Finding the perfect Pinot Noir is one of the Holy Grails for wine enthusiasts, especially given the grape variety’s ever increasing popularity – and there are few places in the world that come as close to achieving perfection as the Central Otago region in New Zealand.
Pinot Noir is both cherished and cursed by winemakers around the world, since it is the most demanding and unpredictable of grapes and largely defined by site and vintage – with different regions creating noticeably different expressions.In 1895, the legendary viticulturist Romeo Bragato declared that ‘there is no better place on the face of the earth’ as well suited to the production of Pinot Noir as Central Otago – although it has only been since the 1990s that the region has established itself as a favourite among wine critics and tourists alike.
As well as the scores of boutique wineries, visitors are drawn to the world’s most southerly vineyards by the truly spectacular scenery, which was used for many scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and New Zealand’s most visited tourist town Queenstown.Queenstown carries a reputation for adrenaline-fuelled activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and skiing on the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, but it is also the largest town in Central Otago and a convenient base to embark on Queenstown wine tasting tours.
Aside from adventure sports and wine tasting, Queenstown, the world’s friendliest city according to Condé Nast, offers some of the world’s most stunning natural attractions, the likes of Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s tallest peak Mount Cook and the country’s most popular tourist site, Milford Sound.
Wine tasting in Queenstown tends to travel outside of the town itself to several of the surrounding ‘Central’ (as the locals refer to the area) sub-regions, of which Gibbston Valley is the closest – while others include Wanaka, Bannockburn, Bendigo, Alexandra and the Cromwell Basin.Each of these sub-regions have their own individual soil, climate, altitude and aspect characteristics, which lead to subtle differences in the expressions of the wines produced. Here is an overview on the main styles that can be enjoyed as part of Queenstown wine tasting experience:
As mentioned, Pinot Noir reigns supreme in Central Otago – with many critics favouring the New Zealand style above those from the more illustrious, and considerably more expensive, wine growing region of Burgundy. More than 70% of plantings in the area are from Pinot Noir, which is also used as principal base component for sparkling wines. At its finest Pinot Noir has an ethereal delicacy with dark fruit flavours than can age gracefully for decades.
Although New Zealand’s ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc – the wine that put the country on the international wine map – is grown in the region, white wine styles here are best represented by some excellent Chardonnay. Originating from Burgundy, Chardonnay is often seen as an entry level grape on the international stage. Although its popularity has diminished since its heyday in the 1980s, the styles that can be sampled during a typical Queenstown wine tasting exhibit sophisticated citrus and mineral characters that can be reserved when young, but unfold with great elegance.Of the aromatic wines that flourish in Central Otago, Riesling stands out for its sparkling fruit flavours and precise structure – while Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer have also been well received.
Aside from adventure sports and wine tasting, Queenstown – which was voted as the world’s friendliest city by readers of Condé Nast Traveller – also offers some of the world’s most stunning natural attractions, including the crystal clear Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand’s tallest peak Mount Cook and the country’s most popular tourist site, Milford Sound. Carved during the ice age, the Milford Sound is New Zealand’s equivalent of the Grand Canyon – featuring steep cliff sides plunging towards the sea, with an abundance of waterfalls and wildlife that attracts over half a million visitors every year.
If you are interested in Queenstown wine tasting tours, contact our local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning a visit to Pinot Noir country – all of Wine Paths’ private tours can be tailor made to meet your exact requirements.
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