The New Zealand pinot noir movement is gathering pace and the great and good of the wine world jetted in from Singapore, Stockholm and San Francisco last week to experience Central Otago's take on the grape.
The red variety has come to prominence in the past decade. Plantings have expanded by 316 per cent since 2000 and export sales have increased more than 200 per cent in the past five years. The country's biggest region, Marlborough, has more pinot vines in the ground than Central Otago, but big does not mean better.
Central Otago's pinot style tends to be fairly deep in colour (it is a thin-skinned variety and thus pale in appearance), with sweet black fruits and a slight herby note. It has vibrant acidity and decent structure - an elusive combination.
Producers are on a quest to define the characteristics of the vineyards and wine growing areas within the region. Although the Gibbston valley certainly has different climatic conditions and soils from Wanaka or Bannockburn, it may be premature to push subregionality.
Central Otago is barely out of nappies: the first pinot noir was produced in 1987; the first record of wine growing in Burgundy was 312BC.
Blair Walter, winemaker at Felton Road, admits: "We are still on a journey. It's still very early days and we have by no means figured it out. We don't even know where the destination is but there's a lot of potential for the future."
Yet there seems to be a quality pyramid emerging in the region and it won't be long before someone creates their own Central Otago pinot noir hierarchy. Rippon Estate and Felton Road would undoubtedly be in the A league but there are at least another four consistently impressive producers that deserve to be up there, too.
2009 Akarua Pinot Noir, Central Otago ($35-$38, Glengarry's, Advintage).
Very youthful pinot noir with lashings of dark plum, blackberry fruit and spicy oak. It's fresh, vibrant and structured.
2007 Mt Maude Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, Central Otago (48.95, Caro's, Point Wines, First Glass, The Wine Vault).
Classy, elegant, and delicate, this has been lovingly handled. It is perfumed, has pure sweet fruit, lovely balance and finely woven tannins. A wine every pinot producer should aspire to.