I'll just admit it right now - I don't really know much about New Zealand - save for the Cloudy Bay, Oyster Bay, Kemeu River, Montana and a handful of others. Definitely good, competent wines but not really stuff that gets your's truly excited... Until I ended up going through Central Otago on vacation. Central Otago is situated on the "South Island" - for those who don't know, New Zealand is actually divided into North and South Islands.
Central Otago - is dry and cool.... perfect for Pinot Noir Burgheads, at least that is what is mostly planted here (>80%). I'll cut to the chase, the promise was Pinot and most producers here make small amounts and the price is not exactly cheap. Many are good competent renditions of Pinot Noir (other's not quite so) but not something that makes my heart skip a beat. I have been told to give some of the special reserve bottlings a try. That will be done but frankly they are not easy to get a hold of and definitely not cheap (~ 2-3 times price of regular stuff). This has alot to do with the strong New Zealand currency lately. Will get back on the results of those later...... No, what had got me excited was not the Pinot Noir but Riesling! Frankly, I was just about to give up on New World Riesling until now.
It's really got potential and the key is - acidity. A couple of them caught my attention such as wines from Felton Road and Mount Difficulty. I would say they are stacking up quite well in the Trocken all the way up to Auslesse territory ( though wines are not classified in this manner). Unfortunately, due to the dry climate it might be a bit difficult to get BA / TBA type wines here. Eiswein has been tried but the yields were frighteningly low and probably not commercially viable. I also get the impression that the domestic markets don't seem to care for higher residual sugars.... a shame because it sure seems the acidity is there to balance this out ( can't pull it off otherwise). Most impressed with the Mount Difficulty Riesling portfolio - I think it may give the Germans a good run. Felton road was another good example although I preferred their drier offerings here. I didn't quite like the '06 Block 1 Riesling which has higher residual sugar but a smatter of bitterness. To me this character is distracting in an Auslesse type wine. Having said that there is still a perceivable gap between this and the Egon Muller's, Donhoffs and Kellers ..... Well to be fair everyone else is in the same boat. Hmmm what else... I really liked the Pinot Gris made by Amisfield - more than alot of the Italian Versions. The Pinot Gris has potential as well I would say. Given that the region here is relatively new (15-20 years at most?) - the vines really have some potential and even more so for the above mentioned grape varieties.
The problem as I see it now is the strong currency. Wines from this region and especially Pinot Noir are going to face a quandry because they are no longer "cheap". At those price levels we begin to expect a little something extra - and in most cases it falls short. So at this point it may seem there are 2 roads to choose from. (1) Try to minimize costs and perhaps quality in some areas to compete (2) Go for the high end markets and no-compromise wines. This is risky in itself and is partly dependent on vine age (compared to France's with 30-70 year old vines). Perhaps in a way it's a good thing the Euro has strengthened as well - if not this problem would be even more pronounced.