Mohua: Mo’ Value from Central Otago


“Try some Mohua…”

‘Fess up: I’ve worked Detroit restaurants where the response would be, “Try some mo’ whatta?”

At that point, one of two things would be in order.  Either a tutorial on Central Otago, where the Mohua (pronounced like it sounds, mo-who-ah) label is producing amazing, nuanced wines in a remote, relentlessly rugged region that even penguins find a bit nippy.  That, or I’d make a trip to the wine cellar for the Reserve List—reserved because the wines on it come in internationally significant flavors like Banana Red and Electric Melon and retail at liquor stores for $1.99—though being a typical sommelier, I’d mark them up to $40.

Opting For the Former…

Central Otaga—central because it is in the middle of Otago in New Zealand’s South Island—is the world’s most southerly wine growing region.  Summers there are dry-za-bone arid and ferociously hot while winter temperatures dip seriously into negatives.

One of Central Otago’s landmarks is called Mt. Difficulty—‘nuff said?

In such a climate, the heartiest vines kvetch and kwibble—and pinot noir?  Most wine-wise folks consider pinot noir to be the Maria Callas of grapes—temperamental, coddle-hungry and full of silly contract riders.

Jancis 'No, My Name Is Not A Typo' Robinson

And yet, Central Otago is an unblushing pinot noir success story.   In fact, according to Master of Wine Jancis Robinson:  “Many believe that [Central Otago] is where the pinot grail is to be found.”

A remarkable statement; the more so considering that most wine people weren’t aware that the pinot grail was missing—in fact, I’m pretty sure I drank from it myself at a wine bar between Romanée-Conti and Richebourg in the Côte de Nuits, where they’ve been pumping out barrels of bricky beauties since the fourteenth century.  The comment is even more remarkable when you consider that the first commercial pinot noir was produced in C.O. a scant twenty-four years ago—Gibbston Valley, 1987, by pinot pioneer Alan Brady.

Greg Hay

And Mohua? It’s Even Newa…

Named after a sneaky little wad of feathers that flits around the rain forest (not be confused with Moesha, who flits around the rerun forest), Mohua has only been around since 1998, and percolates from the Peregrine pipeline under the management of Greg Hay.  At around eighteen dollars a bottle, it’s a bargain—an advantage that those Burgundian ingénues rarely bring to the table.  No doubt, that’s partly responsible for Ms. Robinson’s heady declaration, since under-$20 Burgundy is as rare as mohua teeth and tends to be beanstalk thin, testily tart, often fruit-challenged and is inevitably classified as ‘Bourgogne Rouge’—meaning the wine is not vineyard specific—and though it’s supposed to be pinot noir, it’s guaranteed that from time to time, some gamay slips into the vendange basket.

Were I to again slip my silver tastevin over my grizzled head, I’d set you up a blind tasting—an eighteen dollar 2008 pinot noir-off; Otago versus Burgundy, Mohua versus Michel Picard Bourgogne, Domaine Lignier-Michelot Bourgogne—even 2008 Meurger Bourgogne, which is said to have ‘the soul of a 1er Cru’.  (The soul maybe, but not the nose or the palate).

Sip them, swirl them, sniff them, slurp them; then select—or trust a sommelier’s spidey-sense:

For my money, Mohua is much mo’ betta.


Before we get to Tasting Notes, there will be a brief spot quiz on the tutorial:  Which of the following is native to Central Otago:

L to R: Moe Howard, Moesha, Mohua, Mohasky


Tasting Notes:

Mohua Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2008, about $19:  Lemony brightness on the nose along with red cherries and a dry leaf earthiness.  Given some air, the wine opens up splendidly, showing cranberry, kirsch and sweet cherry along with balsam and some light loamy undertones.  Firmly acidic and touched with limestone; I paired it with a wedge of Russian rossiyski cheese and realized that the pas de deux was long overdeux.

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