During the Rugby World Cup there seemed to be a constant stream of Kiwi winemakers in the UK. They went home happy, having scored well on both fronts.
They brought with them a fine collection of Pinot Noirs from Central Otago and I tasted through dozens of them. The aim was to see if this starkly beautiful region is now delivering the richness and complexity that this grape variety demands.
Central Otago, or Central is it is widely known, is a fairly new place to grow grapes and the region is clearly thriving. Located in the southern part of South Island, and almost continental in climate, it is one of the most beautiful wine growing regions I have visited. With snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, turquoise lakes and deep ravines, this is an area that attracts thousands of visitors for its scenery and huge range of outdoor sports, such as bungee jumping.
Central is definitely a cool-climate grape growing region, but the light is clear and temperatures rise during the day and plummet at night – even in summer.
Most properties produce a range of grape varieties, including Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris but it is Pinot Noir that is really putting Central Otago on the map. The high UV sunshine coupled with cool nights and long slow ripening brings out fabulous aromatics and silky tannins.
Having tasted through dozens of wines, all of them wrapped up so I couldn’t see the labels, I then matched them up against the sheet which identified them. This is my selection of the best...
This is quite possibly the best Pinot Noir produced by a Yorkshireman. Owner Nigel Greening was born in Leeds, although he has spent much of his life in the South. He bought Felton Road almost 20 years ago and has spent his time, first turning it into a leading biodynamic producer of wines and then into one of the best properties in New Zealand for Pinot Noir. These wines have depth and elegance, and, just like a good burgundy, the fruit takes time in the glass to show its full range of flavours.
2014 Felton Road, Cornish Point is expressive, complex and refined, with dark cherry fruit and a touch of smoky oak showing, but it is still far too young. Field & Fawcett (01904 489073) still has the 2012 vintage (£34.60), which is just starting to enter its drinking window.
Owner Sam Neill may be better known for his acting roles in Jurassic Park, The Tudors and Peaky Blinders but away from the cameras he is very much at home on his wine farm in Central Otago. He was delighted when his wines won recognition in the 2014 International Wine Challenge, and clearly from this tasting, his work in the vineyards is paying more dividends. These wines have always shone with bright, juicy fruit but now they are gaining deeper flavours with dark cherry and raspberry fruit, floral notes and a sprinkle of baking spices.
2012 Two Paddocks Pinot Noir. This is the gentle, elegant side of Otago Pinot. Perfumed on the nose with vibrant, deep fruit and a balanced silky texture. Available at Field & Fawcett, £28.50.
This estate is named after the large shady tree which grows in the middle of the vineyard and has been used by generations as a meeting place for lovers. The 2012 Wooing Tree Pinot took gold at the 2015 International Wine Challenge.
Wooing Tree 2013 Beetle Juice Pinot Noir. Named after the local endangered beetle, this wine has chunky, deep, damson fruit, with layers of spice. Available from Harvey Nichols, £26.50
This is a large winery by Central Otago standards but production is still limited by difficult terrain and low yields. Now approaching 25 years old, these vineyards have gathered strength and style as the roots have gone further down and the wines have structure, texture and longevity.
Mount Difficulty 2013 Pinot Noir. Delicate at first but the flavour profile opens up and blossoms on the palate. Sweet cherry fruit is backed by a light savoury character and topped with a hint of chocolate. Harrogate Fine Wine has the 2011 vintage at £26.99.
This wine stood out, not only for its great flavours, but also for its price. Central Otago wines will never be cheap, but it is good to see Mud House under £10, which puts it into the weekend drinking category.
Mud House Pinot Noir 2014, Majestic normally £14.99 but down to £9.99 on a mixed six-bottle deal. Soft, juicy strawberry and cherry fruit, with layers of mocha and spice and ending with silky light tannins.