Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Wine Tasting Down Under - Part 1

Wine Tasting Down Under -Part 1
Central Otago, New Zealand By Mark Gapinski

Wine Guy Mark Gapinski and his family traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past summer and wrote about the experience for the newsletter..... read Mark's profile here:
Mark Gapinski

Last summer, my family and I traveled to Australia and New Zealand. As part of this trip, we visited two wine producing areas, the Central Otago region of New Zealand and the Barossa Valley in Australia. Since many of our newsletter readers also enjoy visiting wine producing areas, I’ve written up a summary of our experiences describing where we stayed, dined and tasted.

The Central Otago wine producing area stretches across the southern portion of New Zealand’s southern island. It is the southernmost wine producing area in the world. Central Otago begins in the narrow valleys of the Southern Alps, just east of Queenstown. These mountains, named by Captain Cook, are very rugged and snow covered during the winter (May through September). Moving east, Central Otago becomes less mountainous, warmer and drier. Pinot Noir is the principal varietal grown in Central Otago comprising roughly 70% of production. Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay are the main white varietals. We encountered very little Sauvignon Blanc in this part of New Zealand.

We had a great view of the Southern Alps and the glacial Lake Wakatipu as our plane prepared for landing in Queenstown. This town is often referred to as the “adrenaline capital” of New Zealand. In addition to serving as a hub for skiing during the winter, Queenstown offers opportunities for zip lining, white water rafting and of course, bungee jumping. After all, this is where bungee jumping was invented!


We made a more relaxing choice and hit the road for the wine country. To explore the western portion of Central Otago, we based ourselves in Arrowtown just a few miles northeast of Queenstown. The Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown served as our home for a few days. Accommodations were excellent and the Millhouse Restaurant provided an outstanding dinner one of the evenings.

Our first morning, after scraping the frost off our windshield (yes, July is winter down under!), we headed into Arrowtown for a great breakfast at Provisions. Fueled for the morning we then headed east on highway 6. The first wine producing area we encountered was Gibbston, home of the Gibbston Valley Winery.

Many wine tasting rooms, called cellar doors in Australia and New Zealand, serve food. Gibbston Valley Winery offered a great selection of charcuterie to accompany the wines being sampled. We tasted five Pinot Noir including examples from the cooler Gibbston area and the warmer Bendigo vineyards to the east. All the wines we tasted were beautifully made, but I was partial to the lighter, more elegant pinots from the Gibbston area. Tasting and noshing at the Gibbston Valley Winery was very enjoyable and a highly recommended stop along the wine route.

Grant Taylor is something of an Otago Valley rock star for the outstanding Pinot Noir he consistently produces for his Valli wine label. I contacted Taylor to arrange a visit to his winery, but we couldn’t find a time that worked for everyone. He did tell me his wines were poured at Kinross Cottage. All I needed to do was ask! It turned out Kinross Cottage was only a short drive from Gibbston Valley winery.

We tasted six Valli wines the quality of which was outstanding. The opening Pinot Gris tasted as though it had just disembarked the plane from Alsace; rich, yet nicely balanced with a great texture in the mid-palate. We moved on to an orange wine called “The Real McCoy”. No, it’s wasn’t made from oranges, but rather Pinot Gris that had 40 days of skin contact during the winemaking process. Prolonged skin contact produces a copper to orange colored wine that has a good deal of tannin. What a great partner it would be for a curry or other boldly flavored food.

The Pinot Noirs were the stars of the show, however. We tasted both the Gibbston and Bannockburn Pinot Noirs and both were wonderful. The only bottle I brought home from this trip was the 2016 Valli Gibbston Pinot Noir. It reminded me of some of my favorite Oregon Pinots from the likes of Archery Summit or Bergstrom.  

The final highlight of our wine tasting in this part of Central Otago came at Wet Jacket Winery. Wet Jacket is a small winery producing only about 3,500 cases of wine each year. The name comes from a marine reserve in the Fiordland National Park in southwestern New Zealand. Here we tasted another outstanding 2017 Pinot Gris.  As with the Valli Pinot Gris, the Wet Jacket wine was made in a richer style that was a pleasure to drink. It was described as opulent and I couldn’t argue that. The 2016 Wet Jacket Pinot Noir was made from fruit grown in the warmer Cromwell area. The fruit flavors tended more toward plum, black raspberry, and red cherry. Sadly, they produced only 800 cases of this beauty.

That evening we had dinner at La Rambla, a tapas restaurant in Arrowtown. I spotted the 2017 Wet Jacket Pinot Gris on the wine list and ordered a bottle. It was perfect with some of our lighter tapas.
I cannot let a discussion of my visit to Arrowtown conclude without mentioning the spectacular breakfast I enjoyed at the Chop Shop. The Chop Shop is a small, relatively hard to find breakfast spot in Arrowtown just off the main street. It seats about 20, mostly locals it seemed. The Chop Shop has a cozy, yet highly eclectic industrial vibe.  For example, a Rube Goldberg-like pulley system, whose counterweight was a large crescent wrench, closed the front door.

But décor is not why one visits the Chop Shop; it’s the Turkish Eggs. I had never experienced Turkish Eggs. The dish featured a poached egg or two sitting atop a mound of warm Greek yogurt surrounded by a delicious, buttery oil flavored with chili and sesame topped with chopped fresh dill. The eggs were served with grilled sourdough bread. It was “bars on the window crazy” good!                                                                              
Part 2 of Wine Tasting Down Under will feature our journey to the “heart of the desert” in Central Otago featuring tasting notes from Burn Cottage and Felton Road wineries and more.

Part II, Part III, Part IV