A gift in quality and pleasure
If I had celebrated Christmas in the Deep South, which unfortunately I did not, I would have been tempted to say to hell with summer and the urge to feast on food that matches the season in this part of the world.
I'd have kept it traditional - roast turkey, beef, game, pork, lamb whatever; stuffing; baked spuds, pumpkin, kumera; lashings of gravy and mint sauce; and steaming Christmas pud, of course.
And before you ask, I am not a traditionalist.
Far from it.
I just adore pinot noir and relish any opportunity to enjoy it with food, even if in some cases it is only a rough match.
And just offhand I can think no finer pinot noir in this country than this which grows on southerners' doorstep - in Central Otago.
In fact, it is among the most highly regarded in the world.
If any other excuse is needed to sup this sensuous stuff then let's just think of it as our way of acknowledging the growers' gift to us.
Well, hardly a gift, because the best examples are reasonably highly-priced by New Zealand standards, but certainly a gift in terms of quality and pleasure.
However, the reality is that there are more reasonably priced pinot noirs available now than ever before thanks to the a huge expansion in the southern and the national vineyard.
Pinot noir is now our second mostly widely-planted grape behind sauvignon blanc and nearly a third of the national crop is in Central Otago, which in terms of location is regarded as being on the edge of what is possible.
The other good news is that this has allowed the introduction of cheaper Central pinot noir, some by producers who have added second or third labels to their ranges, others who have simply expanded their main range.
One of Central's greatest strengths is the diversity of the various sub-regions in which grapes are now planted; areas which can be and are quite different geologically, climatically and in other ways that can quite significantly affect the character of the fruit and of the wine that it produces.
This means winemakers have the luxury of either blending wines from various sub-regions to achieve the result they want or letting them simply speak for themselves.
Whichever, the result is generally wine characterised by its substance, suppleness and style.
Gibbston Valley 2012 Pinot Noir, $45:
One of at least nine pinots produced by one of Central's best- known wineries. A blend of Gibbston and Bendigo fruit which combines to produce a generous and warm mouthful of cherries and plums, spice and herbs. Well- priced by Central standards.
Two Paddocks 2010 Proprietor's Reserve The Last Chance Pinot Noir, $70:
A gift for Dad or your favourite uncle in the hope they will share it over dinner. Produced only in outstanding vintages and in small quantities by actor Sam Neill. A beautiful, brooding, fleshy wine that will only get better.
Saddleback 2011 Pinot Noir, $29:
Peregrine, the winery with a roof shaped like the wing of the bird from which it takes its name was one of the first to launch a cheaper, "popular" pinot noir. An attractive, red-berried wine with most of the trimmings, notably spice and herbs.
Wooing Tree 2012 Beetle Juice Pinot Noir, $28:
One of the best value cheaper Central Otago pinot noirs. This single-vineyard Cromwell model was a gold medal winner at the recent Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Generous and fruity it's ready for immediate drinking.
Quartz Reef 2012 Pinot Gris, $48:
A stunning Bendigo pinot from master winemaker Rudi Bauer that sells for almost half the cost of his flagship which is grown in an even warmer spot in the same area. A mouthfilling cherry-driven wine with pleasing spicy, savoury character.
Mt Difficulty 2012 Bannockburn Pinot Noir, $45:
One of the best priced of six pinot noirs produced by Mt Difficulty. And one that can safely be tucked away in the cellar for Christmases yet to come.
A luscious, fragrant darker- fruited model that really needs more time. But . . .
The Southland Times