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General Blog

Escarpment Vineyard 2017 Barrel Samples

Around this time every year, I get the opportunity of tasting the current vintage Escarpment Vineyard Martinborough wines from barrel with winemakers Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch. The Escarpment Vineyard wines are among the most progressive of the region, and it is fascinating to see the continued evolution of the wines. Larry and Huw are beginning to increase the sophistication of the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling wines through full solids barrel-fermentation and lees contact techniques. The Chardonnay is a "work in progress” to show finer complexities and elegance. Last year, they introduced a component fermented and aged in amphora. New plantings and increasing diversity through new clones is in the works, the Chardonnay acreage being increased last year. And similarly, with Pinot Noir, the desire is o increase complexity in conjunction with greater elegance, this by way of whole bunch fermentation allied to earlier picking, and more sensitive oak handling.

Although the 2017 growing season created conditions of lower Brix levels and influencing picking decisions throughout the country, Escarpment Vineyard was pleased with the situation, as it created the circumstances to develop their wine styles in accordance to much of their intentions. Admittedly, the wines do not have the richness, ripeness, weight and possibly complexity of the previous four vintages, the wines have indeed provided greater elegance and a freshness that the earlier vintages do not possess. As with other wines from 2017 I have tasted, they show greater aromatic intensity and penetration, and increased palate tension, especially in the Pinot Noirs. The Pinot Noir was picked before the rain. Crucially, the Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs have retained their individuality, and this is an expected result as seen in many cooler-climate sites and longer growing seasons or finer vintages. Larry McKenna and Huw Kinch are very pleased with the wines, as they express the growing season along with site or terroir expression, as well as their house signature.

Larry McKenna & Huw Kinch - Escarpment vineyard 

Tasting the Escarpment 2017 Wines From Barrel
It is always a privilege to taste wine from barrel. It involves considerable work on the part of the winemakers drawing samples, explaining the wines and cleaning up afterwards. But also, barrel samples can be very difficult to assess, especially by non-winemakers. Those who make the wine often find the process challenging due to the variable expression of the wines from different sites in different barrels. However, barrel-tasting can give plenty of insights into the nature of the vintage and the resultant wines. I tend to make a more definitive call on the wines once they have been bottled, and given the chance to settle down. Here are my impressions on what I tasted.

Pinot Blanc 2017 Barrel Sample
Fully barrel-fermented with full solids to dryness, not sulphured. Bright, clear straw-yellow colour. The nose is full and robust with white stonefruit aromas, along with complexing savoury, butty notes and suggestions of oxidative nuances. This has plenty of mouthfeel, weight and presence. Quite textural with a soft mouthfeel, but a line of acidity underneath. Deep flavours of savoury white stonefruits, nuts, oxidative detail and underlying minerals. Classical Pinot Blanc rusticity in a positive way.

Pinot Gris 2017 Barrel Sample
Fully barrel-fermented with full solids to dryness, sulphured. Bright staw-yellow colour. The nose is very elegant and fragrant with white florals and stonefruits, with a touch of honeysuckle and minerals. This is very refined with lovely fruit clarity and purity. Florals and stonefruits, with exotic notes and minerals. Excellent freshness and vibrancy, with refreshing, brisk acidity. Possibly the most poised Pinot Gris from Escarpment I’ve tasted to date.

Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
The Escarpment Vineyard approximate ‘regional’ blend . Clone 95, going through MLF. Bright straw-yellow colour. This is fresh and elegant with good depth and intensity of gunflint reduction aromas, a little prominent, but with white stonefruit and nutty lees and oak in balance. On palate, the gunflint-matchstick reduction is the feature, but the stonefruit flavours support the complexing componentry. Clean and clear, with power and drive, as well as taut, refreshing acidity. This will no doubt come into greater balance with bottling and some age. A step up in clarity and definition.

Pinot Noir 2017 Approx. ‘Martinborough Regional Blend’ Barrel Sample
Approx 15-20% whole bunch, 20% new oak. Dark ruby-red colour with purple hues. The nose has dark=red and black-berried fruit aromas with a savoury, complexing herb layer. Quite elegant on palate with dark-red and black fruits, dark-red and violet florals, savoury herb notes, underlined by fine tannin extraction and noticeable acidity. This has a completeness to its profile.

‘Kiwa’ Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
60% whole bunch. Dark purple-red colour. This has a full, even and voluminous nose with fragrant black berried fruit melded with savoury dark and dried herbs, showing a little earthy detail. Sweet and lush on palate with dark-red berry fruits, lifted red florals and savoury herb notes. This has good tannin extraction and grip, with refreshing acidity. Lovely even flowing wine with typical ‘Kiwa’ savoury-funky notes.

‘Te Rehua’ Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
Dark ruby-red with purple hues. The nose is full with rich fruit aromas of vibrant dark-red and black fruits, along with an amalgam of complexing whole bunch nuances and violet florals. The palate has intense cherry-berry fruit flavours with floral lift. The whole cluster quite integrated here. Lovely acid energy lifts and enlivens the wine, and the tannins are refined and integral. At present the fruit is a little restrained, but shows Te Rehua personality already.

‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir 2017 Barrel Sample
35% whole bunch, lower than usual due to the considerable tannin structure. Fruit picked after the first rain, clean with no botrytis, the vineyard in its first year of organic transition. Very dark-red colour. The nose is densely packed with ripe black fruits, black and violet florals and minerals. The whole bunch is integrated. On palate this has excellent density and concentration. Ripe black fruits, dark herbs, mineral detail. The acidity is riper and softer, but there is serious underlying structuire. Clearly a ‘Kupe’ wine.
A Tasting of Varied Permeability Screw Cap Wines
The Escarpment Pinot Noirs are well-structured wines and have the attributes required for good aging ability. With this in mind, Escarpment has trialled screwcap closures with different permeabilities, on the premise that maturation with some oxygen ingress should give results to aging under (good) cork. The ‘Oenoseal’ closures from Guala have given the ability to see the effects on a wine with controlled oxygen contact.

I tasted the Escapment ‘Martinborough Regional Blend’ Pinot Noir 2015 sealed under the ‘Onyx’, ‘Ivory’ and ‘Coral’ screwcaps, the liners with respectively < 0.0005 cc/day/bottle Oxygen Transfer Rate, 0.002 and 0.008, these being from essentially air-tight seal to greater permeability.

My preference was for the ‘Onyx’, the wine showing the most primary character, with blackest fruits and a tighter, denser construction. ‘Ivory’ closed bottle was my least preference showing what I saw as a little oxidative character, with softer, sweeter fruit with more aromatic, floral lift. The ‘Coral’ closed wine was in between for me, with good richness, maybe a bit broader. The acidity was more prominent here. Larry and Huw noted that the differences in process of filling of the bottle and attaching of the closures for the ‘Ivory’ wine may have had an effect. The trials are on-going with subsequent vintages.
A Taste of the ‘Ryan’ Riesling 2017
The visit at Escarpment concluded with a tasting of the ‘Ryan’ Riesling 2017, a wine made with full solids barrel-fermentation to 11.3% alc. and dryness, with TA 7 g/l, and pH 3.25. It is named after Larry’s son Ryan, and is obviously a play on ‘Rhine’ Riesling. It will be bottled under the ‘Artisan’ range.

Escarpment ‘Ryan’ Martinborough Riesling 2017
Light straw-yellow colour. The nose is taut with clear, clean, and firmly bound aromas of lime fruit, with a hint of minerals. Dry to taste and medium-bodied, the palate has bright and lively mine fruit with mineral undertones, The palate has very fine-grained textures providing mouthfeel and a touch of grip, the acidity refreshing and crisp. This has linearity driver and very clear varietal character matched to the phenolics. More classical than funky by a wide margin.
A Quick Taste of the 2016 Escarpment Pinot Noirs
That evening over dinner, Larry brought along bottles of his 2016 Pinot Noirs, opened for a visiting journalist that afternoon. I made brief mental notes of my impressions. (I tasted these as barrel samples in February earlier this year. Click here to see my report.) I will be receiving the 2016 wines in the new year for full ‘Feature Review’. Here are my thoughts.

The ‘Martinborough Regional Blend’ Pinot Noir 2016 is a firm and impressively structured wine supporting the ripe, black and dark-red berried fruits. Savoury complexities are part and parcel here. The ‘Kiwa’ Pinot Noir 2016 is a more elegant wine, with seamlessly melded flavours of dark-red, savoury, berried fruits. This has sweetness and succulence, with very fine structure in support. This has the typical slightly funky characters, very harmoniously expressed. The ‘Te Rehua’ Pinot Noir 2016 is bright and lively, maybe not quite as intense and rich as previous vintages, and relative to the other wines. It retains its ‘New World’ style, which has made this a wine to rival the ‘Kupe’. The ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir 2016 is a considerably concentrated and complex layered, black-fruited wine. Loads of fruit with complexing dark herbs, mineral notes, with whole cluster interest. This is as big as expected, and clearly a wine that will benefit from aging.
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