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Tasting Reviews

Wellington Wine Country – A Regional Tasting

The start of the year has seen many wine professionals tour the country. Sommeliers and journalists from around the world have visited the major winegrowing regions, and in my travels, I’ve managed to catch up with a number of them. A group of Australian somms were hosted by Wellington Wine Country, the marketing arm of Wairarapa Winegrowers, and I was invited to join them in a tasting of the region’s wines. I must say the professionalism and depth of knowledge of the Australian visitors was very impressive.

Wellington Wine Country put on a tasting of 49 wines, 24 whites and 25 reds, presented identity-known and in a self-serve format at Palliser Estate. It was designed to give an overview of the wines made in the region. I whizzed through the wines taking brief notes and making provisional scores. I don’t think I spent as much time on them as I could have (it was a Sunday morning), so the comments and scores have not been added to my website database. If there is any significant variation in scores here with those made for ‘Feature Reviews’ I would advise deferring to the latter. However, the tasting was very instructive, as it grouped the wines to variety, sub-region and increasing age. The relativity and juxtaposition of a line-up of wines always gives a slightly different perspective. This adds credence to the element of subjectivity and influence of many factors on wine evaluation! Here are my notes and ratings.

Sarah Andrew, Emmanuel Cadieu and Richard Healy
Australian Wine Professionals 
(Photo - Pete Monk)

Sauvignon Blanc
Ashwell Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Straw-yellow with slight green hues. Elegant, with ripe gooseberry fruit and tropical fruits on nose. Elegant on palate, crisp and taut, unfolding sweet tropical fruits and ripe gooseberries, lively and balanced. (17.5/20) RRP $20.00

Craggy Range ‘Te Muna’ Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Bright straw-yelllow colour. Fresh and elegant in presentation, with cool-climate netty notes to the gooseberry fruit. Crisp and tightly bound with gooseberries, tropical fruits and nettles with cut grass. Penetrating fruit depth. (17.5+/20_ RRP $24.95

Matahiwi Wairarapa Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Bright straw-yellow colour. Light nose, more savoury than fragrant. Good fruit richness, a touch of cooler spectrum nettles. Spiky acidity lends zest and cut. Moderate depth. (17.0-/20) RRP $19.99

Palliser Estate Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc 2017: Bright, pale straw colour. Coolish nettles and gooseberries with passionfruit, Lovely aromatic intensity and finesse. Intense and penetrating flavours of passionfruit, gooseberries herbs and nettles. Lovely acid poise and fine tension, deliCate nuances but richness and sweet-fruited, very long. (18.5/20) RRP $28.00

Urlar Gladstone Sauvignon Blanc 2016: Bright straw-yellow colour. Full, soft and more savoury with secondary detail, some oak nuttiness. Soft and good breadth on palate, with savoury gooseberries and herbs, rounded and ripe acidity. (18.0-/20) RRP $25.00

Grava Martinborough Riesling 2015: Lemon straw colour. The nose is softly concentrated with good depth of lime fruit with savoury nuances. Succulent lime fruit with richness, esters and floral lift, and good honied elements. Very attractive. (18.0/20) RRP $28.00

Nga Waka Martinborough Dry Riesling 2015: Light golden colour. Full and voluminous, with soft honied, toasty notes, quite secondary and near mature. Dry to taste, with limes, honey and toast, this has good depth and concentration. The acidity is soft, lending accessibility. (18.0/20) RRP $25.00

Urlar Gladstone Riesling 2016: Bright straw-yellow colour. This is elegant and very taut with lime fruit, white florals and a touch of savouriness. Dry to taste, light lime fruit expression, some phenolic and fruit extract textures. This is still to develop. (17.5/20) RRP $25.00

Coney ‘Rallentando’ Martinborough Dry Riesling 2017: Bright straw-yellow colour. The nose is fragrant with lime and honied aromas, some botrytis musk showing. Lively with lime, honey and musk. This is quite plush, and underlined by taut phenolics. Dry in the finish. (18.0-/20) RRP $24.00

Margrain Martinborough Riesling 2017: Straw-yellow colour. The nose is redolent of lime, white florals and minerals. Still very tightly bound with lovely purity and clarity of limes and mouthwatering minerals. Excellent linearity. (18.0+/20) RRP $26.00

Pinot Gris
Lynfer Estate Gladstone Pinot Gris 2015: Straw-yellow colour. Tightly bound, a lighter expression with cool stonefruit aromas. Dryish to taste and lighter bodied, somewhat lear, but with white stonefruits that build in depth. (16.0/20) RRP $21.00

Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Gris 2016: Straw-yellow colour. The nose is rounded and accessible, a little restrained with white and yellow stonefruits. Bright and aromatic florals, along with stonefruits, a little honey. Still tight on palate and with fresh acidity. (18.0-/20) RRP $31.00

The Elder Martinborough Pinot Gris 2016: Straw-yellow colour. This is full and voluminous with bold white and yellow stonefruits, hints of nutty oak? Fulsome and with plenty of breadth, luscious fruited with honey elements, but good underlying acidity. (18.0+/20) RRP $42.00

Ata Rangi ‘Lismore’ Martinborough Pinot Gris 2017: Pale straw-yellow colour. This has excellent intensity of white stonefruit aromatics, with subtle lees complexities. Very elegant and stylish with a firm, and deep core, fine textures and balanced acidity. The lees work adds just the right amount of detail and fine texture to the fruit. Slender, but very attractive. (18.0+/20) RRP $28.00

Dry River Martinborough Pinot Gris 2014: Light golden yellow colour. The bouquet is full, rounded and deeply concentrated with densely packed aromas of yellow stonefruit and honey, with savoury secondary layers. Very rich and honied, luscious stonefruits form the core, now with savoury secondary development. (18.5/20) RRP $60.00

Escarpment Martinborough Chardonnay 2015: Light golden colour. A robust nose here, with dominating reductive sulphides somewhat over the stonefruits. Gunflint and nutty flavours prevail, and white stonefruits underneath. Well-structured with body, presence and good acid liveliness. This should come together more? (17.5+/20) RRP $30.00

Johner Estate Wairarapa Chardonnay 2016: Lemon-yellow colour. This has a light and elegant nose with stonefruit and waxy, lanolin notes. Good citrussy fruit with aromatic lift, some lemon /nd lanolin notes, fruit focussed with good acid freshness. (17.5/20) RRP $25.00

Martinborough Vineyard ‘Home Block’ Martinborough Chardonnay 2015: Straw-yellow colour. The nose is elegant and refined, with white stonefruits, mealy interest, barrel-ferment, and nutty oak. Beautifully rich, concentrated and immense style. Layers of barrel-ferment and nutty oak, with subtle detail. Great finesse. Top White Wine of the tasting and Top Wine for me! (19.5/20) RRP $50.00

Paddy Borthwick Wairarapa Chardonnay 2017: Straw-yellow colour. Tight and elegant in proportion with lemony fruit. Fruit focussed at present. A lighter, slightly lean palate with light lemony fruit. Fine textures and fresh acidity. (16.5/20) RRP $26.00

Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Martinborough Chardonnay 2015: Light yellow colour. Initially shy, but unfolding layers of stonefruits, nutty oak and leesy complexities. On palate, the richness is evident, with ripe yellow stonefruits interwoven with creamy barrel ferment, nutty oak and leesy detail. Fine textures and excellent acid balance and tension. (19.0/20) RRP $37.00

Other Whites
Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Blanc 2016: Light golden yellow colour. Ripe yellow stonefruit aromas, quite up-front. Fruit richness prevails, but balanced by fine phenolic grip building to robustness. Savoury and nutty interest. (17.5/20) RRP $28.00

Big Sky Martinborough Gruner Veltliner 2016: Straw-yellow colour. A combination of restrained herbal notes with green stonefruits and a touch of waxy lanolin. Quite high-toned and with lifted herb flavours, encased by phenolic structure lending elegant concentration. Crisp and refreshing acidity. (17.5+/20) RRP $25.00

Gladstone Vineyard Gladstone Viognier 2016: Straw-yellow colour. Attractively aromatic nose with exotic florals and ripe apricotty notes. Palate is up-front in fruit flavours of florals and apricots unfolding exotic elements. Some underlying phenolic structure carries the fruit. (17.5/20) RRP $25.00

Cambridge Road ‘Papillon Orange’ Martinborough 2017: A blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Light pink-orange colour. Floral fruits, roses, citrus fruits, along with skinsy notes. Intriguing mix of sweet and sour citrus fruit with floral lift and hints of confectionary. Savoury skin contact elements and light, grainy textures, with a lush and juicy finish. (17.0+/20) RRP $40.00

Pinot Noir
Matahiwi Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2016:Dark hearted colour. On the nose, up-front, ripe dark-red berry fruits with slight herbal interest. Whole-bunch-like notes. Good vibrancy with sweetly ripe fruit and balanced mouthfeel. (17.5/20) RRP $29.99

Urlar ‘Select Parcels’ Gladstone Pinot Noir 2016: Lighter red colour.  Perfumed red fruits and florals, lovely ethereal fragrances, with a touch of reduction. Taut and tightly bound with ripe dark red berry fruit and florals, and refine tannin extraction. (18.5/20) RRP $65.00

Nga Waka Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016:Youthful appearance. Very good concentration and depth of dark-red and black berry fruits and plum aromas. Quite solid and robust, but plush and simultaneously vibrant. Excellent vigour and balance. (19.0/20) RRP $40.00

On Giants’ Shoulders Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016: Deeply coloured. The nose is quite elegant and restrained. But with bright fruit flavours along with hints of liquorice and spice. Excellent acidity. Feels a little bound at present. The best is to come. (17.5+/20) RRP $50.00

Coney ‘Reserve Pizacato’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016: Youthfully purple coloured. This is soft, light with florals pre-eminent, along with herbal and reductive elements. Well-concentrated with balanced, rich fruit and liquorice elements. Tight tannins and fresh acidity. (17.5-/20) RRP $50.00

Grava Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016: Lighter colour. A soft and delicate nose, quite ethereal and fragrant. Elegant on palate with good fruit richness and piquant herb and whole bunch nuances. This has freshness, finesse and good acid drive. (18.0/20) RRP $45.00

Luna ‘Blue Rock’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2016: Medium deep coloutr. This has a full and voluminous nose, with fragrant dark-red fruits, a little plum. Bright-fruited with ripe plums and spices, fine-grained tannins and lively acidity. (18.5/20) RRP $50.00

Gladstone Vineyard Gladstone Pinot Noir 2015: Some depth to the colour. A lighter nose with good depth and intensity, dark-red fruits, florals and spices. Tight and with good concentration, with sweet, bright fruit, some plummy notes and finely extracted. (18.0-/20) RRP $41.00

Johner Estate ‘Reserve’ Gladstone Pinot Noir 2015: Lighter colour, some garnet. Oak resin and nutty notes to the fore over the savoury red fruits. Fulsome on palate, with savoury and spicy fruit, the resinous oak and oxidative elements showing. Fine extract. An oxidised bottle? (16.0+/20) RRP $60.00

Schubert ‘Marion’s Vineyard’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2015: Deep garnet red. The nose shows complex secondary, gamey and earthy aromas. Very secondary. Some sweetness and lusciousness with good tannin and acid backing. Is this too forward? My last impression was a wine with more fruitiness. Broader than expected. An unrepresentative bottle? (17.5+/20) RRP $48.00

Craggy Range ‘Aroha’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Dark coloured. This is full and dense on the nose, soft and rounded but with real power. Rich, ripe dark berry and sweet plum fruit, layers of fruit and complexities. Balanced but serious tannin structure. A statement wine. (19.0/20) RRP $135.00

Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Dark colour. The nose is full, deep and solidly packed with dark-red and black fruits, and whole bunch stalk. Fulsome on palate, robust, vigorous and structured, but with plenty of fruit sweetness. Whole bunch shows. A big gutsy wine. (18.5/20) RRP $50.00

Margrain ‘Home Block’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Deep and dark coloured. The nose is very full and densely packed with black plum, liquorices and plenty of spicy oak. Concentrated black berry and plum fruits, solid and dense, very ripe. Distinctive spicy and sweet oak . (18.0-/20) RRP $45.00

Martinborough Vineyard ‘Home Block’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Deep red colour, paler edged. Beautifully balanced, with fresh fruits and subtle complexing detail. Elegant in presentation, stylish and restrained, with savoury red fruits, herbs, earth and red floral lift. Fine textures. Easy to underestimate. (18.5+/20) RRP $65.00

Palliser Estate Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Dark red, with slight garnet hues. This has bright and rich, ripe fruit aromas just beginning to develop secondary interest. Palate has ripe dark fruits, quite lush and plush, with good underlying structure. (19.0-/20) RRP $58.00

The Elder Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Moderately dark colour. This has rich dark-red fruits with an overlay of complexing savoury dark herb, earth and game. Rich and robust, with vigorous fruit and mouthfeel, but retaining a good degree of elegance. (18.5/20) RRP $62.00

Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Dark, deep colour. The aromatics are refined, but intense with fragrant fruit and complexing detail that just unfolds in layers. Ripe and sweet fruited, with lovely detail. This has sheer poise and freshness, with perfect extraction and balancing style. Judged just right.  My top Red Wine of the tasting. (19.5/20) RRP $75.00

Te Kairanga ‘John Martin’ Martinborough Pinot Noir 2015: Dark, deer red colour. The fruit aromas are bright and intense showing berryfruit, florals and spice notes. Rich and plush on palate, and with tension, finesse and balance with fine-grained tannin and fresh acidity. This unfolds in the glass. (18.5+/20) RRP $49.00

Big Sky Martinborough Pinot Noir 2014: Dark coloured. The nose is full, solidly pack and robust, the dark-red fruits complexed by herbal nuances. Fulsome and vibrant, this has excellent vitality and vigour. Dark-red fruits and herbal notes, and good acid zestiness underneath. (18.0+/20) RRP $45.00

Lynfer Estate Gladstone Pinot Noir 2014: Light coloured, youthful appearance. The nose has delicate fragrances, with pretty red fruit aromas. Light on palate, the fruit still fresh, moderately rich with fine, supple tannins, and good length. (17.0/20) RRP $26.00

Paddy Borthwick ‘Right Hand’ Wairarapa Pinot Noir 2014: Deepish red colour. This is tight and lean in expression with red fruits and savoury notes and some reduction. Elegant and with depth on palate, bright-fruited and lively, some herb notes. Fresh and elegant. Backward compared to my last tasting. (18.0/20) RRP $55.00

Cambridge Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2011: Garnet-red colour with some depth. The bouquet is full with complex savoury development, earth, undergrowth, mushrooms game, secondary and definite tertiary notes. Solid and tannic, very developed in flavour, gutsy and robust. Over-mature flavours and the structure still to resolve for me. Will find favour with others.. (16.5+/20) RRP $80.00

Luna ‘Blue Rock’ Martinborough Syrah 2016: Very deep, dark colour, Deep and intense, the aromatics are powerful with blackberries and spices, slight reduction. Concentrated on palate, with ripe blackberry fruits, pepper, spices and herbs. The fruit richness balanced by plenty of extract with fresh acidity. Reductive notes linger. Will integrate. (18.0+/20) RRP $50.00

Schubert Wairarapa Syrah 2014: Garnet-red colour. Lifted fruit, floral perfumes and pepper, subtle herbal notes, elegant but with intensity. Some underlying power, still tightly bound, with aromatic fruit, herbs and florals. Good acid freshness. (18.0/20) RRP $65.00

Dry River ‘Amaranth’ ‘Lovat Vineyard’ Martinborough Syrah 2013: Very dark, dense purple hued dark-red colour. Intense black fruits, ripe, some black pepper, still very primary and vibrantly fresh. Real concentration with black fruits, liquorice, spices, a little herb and earth complexity, a touch of reduction, Very fine-grained tannins and acid poise. (19.0-/20) RRP $75.00

A Couple of Conclusions
The obvious strength in the region is in Pinot Noir. Nearly half of the wine presented were from that variety. It was both the strength of style as the diversity that struck me. Sure, there is a range of quality, but the ‘serious’ nature of the flavours and layers of flavour possible came through well. Some of the Pinot Noir bottlings are ‘statement’ wines, these with full ripeness and sweetness, along with fulsome extraction and bold oaking. A couple of the wines were not balanced as a result. The best wines had a degree of elegance, proportion and style, with plenty of complexing layers and detail.

The Chardonnay wines also looked very good. Again, there is variation in weight, richness, fruit-focus or complexity. My top wine of the tasting was the Martinborough Vineyard ‘Home Block’ Chardonnay 2015!

All of the other varieties had wines of top quality. But also, there was variation in style as well as quality. This is to be expected in any regional tasting. It is pleasing to see this diversity, from conventional wines to those employing adventurous techniques.

Any of the regional differences appeared to be lost to winemaking style. I’m sure there are regional variations in expression, but they didn’t show to me on this occasion.
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