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Being in the south of New Zealand's lower island, there is no question of the fact that Central Otago is the most southerly wine region on earth. However, despite its rather extreme positioning, the past century or so has proven that Central Otago is in fact something of an idyllic area for viticulture, being shielded by the harsh, oceanic climate by a mountain range which results in a favorable micro climate. Indeed, the region enjoys long, hot and dry summers followed by pleasant autumns, perfect for ripening grapes. This did not go unnoticed by early French settlers in the 19th century, and before long, vineyards were being planted on the sides of vast glacial valleys, and even the earliest results were promising. Today, Central Otago produces an impressive quantity of wine, mostly made with the ever-present Pinot Noir grape varietal, and exports it all over the world.
Of all the white wine grape varietals, surely the one which has spread the furthest and is most widely appreciated is the Chardonnay. This green skinned grape is now grown all over the Old and New Worlds, from New Zealand to the Americas, from England to Chile, and is one of the first varietals people think of when considering white wine grapes. Perhaps this is because of its huge popularity which reached a peak in the 1990s, thanks to new technologies combining with traditional methods to bring the very best features out of the Chardonnay grape, and allow its unique qualities to shine through. Most fine Chardonnay wines use a process known as malolactic fermentation, wherein the malic acids in the grape juice are converted to lactic acids, allowing a creamier, buttery nature to come forward in the wine. No grape varietal is better suited to this process than Chardonnay, which manages to balance these silky, creamy notes with fresh white fruit flavors beautifully.
As with nearby Australia, New Zealand has over the past century proven itself to be a superb location for producing high quality wines in vast amounts, with much of the cooler regions of both islands being used primarily for vine cultivation. New Zealand wineries are notable for their enthusiasm in regards to experimentation, and for utilizing modern technologies and methods to make the most of the imported grape varietals which flourish in the rich, fertile soils and oceanic climate. In recent years, it has been the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines which have gained the most attention, as a result of their smoky character and ability to carry the mineral rich nature of the terroir they grow in. Changing consumer interests have brought about a considerable rise in the production of organic and sustainable wines in New Zealand, of which again, the Sauvignon Blanc varietals are leading the way in regards to excellence, flavor and overall character.