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Toasting Martinborough

By November 19, 2011No Comments
The afternoon before Toast Martinborough 2011, a small number of media writers were offered the opportunity of tasting through a range of Martinborough wines showing diversity in white varieties, a selection of current release Pinot Noirs and a number of older Pinot Noirs. The wines showed how successful the Martinborough region is with its whites, and the proven strength of the Pinot Noir grape in the district, especially with its ability to keep well and develop with interest. The wines were tasted blind in the attractive and serene setting of Brackenridge. Here are my comments on the wines that took my attention:
 
White Wines
Of the wines shown, around a third each were Rieslings and Chardonnays, the remainder a mix. Riesling is being touted as the next significant and successful variety, despite Sauvignon Blanc being the second most planted grape in the district. The Vynfields Sparkling Riesling 2011 is an attractive new take, off-dry with lively, lifted aromatic fruit in an off-dry style that should have strong general appeal. It will be interesting to see how it develops. Exceptionally pure with limes and minerals, the dry Kusuda Riesling 2011 is classically built and one to keep. Showing where the Kusuda may go is the Ata Rangi ‘Craighall’ Riesling 2009, dry and very fine-textured with textbook toasty complexities. I remember seeing this on release and its austerity then seemed a little daunting, but now it has blossomed beautifully. And a surprisingly delectable wine is the Te Kairanga Riesling 2005, fully mature with honey and toast, a little oxidation, but utterly harmonious and integrated. The variation in style, interest from bottle-age and ability to keep certainly confirms Riesling’s place near the top with Pinot Noir in Martinborough.

The ‘other white’ varietals came next, I was impressed with the style of The Elder Pinot Gris 2011, showing a well-handled off-dry style with excellent oaking interest and stylish textures. Also making its mark was the Margrain Chenin Blanc 2010, dry, lithe and slippery with a lovely lime and floral lift. The Escarpment Pinot Blanc 2010 is more nutty and oxidative, showing barrel-work textures and a departure from the tank-made earlier releases. The Dry River Viognier 2010 is another wine with a difference, carrying some residual sugar, but the finesse of mouthfeel and brightness of exotic fruit aromas and flavours is first-rate. And while not challenging the great examples from the Hunter Valley, TheCabbage Tree Semillon 2009 shows ripeness and absolutely no herbaceousness, and a subtle, satisfying vinosity.

The Chardonnays were a strong group, the wines needing some time to open out in the glass to show how much had been built into them. On first taste, they certainly looked tight and closed, The Nga Waka Chardonnay 2010 is a full, rich and bold, mouthfilling wine that manages to keep a sense of restraint by a whisker. More European with its quieter expression is The Cabbage Tree Chardonnay 2009, dry, with nutty oak. The Palliser Estate Chardonnay 2009 is a contemporary example, elegant, stonefruit and complex reduction in just the right amount, and becoming more lush and serious in the glass. And a more traditional, ‘old-fashioned’ wine, the Te Kairanga ‘Runholder’ Chardonnay 2008, warm, nutty, and very toasty, made in an oxidative, complex style.

I found the white wine group very pleasing with their diversity and quality, and they certainly add considerable interest to what is a Pinot Noir dominant growing region.
 
Current Release Pinot Noirs
This was a very instructive group of wines consisting of approximately even numbers of 2010 and 2009 vintage wines. The 2010s are seen as the result of a generally cooler harvest, with less ripe fruit characters than 2009 and 2008. Variability in style and less consistency across the different producers’ wines tasted came through, but there are some lovely, well-made and wonderfully balanced wines. The Elder Pinot Noir 2010 is bright and intense with fleshy, lush dark plum flavours and possessing excellent structure. The Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2010 is indeed a smaller-scale wine compared to their 2009 and 2008, but it has an excellent core of quality fruit and seems ‘perfectly formed’. Lighter in expression, the Kusuda Pinot Noir 2010 has gentle red fruits with a peacock’s tail of a finish with oak, spices and dried herbs, all quite exotic and an extravaganza of flavours. Capturing good ripeness and sweetness, the Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2010 has vibrant fruit and excellent proportion too. And the Nga Waka Pinot Noir 2010 is a big, robust number with dried herb fruitiness allied to dark berries, all solidly presented.
The 2009s were more even, maybe a result of an extra year in bottle, allowing integration and greater tannin resolution. The Te Kairanga ‘John Martin Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2009 soft, plush and rich with oak spices and nutty interest looks to be one to be able to enjoy now. A more delicate, cooler style, with the firmness to allow more bottle development is the Brody Estate Pinot Noir 2009. This should develop in a more elegant way. A standout in this group was the Escarpment Pinot Noir 2009, ripe, with depth and grip, yet plenty of fruit for balance, and the potential to continue developing. Also one with the ability to develop is the stylish Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2009, black fruited with complexing nuances and fine textures, resulting in some elegance. Showing some pleasing development from the last time I tasted it, the Dry River Pinot Noir 2009 exhibits attractive red fruits with dried herb and savoury nuances just starting to appear. It too has elegance, and it is a far cry from the Syrah-style a number of critics deem it to be. It is classical Pinot Noir in every respect. And a new label for me, Big Sky Pinot Noir 2009, concentrated dark berry fruits, lush and primary, with a minerally undercurrent.
 
Older Release Pinot Noir
Most of this group were from the much lauded 2006 vintage, described as ‘perfect’ at the time. I felt the gloss had rubbed off somewhat, with time in bottle, and any deficiencies hidden at the time revealing themselves now. Rich and fruitcakey, with an array of primary and secondary flavours, and a touch of reductive complexity, the Vynfields Pinot Noir 2006 looked one of the leaders in this group. Well-integrated with cedar, spice and milk chocolate notes, the Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2006 is one to enjoy now. Exhibiting the classic mushroom and forest-floor traits, the Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 2006 has a sweetness at the core that will allow it to continue to develop with interest. The 2005 vintage was one with very low yields and tannin management was an issue. The ‘regular’ Escarpment Pinot Noir 2005 seems to have got it all right. Solid, full, structured, with big earthy dark fruit to match. I recollect the 2005 Escarpment ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir, not tasted here, seeming over-done in comparison. The Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 has developed beautifully too, gamey, but with great elegance and harmony. However, its balance will enable more time ahead. For a very difficult year, the Alana Estate Pinot Noir 2004 is still hanging in there. Somewhat herbal in outlook and light in weight, the finish is marked by sweetness where most 2004s have dried out. The Dry River Pinot Noir 2001 has also faded, but this retains an ethereal fragrance that is noteworthy. 10 year old Martinborough Pinot Noir can still be interesting if not exciting.
The final wine gives a nod to the variety that has the potential to possibly be something great in the region. Martinborough Vineyard Syrah/Viognier 2009, with archetype spicy black fruits, restrained pepper and a soft, sumptuous mouthfeel without being over the top. Syrah performs superbly in Hawke’s Bay, and Marlborough releases have been received very well internationally, so why not Martinborough?
 

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