Central Otago and Waitaki Valley (July 2018)

With just five per cent of the country’s total vineyard area, Central Otago and the Waitaki Valley in North Otago form one of New Zealand’s smaller wine regions, but it enjoys a big international reputation for its softly mouthfilling, fruit-crammed, hard-to-resist Pinot Noirs.

From Wanaka to Gibbston, Alexandra to Kurow, Pinot Noir dominates plantings, accounting for over 75 per cent of the vines. But there’s a lot more to Otago’s output than Pinot Noir. The outstanding quality of the region’s white wines is widely underappreciated.

For such a small region, in terms of plantings (1967 hectares of bearing vines in 2018), Otago has an astonishing number of wine producers – 137 in 2017, a similar number to Marlborough, where the vineyard area is more than 12 times greater. On top of that, a host of wineries based outside Otago include a Central Otago Pinot Noir in their range, reflecting the strong overseas demand.

Pinot Noir dominated the tasting, accounting for over two-thirds of the entries. Prices ranged from $28 to $110. By contrast, the whites were much more affordable, including top-flight examples of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay at an average price of $28.