Central Otago Wine Region with Queenstown Wine Trail – Queenstown, New Zealand
A vacant spot existed in our day- we gained approximately 4 hours back so we began brainstorming what we could do. There was the popular jet boating activity but a recent accident over the weekend left us a tad hesitant. Kevin recollected all the vineyards we passed while en route to bungy jumping- I am glad he was paying attention on the bus since I was overcome with distress and nausea. We struggled with our phones to try and make contact for this last minute reservation (when to use a 0 or a + proved to be a bit of a stumper!) but a friendly Kiwi lent us a phone to make the reservation. We were in for a 1PM departure on the Original Wine Tour Experience with Queenstown Wine Trail.
There are nine major wine regions in New Zealand. On the North Island, there is Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, and Wairarapa. On the South Island, the regions include Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago. The largest region is Marlborough and the steam engine for Sauvignon Blanc. In the USA, the wine we see from New Zealand is exclusively Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand is the Sauvignon Blanc capital of the world!) so when we were told we would be tasting varietals like Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Riesling we were a but stunned. We were excited to expand our knowledge of New Zealand wine.
We spent the next five hours exploring three vineyards with an unexpected focus on Pinot Noir! When one hears New Zealand wine, the immediate grape varietal is Sauvignon Blanc so we were surprised to hear we would be trying Pinot Noir and hoping the quality would be decent enough for the Pinot’s we are used to from California.Since Central Otago is the wine region farthest south in the country, the long summer days and dry climate suits Pinot Noir quiet well.
The first stop was Kinross Cottages that also co-oped several other vineyards which meant we got to try five different wines from five different wineries.
The first pour was a Valli Pinot Gris, something once again we did not expect to try. And we both agreed, this Pinot Gris was one of the best versions of the grape we have had! Typically, I am not a fan of Pinot Gris, even the Italian varietal, but this was more than just a tart wine- it was full and fruity. The next pour was a Hawkshed Riesling, followed by three Pinot Noirs. Our favorite of the Pinots was the first from Coal Pit but we were so impressed at how well the Pinots were structured with great quality. If we were able, we would have easily bought the Pinot Gris and the first Pinot Noir- both were just excellent.
The second stop was at Gibbston Valley where we had time to explore the grounds. We grabbed a cheese plate where we got to sample a few of their popular ones before closing a selection of a Pecorino, Kawarau Blue Cheese, and Arthur’s gold – funky version of brie.
This cheese plate hit the spot! Tasting wine and eating cheese is our vacation happy place… was this better than climbing Ben Lomond? Only time will tell when we finally do it on a future journey but this was a pretty good view.
The cellar tour began with a history overview in the vineyards before entering one of two wine cellars in New Zealand.
Here we tried several wines- a Pinot Gris, a Riesling, a Rose, and a Pinot Noir. Our collective favorite here was the Riesling with familiar off dry qualities and fruit forward profile.
The final stop of the day was at Stoneridge Estate. When we pulled up, everyone was amazed by the landscaping around the tasting room- it was like an English garden surrounding a cottage. We were given a few minutes to explore the grounds before settling in for our tasting.
The tasting here was extensive- wine after wine after wine! Our favorite at this tasting was the Pinot Noir Reserve as it had the smoky components of a Pinot that I really enjoy- earthy, bacony, funky.
We left this wine tour with a new perspective of what New Zealand wine has to offer. The quality of the wine far surpassed what we expected and what we hoped when booking this last minute excursion. What else does the country have to offer the wine world? Why is the Sauvignon Blanc the only varietal making a splash globally? I hope that we are able to continue to explore this Central Otago wine region back home- we really enjoyed it! Thank you to Queenstown Wine Tours and our guide Lance for a great afternoon.