Check out Part 1 of this series where we begin our journey in Marlborough, most famous for its Sauvignon Blanc

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Rippon Vineyard

Leisurely sip and learn about wine while admiring gorgeous views of Lake Wanaka 

For those unacquainted with Central Otago, it’s one of New Zealand’s most scenic wine regions on South Island, located just east of Queenstown. Those looking to build a wine itinerary should consider Rippon as an ideal place to start the day. Located in the Wanaka sub-region of Otago, the winery’s postcard views offer sweeping, majestic looks at the vineyards meeting Lake Wanaka on its estate. The friendly staff in the small yet airy tasting room provide intimate complimentary group tastings that serve as a great introduction to the region, with a sampling of easy-drinking whites and reds to start off the day.

As a wine described on Rippon’s website as a “wine for the thirsty”, the Osteiner is a lesser-known blend of Riesling and Sylvaner, with a relatively low ABV at 10.5%. We loved its unique appeal and the subtle hints of green fruit, lemon and grass to contrast with the lush, aggressive, tropical fruit of the typical New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – definitely summer-boat-worthy material here.

Also worth trying is the 2013 Pinot Noir, earthy and rooty, with spicy undertones representative of the maturing terroir, having grown on 35-year-old vines. We also enjoyed the mature-vine Rippon Riesling 2016, a dry, Trocken-style, earthy Riesling that still went down like honey on a summer’s day.

For those who are particularly thirsty, Rippon offers a jeroboam (that’s 4.5L, or 6 bottles of wine) of its vintage 2005 and 2008 Pinot Noir of certain varieties, meaning the winemaker is pretty confident that you will like their wine.

Rippon wines are available through Altaya Wines

Quartz Reef 

Unassuming, self-proclaimed ”House of Pinot”, with distinctive wines representing the region

Those who are Pinot Noir enthusiasts looking for something more down to earth (literally) will appreciate the tasting room at Quartz Reef. As a working winery located in the heart of Central Otago, the unassuming tasting room is located in a nondescript industrial strip at the top of “Pinot Noir Drive”. Yet its stunning vineyards in Bendigo and Cromwell are only a 15-minute drive away. If you’re lucky (as we were), you’ll find Austrian-born viticulturist and winemaker Rudi Bauer and his dogs Billy and Miles in the tasting room. Rudi was kind enough to take us on a fun jaunt through Quartz Reef’s vineyards as well as on an educational tour of the terroir, history and geography of the South Island of New Zealand in all its winemaking glory.

Winemaker Rudi Bauer at Quartz Reef's vineyards at Bendigo Station

Named after the largest quartz reef deposit in New Zealand where its vineyards reside in Bendigo Station, Quartz Reef prides itself on “consistent Pinot Noir”. As a winery more structurally focused, for Rudi, there are two notable things about Pinot in Otago: 1) vibrancy of acidity and 2) expression.

Despite his steadfast loyalty to the land, Rudi admits, “We still need to work out whether the true expression is from the lands and vineyards.” Originally setting out to plant a family of Pinot (Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc), the land was more difficult than he anticipated, so he settled on a plan B in addition to its multi-dimensional Pinot Noir: sparkling wine, or in this case, the Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Brut, a deliciously refreshing, dry Brut (the region’s most ”champagne-tasting sparkling wine,” he attests), which he credits learning from champagne makers from Veuve Cliquot and fellow Central Otago winery Dog Point. For Rudi, sparkling wine is meant to be cleansing through the four elements of ”expression, focus, clarity and precision”. 

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If you make it to the tasting room, we recommend starting with the aforementioned Quartz Reef Methode Traditionnelle Brut before diving headfirst into a Pinot Noir vertical with 2014, 2015 or 2016 to see how a complex yet clean, structured Pinot Noir matures beautifully over the years. Make time to give their Pinot Gris with its herbaceous textures and green earthiness a swirl; it still has some room to age but offers a textured white that’s good for food pairing.

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Their Pinot Rosé 2017 was sold out when we were there, but if you’re lucky enough to come across it, be sure to try a “classic expression of Central Otago rosé” – a more serious rosé that offers a clean, structured, floral body for a different take on a fun summer wine.

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Quartz Reef wines are available through Watson’s Wine

Hungry for more? Read on for fabulous food options to pair with wine in Central Otago

No trip to wine country would be complete without gourmet food options. Luckily in New Zealand you don’t have to search too far for food as many of the wineries have restaurants on their premises featuring everything from cheese plates to full-on tasting menus. The following are a few options just outside Queenstown in Central Otago that offer something for everyone and are family friendly:

Carrick Winery & Vineyards

Located in Bannockburn, Carrick overlooks the Bannockburn inlet, with expansive views of the valley and its vineyards. Opt for a seat outside leading into the large green lawn, with an option to dine picnic style on the grass. With plenty of lawn toys and space for kids to roam and run free, you can soak in some sun while enjoying a delicious tasting platter that deserves to be paired with good wine. Image title

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Under the summer sun, we loved the signature reserve Chardonnay Cairnmuir Terraces EBM 2015 with its subtle mealy, oaky tones that didn’t overpower but were still suitable for a hot day, with stone fruit, peach and even a bit of vanilla aromas with toast. Otherwise on a hot afternoon go pink with a glass of chilled Carrick Rosé 2017, all cherries and lush strawberries. It’s meant to be enjoyed with some of the lovely meats and cheeses in that aforementioned tasting platter.

Amisfield Vineyard & Bistro 

A stone’s throw away from Queenstown, Amisfield is an ideal place to start or end the day with a heavenly lunch paired with equally lovely wines.

With the tasting room and restaurant housed in a stone building with a distinctive sloping roof with mountains behind it, Amisfield’s beautiful grounds are designed to be a complementary part of the terroir. The entrance reveals a welcoming, dark-panelled tasting room and a fireplace connected to a large, light-filled restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating overlooking a spacious and picturesque green lawn adjacent to its vineyards. Image title
Amisfield 3-course menu in January 2018

The bistro offers its signature “Trust the Chef” menu where guests have a choice of a three- or five-course tasting menu, with the option of generous wine pairings. With the attention to detail comparable to a fine dining restaurant, the stunning food pairings blew our socks off with creative spins on dishes using classic techniques (lamb butter, anyone?). 

The kitchen takes pride in creating its dishes from scratch, which reveals itself in everything from the warm, doughy and crunchy sourdough bread that melted in the mouth to the crackling skin on the delicious pork belly that was substituted in place of the lamb main. We started off with a beautiful, dry Amisfield Brut 2014 – perfect for a start to a summer lunch – and finished with a creamy and dangerously easy-drinking espresso martini for dessert (combining the best of both worlds!).

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Other notable wines that we tried during our lunch tasting included:  

  • A slightly creamy Amisfield Pinot Gris 2016 that paired wonderfully with their artistic take on the humble vegetable salad
  • Amisfield Dry Riesling 2016 with subtle floral, green pear and citrus aromas that paired well with most of our lunch (apparently a local winemaker favourite, according to our sources)
  • Amisfield Pinot Noir 2015 offered bright cherry notes with some structure; it was jammy with length and rounded out with a bit of spice

Despite the gourmet food and wine, the grounds and picnic tables in the shade are also another great option for an even more informal lunch, also with plenty of lawn space for the kids to run around and play.

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Amisfield wines are available through Kerry Wines 

Note that for each winery we have indicated where the wines are generally available for purchase in Hong Kong, but not all varietals are available. Contact the wineries themselves for details regarding distribution.

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Working 9 to wine. Follow my wine & spirits adventures on Instagram @madame_toasst

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