Hello and happy holidays from New Zealand. Ruth and I have now visited the Central Otago, Martinborough, and Hawkes Bay wine regions and I have lots to report, but very little internet connectivity to do so. We’ve visited over 30 wine producers from all of these regions, and tried dozens of wines in wine bars and restaurants around the country. There’s some good wine in this country (and some bad). I’ll be writing up my visits to some of our favorite producers in the coming days (provided I can get a stable Internet connection) but for now I’ll write up some interesting individual wines from each region
This sleepy little farming community in the Wairarapa region of the North Island is home to some of the country’s oldest vines (old being relative at 25 years or so) and some of the longest running producers of wine in New Zealand. It’s a picturesque little place with lots of bed and breakfasts fit snugly on country lanes and lots of wide open green fields. This is Pinot Noir country, though many folks produce Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay along with the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc.
The 2004 and 2005 vintages (which are the predominant vintages on the market now) were not easy on Martinborough growers. Unseasonably cool weather in both years, with frost during bud break in 2004 and rain during flowering in 2005, made for somewhat lousy fruit in 2004 and dramatically reduced yields in 2005.
I’ve found some admirable qualities in Martinborough Pinot Noir, namely a deep Burgundian-style expression of dirt. These wines, at their best, have a lovely earthy character that is well balanced with sometimes spicy, sometimes deep red fruit. Despite these qualities, I have a hard time containing my disappointment at many of the wines I tasted. However, some of the 2006 wines I tasted from barrels indicate that in part, perhaps, I’ve picked the wrong year to come and evaluate the wines. I will be watching closely (and buying) when the 2006 wines hit the market.
2006 Palliser Riesling, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass, this wine has a floral nose with strong green and yellow apple aromas. In the mouth it is super lively, with fantastic acids and a good balance between unripe apple and floral flavors in a nice dry style with a crisp finish. 9
2006 Palliser Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
Lacking any discernable color, this wine has a nose of fresh-cut grass, rainwater, and hints of tropical fruit aromas mixed in. In the mouth it is perfectly balanced with a lovely body (surprising for a Sauvignon Blanc) with classic flavors of cut green grass and crisp citrus minerality. Excellent. 9/9.5
2006 Palliser Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Medium garnet in color this wine has a dark nose of wet dirt and mud with only the barest hint of red fruit showing through. In the mouth it again expresses soil first, then fruit, with flavors of sawdust, damp earth and then hints of cranberry and plum, before heading into a finish that has a light herbal greenness to it. 8.5
2006 Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass, this wine smells of pears and lychee fruit. In the mouth it expresses pear, grassy qualities, and a light herbal notes supported by good acids and a hint of minerality. 8.5/9
2006 Ata Rangi “Petrie” Chardonnay, Martinborough
Lacking any color, this wine has a light nose of buttercream frosting and buttered popcorn aromas. In the mouth it has very nice weight and balance with a nicely melded mix of buttery flavors and apple and pear fruit. It doesn’t carry through to as strong a finish as one might like, but is an excellent, well-made wine. 9
2005 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Medium garnet in color, this wine has an earthy nose of wet dirt coupled with juicy aromas of tart Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi). In the mouth it offers sour cherry as well as pickled plum fruit flavors nicely melded to damp earth and wet stone qualities that seem to be a striking characteristic of the region. The wine has a good length and a pleasant finish. 9
2000 Te Karainga Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass, this wine has an unusual, extremely fruit-driven nose of gooseberry and kiwifruit. In the mouth it is very tropical with a nice balance between passionfruit and kiwifruit flavors and tart lemon zest flavors. Not a typical New Zealand Sav Blanc by any means, but one for those who might not appreciate the more herbaceous end of the spectrum. 8.5
2004 Te Karainga “Runholder” Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Light garnet in color, this wine has a perfumed nose of floral aromas mixed with with rhubarb and cranberry notes. In the mouth it is tart, with primary flavors of raspberry, and sour plum, good acids and a light greenness or stemmy quality that also manifests in light tannins. No doubt a victim of the vintage, to a certain extent, but a very good effort. 8.5
2005 Te Karainga “John Martin” Reserve Pinot Noir, Martinborough
A lovely light ruby color, this wine has a nose of wet earth and mud. In the mouth it has nice acids and primary flavors of dried cherries and tart, pickled plum, mixed with green wood and a briary quality. 8.5
2006 Murdoch James “Blue Rock” Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass this wine has a nose of light citrus and gooseberry aromas without a trace of typical herbal or grassy qualities. In the mouth it is mostly mineral in nature with lovely pear and (surprisingly) peach flavors. Crisp, juicy and hard not to like. 8.5/9
2006 Murdoch James Rose of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Martinborough
Light blood red in the glass this wine has a nose of stewed cranberries and dried cherries. In the mouth it offers similar, light stewed cranberry flavors with notes of hibiscus that make for a nicely dry, tart experience in the mouth buoyed by good acids. Leaves you wanting more. 8.5/9
2003 Murdoch James “Fraser” Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a lovely mysterious nose of dark earth and some other rich, hard-to-pin-down aromas. In the mouth it is all about soil: deep, brooding wet dirt mixed with tart plum and stewed cranberries with a nice complexity and lovely finish. 9
2005 Canadoro Riesling, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass this wine has lovely nose that combines classic petrol aromas with crisp pear scents. In the mouth it offers gorgeous, crisp, dry flavors of pear and lemon zest that have a nice “lift” to them that makes this wine far too easy to drink. 8.5/9
2002 Canadoro Cabernet Sauvignon, Martinborough
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a spicy nose with aromas of plum and sandalwood incense. In the mouth it has a core of cherry fruit with sandalwood and cedar flavors mixed with a light leathery note that is matched with light tannins. Frankly one of the only good Cabernet’s I have had from the Martinborough region, thankfully lacking a too-common rasiny, stewed prune quality that I don’t care for.
2004 Canadoro “Dragonfly” Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough
Light gold in the glass, this wine has a luxurious nose of apricots poached in fresh honey. In the mouth it delivers much of the same with pleasing levels of acidity that keep the wine from being too cloying (though that is not a huge danger as the sugar levels are restrained, though sweet). A very nice way to end a meal, for certain. 8.5/9
2006 Alana Estate Riesling, Martinborough
Colorless in the glass this wine has a nose of pure, clear pear aromas. In the mouth the wine is a nice balance between these pear and Fuji apple flavors as well as light lemon flavors made juicy with good acidity. This wine will never turn heads, but is a pleasure to drink. 8.5
2004 Alana Estate “Tuapapa” Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a spicy nose of cranberry and mulling spice aromas. In the mouth it is equally spicy with nice balance, good acids, and cranberry and sour cherry flavors that last through a decent finish. 8.5
2004 Alana Estate Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Light to medium garnet in the glass this wine has a nicely balanced nose of umami and soy aromas mixed with scents of cranberry. In the mouth it is a pleasant combination of juicy tart raspberry and cranberry flavors with a slight woody bitterness and a hint of minerality that give the wine a nice personality on the palate. The finish is nothing to write home about, but a nice end to a good glass. 8.5/9
More to come from Martinborough in the form of reviews of full lineups from some of the best producers, plus more wines from Central Otago and Hawkes Bay!