After our fabulous Milford Trek, we decided that we needed to get back to some wine tasting while we were in New Zealand. Central Otago was calling us……..
New Zealand’s Central Otago Wine Country
Central Otago is the furthest south of any wine region in the world (45 degrees south). It has the coldest and most variable climate and the highest elevation (from 200 to 450 meters) of any of New Zealand’s wine regions. The region is dedicated overwhelmingly (75 percent) to pinot noir, followed by 12 percent pinot gris and less than five percent apiece by other varietals.
Central Otago is divided into four very distinct sub-regions, each with its own growing conditions and resulting wine characters.
- Gibbston, which was the first region to commercially bottle wines (in 1987) accounts for about 20 percent of the region’s volume. It has the highest elevation, the coolest climate and generally north-facing vineyards, resulting in later picking times and lighter fruit.
- Brannockburn, located on the southern banks of Cromwell, is the warmest and driest of the four regions, resulting in darker fruits and more extracted wines.
- Cromwell and Lowburn, located at a junction of two rivers, produces about 70 percent of the region’s total wine. Its soils and micro-climates vary so much among its vineyards as to make it difficult to characterize its wines.
- Pisa and Bendigo, which is located on the valley floor and other low elevations, has stony soils and is among the sunniest and warmest of the sub-regions and produces some of the deepest colored and most intensely flavored wines,
We focused primarily on Gibbston, Brannockburn and also Cromwell and Lowburn. Of course we had our favorites.
- Gibbston Valley where we went through almost entire line of wines. We found so many wines that we liked: 2016 Le Maitre riesling; 2015 La Dulcinee pinot gris; 2012 Glenlee Pinot Noir; 2013 China Terrace Pinot Noir; 2014 Gibbston Valley Reserve; and 2015 Le Maitre Pinot Noir. And, as most of you know, we are suckers for sweet wines. We discovered two: 2016 Late Harvest Pinot Gris (130 grams of sugar) and 2014 Noble Botrytus wine (80 percent pinot gris and 20 percent riesling and 154 grams of sugar). And the really good news: while Gibbston Valley does not distribute in the U.S., U.S. customers can join their wine club and get wines delivered to their homes for a very small amount. Meanwhile, the winery’s Cheesery offers tastes of several of its cheeses including an interesting Autumn Gold soft washed-rind and Kamara blue cheeses.
- Peregrine Wines , where we enjoyed a number of wines. Our favorites were the slightly oaked 2015 Pinot Gris and two Pinot Noirs: the deep-colored, dark cherry-based 2014 and the lighter, but more nuanced and balanced 2011. We also found yet another favorite dessert wine, a 2015 Charcoal Creek Riesling that combined early- and late-harvested fruit to achieve a moderate sugar content of 95 grams. The modern winery has a side building that used to serve as a 19th-century sheep shearing shed.
- Wet Jacket. Speaking of sheep shearing sheds, Greg Hay, Peregrine’s original owner, built his small, boutique winery in a shed. While he is only now producing his second vintage, we weren’t especially impressed with either his 2015 pinot gris or 2014 pinot noir. Hopefully time will improve the vintages.
- Amisfield Vineyard also has some lovely wines. On the white side, we enjoyed the 2015 Pinot Gris and particularly (by Joyce) the 2014 Dry Riesling and (by Tom) the 2014 Loburn Terrace off-dry (45 grams sugar) riesling. We also enjoyed each of the pinot noirs we tasted. While the 2014 was softer and more complex. The 2013 RKV Reserve, meanwhile, was complex and smooth with deep dark fruit, tobacco and soft tannins. The only downside was its $120 price tag.
- Chard Farm Vineyards seems to produce some of the spiciest pinot noirs we have ever tasted, even though they come from very different regions, soil conditions and altitudes. Although most were too pronounced for our palettes, we did enjoy the 2014 Mata-Au.
- Mt. Difficulty, where we had a comprehensive tasting, followed by lunch with a reserve wine. Although the entry Roaring Meg wines were a bit sweet and fruity for our tastes, we did enjoy a number of Brannockburn, Growers Series and Single Vineyard wines. These included the Brannockburn Series 2016 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Gris, Target Riesling and the surprisingly dry and savory 2016 Mt. Difficulty pinot rose. Our favorites among the sub-regional Growers Series wines (and of the entire tasting) were the 2016 Packspur riesling and especially the 2013 Packspur pinot Pinot Noir. We only tasted a couple of the Single Vineyard wines, with our favorite being the 2013 Target Gully Pinot Noir. And as a special treat, a 2010 Brannockburn Pinot Noir.
- Akarua’s 2016 Rua Pinot Noir was our go-to pinot with our Milford Track dinners and we continued to enjoy it for its very reasonable $29 price at the winery. We also enjoyed the 2015 Akarua Pinot Gris and especially, the very sweet (234 grams of sugar) Akarua Alchemy ice wine.
- Carrick Wines, where we had an abbreviated tasting at which we found the 2014 Brannockburn Pinot Noir to be nice.
- Aurum Wines, where we liked the 2015 Pinot Gris and especially their 2013 Mathilde and 2014 Madeleine pinot noirs.
- Quartz Reef Wines for its 2014 Bendigo Estate Pinot Noir and 2016 Loop Noble Riesling dessert wine.
- Wooing Tree Vineyards also had a few wines that we particularly enjoyed. Of those we tasted were the 2015 Pinot Gris and especially the 2012 Sandstorm Pinot Noir.
Pisa and Benigo
Although we did not get into the Pisa and Benigo regions, we did have a couple wines from them. Our hotel, for example, served a 2015 Domaine Thomson Explorer Pinot Noir during its evening wine hour. It was a nicely extracted wine with subdued dark fruit and a nice earthy texture.