Tune in to RNZ National just after 2pm today to hear me wax lyrical about these five top summer drops…

Ten years ago, Central Otago was the fifth biggest wine region in New Zealand, more famous for majestic mountains than Pinot Noir.

Now it is the third biggest wine region in this country, having displaced Gisborne and left North Canterbury in the wake of its Pinot Noirs, which continues to dominate consumer perception and demand – and the region’s vineyard area, which is devoted to the tune of 80% Pinot Noir. Impressive as all this sounds, this most southern of all wine regions on Earth does have more than one string to its wine bow, as a couple of my top summer drops show.

Top southern sparkling

Quartz Reef NV $34

Austrian winemaker Rudi Bauer was the first to make sparkling wine in Central Otago, using the same grape varieties (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) and winemaking techniques as champagne makers. The results are amazing – both in flavour and especially in value for money.

It just so happens that Pinot Noir plays the lead role in Quartz Reef NV Brut – a dry bubbly made mostly from Pinot Noir (62% of the wine) with crisp and creamy fresh back up from Chardonnay with 38% of the blend. All the grapes in this wine are biodynamically grown (and certified) from a single vineyard in Bendigo.

Bauer ages this wine for two years in the bottle after its second fermentation. This wine’s fresh baked bread aromas and dry taste (it contains 4 grams residual grape – drier than most champagnes) make for an amazing combination of deliciousness.

 

2016 Amisfield Fumé Blanc $45

Amisfield may be rocking the Sauvignon vibe but it’s doing so in a pretty modest fashion with its three hectares of Sauvignon Blanc – a virtual drop in the bucket in Pinot Central (aka Otago) where red wine rules the roost.

This is a Sauvignon worth beating a long path to for its full bodied, creamy and fresh vibe. It’s a wine that reminds me slightly of the fumé blancs I fell for back in the 90s, only this time round it’s so much better. Dry, crisp, flavoursome with freshness, aged characters, a full body, what more could you ask for?

 

Canterbury tale

2013 Crater Rim Waipara Riesling $23

This wine speaks volumes about Riesling’s amazing ability to age, thanks to being five years old and still tasting as fresh as a daisy – it also rocks an amazingly fruity vibe while tasting crisp and dry in every succulent, citrusy and peachy mouthful. An amazing wine from North Canterbury – the region I think is the most under rated, over performing one when it comes to high quality dry whites.

 

Marlborough marvel

2015 Dog Point Section 94 $37

It’s Sauvignon Blanc but not as we know it.

Marlborough is one of the leading wine regions in the world with 67% of New Zealand’s producing vineyard area and 23,102 of this country’s 37,969 hectares of grapes – the vast majority being Sauvignon Blanc, but here’s a new take on the fruity theme.

There’s no ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ wording on the label, for starters because its makers, Ivan Sutherland and James Healey, want to highlight other aspects of this grape in this full bodied dry white.  It’s matured for 18 months in old French oak barrels on lees (decomposing yeast cells, the tasty left overs from fermentation), which release savoury, creamy, nutty flavours into this outstanding wine. It’s a costly exercise that turns up the volume on this big, bold, dry white.

 

Pinot power

2017 Providore Pinot Noir $39

This is a new brand from an experienced hand – winemaker Pete Bartle, who  sources grapes from four different areas in Otago to make this wine. The tasty raw material he uses comes from Queensberry, Bannockburn, Gibbston Valley and Alexandra. The result is a smooth, velvety and powerfully juicy dry Pinot with great balance, a medium body, a long finish and succulent flavours that keep you coming back for more.

It’s one of my top 10 new Central Otago Pinot Noirs from 85 wines tasted with their identities concealed in spring last year.