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As much as Queenstown, at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island, is world-famous as a global hub for adrenalin sports junkies, it is also a destination high on the list of pinot noir lovers and the gateway to some of the world’s most highly prized wine country.
Pinot noir wines from the Central Otago region have taken the modern wine world by storm, charting a rapid rise to fame via a style of wine that cleverly melds an aura of sublime quality with straight out deliciousness.
Present a bottle when you’re next entertaining, request one from the sommelier during your next great restaurant meal or pluck one from the shelves of your trusty wine merchant and you are guaranteed a nod of approval from all comers. These wines are really unchallenged in their ability to please, appealing to the most novice of wine drinkers right up to the most expert palates.
The climate in Central Otago is snow ski-cold in winter and waterski-warm in summer, and the autumns are long and dry. The intensity of ultraviolet light in this part of the world brings a scintillating vibrancy to pinots made here.
Winemakers are very collaborative and there’s a collective ethos for quality methods of farming and winemaking. Organic and biodynamic farming is commonplace for the region’s top producers, driving the high quality and distinctive character of the wines they make.
Where to go and what to taste
As a place to visit and go wine touring, this really has it all and the things that attract wine lovers to visit are what has also attracted a dynamic and talented group of winemakers to ply their craft here over the years. The scenery is jaw-dropping, the rugged landscape has a striking presence and everything you want to see and do here is within a one-hour drive from Queenstown.
The closest wineries to Queenstown are located just north of the airport and out in the cool and spectacular Gibbston Valley, which winds its way east. Here you’ll find a procession of quality names like Akarua, Wet Jacket, Mount Edward, Gibbston Valley, Chard Farm, Brennan and Peregrine, all delivering their own unique take on great pinot noir.
The Kawarau River rumbles below these steep mountains through sections with names like “Roaring Meg”, eventually opening out to the Cromwell Basin where Quartz Reef, Misha’s Vineyard, Rockburn, Burn Cottage and Wooing Tree are all right in the township. Again, you are spoiled for choice.
Just south of the small town, the Bannockburn sub-region is home to a number of the most famous vineyards and wineries, and is really a focal point of the region with Felton Road, Mount Difficulty, Carrick and Domain Road to name a few.
The Bannockburn pub is a good lunch or dinner stop with a Spanish influence to the menu and a huge wine list featuring local wines and more. Expect to rub shoulders with some thirsty winemakers here.
A step further south to the Alexandra sub-region you’ll find the home of Two Paddocks, Grasshopper Rock and Shaky Bridge Wines. This is rugged country, and that frontier goldrush feel still lingers in the air in this more remote and southerly part of the region.
A day trip with a difference
With some 200-odd wineries on offer, you can design a very easy day run out and back to do plenty of tasting.
You might also consider stopping a night or two in the lakeside town of Wanaka, home to New Zealand’s most Instagrammed vineyard and cellar door, Rippon, where the wines are every bit as breathtaking as the view. Also make sure you stop in and see the family at Maude, who are making some of the smartest wines in the whole region.
The drive up and over the Crown Range to Wanaka is a spectacular one. Wanaka is smaller than Queenstown but has a high concentration of good eating and drinking options. As Queenstown has grown, many discerning locals have migrated to this smaller lakeside hamlet. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the good life here.
Nick’s picks in Central Otago
Pinot noir has ridden a strong wave of global popularity in the last 15 years and the winemakers of Central Otago have been leading the charge with their stylishly crafted wines that deliver the most attractive brand of deliciously juicy red cherry fruit.
With just 35-odd years since the region was officially established, it is staggering to see what has already been achieved and after a couple of days spent tasting, you’ll know exactly why the world just cannot get enough of Central Otago and its wines.
Rippon: This vineyard is one of the most beautiful in the world and the wines are produced with great integrity and attention to detail. They are also the best-ageing wines in the region.
Felton Road: A winery that enjoys rock star status, delivers so much pleasure and is guaranteed to impress. A go-to producer for those in the know.
Prophet’s Rock: One of the most spectacular locations out on the hills in Bendigo, this winery is making some of the most distinctive, pure and best quality wines in the region.
Two Paddocks: With famed actor Sam Neill at the helm and a very talented team by his side, this winery has a great collection of vineyards making some of the best wine from various parts of the region.
Mount Edward: A small winery that has made big waves in the region as a driving force in producing pinot noir with great intensity and purity of fruit.
Burn Cottage: Celebrating a decade of pinot production in Central Otago, this producer has helped elevate the region’s reputation around the globe with consistent quality pinot.
Maude: A pioneering family project now run by the second generation, this is a bold style of pinot with plenty of dark cherry fruit flesh.
Quartz Reef: Rudi Bauer has dialled in on making smaller batches of extraordinary pinot and this is certainly one to seek out. He has a very keen eye for capturing detail in his wines.
Mount Difficulty: A pioneer of quality and single vineyard pinot noir bottlings in the heart of Bannockburn, this winery delivers deep cherry fruit flavours and luscious, spicy style.
Valli: This is a producer specialising in making sub-regional bottlings and always delivers a very interesting tasting of pinot sourced from different parts of the region.