The high altitude, dry inland wine region of Central Otago is New Zealand’s third largest, with 5 per cent of the total vineyard area and 18 per cent of the producers. Known for sunny, hot days and cold nights, Central Otago is the source of notably aromatic, vibrant Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir-based rosés and bottle-fermented sparklings.
Above all, Central Otago is famous for Pinot Noir, which covers over 80 per cent of the vineyard area. Lower-priced wines are typically full of drink-young charm, while those from older vines are increasingly complex and savoury.
The Waitaki Valley, in North Otago, is still tiny, producing just 0.03 per cent of New Zealand’s grape harvest in 2021. Pinot Noir is highly promising (although leafy in cooler seasons), while the Pinot Gris and Riesling from favourable vintages can be stunning.
The tasting was dominated by wines from the last three vintages. For 2021, Misha’s Vineyard declared “fruit condition at harvest was very good, in fact probably some of the best we have seen, in terms of flavour.” A year earlier, the winery had been a lot less enthusiastic about the 2020 harvest. “You certainly won’t hear anyone in Central Otago pronouncing this as the ‘vintage of the century’. Overall it has been a cool and wet season.”
2019 yielded a record crop in Central and North Otago. New Zealand Winegrower noted that “some vineyards saw the effects of larger berry size in wines that lacked a bit of concentration.” However, Grant Taylor, of Valli, praised 2019 as “a stellar year for whites”. Terra Sancta, at Bannockburn, predicted the 2019 harvest would yield wines somewhere between the concentrated 2017 vintage and the lighter 2018s.
Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017, 5 stars, $100
Mondillo Central Otago Pinot Noir 2019, 5 stars, $48
Ostler Estate Waitaki Valley North Otago Pinot Noir 2020, 4.5 stars, $45