Not quite all the way to the end of South Island, this region features the world's most southern vineyards. More dramatic temperature swings and extremes mark the area and pinot noir dominates the plantings by nearly ten times over the nearest competitor (pinot gris). They are also the highest vineyards in New Zealand (600-1,000 feet) and the furthest inland.
The vineyards can see snow before the end of harvest and hillside plantings are the norm, both increasing exposure to sunlight and minimizing the risk of frost damage. Overall the soil is loam and silt with pockets of schists adding minerality and complexity to the wines.
The pinot noirs show a deeper color than anywhere else in New Zealand and exhibit darker fruit aromas and flavors as well.
Overall, I have been very impressed with pinot noirs from Central Otago and remain optimistic about what's to come. My experience with other grapes from the area is limited to Felton Road's riesling which I enjoyed immensely. More delicate and round than some of my favorite Aussie (some recommendations ) offerings but not so soft as to be flabby. Their pinots are worth seeking out as well. Gerry Rowland, of Rowland Cellars, makes my favorite pinot but he only distributes in a few states and I'm not even sure he produces it any longer.
Again, this is a region a little below the radar in the States, with lots of competition from domestic pinot noir, so the available options are slim.
Next up, we go to North Island.