Pinot Gris, Prophet’s Rock, 2009, Central Otago
The orcs are moving in on you. You can hear their gnarled grunts approaching the perimeter of your camp like a fast-moving plague. The ringwraiths were spotted yesterday on the horizon, their ghostlike, ethereal figures barely visible through the fog.
You’re being hunted. And the enemy is mass-produced, characterless wines that threaten to swallow us up in their suffocating embrace. Welcome to Central Otago, New Zealand, the land where Lord of the Rings was shot and where the battle for the underdog wine region lives.
New Zealand is a late-comer to the wine world. With wine grapes first being planted in 1883 by James Busby—a pioneer in the Australian wine industry—it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that quality varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were brought to the islands. Being a newcomer has it’s advantages; with no connection to the ways of the past, New Zealand quickly embraced the latest technology and viticulture techniques available to them and is now a major player on the world market.
Lying in a tiny pocket on the South Island is the region of Central Otago. The world’s southernmost wine region, it has the driest and most continental climate in New Zealand. The vineyards lie in the Southern Alps where there are extreme differences in temperature; warm days and cold nights allow the flavors to fully concentrate. It is an ideal spot for Pinot Noir, Riesling and Pinot Gris to grow. It’s also an ideal spot for wasting orcs with a swing of your broadsword…or so I’d imagine; my ork-wasting experience is minimal but my heart is strong.
Prophet’s Rock winery sources grapes from two of their estate vineyards located in the Bendigo and Pisa sub-regions of Central Otago—this is where the magic happens, where the sacred ring is forged. When I tried their Pinot Gris 2009 recently, I was floored. Near water-clear in color, it gave absolutely no hint of the depth of flavor to come, akin to the princess who wears the clothes of a peasant and goes unsuspecting in the crowd. A hint of honeysuckle and lemon meringue on the nose, I invited her into my house to warm up from the cold, still unaware of what I was getting into…
Upon first taste, my mouth was met with a concentrated burst of flavor that I was defenseless to. Who are you, maiden? Comparable to that of an Alsatian Pinot Gris, it is fat and rich with huge acidity. The flavors of lemons and minerals seemed to be cascading over river rocks in a high-mountain waterfall. I had chosen my mistress wisely. The tip of my tongue was left vibrating like a guitar string. Wow. She is an unsuspecting vixen, and is welcome in my house any day.
The battle against the mega-winery grows more heightened every day. Their marketing arms stretch wide and far, attempting to drown you in their bland, merely passable grape juice. But it is the fighters like Prophet’s Rock and the region of Central Otago that give hope that the resistance remains pure of heart.
Now where the hell has Gandalf ran off to? Has anyone seen the princess? Uh oh. I suspect Gandalf is unfurling his charms in some dark pub somewhere on the South Island…