30 Second Wine Advisor: NZ's epicenter of Pinot Noir

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NZ's epicenter of Pinot Noir

If you pay much attention to the wines of New Zealand, you've likely heard of Marlborough, the South Island home of the country's most sought-after Sauvignon Blancs. You'll find the famous Cloudy Bay there, and scores of other well-known Sauvignon producers like Brancott (known as Montana outside the U.S.), Villa Maria and many more.

You might have to know a little more about New Zealand, though, to have the name of Central Otago ready at your command. Most of the rest of the world knows Central Otago, if we know it at all, as the spectacular setting for many of the scenes of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies.

But wine enthusiasts will recognize this region as the home of some of New Zealand's most promising Pinot Noirs. A cool climate region, it's located on New Zealand's South Island near the 45th parallel. If that sounds familiar, it may be because it's lies on the same latitude south as Burgundy in the north.

Burgundy, however, for all its distinct four-season climate, isn't subject to the occasional cold southerly winds that blow up from the Antarctic Sea to chill Central Otago. This can give humans the shivers at times, but it seems to provide Central Otago's Pinot Noir vines an environment that works for them: The region has become recognized as a significant world production region for Pinot.

While Central Otago's terroir is surprisingly diverse for a smallish region, from flood plains to mountains, its central location on the larger South Island assures it a four-season climate, too. Chilly winters are offset by hot summers - typically hotter than Burgundy - and long dry autumns that rarely frighten growers with unexpected storms. The overall effect yields grapes of good maturity but substantial ripeness as well. The ripe fruit sugars convert to intense wines with high alcohols, but that also show bright acidity and some complexity, resulting in a style that blends Old World and New World styles.

This seemed to be the case with this week's featured wine, Wild Rock 2009 "Cupid's Arrow" Central Otago Pinot Noir, which presented good Pinot character and food-friendly acidity, but framed it with stunning 14.8% alcohol. We enjoyed a second glass with dinner without adverse affects, but saved the third for another day. (You'll find my tasting notes below.)

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Today's Tasting Report

Wild Rock 2009 "Cupid's Arrow" Central Otago Pinot Noir ($19.99)

Wild Rock

Dark ruby color with a clear edge. Black cherry aromas with a whiff of fresh tarragon and a hint of alcohol, a robust 14.8% revealing itself on the nose. Happily, the potent alcohol is less apparent on the palate, where medium-bodied, dry black cherry flavors meet crisp, food-friendly acidity. A good Pinot from Central Otago on New Zealand's South Island, the world's most southerly wine region. U.S. importer: Kobrand Corp., NYC. (Aug. 15, 2012)

FOOD MATCH: Even with its alcohol and fruit-forward "New World" profile, it remains versatile with a range of food; we enjoyed it on successive evenings with LightLife Italian-style Smart Sausages with sauteed green and red bell peppers and onions, and an overflowing bowl of roasted veggies including eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, onions and garlic.

WHEN TO DRINK: The sturdy metal screwcap should keep it well, as should its high alcohol. Whether this style is likely to evolve and gain interest over time is subject to question, but I certainly wouldn't be fearful about holding it for several years.

VALUE: The $20 point seems reasonable for a well-made New World Pinot; I'd expect to pay more for similar wines from California's preferred regions. Still, it may pay to shop around, as Wine-Searcher.com shows this wine at an average $17 from U.S. vendors, with a few as low as $13.

Otago = "Uh-TAH-go"

WEB LINK: Here's a direct link to the winery's Cupid's Arrow 2009 Pinot tasting note. You can move up to the main Wild Rock winery page here.


Compare prices and find vendors for Wild Rock Pinot Noir on Wine-Searcher.com.

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