Top 20 Central Otago Pinot Noirs (and wines of the week)

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

If so, a wine blog is a good place to start looking and this week’s top drops are the tip of a long iceberg of great wines from the most southern wine region in the world, Central Otago.

Each spring, the winemakers in Central line up their Pinots and invite critics to taste them. Last year I was invited. I tasted 78 Pinot Noirs, all with their identities concealed and grouped in sub-regions.

Here, without further ado, are my top 20 Central Otago Pinot Noirs. But first, the wines of the week.

Wines of the week
Bargain buy
2017 Loop Road Central Otago Pinot Noir $27-$29

Bold, bright, fruit driven Pinots with depth, approachability and complex flavours usually cost a whole lot more than this stunning drop made by Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef.

Treat of the week
2014 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh $38

This five year old Pinot Noir is a blast from the past, thanks to my current part-time neighbour, Phil Handford, one of the owners of Grasshopper Rock Wines. Savoury, silky, aged and mellow with more time up its delicious sleeve. Great value for a wine that ages superbly.

Reaching for the stars
2015 Huia Organic Marlborough Pinot Noir $42

Hand-picked grapes and a great vintage make this one of the best Marlborough Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted and you don’t have to dig too deep to try it. Fermented in stainless steel and aged for 12 months in French oak Cadus barriques, 35% new, with no fining or filtering. Flavours are earthy, fresh, bright, bold, intense and lingering.


Top 20 Central Otago Pinot Noirs

5 stars
2017 Quartz Reef Single Vineyard Pinot Noir $85

Pricey but amazing Pinot Noir from Rudi Bauer, the first professional winemaker in Central and now one of the first to spear head biodynamic wine production from sun drenched Bendigo in Otago. This means no man-made chemicals are used in the soils and lunar cycles are followed for planting, harvesting and production.


5 stars
2017 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir $90 to $110

Block 5 Pinot Noir is the top wine of Felton Road in Bannockburn and is also certified biodynamic. Smooth, silky, savoury, intense – a great drink now and will age.


4.5 stars
2017 Grasshopper Rock Earnscleugh Pinot Noir $39.99

Grasshopper Rock is a 12 hectare vineyard in Earnscleugh, Alexandra, one of the edgiest places in New Zealand to grow grapes. Frost prone, but amazing when it comes to growing grapes that translate to silky, savoury, superbly delicious wines with great aging ability.


4.5 stars
2017 Alex Gold Pinot Noir $25.99

Another great Pinot Noir from edgy Alexandra, the most eastern, driest and often also the coldest of all sub-regions in Central Otago. This is a great value Pinot Noir with elegant silky mouthfeel and a long finish. Stunner.


4.5 stars 
2017 Three Miner’s Warden’s Court Pinot Noir $34.99

Named after the Warden’s Court, which opened in 1879 to look after miners’ rights in the gold rush days. This bold, bright, fresh and fruity Pinot Noir is an outstanding Pinot Noir made in tiny quantities and worth tracking down.


4.5 stars
2017 Rockburn 6 Barrels Pinot Noir $85

Only six barrels were made by winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis, who highlights the powerful flavours in this full bodied Pinot.


4.5 stars
 2017 Akitu A2 White Label Wanaka $40

Akitu Vineyard in Wanaka is a sloping 12 hectare site, 380 metres above sea level, which is named after the Maori word for summit or highest point. This wine tastes spicy aromas and earthy with a long finish.


4.5 stars
2017 Aurum Organic Pinot Noir $38

Elegance and silkyness define all of the Aurum Pinots, thanks to winemaker Lucie Lawrence’s French background and philosophy. The  winery uses organically certified wines from Te Wairere vineyard in Lowburn, five minutes’ drive north of Cromwell.


4.5 stars
2017 Providore Pinot Noir $39

Winemaker Pete Bartle’s new Pinot Noir brand has 25 years’ experience behind it. The wines are stunners and made from grapes come in  Queensberry, Bannockburn, Gibbston Valley and Alexandra. Smooth, velvety and powerfully juicy.


4.5 stars
2017 Maude Pinot Noir $37

Small but sensational is how winemaker Sarah-Kate Dineen describes the vintage of 2017, a tricky year with cool patches that meant grapes were in short supply and the wines are seductively silky keepers as a result. Drinks well now too.


4.5 stars
2015 Doctors Flat Pinot Noir $49

Winemaker Steve Davies’ small four hectare vineyard is entirely devoted to Pinot Noir on its hillside in Bannockburn and this is one of the region’s most consistently high quality wines, thanks to elevation that allows it to avoid much of the frost risk in the region. It’s full bodied, velvety smooth with savoury, earthy flavours as well as bright fruit.


4.5 stars
2016 Mt Difficulty Target Gully Pinot Noir $85 to $95

Winemaker Matt Dicey made his first single vineyard Pinot Noirs in 2001 and Target Gully is my pick of them with its rich fresh fruit forward flavours, silky texture and full body. Every sip lingers.

2016 Wooing Tree Lowburn Pinot Noir $40

Steve Farqueson’s Lowburn vineyard is home to the wooing tree in question and the wine lives up to its seductive name, thanks to bright fresh fruit forward flavours and a long finish. Drinks well now and can age.

2016 Amisfield Pinot Noir $42 to $44

A superlative wine from a well known Central Otago winery. This wine is all about savoury earthy notes and a sweet fruity core of bright fresh cherry-like depth of flavour.

2016 Ceres Artist Collection Bannockburn Pinot Noir $76

James Dicey’s Ceres Pinot Noir pays homage to his partner’s artistic career and is made with grapes grown in Bannockburn. This wine shows Pinot in an extremely flattering, silky, smooth and delicious light. Try it.

2016 Quartz Reef Bendigo Pinot Noir $40

One of the best Pinot Noirs every year, thanks to a great vineyard in Bendigo and the dab hand of Rudi Bauer’s winemaking. Silky, fruit forward, drinks well now and will become even more delicious with age.

5 stars
2016 Mt Edward Central Otago Pinot Noir $44

This wine has the wow factor – great fruit concentration, spicy aromas and a bold full body with a silky smooth, lingering finish. It’s a blend of grapes from vineyards around Central Otago and the consistency and delicious quality give it the X factor.

2016 Black Quail Bannockburn Pinot Noir $40

Black Quail Pinot Noir delivers great flavours for relatively modest outlay and is a small family owned vineyard on Felton Road in Bannockburn. Silky, savoury, earthy… medium bodied, great balance and length. It’s all present and counted in this lovely Pinot.

2015 Archangel Pisa Pinot Noir $37 to $40

This wine’s evocative name conceals the dark past of mid 20th Century Europe. It’s made by Pete Bartle from grapes grown at Queensberry, mid way between Wanaka and Cromwell – also home to a new cellar door. Bright, bold, fruit driven with depth and length to burn. One to age.

2015 Forrest Tatty Bogler Bannockburn Pinot Noir $35

Tatty Bogler is Scottish for scarecrow, something many vineyards need to keep birds at bay. The grapes in this wine are made from a sunny sloping vineyard in Bannockburn and at four years old, it’s developing savoury notes which add complexity to the bright fruity flavours.

Prices quoted are approximate and may vary.
  • The winemakers of Central Otago provide the coffee, flights, accommodation and wines to make objective blind tastings of long line ups of their wines possible. I not only write several stories based on tastings such as this one, but also enjoy visiting the region and learning from the winemakers.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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