Pinot noir is known to be a finicky grape and it’s hard to imagine it thriving in extreme conditions, but there is one place on Earth where pinot noir meets extreme, and likes it. Central Otago is the world’s most southerly wine region at 45 degrees south latitude, and it is also New Zealand’s highest altitude wine region, rising 1,300 feet above sea level. But it turns out that conditions at the edge of the (grape-growing) world aren’t as dire as you might think. Central Otago does receive the least rain of anywhere in New Zealand, but its hot days are balanced by cool nights, moderating the ripening process and allowing the grapes to develop the concentrated flavors they are known for. There are other benefits to extreme conditions--Central Otago is often extolled as one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world. Its snow-capped mountains, vast lakes, dramatic river gorges and wild moors certainly create a breathtaking setting for growing pinot noir.
Central Otago didn’t become known internationally for its winemaking until fairly recently. It was the 1997 vintage of Felton Road that really made buyers in New York and London take notice, and its been a straight shoot to the top ever since. Marlborough has been known as the main producer of premium pinot noir in New Zealand for several decades, but Central Otago has now gathered its own fan base of drinkers who value its lower alcohol content, concentrated ripe fruit, and wild herb characteristics.
Over 80 percent of the vines planted in Central Otago are pinot noir, but the region also produces some high quality riesling, pinot gris and chardonnay, all of which carry the same purity of fruit that Central Otago’s pinot noirs are known for. The pinot noirs are intense and vibrant, expressive and pure, with flavors like baked plum, sweet spice, bramble, and wild thyme. Central Otago winemakers describe their style as “Old World elegance with New World intensity.” Sounds good to us!
Wines we recommend:
MUD HOUSE Pinot Noir 2013 (Central Otago) $14
GRASSHOPPER ROCK Pinot Noir 2011 (Central Otago) $26
BURN COTTAGE Pinot Noir 2013 (Central Otago) $57
VALLI Gibbston Pinot Noir 2011 (Central Otago) $50
What are other “extreme” regions that produce excellent wine? We’d love to hear from you below.
Photo Credit: travelwayoflife