Great southern whites… Otago peaks

Fresh back from a trip to the sunny deep south, I am now a dedicated follower of  the world’s southernmost white wines – as much as the new wave elegant reds from Central Otago.

Photograph by Joelle Thomson                                                                                                                                          Pictured above is Rudi Bauer, the first professionally trained grape grower and winemaker in Central Otago and founder of Quartz Reef Wines. Today he continues to carve his own path with 60 per cent of his wines being Pinot Noir and 40 per cent being bubbly (unusual in a region where most wine brands produce 80+ per cent Pinot Noir). His sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, disgorged and bottled on site as a hand-made labour of love where three to four people work on about 3000 bottles a day when they disgorge the bubbles at the Cromwell winery. Sparkling production includes Quartz Reef NV, Quartz Reef Rosé NV and, now, the 2013 Quartz Reef Blanc de Blancs. All are benchmark beauties – high quality sparkling wines – that show what else Otago’s vineyards can do, alongside the runaway success of the region’s Pinot Noirs.

Eight winning whites

2013 Quartz Reef Blanc de Blancs $70

Biodynamics are the new organics; and this full bodied bubbly is made solely from  Chardonnay grapes from Bendigo – home to Quartz Reef’s hand tended vines. It’s the first Chardonnay bubbly that winemaker Rudi Bauer has made and sets a new standard of high quality white wine from the region better known for its reds. This is tasty – super creamy, full bodied and every sip lingers.

It was launched on 1 September. Quantities are small.


2017 Mt Edward Chenin Blanc $29

This mouth wateringly refreshing Chenin Blanc is a first from winemakers Duncan Forsyth and Anna Riederer, who made it a little like Chardonnay, putting the wine through a secondary fermentation – malolactic fermentation – to reduce the high acidity and soften its flavours. This winemaking works a treat because while it softens the wine, it also retains the zesty core of vibrant freshness. It’s made with grapes grown on the Morrison Vineyard.


2018 Amisfield Chenin Blanc $25

Central Otago has more than the Pinot Noir string to its successful wine bow, as this refreshingly dry Chenin Blanc shows. It’s the best yet from Amisfield’s small Chenin Blanc stable and it shows how successfully the region’s vineyards can grow grapes for white wines. I love its crisp, refreshing, expressively tasty flavours of crunchy green apples and its long finish.

2017 Chard Farm Riesling $26

If you haven’t gotten up close and personal yet with the southernmost Rieslings in the world, you’re in for a treat – these wines are dry, succulent and taste like lime zest on speed. Not that I know exactly what that tastes like, but you get the picture – vibrant freshness is the order of the day. Winemakers Rob Hay and John Wallace have over two decades experience of making great Riesling from grapes grown in Parkburn and Lowburn.

They opened a 2009 Chard Farm Riesling last week to show how superbly these wines can age – and talk about fresh. As it ages, Riesling improves, giving the perception of being drier and more full bodied.


2018 Picnic Riesling 

The black and white picture on the front of this bottle features Sydney Neill, a wine merchant and the grandfather of actor Sam Neill, whose abiding love for Central Otago and its wines saw him create his own brands – Picnic is the entry level to his top shelf Two Paddocks Wines. And super refreshing it is too, thanks to its dry, crisp, lime and lemon zest flavours. Riesling is the unsung heroine of this beautiful wine region.


2017 Carrick Dry Riesling $25

This classic Central Riesling is dry as a bone (with less than 2 grams of residual sugar). It’s one of one of three Carrick Rieslings, in this case it is made from grapes picked a little later and with higher acidity, which provides its refreshing character and its ability to age for the long term. It was, unusually, barrel fermented 100%. This provides body but no oak flavour to the wine since the barrels were old.


2017 Carrick Bannockburn Riesling $25

This medium dry Carrick Riesling contains 15 grams of residual sugar from the grapes, a level of sweetness that is beautifully balanced by Riesling’s naturally high acidity. It’s made from the same vineyard as the other two Carrick Rieslings.


2017 Carrick Josephine Riesling

Here’s the sweetie and the high point for many with its relatively low alcohol of 9% ABV and 55 grams of residual sugar, putting it firmly in the luscious category but – and it’s a big ‘but’ – Riesling’s naturally high acidity provides balance and vibrant freshness with every sip tasting aromatically intense and crisp. Talk about a great white.

Winemaker Francis Hutt opened one of the last bottles of the 2006 Josephine Sweet Reserve Riesling, which also contains 9% ABV – it was the high point of the tasting with its electric acidity and amazing freshness with developed concentrated lemon zest aromas.

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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