At latitude 45° South, Central Otago is the world’s southern most commercial wine region. It sits at the south end of the south island of New Zealand, with its vineyards planted between 200 and 400 meters above sea-level. Vines cling precariously to the steep slopes and ledges of its deep river gorges.
Growing grapes here is not for the faint of heart, with vineyards at the very edge of viability when it comes to climate, short summers, harsh winters, frost, snow and wild, sweeping changes in temperature. Soils too are hard on the vines, rocky, free draining and low in fertility. The region has all the ingredients necessary for regular agricultural and financial disaster, yet when it’s right its breathtaking, producing wines of the most extraordinary intensity, elegance and finesse.
Pinot Noir is a variety of extremes, get the right clones, the right site, the right climate, soils, vineyard management and winemaking and it produces the finest, most exotic and elegant medium bodied red wines in the world but, it is elusive, inconsistent and hard to pin down.
The variety is a heart breaker, known as the Holy Grail amongst many of the winemaking fraternity; the saying goes that if you can make good Pinot Noir then you are truly a great winemaker. Many a winemaking career has been smashed against the rocks on the turbulent sea of Pinot Noir; I once estimated that for every one great Pinot Noir I’d drank there had been at least 20 ordinary or horrible ones. However, when it is great it is enough to keep you searching, hoping and waiting for the next one you manage to get into your glass.
It seems Pinot Noir and Central Otago were destined for each other, a fatal attraction able to create such magical, oenological beauty and yet capable of breaking so many hearts. When it is good, when the planets align and the gods favour the region with kind weather, then it’s the stuff of dreams, it’s what you live for.
At a recent tasting, I tried Super Nanny Pinot Noir, a reserve wine the Nanny Goat Vineyard that won the People’s Choice award at the recent Pinot Palooza, a Pinot Noir festival that tours the capitals of Australia and New Zealand.
The wine showed a heady perfume of ripe cherry, plum and forest berries with hints of undergrowth, truffle, anise, violets, cinnamon and clove. It is a lush, rich wine with lashings of juicy, ripe fruit, forest spices and a hint of game. Tannins are fine and acidity is bright with a long, lingering aftertaste of pristine fruit. This is definitely one of the greats and one to keep you coming back.