Three visits in Martinborough, on a Sunday where I could have been playing cricket. An English touring side with connections to the wine trade were playing a Kiwi side, and I’d been asked. But I’m conscientious, so I denied the English my slow-medium in-duckers in favour of my schedule, only to find that two of the proprietors I were visiting were playing themselves. The English lost.
The cricket would have been fun, but the visits were superb. I was with Aussie sommelier and wine buyer Sophie Otton and her husband Stephen, who were great company, and proved admirable late night drinking companions later in the week.
First visit was Palliser, with winemakers Alan Johnson and Pip Goodwin. Palliser were one of the five pioneer wineries here, founded by Richard Riddiford back in 1985. Richard’s still the owner some 28 years later, and the wines have established a great reputation.
Alan explained that he used to be quite excited about the Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, which became available from 1995 onwards. ‘But it turns out the place they are grown, and how they are grown have the biggest impact,’ he says. ‘Clones are an important part, but the site and season has the greatest impact. People had been critical of the old 10×5 clone, but it made some great wines in the 1990s.’
Pinot Noir is the main story at Palliser, but the Sauvignon is also lovely, and the Riesling is lovely. We tried the 2011 and 2001 – and both were great. The older wine was toasty, rich, complex and highly convincing. I also really liked the 2011 Palliser Chardonnay, which showed lovely precision and complexity.
The Palliser Pinot Noir style is a rich, dense one, but the wines avoid jamminess, showing lovely depth, freshness and complexity. 2009 and 2007 were both pretty compelling, with the latter, from a short crop, being almost Syrah like in its intensity.
The small production dog series wines – named after deceased hounds related to Palliser – are all top-notch, in a ripe, rich style. The Great Marco 2009 was my favourite: lush, ripe and intense but still brilliantly expressive.
The second visit was Ata Rangi, one of the legendary names of Kiwi Pinot. We tasted with Ali Paton, Clive’s sister. Clive was playing cricket, and winemaker Helen Masters was already in Wellington. Ali gave us a great tasting, including a vertical of Pinot Noir.
Again, Pinot Noir is not the only attraction here. Craighall Riesling 2009, Lismore Pinot Gris 2012, 2005 Craighall Chardonnay all tops. 2008, 2009 Chardonnay not far behind. Of the Pinots, 2003 and 2006 blew me away, the first with its focused structure and hints of iodine, and the 2006 with its smooth focused fruit. 2010 was the best of all, with beautiful perfume. 2008 and 2011 were very good indeed; 2001 was in the shadows, beginning to fade.
Ata Rangi also make a Syrah. The 2009 is a thrilling cool climate expression of this variety.
So, on to the third visit. Craggy Range have one of Martinborough’s biggest vineyards: the Te Muna Road, with 80 hectares. We tried a range of tank/barrel samples in the vineyard with the two Craggy winemakers, Amy Hopkinson and Matt Stafford.
Te Muna Riesling is lively, pure and precise in the 2012 vintage. The 2012 Block 4, a blend of four aromatic varieties, is a striking wine and will be released as a special bottling – very Alsace in style.
It was interesting to try different blocks of Pinot Noir, with different clonal make-up. My favourite was Block 2, which is clone 113, with 40% whole bunch. Fine, with real finesse and elegance. I would happily
seek out and buy this if it were bottled separately. A blend of the Aroha Pinot Noir 2012 was also quite special. All the different clones had their own personality: Abel, 113, 114, 667. It’s really educational to see this.
We left Martinborough for Wellington with Amy and Matt, and had a cracking dinner in the Matterhorn, beginning with some nice beers from Emersons, and graduating on to the Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, which is one of my favourite Kiwi expressions of the variety. All was well set for the week ahead.