Martinborough Pinot Noir: a retrospective   
Tasting some of the best, across several vintages, from one of New Zealand's most exciting regions for Pinot Noir

This was a memorable evening. Neil McCallum of Dry River one of top producers in Martinborough (and, indeed, New Zealand) hosted a group of international wine writers for a retrospective tasting of Martinborough Pinot Noir (he's pictured above). From each vintages from 2004 to 2007 we tasted five of the top wines. Some names cropped up fairly frequently; others just made one or two appearances. But all were really interesting. After the formal tasting, things got a bit more informal over dinner, as we tasted more bottles, including some lovely Syrahs a grape variety that I think has a good future in this region. Pictured below are some of the tasters - if you look hard you'll spot Neal Martin, Leslie Sbrocco, Tim Atkin, Matthew Jukes, Oz Clarke, Tyson Stelzer, James Halliday and a few others.

But the story of the evening, of course, was Pinot Noir. Martinborough, at the foot of New Zealand's North Island, not far from the capital city of Wellington, is a very interesting region for this variety. Unfortunately for consumers, the region has a bit of an identity crisis. Rather than being called Martinborough (which everyone can recognize), the name for the region as a whole is Wairarapa (confusingly similar to another Pinot Noir specialist region, Waipara), with three subdistricts - Gladstone, Martinborough and Masterton, although it is more likely to be the first two that you'll see on a bottle. Sometimes, geographical accuracy should be sacrificed for the good of all the producers in the region, particularly when soils and climates are pretty similar across all three subregions. 


2004 was a very wet year, with close to average heat. There were larger crops than normal and some fruit thinning was necessary. There was excessive canopy vigour and late summer rains increased the risk of disease and dilution. It was the most challenging of recent vintages.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2004
Sweet and focused with nice spicy minerality. Very expressive, and maturing nicely with cherries, herbs and earth. Good complexity and nice sweet elegance. 94/100

Dry River Pinot Noir 2004
Sweet and rich on the nose with a liqueur-like edge to the fruit, showing bold cherry and berry fruit with a hint of iodine. Nice acidity. Good purity with spicy, mineral and earth notes. A big fruity wine, but elegant with it. 94/100

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2004
Open, herby cherry and spice nose with some soy notes. The palate is sweetly fruited with warm spicy notes and fresh herbal characters. Attractive and open. 91/100

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2004
Quite open, pure and elegant cherry fruit on the nose. Bright focused cherry and spice palate with good acidity. Expressive style. 92/100

Schubert Pinot Noir 2004
Lovely warm herbal, spicy palate with open smooth cherry fruit. Quite structured. Some nice subtly earthy evolution. Most evolved of the flight, and elegant. 92/100


2005 saw 938 mm rain, which is significantly above the average, and was a slightly cooler year than normal. Crops were tiny, at 1/2 ton/acre due to cold, damp conditions during flowering. This was probably the smallest crop ever seen in the region. A warm, late summer followed, with 239 mm rain in April which increased disease pressure, but the small crops proved quite resistant.

Dry River Pinot Noir 2005
Sweet, intense, pure, focused, structured and spicy with lovely impact of sweet raspberry and cherry fruit. Very structured and bold, but beautifully balanced with lovely freshness. Hard to spit. 96/100

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2005
Elegant and quite fresh with lovely open cherry and raspberry fruit, as well as some spiciness and a hint of zippy citrus acidity on the finish. Nicely structured with pure fruit. Stylish: the sticking out acidity on the finish is the only negative. 93/100

Mamaison Pinot Noir 2005
Iodine and mineral edge to the nose. The palate shows generous cherry fruit with some earthy sub-notes. Nicely structured, showing some non-fruit complexity. Quite evolved already. 91/100

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005
Sweet and sour cherry and berry fruit nose is open, quite fresh and berryish. The palate has high acid with a sweet and sour cherry character and a bit of earthiness under the fruit. Lively. 91/100

Vynfields Pinot Noir 2005
Savoury, earthy, herbal edge to the nose. The palate has a herby, undergrowthy character with some nice savoury complexity to the fruit. Unusual but interesting. 92/100


2006 saw below average rainfall (680 mm) and growing degree days about average (1070). There were small rather than tiny crops of 1-2 tons/acre. Early vine growth and canopy vigour were drought-limited, and there was average rain in March/April (80 mm, normally 100 mm). There was little disease pressure and the conditions were right for concentrated, tannic wines.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2006
Sweet, pure and quite lush with ripe fruit showing a liqueur-like edge. Lovely density and purity with nice spiciness. Good structure. A lovely wine with real focus and intensity. 95/100

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2006
Very rich, sweet and focused with lovely cherry and berry fruit purity, a bit of spice, and some lushness. The palate has real focus and elegance with good acidity. 94/100

Kusuda Wines Pinot Noir 2006
Beautiful elegance, purity and freshness. A brilliantly expressive wine with real purity and some nice sweetness to the cherry and berry fruit. Really integrated and harmonious. 95/100

Schubert Pinot Noir 2006
Warm, sweet, subtly herbal nose. The palate shows lovely ripe, sweet, elegant fruit. It's quite rich but it's balanced. Very satisfying. 94/100

Vynfields Pinot Noir 2006
Sweet, rich and bright with lovely sweet cherry and raspberry fruit. Generous, rich, bold and structured. Very ripe and yet just in balance. Very big for a Pinot Noir. 93/100


2007 saw very small crops of 0.5-1 ton/acre because of frost damage during spring. As in 2005 there were reduced berry numbers per bunch and reduced berry weight. Rainfall of 730 mm was normal and canopies were well balanced.

Alana Pinot Noir 2007
Very concentrated, intense and spicy with rich, bold, dark cherry and raspberry fruit. Lovely bold flavours and nice freshness. Dense, spicy, structured and thrilling. 94/100

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir 2007
Smooth, polished and quite elegant cherry fruit with real poise. Lovely structure: quite firm and tannic but also showing bright cherry fruit. Supple. 93/100

Kusuda Pinot Noir 2007
Wonderfully elegant floral, spicy, meaty nose showing some exotic notes. The palate is superbly elegant with sweet, mellow fruit and lovely structure. Subtle meaty notes mesh with the red cherry and plum fruit, leading to a long, spicy finish. 96/100

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2007
Smooth, pure, sweet dark cherry fruit nose with some lovely focus. There's a fresh spiciness and nice citrus acidity. Fresh, juicy and focused. 92/100

Pond Paddock Pinot Noir 2007
Sweet, ripe, pure elegant style with lovely focus of fruit. Fresh cherries and plums. It's quite open and berryish in an attractive style. Delicious. 93/100


Part 1,Martinborough Pinot Noir: a remarkable vertical tasting
Part 2, Dry River
Part 3, Ata Rangi
Part 4, Gladstone Vineyard
Part 5, Martinborough Vineyard
Part 6, Cambridge Road
Part 7, Escarpment
Part 8, Palliser Estate

See also:

Visiting Central Otago (series)

Wines tasted 02/10  
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