Sunday, 7 February 2016

Wineries of Central Otago - Queenstown

I am very excited to commence a series of posts recounting my recent wine adventures in Central Otago, New Zealand.  Smack in the middle of the South Island sits the New World's Pinot mecca.  A place where you can't really go wrong with a glass of Pinot Noir, and the Pinot Gris is generally just as good. 

I hope that by recounting the outstanding wineries, bars and the wines themselves (along with some other extra-curricular activities) you will gain some inspiration for your own New Zealand trip. If you can't fit this must-visit destination into your plans or budget, then my recount may at least instil some confidence for buying New Zealand wines to enjoy at home.

The trip started with the scenic flight into Queenstown. My first impression of the town was how immaculately neat and tidy it was. As the taxi drove us to our accommodation, everywhere I looked were little chalets and lodges with manicured gardens. I am an advocate of Airbnb and our hosts' accommodation did not disappoint. Although our walks back up the hill after dinner each night were enough to settle even the fullest of bellies, it was definitely worth is to wake up to this view each morning:

View of Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
What do you do when you first fly in to a new destination? For my husband and I, the answer is always: check out the local bar scene! As we were staying only a five minute walk up from the main hub of Queenstown, it did not take us long to find ourselves tucked away in a little brewpub, soaking up the lively atmosphere. After some quiet beverages at a few worthy establishments, we chanced upon a prime location for our first meal. 

Eichardt's Bar

From the outside, Eichardt's Private Hotel is an out-of-reach upmarket hotel, complete with 19th Century Victorian facade. But hidden within is a local's favourite. Eichardt's Bar (est. 1867) has a warm and inviting atmosphere, with a welcoming fireplace and sinking, leather lounges. It is also perfectly located directly across the road from the lake foreshore and one street away from the hustle of the centre grid.

What sealed the deal for us was the tapas menu. As soon as I read about these three delights, I knew we had to go inside:

- Calamari in squid ink tempura batter
- Caramelised gnocchi with tomato and saffron broth
- Smoked beef brisket in a chocolate, chilli and cinnamon glaze

A Central Otago Pinot Noir wine flight was on offer, and it was the perfect introduction to sub-regional variations.

1. Mount Edward 'Eichardt's' 2013
Region: Gibbston
Tasting Note: Fine lean tannins and delicate fruits. An elegant, well-textured wine.
Just out of Queenstown, Gibbston is the highest sub-region and the later-ripening vines result in lighter, more acidic expressions of the pinot noir grape.

2. Wild Irishman 2012
Region: Bannockburn
Tasting Note: Light and peppery with fine tannins and cherry fruits.
Bannockburn is one of the warmest and driest areas of Central Otago.

3. Misha's Vineyard 'The High Note' 2009 
Region: Bendigo
Tasting Note: Succulently fresh red fruits with licorice and dusted spices.
Vines in this region are predominantly planted on stony soils and experience hot summer days but cool nights, resulting in great complexity.

I will delve into more detail about the striking microclimates of Central Otago in future posts, but the above gives a rough indication of the stylistic expressions that can be expected.

The Winery

This place was designed for people like me. 80 constantly changing wines by the glass available in enomatic wine dispenser systems. I've spoken about these systems before in my post 'Enomatic Excitement'. They are just so worthwhile in allowing a venue to safely extend their 'by the glass' offerings without risking too much waste from spoilage.

I really loved the layout of The Winery: little nooks for sitting and sharing a glass or two, with or without a cheese or meat platter. And everything sectioned by grape variety.

Below is a list of the wines I tried here. I was particular in selecting samples from producers I would not make it to directly or who don't have a cellar door. I have included my rating of the wine if it was good enough to write about (G = Good, E = Excellent).

1. Hawkshead Pinot Gris 2014 (G)
With aromas of citrus and pear, this wine was well-rounded in body (2g/L residual sugar) but was missing some acidity. Drinks well now.

2. Prophet's Rock Pinot Gris 2014 (G+)
The winemaker at Prophet's Rock worked in Alsace, the home of the french Pinot Gris style. Unsurprisingly, the style was off-dry, with lees ageing having some influence. The result was flavours of sweet pear and red apple, a roly-poly palate and a moderate length.

3. Mountford Estate Chardonnay 2009 (E)
C. P. Lin is the blind Taiwanese winemaker at Mountford Estate. He must have an excellent nose, as his wine's powerful oak was beautifully intertwined with buttery aromas.

4. Babich Irongate Chardonnay 2013 (E)
Much more subtle than the previous wine, with a toffee/caramel nose blending through to light stonefruit and macadamia nut flavours.

5. Vidal Legacy Series Chardonnay 2010 (E+)
A rich smokiness comes into play on the nose. This wine is showing all the characteristics a good oak-aged chardonnay should display.

6. Valli Old Vine Riesling (E-)
From the far reaches of cold Alexandra, this wine displays 'malic' green apple flavours and some of the kerosene typical of the variety. The style is high acidity, low residual sugar and the result is an enjoyable, medium length wine.

7. Mondillo Riesling 2014 (E-)
Hailing from the Bendigo subregion. The steely nose opens out to a palate has apple and lime with a beautiful line of acidity.

1. Mondillo Pinot Noir 2014 (E-)
Herbal and meaty on the nose, light bodied with berries and warm spices leading into a silky finish. I wouldn't leave this one lying around!

2. Tarras Estate Pinot Noir 2014 (G+)
From a biodynamic producer, this wine expresses deep red raspberry flavours with a dusting of fine spices. Overall, savoury in nature.

3. Hawkshead First Vines Pinot Noir 2012 (E)
Gamey, earthy, dark berries, yum.

4. Doctor's Flat Pinot Noir 2012 (E)
Organic, minimal intervention production methods result in a wine with plum fruit expression and gamey, aniseed sweetness.

Enjoying a rum tasting flight
If your other half is not as keen on wine as you are, Queenstown is the ideal place to keep you both happy. My husband and I were very impressed by the quality and selection of locally brewed craft beer offerings, and the associated brewpubs were very fun to visit. There was even a rum bar offering flights of rum from all the major countries.