NZ’s epicenter of Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

If you pay much attention to the wines of New Zealand, you’ve likely heard of Marlborough, the South Island home of the country’s most sought-after Sauvignon Blancs. You’ll find the famous Cloudy Bay there, and scores of other well-known Sauvignon producers like Brancott (known as Montana outside the U.S.), Villa Maria and many more.

You might have to know a little more about New Zealand, though, to have the name of Central Otago ready at your command. Most of the rest of the world knows Central Otago, if we know it at all, as the spectacular setting for many of the scenes of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies.

But wine enthusiasts will recognize this region as the home of some of New Zealand’s most promising Pinot Noir. A cool climate region, it’s located on New Zealand’s South Island near the 45th parallel. If that sounds familiar, it may be because it’s lies on the same latitude south as Burgundy in the north.

Pinot Noir Wines

Burgundy, however, for all its distinct four-season climate, isn’t subject to the occasional cold southerly winds that blow up from the Antarctic Sea to chill Central Otago. This can give humans the shivers at times, but it seems to provide Central Otago’s Pinot Noir vines an environment that works for them: The region has become recognized as a significant world production region for Pinot.

While Central Otago’s terroir is surprisingly diverse for a smallish region, from flood plains to mountains, its central location on the larger South Island assures it a four-season climate, too. Chilly winters are offset by hot summers – typically hotter than Burgundy – and long dry autumns that rarely frighten growers with unexpected storms. The overall effect yields grapes of good maturity but substantial ripeness as well. The ripe fruit sugars convert to intense wines with high alcohols, but that also show bright acidity and some complexity, resulting in a style that blends Old World and New World styles.

This seemed to be the case with this week’s featured wine, Wild Rock 2009 “Cupid’s Arrow” Central Otago Pinot Noir, which presented good Pinot character and food-friendly acidity, but framed it with stunning 14.8% alcohol. We enjoyed a second glass with dinner without adverse affects, but saved the third for another day. (You’ll find my tasting notes below.)

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