brought home the World Cup, and he got to gleefully share a beer with the team in the changing rooms at Twickenham. He also managed not to embarrass himself while shaking anyone’s hand.

This wine is a celebration of that occasion, more than any other event from that year. It’s called – and I kind of really love this – the PM’s Pinot All Noir. It’s a joke you have to think about for a second, a joke where you can congratulate yourself for getting it, even though it’s not hard at all to get. It’s an everyman’s joke, much like the man it sets out to celebrate.

I drank it with my flatmate as she googled pictures of highland cattle on her phone, for some reason, punctuating my nerdy swirling, sipping and note-scrawling with random comments like, “That one’s hair is blowing in the breeze!” Her assessment of the wine was simply, “I’d drink it.”

My own thoughts on the matter are slightly more nuanced.

My first thought is that years of being a Parnell-dwelling bazillionaire (and drinking correspondingly nice wines) has done wonders for JK’s palate – this wine is an absolute pleasure.

It’s surprisingly juicy and fresh, given its age – a 2010 Pinot Noir is getting on, even in 2015. The wine is giving me cherry and milk chocolate, as well as a whiff of poos (which is widely considered a good thing in pinot noir, for some reason). The palate is big and bold, with lots of fruit, some spice, and a nice seam of tannin.

You can tell it’s not a cheap wine – there’s plenty of oak, and it’s complex enough to suggest that it’s some of Prophet’s Rock’s premium grapes, rather than the dregs. It’s not a wine I can usually afford, and as I sipped on this wine that was chosen by a man who owns a holiday home in Hawai’i, I thought to myself – is this trickle-down economics in action?

The Pinot All Noir is unapologetically Kiwi, much like John Key. There’s not much subtlety – this wine is big and fruity and brash, a Central Otago classic. It speaks more to the John Key who would mince offensively down a runway trying to be funny, or cheerily play golf at every opportunity with his bosom bud Barack Obama. It’s polarising, sure, but it gets the job done, and gets it done with pizzazz.


The Spinoff’s beverage content is brought to you by Fine Wine Delivery Co, which is completely and utterly devoted to good taste, whether it’s wine, food, craft beer, whisky, rum… Check out their website or pop into one of the two Auckland superstores.

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