When one isn’t holidaying exclusively with wine in mind, it can be a challenge to balance the amount of time devoted to things vinous versus more generalised tourism, especially when one happens to pass through exciting wine regions. Chris and I have just finished travelling the southern-most tip of New Zealand’s South Island with our respective partners, and whilst a large amount of time was spent drinking, we limited our cellar door visits to a single, rather action-packed day in Central Otago. Here follows a brief summary (in two parts) of the day, with equally brief and, given the tasting format, somewhat rushed impressions. Unsurprisingly, our handwritten notes became less meaningful towards the end of the day.
After some uncharacteristically energetic heckling at the Kawarau Bridge bungy, we stopped at Peregrine right on opening hour (ten o’clock). It’s an impressive facility, with award-winning architecture and an abundance of landscaping. Looking at my notebook, I see scribbled in Dan’s handwriting: Julian needs to buy Dan a present. A consistent, reasonably priced range of aromatic whites and Pinot Noirs. Standouts were the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is very flavoursome and not at all coarse, plus a correct and lightfooted 2008 Gewürztraminer. We enjoyed all three levels of Pinot, though I found the premium quite closed. The standard Pinot less so, however the current release (2007) is very young and brings with its age a degree of awkwardness. For drinking now, the second tier 2007 Saddleback is all one could wish for. Attractively fruit-driven, light-ish in body and quite delicious.
On to Gibbston Valley Wines, about which I choose to be concise. Aside from a distractingly Frass Canyon-like vibe at cellar door, the wines were uneven and, at worst, quite unappealing. We tried some charming Pinots from older vintages, though, which were gently glowing and talc-like in aroma (or was it the scented soaps?). We had tasted the 2006 Pinot at some length earlier in the week and agreed it is a very well made, correct wine.
Chard Farm, by contrast, was the ideal cellar door experience. Anyone who has visited this winery knows the winding road one takes to get there, and our risk-taking was amply rewarded by friendly, enthusiastic cellar door staff and, more importantly, an excellent range of wines. Chris nominated this as his favourite cellar door experience of the day, and it would be hard to disagree. All the wines tasted were worthwhile, even a fun, one-off 2005 vintage sparkling that is a little sweet for my taste but still enjoyable. Going from notes kindly penned by Dan, we especially enjoyed the 2008 Pinot Gris, which is firmly structured and flavoursome, with an especially interesting, velvety texture. Also a highlight amongst the whites is the 2006 Gewürztraminer, which for me was the best Gewürztraminer of the day: aromatic, tight and curiously herb-driven.
Chard Farm does at least four Pinot Noirs, starting with the 2007 River Run label at the low end. Very easy drinking, fruity and well finished. A step up brings us to the 2007 Finla Mor, which, although drinking well now, is a bigger wine all over. There’s greater density of fruit and quite chewy tannins, yet it retains an essentially fruit-driven character that makes for straightforward enjoyment. Two single vineyard wines from the 2006 vintage, The Tiger and The Viper, both excellent, are subtly different too. I loved the savouriness of these wines, and in terms of premium Pinots, they seemed less overwrought than some others tasted on the day. We left with several bottles.
On to Mount Difficulty for a brief cellar door tasting and a not so brief lunch. I wasn’t terribly fussed with the whites here (although the rosé was delicious). We had already done a detailed tasting of the 2007 Mount Difficulty Pinot by this stage in our travels. Initially, I found it quite acidic, though the quality of the fruit is evident immediately. Chris had less trouble with the structure and liked this wine from day one. We both agreed that, by day three, it had settled into a thing of luscious beauty, glowing with supple fruit. As an aside, you really can’t beat the view from this cellar door. Well worth a visit for that alone.