New Zealand’s Pinot Noir

In beautiful Central Otago, the cradle of the country’s red wines, a trip among some disappointing and surprising wines

Central Otago, simply

Central Otago, simply "Central" for locals, occupies the most Southern part of South Island. Here 121 small producers produce Pinot Noir. With varying results

Central Otago is the cult denomination of South Island when it comes to red wines, in the same way as Marlborough has built its fame on white wines. Of course this doesn’t preclude the possibility of having respectively very pleasant white wines in the first case, and red wines in the second, even though these are often relegated to small clusters within the appellations. These are pleasant, convincing wines. Indeed they are well made but don’t fit into the main market and its prices.

Contrary to what some of the prestigious names among wine writers say, their fame is given more by the numbers than to the inclination of the whole territory to what has been elected as the emblematic grape variety of the area, that is to say Pinot Noir. There are many characteristics, in terms of soil composition, temperatures and sun exposure that make this a suitable environment for one of the most difficult grape varieties such as Pinot Noir. This, unfortunately, is not always translated into authentic masterpieces.

The entrance of Wild Earth in Bannockburn

The entrance of Wild Earth in Bannockburn

Let’s move one step backwards: I looked for a publication that would clearly map the territory of New Zealand dedicated to wine production and would depict the soil composition of the various areas in order to understand where the claims of the relevant associations came from, with regards to the uniqueness of these wines, but I didn’t find it. Nick Lewis, of the University of Auckland, has been working for almost 15 years in very close contact with the producers to understand the trajectories and the evolutions of the market as well as the work of these wine producers from a social point of view and he reports the same deficiency.

We agreed on the work made by Daniel Schuster in Wairarapa. For years Danny, on top of being an excellent producer, has worked as a researcher at Lincoln University and has produced some complete reports on the area of Canterbury. The only other person who felt the necessity of analysing the territory more deeply was Mike Weersing of Pyramid Valley, and the place he chose to produce his wines is quite far away from Central Otago, except only for the annual production he obtains from the famous Calvert vineyard, an appellation of which only two more producers are the proud holders, namely Felton Road and Craggy Range.

Daniel Schuster: great pinot noirs in Wairarapa

Daniel Schuster: great pinot noirs in Wairarapa

I therefore took inspiration from the data scattered on the main websites; the winery size in New Zealand is relatively small: there are only 15 wine producers (out of a total of 692, according to the Wine Institute of New Zealand) who produce more than 4 million hectolitres per year and in Central Otago the 121 small producers are distributed in a beautiful region. They are mostly located around Queenstown, Alexandra e Cromwell, and if you drive from Dunedin, after the first stop in Alexandra to visit wineries such as Two Paddocks or BlackRidge, a lunch break should be made at Wild Earth: you cannot miss the Wineflight for 6 (among the others, there’s the medium structured Pinot Noir 2010 and the Pinot Gris 2012 which luckily doesn’t irritatingly explode with aromas as many other local pinot gris do) paired with some food prepared in the wine barrel cooker that has made owner Quintin Quider famous.

(to be continued)


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