In terms of its overseas profile, Central Otago ranks second among New Zealand’s wine regions – behind only Marlborough – reflecting the international demand for its perfumed, sweet-fruited and silky-textured Pinot Noirs. But the latest statistics reveal that the country’s southernmost wine region has a reputation that far exceeds its tiny output.
With 139 producers in 2019, Central Otago (plus the Waitaki Valley, in North Otago) is home to almost 20 per cent of the country’s wineries. But the region’s area of bearing vineyards (1942 hectares) has not expanded since 2012 and accounts for just five per cent of the country’s total plantings. At 11,909 tonnes, 2019 was a record crop in Central and North Otago, but still accounted for only 3 per cent of the national grape harvest.
Central Otago is Pinot Noir country – 78 per cent of the region’s vineyard area is planted in the great red-wine grape of Burgundy. The other key variety is Pinot Gris (10 per cent), followed by Riesling (4 per cent), Chardonnay (3 per cent), Sauvignon Blanc (2 per cent) and Gewürztraminer (1 per cent).
Reflecting its relatively dry climate for viticulture, which reduces the disease risk, Central Otago has by far New Zealand’s highest proportion of organically certified vineyards and wines. Led by Quartz Reef, it is also the home of some striking bottle-fermented sparklings. Chardonnay is going from strength to strength (Felton Road is leading the way), and other varieties and styles, such as Riesling (including dry bottlings), Grüner Veltliner, rosé and Tempranillo, are also brimful of promise.
Ceres Black Rabbit Vineyard Central Otago Riesling 2018 ****1/2 $28
Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 ***** $100
Mondillo Bella Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 ***** $95
Mt Rosa Central Otago Rosé 2019 ****1/2 $28
Quartz Reef Central Otago Pinot Gris 2018 ***** $32
Rock Ferry Trig Hill Vineyard Tempranillo 2016 ***** $40