I first visited Martinborough just over eight years ago, and now I was back. Part of the Wairarapa, it has been an important region for Pinot Noir in New Zealand, but of late has flown under the radar a bit. Martinborough itself is a lovely place to spend some time. It’s incredibly compact, and you could realistically spend a day visiting some of the top producers, walking from one to another. The Wairarapa wine region has now been renamed as Wellington Wine Country. The problem with Wairarapa is that for marketing purposes, it’s far too close to Waipara, the main valley in the North Canterbury wine region. The sentiment among many of the producers I visited is that they are willing to give Wellington Wine Country a go, but everyone needs to get behind it to make this stick.
One of my favourite visits back in 2010 was with Dry River, one of New Zealand’s most famous boutique wineries. Things have changed a bit here since then, but the wines are still just as good, and just as hard to get your hands on. Wilco Lamm, the winemaker, was out of town, so I tasted with Sarah Bartlett, the marketing and communications manager. Sarah was great, and she even showed me around the winery, which is much smaller than you’d expect.
Now there are 11.5 hectares of vineyards in three vineyards: Lovat, Craighall and Dry River Estate Block. The viticulture here has changed a bit. The Extenday (the white fabric used previously to reflect sunlight back into the canopy) has gone, and Dry River is in conversion to Organics (it will be certified in 2019).
We had a look at the vineyard. 1979 saw the first plantings here, and the Pinot Noir we looked at was planted in 1981.
From 2017, the winemaking is all with indigenous yeasts. I the past Dry River have been criticised in some quarters for being quite interventionist, but in truth, these wines do age well and are quite beautiful, young and old. The public agrees: half of the production is now sold to the mail order list. As you can see from my scores, I’m a big fan of these wines.
Dry River Riesling Craighall Vineyard 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$47. Refined, concentrated and quite mineral with lovely citrus, wax and savoury spiciness. Compact and taut, and bone dry, with lovely intensity to the fruit. Lovely wine, especially considering the vintage, but this was picked before the crazy rain event. 94/100
Dry River Chardonnay 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$65. Good concentration with lovely nuts, spice and minerals. Has some bready depth here with lovely mouthfeel. Nice focus with some appley notes under the pear and white peach fruit. Assured and quite refined with good acidity and focus, as well as some depth. Released to mail order list and sold out in five hours! 93/100
Dry River Gewurztraminer Lovat Vineyard 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
Such lovely aromatics with lychee, baked apple and some rose petal. Nice texture and weight on the palate with sweet pear and melon hints and a fine spiciness. Lovely detail to this wine. 93/100
Dry River Gewurztraminer Lovat Vineyard Botrytis Bunch Selection 2018 Martinborough, New Zealand
Just 1000 bottles made. Intense and concentrated with lovely sweet spiciness. Apricot, peach and pear with some table grape. Very spicy, with richness and sweetness and a long finish. Such complexity and balance. 97/100
Dry River Pinot Noir 2016 Martinborough, New Zealand
$100. There’s a purity and intensity to this wine with focused raspberry and cherry fruit. Linear, very correct and very pure with good concentration and structure. Such precision to this wine: it’s ripe but incredibly balanced and should age beautifully, with a bit of crunch to the raspberry fruit. Delivers pleasure now but has promise for the future. 96/100
Dry River Pinot Noir 2011 Martinborough, New Zealand
Supple and sappy with lovely red cherries on the nose. Fine and really elegant with a stony, mineral detail and absolute precision. Ageing beautifully with incredible refinement and fresh red cherry and raspberry fruit. 96/100
Dry River The Twelve Spies 2017 Martinborough, New Zealand
$65. This is a red blend that’s 50% Pinot, 25% Tempranillo, 25% Syrah. Lovely floral, expressive nose with fine red fruits and some white pepper. The palate is fresh, vivid and detailed with lovely sappy red cherries and raspberries. Lovely pure berry fruits are the main theme. Has a hint of pepper spice and incredible freshness and purity. Superb stuff. 95/100
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com