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Top Central Otago wine picks for 2019

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Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Think Central Otago, think pinot noir – irresistibly perfumed, garden-fresh, vibrantly fruity and smooth. With only 5% of the country’s vineyard area but 20% of its wineries, this is a region of small, often tiny, producers.

But Central Otago’s reputation for wine far exceeds its modest output. The region’s majestic inland basins and valleys also yield striking white wines – principally riesling and pinot gris – and its top chardonnays, sparkling wines and rosés are impressive, too.

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Carrick Cairnmuir Terraces EBM Chardonnay 2016 •••••

From a region producing increasingly fine, often underrated chardonnays, this is one of the best. EBM means “extended barrel maturation”. Estate-grown at Bannockburn, on the south side of the Kawarau River, it is full-bodied (14% alc/vol) and vibrant, with strong, citrusy, slightly peachy flavours gently seasoned with oak. It has excellent complexity and a tight, persistent finish. Sure to reward cellaring, it is certified organic. $47

Ceres Black Rabbit Bannockburn Riesling 2017 •••••

Already delicious, this flavour-packed wine was grown in the Black Rabbit Vineyard at Bannockburn and made in a medium-sweet style. Light-bodied (10.5% alc/vol), it is richly scented, very lively, intense and racy with penetrating, lemony, appley, slightly peachy flavours, vibrant, finely poised and long. Drink now or cellar. $28

Amisfield Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc 2018 •••••

This classy wine was estate-grown at Pisa and mostly handled in tanks, but a small portion of the blend was barrel-fermented. Ripely scented, it is full-bodied (14% alc/vol) and vibrantly fruity, with fresh, concentrated, tropical-fruit flavours, shows good complexity, tangy acidity and has a finely balanced, long, dry finish. Well worth trying. $25 

Domain Road Duffers Creek Riesling 2016 ••••½

Delicious now, this off-dry wine was hand-picked at two sites. Light lemon/green, with slightly toasty, bottle-aged notes emerging, it is light-bodied (10.5% alc/vol) and fruity with penetrating, citrusy, appley, slightly sweet flavours, well balanced and lingering. $25

Felton Road Bannockburn Chardonnay 2017 •••••

This distinctive wine is a match for more-northern chardonnays, and superior to most. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it is elegant with vibrant, citrusy, mealy flavours, intense, dry and tightly structured. Not at all brash, but quietly compelling, it’s a seamless, youthful wine. Best drinking 2020-plus. $49

Gibbston Valley China Terrace Chardonnay 2017 •••••

A wine to linger over, this single-vineyard chardonnay was estate-grown 320m above sea level at Bendigo and barrel-aged for 10 months. Full of youthful drive, it is very refined, with mouthfilling body (13.5% alc/vol), deep, citrusy, peachy flavours, integrated oak, finely balanced acidity and a lasting finish. $55

Hawkshead Pinot Gris 2017 •••••

Grown mostly at Gibbston, this impressive wine has a full-bloomed, gently spicy bouquet. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), it has generous, ripe stone-fruit flavours to the fore, hints of pears, lychees and spices, a slightly oily texture and a fully dry, finely poised finish. $29

Rabbit Ranch Pinot Gris 2018 ••••

According to the back label, this wine has a five-carrot rating from Roger Rabbit, who apparently praised it as “soft and cuddly”. Ripely scented, fragrant and full-bodied (14.2% alc/vol), with strong, vibrant, peachy, spicy flavours and a well-rounded, dry finish, it’s already delicious. $22

Maude Mt Maude Vineyard East Block Riesling 2018 •••••

From vines planted in 1994 on a steep, north-facing slope at Wanaka, this medium-sweet wine is light (9.5% alc/vol) and vivacious in a style reminiscent of the classic rieslings of the Mosel. Already highly drinkable, it has penetrating, peachy, lemony, appley flavours, threaded with appetising acidity, and lovely vibrancy, depth and harmony. $32

Misha’s Vineyard Dress Circle Pinot Gris 2018 •••••

This lovely young wine was estate-grown at Bendigo and mostly handled in tanks; 22% was fermented in old French oak barrels. Made in an off-dry style, it is highly scented, with mouthfilling body (14% alc/vol) and vibrant flavours of pears, peaches, apples and spices. Fleshy, with excellent delicacy and depth, it is very harmonious, with a touch of complexity and a long finish. $28

Mondillo Riesling 2018 •••••

Showing lovely freshness, delicacy, drive and harmony, this estate-grown Bendigo wine is attractively scented. Medium-bodied (12% alc/vol), it has concentrated, ripe, citrusy flavours, hints of peaches and spices, slightly minerally notes and a long, basically dry finish. Best drinking 2020-plus. $28

Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris 2016 •••••

Full of personality, this invitingly fragrant wine was estate-grown and hand-picked at two Bendigo sites. Made with some use of old oak casks, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and fleshy in an off-dry style with concentrated, ripe, peachy flavours, hints of apples and lychees, a slightly creamy texture and a real sense of youthful drive. $40

Providore Pinot Gris 2018 •••••

Already drinking well, this dry wine is from a high-altitude site at Gibbston. Richly scented, full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol) and deliciously fruity, it has fresh but not high acidity, vibrant flavours of citrus fruits, lychees and apples, and excellent delicacy, purity and depth. $25


Wooing Tree Tickled Pink 2018 ••••

Hard to resist in its infancy, this pale red wine was made from late-picked pinot noir “stop-fermented” with a high level of residual sugar, giving natural grape sweetness. Deliciously fruity and smooth, with rich, berryish, plummy flavours, it’s a distinctive, medium-bodied wine (12% alc/vol) that’s well worth trying. $38 (375ml).


Quartz Reef Méthode Traditionnelle Rosé NV •••••

Instantly appealing, this vivacious bubbly was estate-grown at Bendigo. Made entirely from pinot noir, it is bright pink with a fragrant, berryish, gently yeasty bouquet. Crisp and tightly structured, it is medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol) with lively peach, strawberry and apricot flavours, shows impressive depth and complexity and has a finely textured, smooth, dry finish. $39


Terra Sancta Bannockburn Rosé 2018 •••••

Consistently one of the country’s leading rosés, this beauty was mostly handled in tanks, but 30% was fermented and aged in seasoned French oak barriques. Bright, light pink, it is fragrant, mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and smooth with lovely depth of fresh, vibrant strawberry, watermelon and spice flavours, hints of peaches and apricots, and a finely textured, basically dry finish. $28


Aurum Organic Pinot Noir 2017 ••••½

This very age-worthy red was estate-grown at Lowburn, in the Cromwell Basin, matured for 12 months in French oak casks and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Deep and youthful in colour, it is sturdy (13.5% alc/vol) and concentrated, with deep, plummy, spicy flavours, savoury notes adding complexity and finely balanced tannins. Best drinking 2020-plus. Certified organic. $38

Akarua Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2017 •••••

This bold, finely textured red was estate-grown, hand-picked from mature vines and matured in French oak barriques. Fragrant, mouthfilling (14% alc/vol) and supple, it is crammed with ripe plum, cherry and spice flavours and shows great vigour and potential. Still very youthful, it’s best cellared till 2021-plus. $45

Burn Cottage Moonlight Race Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

Drinking well now, this distinctive red was grown at three sites, including Burn Cottage Vineyard, in the Cromwell Basin. Bright ruby, it is fragrant, mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and sweet fruited with generous cherry, plum and spice flavours, earthy, savoury notes that add complexity and gentle tannins that give a well-rounded finish. $45

Doctors Flat Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 •••••

This lovely, single-vineyard red was grown at Bannockburn, matured in French oak barrels and bottled without fining or filtering. Notably refined and harmonious, it is fragrant, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and savoury, with sweet-fruit delights, concentrated cherry, plum and spice flavours showing real complexity, and a finely textured, lasting finish. $49

Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 •••••

Estate-grown at Alexandra, this is a powerful, very youthful wine with deep, purple-flushed colour. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it has intense, vibrant, cherry, plum and spice flavours, savoury and earthy notes that add complexity, firm tannins and excellent freshness, density and length. Open 2020-plus. $40

Maori Point Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 ••••½

This single-vineyard red was grown at Tarras, in the Cromwell Basin, matured in French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Ruby-hued, it is floral and sweet-fruited, with mouthfilling body (13.9% alc/vol), generous, vibrant flavours of cherries, plums and spices, silky tannins and loads of current drinking appeal. $39

Matt Connell Rendition Pinot Noir 2017 •••••

Mouthfilling, rich and supple, this stylish red was hand-picked, matured in French oak barriques and bottled unfined and unfiltered. Deep ruby, floral, vibrant and sweet-fruited, it is very finely textured, with concentrated, plummy, spicy flavours, hints of herbs and nuts, and well-integrated oak adding complexity. Full-bodied (14% alc/vol), it’s delicious young. $44

Mount Edward Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This very refined, age-worthy red is a certified-organic regional blend. Deep ruby, it is fragrant, youthful, savoury and supple with substantial body (13.5% alc/vol) and ripe cherry, plum, spice and nut flavours and shows excellent complexity and harmony. $49

Peregrine Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

This classic red is grown mostly in the Cromwell Basin, but also at Gibbston. Refined and youthful, it is attractively scented, with mouthfilling body (13.5% alc/vol), strong, vibrant cherry/plum flavours, oak complexity, impressive delicacy and a lasting finish. Best drinking 2020-plus. $45

Mt Difficulty Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

Matured for a year in French oak casks, the 2016 is bright ruby, fresh and sturdy (14.5% alc/vol) with generous ripe cherry, plum and spice flavours and shows excellent complexity and gentle tannins. Elegant, rather than supercharged, it has loads of drink-now appeal. $47.

Rockburn Central Otago Pinot Noir 2017 •••••

This stylish blend of Cromwell Basin (mostly) and Gibbston grapes is deep ruby with an inviting, fragrant bouquet of plums, spices and nuts. Mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) and sweet-fruited, with deep, well-ripened plum, cherry and spice flavours, it is savoury and complex with lovely harmony. A classy, youthful wine, it should break into full stride from 2020-plus. $50

Rippon “Rippon” Mature Vine Pinot Noir 2015 •••••

Hand-harvested from vines planted between 1985 and 1991, matured in French oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered, this Lake Wanaka red has a powerful presence. Deeply coloured, fragrant and weighty (13.5% alc/vol), with concentrated plum/spice flavours, savoury and structured, it’s a very harmonious wine and likely to be long-lived. Open 2020-plus. $59

Two Paddocks Pinot Noir 2016 •••••

Well worth cellaring, this regional blend was estate-grown at Bannockburn (principally), Alexandra and Gibbston. Deep ruby, it is fresh, full-bodied (13% alc/vol), youthful and savoury, with vibrant, plummy, spicy, nutty, slightly earthy flavours showing excellent complexity, and a well-structured, long finish. Likely to be long-lived, it’s well worth cellaring till 2020-plus. $55

Valli Burn Cottage Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 •••••

This classy red is part of a collaboration between Valli and Burn Cottage, involving access to each other’s grapes. From vines planted near Lowburn, it was matured in French oak barriques and bottled unfined and unfiltered. A very “complete” wine, it is notably fragrant and concentrated, with mouthfilling body (13.5% alc/vol), dense, vibrant cherry, plum and spice flavours, fine tannins and lovely harmony. $69

This article was first published in the February 9, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.