New Zealand is host some of the world’s most southerly grape-growing regions. At at a latitude of 45º south, Central Otago has a climate similar to the world’s great Pinot Noir producer Burgundy, France where you’ll find the world’s most expensive wines.
While the wines produced in Central Otago are getting worldwide recognition with some clear distinctions like the crisp acidity of the Pinot Gris, like Burgundy there are distinct ‘appellations’ within the region. Take the aromas of violets and the earthy forest floor sensations typical of the Gibbston Valley Pinot Noirs and compare these to the Pinot Noirs of Lowburn/ Bannockburn that are darker in colour with fuller, sweater fruit notes, for example.
These nuances go a lot further though, heading further north we discover even greater distinctions within these varietals, where the difference in climate and terroir ar leading to quite unique interpretations of these famous grapes of Burgundy.
Mount Michael Pinot Noir
2015 Bendigo, Central Otago
Mount Michael Pinot Noirs are a bit of a favourite of mine. The winery is situated in Bendigo and Lowburn regions of Central Otago, an area that has produced some of New Zealand’s best Pinot Noirs over the years, with this little winery holding its fair share of Gold Medals too. The winery is owned by Anne Dunston who happens to be one of New Zealand’s youngest winery owners. The popularity of their wines is rapidly growing in recent years with the enthusiasm Anna brings to the brand.
This wine is the younger sister of their award winning Bessie’s Block Pinot Noir and offers incredibly good value at and lower price point. It is also the older sister of their recently launched Mountaineer (another great wine at an even better price).
The aroma is of ripe blackberries, subtle oak and mocha, the colour is pale garnet. The grapes for this wine were selected from a single vineyard in Bendigo, grown in stoney ground that retains the heat late into the afternoon. This allows longer and deeper ripening of the fruit, delivering the powerful wine with voluptuous berry flavours and lovely earthy notes on a savoury back palette. Deep colour that strikes you on pouring the first glass. With subtle tannins and great length, the wine makes the perfect accompaniment to venison or duck.
Rockburn Pinot Noir
2016, Central Otago
One of the major players in the Central Otago region and producer of some of the most outstanding Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris, Rockburn takes its name from the rugged, rock-strewn, burn-scarred landscape surrounding the winery.
Their Pinot Noir is part of their core range and reflects the intense varietal characteristics of Central Otago – a pure expression of Central Otago to your glass. The 2016 Pinot Noir just picked a gold medal at the NZ Wine Awards recently as well as taking out Gold in the Sydney International Wine Competition. This is the perfect place to start a journey around some of New Zealand’s outstanding Pinot Noirs
Using minimal handling, and letting nature run its course, has delivered aromas of violet and a deep dark fruit palette with vibrant notes of red and black cherry, rich mocha and silky tannins leading into a very long finish. With its roots in such a unique picturesque landscape of lakes and mountains, you can just picture this with a meal of wild rabbit or venison on the table, or just try it with a nice juicy steak on the BBQ.
Saint Clair Vicar’s Choice Pinot Noir
Saint Clair Family estate is a is owned by the Ibbotson family, pioneers in the Marlborough wine industry since the late 70s. Established in 1994, having produced grapes for other winemakers with the desire to take the wine making through to the finished product. Named after the early settlers of the land James Sinclair and modified to the present name ‘Saint Clair’.
The vicar’s choice range choice range gained its name from a local pastor that was quite partial to the Saint Clair selection. This Pinot Noir is a delightful example of what is typically a Marlborough styled Pinot Noir. A lot lighter in colour but with an abundance of flavours that have lead to the burgeoning success of the marlborough Pinot Noirs.
Sweet dark red fruit with mixed spice and black olive notes, the palate is bright and silky with juicy sweet fruit, mellow and lingering. The savouriness of the wine is the perfect foil for the natural sweetness of a lamb neck chop casserole cooked with thyme and Pinot Noir.
Shaky Bridge Pioneer Series Pinot Noir
2017, Central Otago
Named after an iconic bridge nearby in the Alexandra subregion of Central Otago, this winery was first established back in the early 70s by the Grant family who still own the Vineyard today.
Shaky Bridge was one of the first vineyards to plant Pinot Noir grapes in the Central Otago region. Grapes from these vines, now over 30 years old, have been used in the production of this outstanding and extremely well priced Pinot Noir.
This wine featured recently in the New World Wine Awards. Awards set up to give you a guide to the best wines available on the supermarket shelves. All wines in the competition are under $25 and judged by a leading panel of wine connoisseurs; this was voted by the judges as the champion of the whole competition. With very dark dense black fruits with vanillian sweetness and flavours of violets, black plums, black cherry and chocolate. Intense but with a soft mouthfeel and silky tannins. A long clean precise finish made this wine a knockout with the judges. For the perfect match, serve with charcoal grilled lamb rack marinated in garlic, rosemary and olive oil.
Rapaura Springs Reserve Pinot Gris 2018 Marlborough
Situated in Marlborough and named after the spring that weaves its way through the vineyard, Rapaura Springs is a family owned winery that sources grapes from across the Marlborough region, producing outstanding wines that have gained global recognition.
This Pinot Gris took out the Champion Pinot Gris at the New World Wine Awards. To be champion at these awards, the judges say, requires not just to tick the boxes but to have X factor in abundance. To quote the judges “Here is a great example of what the X factor really tastes like.”
Rich ripe aromas of Tarte Tatin and caramelised apple, the palate is concentrated with flavours of lemon zest and apricot. Balanced acidity leads into a long lingering, almost dry finish.
Mount Michael Pinot Gris 2018 Lowburn Central Otago
Mount Michael has appeared in my columns quite a lot recently – in particular because of their award winning Pinot Noirs that seem to thrive in the Central Otago region. It is winery owned by one of New Zealand’s youngest winery owners Anna Dunston. They also just recently took on a new winemaker in Jody Pagey, who we featured a few months back in M2. Highly anticipated, this is one of the first vintages to be completed by Jody and happens to be an outstanding example. So outstanding in fact, that it just took out Gold for the Gris at the NZ International Wine Show.
Produced from grapes from Lowburn, the first thing to strike me was the complex engaging aroma of grapefruit, citrus blossom and fresh pear. The vibrantly off dry palate that this wine expressed, not typical of the Pinot Gris we tried from further north. This contributed to the greater complexity of the wine, lifted the fruit elements with engaging energy, purity and a long and zesty finish, making the wine a perfect accompaniment to Asian spiced cuisine or any seafood dish.
Rockburn Pinot Gris 2016 Central Otago
Rockburn gets its name from the rugged landscape that surrounds the winery in Central Otago but the wines they produce are certainly by no means rugged. In fact, with Rockburn you’ll find some of the most elegant examples of Pinot from the Central Otago region.
The 2016 Pinot Gris is a fine example of that distinct crisp acidity that you’ll experience in a Central Otago Pinot Gris. Having taken out a Silver medal in the San Francisco International Wine Competition, it may be the X Factor that makes their Pinot Gris stand out from the rest.
The 2016 Pinot Gris is complex and instantly engaging with aromas of peach and nectarine coming through on the nose leading to a vibrant and fresh ‘off dry’ palate supported by great texture and a wonderful lengthy finish. With its crisp acidity, you’ll find this is the perfect accompaniment to tuna or salmon.
Mills Reef Estate Range Pinot Gris 2017 Hawkes Bay
Mills Reef is one of New Zealand’s most successful small wineries. Based in Tauranga, the winery initially produced Kiwifruit wine for the Japanese market. Now they produce award winning wines from vineyards in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough that have made them one of the most highly awarded small wineries in the country.
This Pinot Gris comes from Hawke’s Bay and is our northernmost Pinot Gris in this selection. Pinot Gris is a cooler climate loving variety, hence why we find a lot of our Pinot Gris comes from the South Island. The grapes for this wine were sourced from the Maraekakaho sub-region of Hawke’s Bay, which enjoys a temperate climate moderated throughout summer by cooling afternoon breezes.
It was just recently awarded Gold in the Hawke’s Bay Wine awards and as an outstanding Pinot Gris with some subtle nuances, it seemed apt to include this in our list.
Part of their Estate Range, where the focus is on a soft rounded, fruit forward style. The natural fruit characteristics of peach and apricots come through with lucious intensity with a smooth full bodied mouth feel and a delicious soft aniseed finish. Perfect with antipasto, chicken or fish.