Sunday, November 25, 2012

New Zealand 2012 - Part 7: Wine Tasting in Otago

Part 1:  Asiana Airlines First Class – Los Angeles to Seoul
Part 2:  Asiana Airlines Business Class – Seoul to Sydney
Part 3:  Air New Zealand Economy Class – Sydney to Auckland to Christchurch
Part 4:  Winetasting in Waipara
Part 5:  Exploring Christchurch
Part 6:  Air New Zealand EconomyClass – Christchurch to Queenstown
Part 7:  Winetasting in Otago
Part 8:  Exploring Queenstown
Part 9:  Hilton Queenstown
Part 10:  Overnight in Sydney
Part 11:  Singapore AirlinesFirst Class – Sydney to Singapore
Part 12:  Singapore Airlines First Class – Singapore to San Francisco

My second full day in Queenstown included a wine tour of the Central Otago region.  I had initially booked the tour for my first day on and tried for the gourmet tour where they include cheese tasting as well.  Unfortunately, I was the only one who had booked it and so they asked if I would be willing to go on the regular wine tour instead the following day.  I had to take the bus into town in the morning (the water taxis didn’t start until noon) and meet up at a central location in town.  There were a total of nine of us on the tour – a couple from NYC on their honeymoon and 3 other kiwi couples. 

The driver and guide, Penny, was fantastic.  She was engaged, interested in learning about all of us, and provided great insight about the history of the Queenstown region while she was driving.  She also knew most of the owners or pourers at the wineries and was able to hop behind the counter and help out when they were busy.  Props to Penny and the complete opposite of what I experienced in Waipara. 


The Otago wine region is relatively young with the first vineyards planted in 1981 and the first wines bottled in 1987.  The region is roughly the same latitude as Burgundy and the Willamette Valley.   They don’t get as much heat as other regions in the north and thus focus on white wines and pinot noir.  Typically these wines are more acidic and minerality.  Central Otago has a number of microclimates throughout the valleys and river basins carved out by glaciers, each providing different flavor characteristics and challenges for healthy crops.  Frost is a major challenge in the area with the best vineyard planted along slopes above the river so the cold air falls down and is pushed out of the way.  About 20 miles inland is an area that stays about 5 degrees warmer in a more arid environment.  This are produces about 5% of NZ wine. 

The plan was to stop at four wineries, each being a 20 minute drive from the other and also have lunch at our second stop.  The first winery we visited was Peregrine.  Most of their wine is only available locally, but they also distribute in the US to Whole Foods under the “Mohua” label.  Be careful that you look for Otago on the label versus Marlborough.  They use the Marlborough grapes for their Sauvignon Blanc export because that is what the American palate expects from that wine.


The winery itself was settled along the base of the valley and the building was designed to mimic a birds wing in flight.  The winery won a couple design awards in New Zealand.  The wines we tried included:
  • 2008 Riesling – on the drier side with only 5 grams of residual sugar, strong citrus notes with a bit of granny smith apple, very acidic from beginning to finish. 
  • 2009 Rastasburn Riesling – less aromatic with higher residual sugar (15 grams), better balance of acidity and improved finish, had hints of caramel. 
  • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc (Otago grapes) – strong aroma of passion fruit and citrus which carries through the finish, mild acidity and a great finish, little to know grass quality I find in Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs.
  • 2012 Pinot Gris – very light aroma with a hint of citrus, very light color, good texture and finish but with much less flavor than previous wines.
  • 2010 Saddleback Pinot Noir (Exported to the US under Mohua label) – pleasant red fruit scents, light in color, hint of pepper on the finish which builds with additional tastes.
  • 2011 Peregrine Pinot Noir – 25% new oak, slightly darker ruby color with stronger currant aroma, much more pronounced fruit flavors and stronger acidic finish.  The grapes were from the Cromwell basin which provides more cherry and stone fruit flavors (They also grow lots of cherries there).

After a 20 minute drive through canyons and along the river, we arrived at our stop, Carrick, which was further east and in the Bannockburn area of Otago. 


The winery is certified organic which is a three year process in NZ.  They are situated on a hill overlooking and small inlet lake created by a local damn.  The winery had a great design and view, albeit the pours were stingy.  We only tasted four wines here:
  • 2012 Pinot Gris – light aroma, flavor, and color with hints of pear and apple, perfect amount of acid and good texture. 
  • 2011 Riesling – good balance of sweetness and acidity, 28g residual sugar, strong and pleasant lemon-line lingering finish. 
  • 2009 Chardonnay – 10 months in French oak (10% new), nice amount of cream on the palate and nose, but not a great aftertaste, medium acidity. 
  • 2010 Pinot Noir – more pepper than fruit on the nose, very pepper forward upon tasting but still a light quality to it, good finish and texture after the pepper disappears.

Lunch was served outside the winery with our table receiving several plates of tasting size morsels.  It was a surprisingly filling lunch although I had more than my fair share of the freshly baked bread. 


The third winery was in the Cromwell area, another 20 minute or so drive, called Aurum Wines. 


This winery is also certified organic and had a great small tasting room which was created out of an old house.  Plenty of plants and flowers along the walkways and surrounding the tasting room – and plenty of bees.  We tried 4 wines there including:
  • 2008 Riesling – strong lemon scent and taste with a bit of effervescence, not too sweet with 8 grams of residual sugar, very clear, medium acidity.
  • 2012 Pinot Gris – first time they’ve bottled pinot gris, 8 grams residual sugar, almost a pineapple lifesaver taste to it, very clear, bit of effervescence, good texture, long finish.
  • 2010 Pinot Noir – 18 months in oak, light ruby color, bit of fruit on the nose and a good balance between fruit and spice on the tongue, cherry notes.  They utilize whole bunch fermentation where they don’t pull the grapes apart or separate stems. 
  • 2011 Port Molyneux – white fortified pinot gris desert wine, 100 grams residual sugar, 16% ABV, great texture with hints of caramel, very clear wine, long finish. 

I was starting to feel like a bit of a lush at this point because everyone else in the group wasn’t finishing their tastings.  Instead they would just empty it into the spittoon – sacrilege!!!!  I got over than feeling quickly.  Our fourth and final winery on the tour was on our way back towards Queenstown, Mt Rosa Wines. 

The winery is on the southeastern slop of the valley and owned by two families.  Luckily one of the owners was there pouring so we received healthy tastes and tried 11 wines including:
  • 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – strong lime scent and fruit flavor, very little grass, light color. 
  • 2011 Pinot Blanc – one of the few pinot blancs I have tried if any at all, genetic derivative of pinot gris, hints of cream on nose, notes of caramel and butterscotch due to barrel aging, great texture and limited acidity. 
  • 2009 Pinot Gris – more flavor developed than other pinot gris as they can leave grapes on longer in summer due to less heat, less sugar, more acid, nice citrus taste but quick finish and poor aftertaste.
  • 2010 Riesling – 69 grams residual sugar, very sweet and acidic, strong but reserved citrus taste, great texture and balanced tang on finish. 
  • 2011 Gewürztraminer – very light and refreshing, light color, minimal acid, great lingering finish. 
  • 2011 Rose – very dry to my palate, slight hint of fruit at start and then disappears at finish.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir – from their hottest year on record, strong cherry notes on nose and palate, slight effervescence, little to no spice.
  • 2009 Pinot Noir – from their coldest year on record, smaller grapes resulted in more tannins, much more spice and dark red fruits, great finish.
  • 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve – great finish with strong fruit flavors and perfect balance of spice at the end, texture lingers long on the palate, probably the best pinot noir I tried in NZ.
  • 2011 Late Harvest Riesling – notes of honey, light color, medium syrup texture, quick finish, good but no Sauternes.
  • 2011 Mulled Wine – their rose plus homemade syrup, 13% ABV, aroma was Christmas in a glass, strong cinnamon / spice nose, great finish and texture that coats the whole mouth, could be very dangerous. 

Mt Rosa also had a Great Dane that was wondering around the property and very friendly.  After snapping a few more photos it was time to get pack into the van and head into Christchurch.  20 minutes later I was dropped off “downtown” and headed out to enjoy a local dinner before my journey home started. 

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