Wine tasting amongst the mountains. Central Otago, New Zealand

When I think about wine regions in NZ, I go straight to Marlborough. It’s well known and I don’t mind a Marlborough Sav Blanc. When planning my recent (and first) trip to New Zealand South Island, Marlborough was initially on the to-do list. But after considering our time frame, and other destinations, we determined it wasn’t to be this time. So we incorporated wine tasting in Central Otago into our itinerary. Having never visited this area before and not being familiar with region’s wine, I had no idea what to expect. What I discovered was delicious wine, incredible views and friendly, genuine people. I fell a bit in love with Alexandra and Bannockburn.

We stayed in Alexandra for a few days in early January, lodging in a cabin at an airport. It seemed a bit odd at first, but it was a perfect location for our wine tasting strategy. Consulting the Central Otago Wine Map, A Guide to Wineries & Vineyards, we made a list of potential cellar doors to visit. From the airport (light, recreational planes only), we enjoyed incredible 360 degree mountain views. At the back of the airport, the vineyards began. Making our way down the hill from the airport, we drove a short distance to our first winery, Judge Rock Wines. This cellar door set the tone for our wine tasting experiences in this region. On arrival, we were warmly greeted by Angela and shown to an outdoor table in the backyard. A couple, repeat customers, were already enjoying a tasting and we sat down to join them. This relaxed, friendly tasting highlighted the beautiful regional wine, mostly Pinot Noir. We sampled several vintages of Pinot Noir, the Rosé, and the St Laurent, a variety I had never tried before. The 2014 Pinot Noir, winner of Best Pinot Noir & Best Red Wine Trophies at the Australia & NZ Boutique wine Awards 2016, was definitely my pick of the wines from our tasting. The trophy wins were well deserved. My dad was lucky enough to receive a bottle of this magnificent red wine as a birthday present. This small boutique winery produces some impressive wine, the tasting was enlightening and fun and I was very happy we chose to visit.

Discover Judge Rock Wines

We also visited Hinton Estate. I enjoyed the wine, but it was not the kind of tasting experience I appreciate. It was impersonal and I learned nothing about the wines or the winery. At this cellar door, I paid for my selection of 4 wines and sat a table to drink them.  For me, it felt like having a drink at a bar, not tasting wine at a cellar door. Although it was a disappointing experience, I purchased a bottle of the fruity, light and yummy rosé, and I highly rated the huge, juicy cherries we bought here.

As we approached Bannockburn the next day, we spotted the vineyards across a river, rows of vines making their way up the hill. It was spectacular. I couldn’t wait to get over there!



Ceres Wines was our first Bannockburn stop. A chilled out, if somewhat bored looking, cellar door dog sat happily near the door and was unconcerned as we walked past. We received friendly, informative service at this cellar door as we sampled the Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. We learned about the challenges associated with looking after the vines on a hill, such as the equipment and cost involved, as we looked out at the picturesque vines. With a bottle of Pinot Gris tucked under my arm, we left the cellar door and drove slowly down the driveway as we took in the incredible scenery.

Discover Ceres Wines

Our next stop was Akarua’s Bannockburn cellar door, the only large winery we visited. When we arrived the cellar door was full yet we were accommodated quickly. I enjoyed tasting a variety of Akarua’s Pinot Noir, the Pinot Gris, the Brut and the Pinot Noir Rosé and we received plenty of friendly attention despite the large amount of customers. We purchased a bottle of the delightfully spicy 2015 Pinot Noir and our space at the cellar door was quickly snapped up as we left. Based on our experience at this cellar door, I am keen to try more Akarua wines.



Bannock Brae Wines was the sparkling gem of our Central Otago wine tasting experience. As it turned out, we left the best for last. From the truly incredible view from the car park to the friendly, interesting, personalised service, this was a special cellar door experience. We were greeted at the door and advised tastings were usually held outside but because it was a bit cold and windy, we could have our tasting at the kitchen table. Another group was sitting in the adjoining lounge room for their tasting. At Bannock Brae Wines we tried some different varieties, including Dry Riesling and Grüner Veltliner, as well as their Pinot Noir and Rosé. All the wines were delicious, well balanced and intriguing, and it was exciting to try varieties and styles we hadn’t come across anywhere else. We learned about the history of the winery and the styles they loved producing. Upon leaving this winery, we gazed at the view again and marvelled at this amazing and memorable vineyard.


Discover Bannock Brae Wines

What goes better with wine than cheese? When we were in Oamaru, we drove past Whitestone Cheese Co in an industrial area. I was intrigued. In Dunedin, we picked up their Vintage Windsor Blue from a supermarket and it was delicious! It became one of my favourite blue cheeses ever. In another supermarket we picked up a variety pack, containing Livingstone Gold, Aged Airedale, Totara Tasty and another Windsor Blue (hooray!), and these amazing cheeses were the perfect accompaniment for the fantastic wines we picked up in Central Otago.

Discover Whitestone Cheese Co


Whitestone Cheese Co Vintage Windsor Blue


For me, wine tasting in Central Otago can be summed up by my experience in New Zealand South Island as a whole – mind blowing scenery, genuinely passionate and friendly people and outstanding, deliciously fresh produce. While Marlborough is part of the plan for next time, so is another visit to Central Otago for more tastings of the exquisite regional wines.


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