Pinot Noir Wines From Central Otago and Wellington

As the home nations travel to New Zealand this month and prepare to start
Posted 07th September 2011        

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As the home nations travel to New Zealand this month and prepare to start their Rugby World Cup campaign, their supporters should ensure they make the time to sample some of the local red wine.

England and Wales supporters in particular should make sure they take a break from the beer and try some of the greatest Pinot Noir in the world.

The England rugby side play most of their opening group matches in the South Island city of Dunedin, close to the southernmost wine producing region in the world. Central Otago is a small but quickly developing wine region with a growing reputation for its exciting Pinot Noir red wine.

Meanwhile, Wales start their Rugby World Cup matches in Wellington on North Island, about an hour’s drive away from the Wairarapa wine region which includes Martinborough, often said to produce the finest Pinot Noir on North Island.

It is perhaps fitting that long-standing rivals England and Wales should be based near these two wine regions which are fiercely competitive when it comes to the quality of their Pinot Noir.

The red wine produced in New Zealand from the Pinot Noir grape is said to imitate a good Burgundy in its elegance and tannins but with the added extras of intense fruit and secondary characteristics of spice, herbs and game. The red wine from Central Otago is known for firm tannins, hints of berry fruits and herbal notes whilst the Wairarapa Pinot Noirs are full bodied and packed with flavours of plum and chocolate.

Central Otago is the only continental-style region in New Zealand. It has hot and dry summers and cold, crisp winters with snow. There are mountains more than 2000m high with many vineyards planted up to 400m above sea level. Its soil is different from the other New Zealand wine regions with large mineral deposits in silt loams. These apparently less than ideal conditions seem to suit the tricky Pinot Noir grape. It makes up more than 70% of grapes grown in the region and is the only successful red wine produced in any great volume.

Grapes were first planted in Central Otago in 1864 but despite recognition of the region’s wine growing potential there was no further commercial growth of grapes for more than 100 years. Modern wine production began with a trial vineyard planted in 1972 and further trial plantings in 1975. The first Pinot Noir commercial release was in 1987 at Gibbston Valley winery.

The Pinot Noir red wines produced in Central Otago have attracted the interest of British wine writers such as Oz Clarke and Jancis Robinson and have won numerous awards and accolades internationally. Pinot Noirs from Central Otago are said to have more in common with Burgundy red wines than those from elsewhere in New Zealand and they are now amongst the most sought after in the country. Producers to look out for include Felton Road, Mt Difficulty, Akarua, Quartz Reef and Chard Farm.

The Wairarapa wine region is one of New Zealand’s smallest. It lies on the bottom right-hand corner of North Island and is divided into three main sub-regions: Masterton, Gladstone and Martinborough. Of these, Martinborough is the oldest and probably the best known. Martinborough wineries are typically small and family-owned, focussing on quality as opposed to quantity. Wineries to look out for include Martinborough Vineyards, Palliser Estate, Ata Rangi and Murdoch James Estate.

Red wine grapes were first planted in Martinborough in the 1970s after the area was identified as being ideal for producing Pinot Noir wines. The steep mountains protect the vineyards, the long, dry autumn results in the country’s longest growing season and breezy conditions control the growth of the vines thereby creating low yield but high intensity grapes. These days, less than two per cent of New Zealand’s wine production comes from this sub-region but it punches well above its weight in shows and competitions.

The bright, fruit flavours of New Zealand Pinot Noir complement many foods and this red wine can turn an ordinary dish into an exciting culinary experience. Pinot Noir is renowned as an excellent partner for duck but it also enhances other game birds and can lift the taste of turkey in much the same way as cranberry sauce. It also tastes good with pork and ham and dishes flavoured with cream, garlic and tomatoes.

It is well worth keeping an eye out for Pinot Noirs from these two small wine regions in New Zealand. Producers in these regions are gaining an increasingly good reputation for the quality of their cool climate red wine and what better way to cheer on England and Wales in the Rugby World Cup than with a glass of good quality red wine in your hand!

Image by naotakem.

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