Grapes are sweet

Anita Rao Kashi | Updated on March 28, 2019 Published on March 28, 2019

New Zealand’s Central Otago region, once famous for its gold rush, is basking in riches of another kind — the headiness of wines

Standing outside Cromwell, a former gold-mining town in New Zealand’s Central Otago region in South Island, a different kind of treasure meets the eye. The area has a dramatic landscape — with tall mountains, deep river gorges, brilliant blue lakes and undulating valleys. Adding a hefty dose of headiness, quite literally, are the vineyards that carpet the area, a kind of green-gold under a shimmering summer sun. And the air is almost thick with angel’s share, the wine that evaporates from the wineries and suffuses the air.

Vineyards and wines came to Central Otago along with the gold rush in the late 19th century but it was only in the 1990s that they made any kind of an impact as a wine-producing region. Over the last few decades, though, its Pinot Noir has consistently been hitting gold. It is usually deeply coloured, strong, spicy and sweet, with the predominant notes of red fruits and berries and distinct with the flavour of a wild thyme that grows abundantly in the area. And because vineyards often flow into each other, it is easy to wander in and out of several of them during a morning’s meandering or do a self-guided tour such as the Four Barrels Wine Trail.

On a cool summer morning, I attempted precisely that, accompanied by local vintners Sarah and Charles Fraser of Private Discovery Tours. Our first stop was at the airy tasting room of Misha’s which had a quirky colourful cow sculpture but where everything else pointed to the wines. One wall was covered with a photograph of vines stretching towards a gorgeous blue lake with rising mountains in the background; others were covered by wines on display. The tasting got off to a great start while I was regaled with the story of Misha, of Chinese gold miners and Maori legends.

Equally impactful was the Verismo Pinot Noir, a dark ruby red, full bodied and intense in flavour, coating the palate with overtones of spices and sweetness. The High Note, another Pinot Noir, was gentler with an overriding taste of plums and raspberries and a hint of rose petals. The Soloist, a Pinot Rosé, was subtle and dry and spoke of summer. But for some reason, Limelight, a Riesling, fired the senses. Sweet and citrusy, spicy and mellow, it excited the taste buds as it rolled off the tongue and left a sense of satisfaction in its wake.

Stepping out into bright sunlight, we crossed the road and took a little path that skirted Lake Dunstan. Even at midday, the air was crisp and nippy; an occasional soft breeze rippled the otherwise still water surface. Clumps of bright yellow flowers added to the idyllic scenery. The path led to Aurum Wines, and true to its name, the whole area was filled with rows and rows of shimmering golden yellow vines. Following organic practices and wholly family run, the wines were even named after the children in the family. The Mathilde Pinot Noir 2015 was a clear ruby red and had a distinct smoky finish. In contrast, the Madeleine Pinot Noir 2016 was a deep garnet and had a more delicious and delicate floral note. The Pinot Gris 2017 had a very pale lemon colour and was intense with a melange of notes ranging from citrus to melon. However, what really caught my imagination was the Port Molyneux, a piquant tasting port wine.

We headed to the third winery, passing orchards and thick foliages of bushes. The cellar door of Scott Base, a cheeky reference to NZ’s research base in Antarctica, was located on a hillock dramatically overlooking acres of vines that ran down the hillsides. Its small repertoire was incredibly delicious. Especially the Central Otago Rosé with delicate and summery notes and a hint of spice, and the Chardonnay which was citrusy and refreshing. But standing head-and-shoulders above these was the Reserve Pinot Noir with a deliciously luscious taste, a hint of wild thyme and an aftertaste that lingered well after I had walked downhill amidst the thick vines.

By now, it was well past noon and nearly a dozen and a half different wines had been sampled. True wine connoisseurs never imbibe but I always felt spitting out wine was such a waste. Needless to say, the wine, the sun, the beautiful scenery and fresh breeze put me in a rather mellow mood. A winding drive through Bannockburn, more valleys and vineyards took me to Mt Difficulty Wines, which stood facing the eponymous mountain peak. Their wine list was really long, of which the Bannockburn and Roaring Meg Pinots struck a high note with dark lusciousness, herby finish and spicy notes. But, strangely enough, it was the meal on the outer deck overlooking the vineyards, the valleys, lakes and Mt Difficulty that seemed to be perfect end to a day of highs, quite literally.

Anita Rao Kashi is a travel writer based in Bengaluru

Published on March 28, 2019
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