The world’s most southerly wine region, Central Otago covers a large area of diverse soils from broken schist and clays to heavy silt loams, gravels and light sands. Overlay that with a wide range of climatic conditionsand it is easy to understand why Central Otago produces such a diverse range of Pinot Noir styles.
The distinguishing features that make many Central Otago Pinot Noirs stand out from other regional styles are impressive fruit density and a silken texture. Some also boast a Central Otago signature of wild thyme – the herb was planted in the 1850s by gold miners and now covers the hills.
If you want to turn up the volume on fruit flavour, choose wines from the ‘three Bs’: Bannockburn, Bendigo and Cromwell Basin. If you prefer more vibrant and often edgier, high-energy wines, then try Pinot Noir from the cooler sub-regions of Wanaka, Gibbston or Alexandra.
Vintage makes a difference. 2017 saw a small harvest producing top wines. 2018 was the hottest vintage on record, producing many good wines. In contrast, 2019 was a wet vintage, with a good result. In 2020, expect ripe, concentrated wines with good acidities.
Price is a useful, though not infallible guide. More commercial, and cheaper, wines are likely to be a blend of vineyards, shipped in bulk to Europe and bottled. Handmade wines are often from a single organic vineyard, pruned and planted with quality in mind. You can taste the difference. The better, more expensive wines tend to be more ageworthy.
Good: Akarua, Rua Pinot Noir 2019 – 90 points
Better: Burn Cottage, Pinot Noir 2018 – 94 points
Best: Felton Road, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2017 – 100 points