Wellington Wine Country (2) Ata Rangi, one of New Zealand's top wineries

Martinborough pioneer Ata Rangi is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated wineries, and so I was quite excited to be able to catch up with winemaker Helen Masters to taste through recent releases. Helen had just got back from the UK the day before, so it was very cool that she rocked up to conduct the tasting. It was a good one, too, with a nice energy, and the wines showed really well. Helen has been here for 15 years now, and she’s making some stunning wines.

As with many of New Zealand’s wine regions, the last two vintages were a bit tricky. 2017 was very cool in Martinborogh. 2018 was warmer, so the skin were thinner. Coupled with higher humidity levels, though, there was the potential for trouble. ‘We did OK so we picked when the tannins were ripe,’ says Helen. ‘When the cyclone came through we had the majority of the Pinot through. The wines are very pretty and there’s something really interesting about them, but if you stuck them next to 2013 (a classic year), you’d wonder whether they were from the same place.’ She says that the 2018 wines will be softer and more open.

Ata Rangi Dry Riesling Craighall 2013
An acre of vines across the road that Dry River used to use. When Craighall sold they bought the bare land and we had the existing vineyard. The vines are 30 years old and 2013 is the current release. Whole bunch press, settled overnight and racked. Taut and limey on the nose. Vivid with a hint of toast and a keen lime oil note. Has some grunt and structure. Pure and focused with lovely lemony freshness on the finish. Has substance. 91/100

Sauvignon Blanc
Since 2014 Helen has been using 10% fermented with skins (600 litre barrels with hatches, then when it finishes fermenting it is topped up and left for 2 months). In 2017 she did another 5% for whole bunch, fermented for a month, and with no sulfur added to the juice. The reason for the skin contact is that the old vine fruit has such lovely flavour, and it wasn’t coming through in the wine. So the whole bunch gives galangal (a Thai root that is used in soups), and the skins give mandarin, ginger and exotic spice. The stems give and earthy sweetness. Also, Helen says she always wants more texture in the wine. It’s hand sorted hand-picked fruit sent over a sorting table. Helen doesn’t want any botrytis in there.

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautifully aromatic with lovely ginger, mandarin and herb notes, as well as a touch of elderflower. Lovely vivid palate with some green, nettley notes and powerful fruit. It’s not a big wine, but it has real presence and drive. Good structure, too. Linear with a nice mineral edge. 93/100

Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc 2018 Martinborough, New Zealand 
There’s a lovely ripeness and roundness here, with a faint hint of nice reduction, together with white peach, grapefruit and fine herbs, as well as a touch of tangerine. Understated and pure with nice precision. A hint of jasmine, too. 92/100

Chardonnay
Whole-bunch pressed, juice from press tray to barrel, no sulfur. Tiny bit of lees stirring as primary starts to slow down. Malolactic: whatever starts spontaneously, so in cooler years aim for 100%. Don’t add sulfur until quite late. All 300 litre barrels, 25% new. Some of the ferments take a year to complete. No sulfites in the juice means that the wine feels more integrated earlier.

‘Vine age means that you can pick early and still get ripe flavours,’ says Helen. ‘It’s not often now that you see a green gnarly wine.’

Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Good flavours at low Brix this year. Linear and fine with nice toast and spice. Lovely bready detail. Quite savoury and has good acidity, with some nuttiness and lean pear and lemon fruit. Real precision to this wine. 94/100

Ata Rangi Chardonnay 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Delicate but not lacking in flavour with lemons, pears and some ripe apple character. Fine, expressive toast and nut characters in the background. This has a lovely drive to it: fresh and lemony with lovely weight and delicacy. Pretty and expressive. 94/100

Pinot Noir
It’s all hand picked, varying levels of whole bunch (Ata Rangi tends to have 35-40% whole bunch), minimal use of sulfur (just spray the top of the ferments). The big thing is the picking date. Traditionally they have done longer macerations, then to barrel, spring malolactic, racked and not fined or filtered. The biggest factor is the picking date.

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
No enzymes, added yeasts, minimal sulfur, no fining and filtering. Looking to make a wine with some savouriness. Younger vines, 16 or 17 years old. Very fruity with bright raspberry and cherry fruit with a bit of grip. Nice crunchiness and purity here. Deliciously focused and fruity. 93/100

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
Juicy, sappy and quite tight with some reductive hints. The cool vintage has given some keen acidity with perfumed, herbal aromatics, bright raspberry fruit with a bit of grip. Sappy, fresh and structured with good acidity. This has an acid frame and it’s delicious, with a peppercorn. 93/100

2016 will be released in a month, and the 2017 the following year

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
This has lovely freshess and detail. It has a core of red cherry and plum fruit with good acidity, and some grippy tannins. Lovely perfume and a chiselled red fruit character supported by good tannins. Has clarity and it isn’t trying to be too big. It is hanging off the acid, but it’s at ease with itself. 94/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
They started with the McCrone vineyard in 2001. It’s right next door, with an 800 mm layer of clay above the gravels. Planted in 2001 with 45% Abel, 15% Pommard and 50% Dijon clones. The tannins can be quite big because of the clay. Shows a lovely perfumed sappy whole bunch character on the nose. There’s precision, purity, focus and elegance on the palate. So pretty and linear with raspberries and cherries and hints of sappy undergrowth and fine spices. Good structure. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
There’s lovely direct raspberry and cherry fruit here with some finesse. Has ripe raspberry, redcurrant and cherry notes with a slight sappiness and good structure. There’s definitely some grip and savoury seriousness here, as well as very pretty fruit. So fine and expressive, this has nice detail and should age beautifully, but it’s no sin to drink it young. 95/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Brooding with a lovely green sappy undercurrent to the floral red and black cherry fruit. Some herbs and undergrowth. There’s real presence on the palate with vivid black cherry and plum fruit and good structure. Shows incredible presence, mixing the red and black fruit and the savoury structure and detail really well. There’s a vintage similarity that binds these two together (17 is more savoury, acid driven; 16 is deeper and brooding), but then you taste the vineyard too. 97/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Complex with lovely fine spiciness. There are hints of mint and herbs, together with concentrated, seamless cherry and raspberry fruit. Has good structure with a compact nature and firms tannins. Dry, tight, intense with floral detail and nice length and definition. This has lots of potential to develop with firmness, good acidity and some appealing savouriness. Great concentration and freshness. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir McCrone Vineyard 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
Leafy green, undergrowth notes on the nose with lovely prettiness. The palate is fresh and detailed with nice fleshy red berry fruits. Has grip and structure with some firmness and a nice acid core. Really taut and structural with a dry finish. Has masses of potential. 96/100

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand
Nice fruit set in 2014, and the canopy was quite healthy with regular rain, and the autumn was normal. It was too normal and nice, but the wine is a bit old school and maybe less exciting, according to Helen. This has lovely freshness and brightness with fresh raspberries and cherries. There’s some grippy structure here, but also some nice fleshiness to the fruit. Good structure and precision, with nice tannins. Fine herbal hints, but also a lovely core of acidity. Very fine and expressive. Beautiful integrated green notes here. Broody and quite heavy, but ageing well. 95/100

Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014 Martinborough, New Zealand
Concentrated, dense and structured with grippy raspberry and berry fruits. Very fresh and expressive but very sinewy and tough with robust structure and real intensity. A sold, slightly square, angular wine. Dense and very 2014. It was after this vintage that Helen began doing some whole bunch. 93/100

Ata Rangi Juliet 2015 Martinborough, New Zealand
12.3% alcohol. Syrah from Kahu vineyard in the village. Syrah top grafted onto Cabernet Sauvignon, first made in 2013. Vibrant and edgy with linear, floral peppery fruit. Juicy and linear and with pure red fruits. Floral, lean and bright with lovely grip and focus. So pretty and expressive with real focus and finesse. A very pretty wine. 95/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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