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Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir 2017
Central Otago is located on the southern end of New Zealand's South Island (latitude 45º south) and shares with Oregon (45º north) similar viticultural challenges: late frosts in Spring, early frost in Autumn, a growing season that may be curtailed overnight. Yet the climates of both are surprisingly similar to Burgundy's Côte d'Or: hot in summer, cold in winter. Central Otago is New Zealand's only wine region with a continental - rather than maritime - climate, which results in greater diurnal and seasonal shifts in temperature.
Home to the globe’s most southerly vineyards, which are cultivated below the 45th parallel, Central Otago is a true one-of-a-kind wine growing region, but not only because of its extreme location.
Central Otago is more dependent on one single variety than any other region in New Zealand—and it isn’t Sauvignon blanc. They don’t even make Sauvignon blanc there.
Pinot Noir claims nearly 75% of the region’s vineyards with Pinot Gris coming in a far second place and Riesling behind it. This is also New Zealand’s only wine region with a continental climate, giving it more diurnal and seasonal temperature shifts than any other.
The subregion of Bannockburn has enjoyed the most success historically but the area’s exceptional growth has moved to the promising regions of Cromwell/Bendigo and Alexandra districts. Central Otago is known for its fruity and full-bodied Pinot noir. With the freedom to experiment here, growers and winemakers are easily exhibiting the area’s great potential.
One of the most finicky yet rewarding grapes to grow, Pinot Noir is a labor of love for many. However, the greatest red wines of Burgundy prove that it is unquestionably worth the effort. In fact, it is the only red variety permitted in Burgundy. Highly reflective of its terroir, Pinot Noir prefers calcareous soils and a cool climate, requires low yields to achieve high quality and demands a lot of attention in the vineyard and winery. It retains even more glory as an important component of Champagne as well as on its own in France’s Loire Valley and Alsace regions. This sensational grape enjoys immense international success, most notably growing in Oregon, California and New Zealand with smaller amounts in Chile, Germany (as Spätburgunder) and Italy (as Pinot Nero).
In the Glass
Pinot Noir is all about red fruit—strawberry, raspberry and cherry with some heftier styles delving into the red or purple plum and in the other direction, red or orange citrus. It is relatively pale in color with soft tannins and a lively acidity. With age (of which the best examples can handle an astounding amount) it can develop hauntingly alluring characteristics of fresh earth, savory spice, dried fruit and truffles.
Pinot’s healthy acidity cuts through the oiliness of pink-fleshed fish like salmon and tuna but its mild mannered tannins give it enough structure to pair with all sorts of poultry: chicken, quail and especially duck. As the namesake wine of Boeuf Bourguignon, Pinot noir has proven it isn’t afraid of beef. California examples work splendidly well with barbecue and Pinot Noir is also vegetarian-friendly—most notably with any dish that features mushrooms.
For administrative purposes, the region of Beaujolais is often included in Burgundy. But it is extremely different in terms of topography, soil and climate, and the important red grape here is ultimately Gamay, not Pinot noir. Truth be told, there is a tiny amount of Gamay sprinkled around the outlying parts of Burgundy (mainly in Maconnais) but it isn’t allowed with any great significance and certainly not in any Village or Cru level wines. So "red Burgundy" still necessarily refers to Pinot noir.