Vintners in Otago, the world's most southerly wine region, have to reckon with the country's only continental (rather than maritime) climate. They maximize sunshine hours and minimize frost danger by planting on hillside vineyards, a rarity in New Zealand. Because of their peripheral location geographically, Otago vineyards produce small yields, but their wines can offer great concentration and corresponding character, particularly in Pinot Noir and Gew'rztraminer, which show plenty of crispness. New vineyards are being planted here faster than anywhere else in New Zealand, and for good reason: both Canterbury and Otago grapes produce elegant, long-lived Pinot Noir, typically with deep black cherry flavors and fine acidity.
Known commonly as the great white grape of the Burgundy region of France, Chardonnay has become the most popular white wine in America, if not the world. Chardonnay is by nature a rich, full-bodied wine that grows at its best in a relatively cool climate. It is grown in virtually every growing region in the U.S. and is made in a myriad styles. Most Champagne and methode champenoise sparkling wine has Chardonnay in its blend. At one extreme, it can be elegantly floral and forward in the nose, with lovely fruit of pears and melons and a clean green apple acidity with a certain flinty or chalky mineral quality. It often has a full almost "oily" mouthfeel that lasts seemingly forever on the palate, with a perfect balance of fruit, acid and alcohol. Despite the long, complex finish, Chardonnay makes you hungry for food and thirsty for more wine all at the same time. At the other extreme, the first inhalation fills your nostrils with the sweet vanilla of new French oak and the creamy, buttery complexity that only Chardonnay can embody. Butterscotch, hazelnuts, toasted almonds all might come to mind, and the fruit might be tropical in nature, perhaps pineapples or coconuts, with more grapefruit-like acidity. This is truly a chameleon grape, and it can be altered as much by the climate and soil as by the winemaker's hand. In this country, it has found its best representations in Monterey and the Central Coast, Santa Barbara County, Carneros, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley, Willamette Valley (Oregon), Yakima Valley (Washington), Virginia and Long Island.