Did you know that the word’s been out on Central Otago wines of New Zealand for at least a few years? I didn’t.
So when my wife and I made our honeymoon trip to New Zealand, we planned a day of wine tasting with hopes of discovering other varietals and lesser known regions. And that put us on a guided tour in the Central Otago region on the South Island, which has only been producing commercial wines since the mid 1980s.
Frankly, my expectations were low, having only tried the sauvingon blancs from the North Island (not crazy ’bout ’em), and a few $50 pinot noirs that were out of my quality-to-price range. But as soon as we made the first stop at Amisfield, I realized my perceptions of NZ wines were wrong.
And happily so.
Amisfield has a solid lineup of sparklers, pinot gris, riesling and pinot noir. Everything I tasted was excellent, and prices were reasonable — comparable to Oregon and Sonoma Coast wines. From Amisfield, we went to other best-of-class Central Otago wineries including Peregrine, Mt. Difficulty, Felton Road, and Ollsen’s. At each stop, we found world-class wine operations, and most often, the winemakers were not far from the tasting counter and happy to chat it up.
Over the course of the day we found it was the pinot noirs that we loved most. They are certainly New World wines, but they make it very clear on the nose and on the palate that they aren’t from California.
Watch Out World — Here Comes New Zealand Pinot Gris
The biggest surprise of the trip was pinot gris. Because of the schist- and limestone-dominated soil that most pinot gris vines are growing in New Zealand, there is a resounding “rocks and gravel” minerality in these wines that I’ve only found consistently in the whites of Alsace, Loire, Chablis and Burgundy.
What’s just as exciting about NZ pinot gris is the pricing. Sitting in the shadow of the blockbuster success of sauvingon blanc, there isn’t enough demand it seems to command boom-market bucks. So you can find world-class pinot gris for $12-20.
Wine Picks to Get you Started on New Zealand and Central Otago