Good taste: Waitaki Valley

By Rebecca Gibb

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Q Pinot Gris 2010, $33.35. Photo / Supplied
Q Pinot Gris 2010, $33.35. Photo / Supplied

Most New Zealand wine producers wouldn't plant in the Waitaki Valley if you paid them. The region is nail-bitingly marginal and many of the country's most successful companies have decided their cuticles don't need to be eroded further.

But others who are braver, or possibly slightly unhinged, have put their money and love into this remote area of the South Island.

The region's first vineyard, Doctor's Creek, was planted in 2001 on limestone soils not dissimilar to Burgundy, and the first wines showed a mineral streak that attracted international praise.

Since the initial rave reviews, many vineyards have sprouted on lesser sites. The wines don't show that lovingly nurtured mineral streak, but they do all have a leanness and restraint that make the region stand out.

The Waitaki Valley excels at aromatic whites, which include riesling, pinot gris and gewurztraminer, as well as at reds from pinot noir grapes. Production is small scale - at the last count there were just 110ha of vines in the whole region - which means these wines don't come cheap.

What's more, Waitaki producers have to contend with hostile weather: rain, frost, wind and hungry birds make ripening grapes a risky business. If the handful of producers in the Waitaki Valley make it to harvest unscathed, the resulting wines show a restrained perfume, elegance and palate-cleansing acidity.

I am an unashamed fan of the handful of producers who are battling adversity to make some interesting wines. It's also a part of New Zealand that remains unspoilt.

Off the beaten track, the former post office in the small town of Kurow has been transformed into a tasting centre and is worth a detour next time you're in North Otago.

Pasquale Riesling 2010, ($30, Wine Vault)
An attractive floral nose sprinkled with talcum powder and violets. It is dry, lean and the lemony acidity gives a stylishly tight finish.

Q Pinot Gris 2010, ($33.35)
Surprising freshness and mouth-watering acidity from this pinot gris. It has an attractive creamy texture and dense concentration of fruit. A very good first effort from this vineyard.

Ostler Caroline's Pinot Noir 2009, ($48, Fine Wine Delivery Co, Point Wines)
Sensual and alluring plum fruit on the nose. In the mouth, there's elegance and delicacy, with ripe tannins and vanilla cream on the finish. Drinking well now but would benefit from a little more time in bottle, if you have the patience.

- NZ Herald

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