Ara Wines in the upper reaches of the Waihopi Valley is one of Marlborough’s significant players. Not only is it the size of the vineyard, with over 400 ha established that makes it important, but also the high density planting at around 4,700 vines per hectare. As a result, the potential tonnage is considerable, but one of the reasons for the vineyard design was for management of the yields, and the control has led to high quality fruit and wines that are becoming increasingly noteworthy. The size of the estate has been increased with the planting last year of a further 70 ha bringing the total area under vine to 494 ha. The new plantings reflect the established proportions with Sauvignon Blanc first, then Pinot Noir, followed by Pinot Gris. For interest, 1 ha each of Sauvignon Gris and Gewurztraminer were part of the 2013 expansion. Ara Wines has around 1,000 ha of land in total that can be planted, so much more can be done in the future.
Jeff Clarke – Ara Wines Chief Winemaker
Jeff Clarke – Ara Wines Chief Winemaker
The arrival of viticulturist Gus Struthers and winemaker Jeff Clarke at Ara just before the 2011 vintage and subsequent work by them since has seen the recent Ara releases show more ripeness, concentration, and fruit definition, and the clear differentiation of the ‘Pathway’, ‘Single Estate’ and ‘Select Blocks’ tiers, these respectively representing expressions of Marlborough, the Ara Estate, and high quality parcels or sections within the estate. The top tier ‘Resolute’ is catching up in this clarification process too.
The Ara Wines and the Degustation Dinner
Jeff Clarke and Gus Struthers hosted a ‘Select Blocks’ showcase degustation dinner at Wellington’s highly regarded ‘Shed 5’ restaurant on Queen’s Wharf for wine and hospitality trade, and media to show the progress to date in the ‘Select Blocks’ wines, and introduce some interesting developments. The dinner matched the current and new ‘Select Blocks’ wines with outstanding food courses designed by chef Geoff Ngan. Gus discussed the research and detailed the work being conducted in the vineyard with the vines and their interaction with the soils and site, as well as other inputs, while Jeff talked about the stylistic interpretations of the vineyard and fruit, and the direction of the wine styles. The degree of interaction and co-operation between the two of them was very evident, and clearly the wines have made steps forward because of this teamwork. Following are my notes on the wines tasted and served with each food course. www.arawines.co.nz www.shed5.co.nz
Gus Struthers – Ara Wines Viticulturist
Gus Struthers – Ara Wines Viticulturist
Ara ‘Select Blocks’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012
A wine that has received considerable acclaim overseas, more so than domestically, possibly due to the New Zealand judges and critics preferring to reward freshness. This wine from blocks based on minerally soils, from 12 y.o. vines, expressing the soils rather than winemaking inputs. The ‘Resolute’ Sauvignon Blanc is the wine that is based on barrel and greater lees influence.
On this showing, very consistent with my recent review (click here to see). Pale coloured, the nose shows some secondary aromas of bean and asparagus to the ripe gooseberry and tropical fruits, the bouquet with excellent volume and density. Quite dry, tightly concentrated on palate and rounded in mouthfeel. The secondary flavours are apparent, but this has excellent weight, presence and depth, and soft minerally flavours. 18.0+/20
Served with this was Roasted Hapuku, creamed spinach, bacon and provolone beignets, celeriac, apple and samphire remoulade, toasted walnuts. The fish was moist and cooked perfectly with finely firm textures, the accompaniments surprisingly subtle, but with plenty of soft textures. The wine and the dish match in weight and texture, but the restrained flavours of the wine and food not quite meeting each other, nor highlighting each other.
Ara ‘Select Blocks’ Marlborough Pinot Gris 2013
The second release of a ‘Select Blocks’ wine with this variety. The plantings of Pinot Gris account for 5% of the planting, and the demand for the wines can not be met as yet. A ‘Resolute’ Pinot Gris has not been made yet, but Jeff discussed the preference for a ‘vendanges tardives’ style rather than a funky, worked style, the former probably more suited to the fruit expression and vineyard terroir.
This has a little more colour than the Sauvignon Blanc, with a full and dense nose, showing ripe and aromatic, lifted exotic stonefruits and florals. The nose unveils spice notes and minerally lees elements with aeration. Off-dry to taste, the palate has freshness, crisp acidity and clear stonefruit flavours, the richness enhanced by honied notes. While the mouthfeel is rounded and soft with its weight, there is good power and linear drive, carrying the wine to a dry finish. An excellent example of this variety. This is 13.6% alc., and approx. 7 g/L RS with around 6.7 g/L TA. 18.5+/20
The matched food course was Tuna carpaccio, coriander nahm jim, kaffir lime coconut, lychee and apple salad, crispy shallots. Again the fish was perfectly presented and stunning in appearance. The tuna flesh had firm textures that parted cleanly and the flavours subtle. Here, the spicy herbs and combination of sweetness and acid had plenty of componentry to match the wine. The wine’s freshness brought alive the acidity in the dish, and spice elements in the dish and wine were accentuated. Lovely compatibility with the textures also.
Ara ‘Select Blocks’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
The produce of a low yield year, producing fully-ripe, well-structured and black fruited fruit wine. At the time seen as an outstanding vintage, but the 2014 may be a little more varietally aromatic and Pinot Noir-esque, thus even better. I tried the wine recently and found some reductive and minerally complexities (click here to see), but this time spotlessly clean.
Very dark, deep, purple hued red, the bouquet is full and robust with a mix of ripe black plum fruit , black berries, earth and iron-like notes, a touch of savoury char, all taut and tightly bound. A powerful and concentrated wine on palate, this has densely-packed flavours of black plums and spices that unfold berry fruit and floral nuances. This is somewhat restrained rather than exuberant. The tannins are tight and fine-grained, and there’s a brooding depth and the potential to bloom. The cleanliness and sense of fruit purity comes through as a feature. 18.5-/20
The food served was Sous vide lamb rump, black garlic and date jam, parsnip puree, truffle puy lentils, mustard cress. The lamb for me was sensational moist, tender, oozing meaty juices, and flavoured with good mouth-salivating saltiness. The wine flavours, being restrained, did not dominate, but the darker fruits more in tune with the date jam and lentils. However the textures and juiciness of the lamb seamlessly melded with the wine. I appreciated the cress for its freshness and cut. A well-thought out pairing.
Ara ‘Select Blocks’ ‘M36’, ‘K54’ and ‘M62’ ‘Limited Release’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
From the outstanding 2012 vintage, it was decided to bottle three limited release Pinot Noirs based on the yield of three of the best performing blocks. The blocks are:
- ‘M36’, with clone 5, the ‘Pommard’ clone producing bright, up-front strawberry and raspberry fruit, sometimes with savoury smoky notes, the wine a good blending base.
- ‘K54’, with clone 777, with bright fruit, big, juicy and concentrated, the flavours ripe, plummy and sometimes raisiny, and good mid-palate material
- ‘M62’, with clone 115, the ‘Cabernet’ style, based on small berries and tight bunches, the wines fragrant and linear, showing fine tannins
The fruit was treated identically and the vinification exactly the same, to ensure the unique characteristics of the clones in each block, as well as the terroir would be preserved. Approximately 250 cases of each were made in 2012, and the exercise was repeated in the 2013 and 2014 vintages, using the same blocks, to provide the continuity to further investigate the performance of the blocks. and resultant wines. In 2012, the final blend for the ‘Resolute’ Pinot Noir was an equal blend of the wine from the three blocks. These will be excellent wines for enthusiasts to follow over time. The retail price for the wines will be in the $50.00 – $52.00 range.
Ara ‘Select Block M36’ ‘Limited Release’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
Moderately dark ruby-red colour with good depth. The nose is bright-fruited with attractively lifted perfumes and fragrant red berry fruits, along with florals, pepper and herbs, unfold toasty elements with aeration. Sweet, juicy, fresh and accessible on palate, with bright and lifted fruit flavours, the mouthfeel is lively from slippery, racy acidity providing excellent tension and energy. The tannins are very fine-grained and are in balance with the proportion and degree of extract. Long on the finish. 18.5/20
Ara ‘Select Block K54’ ‘Limited Release’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
Full, very deep, black-red colour. This is solidly packed on bouquet with ripe black fruits, and dark red plum elements, revealing iron-earth, black minerals and dark herbs. A fulsome, weighty and densely-concentrated palate is the feature, showing ripe black fruits, earth, mineral and a hint of tar. Rounded in mouthfeel, with soft acidity, the tannin extract is positive and integral, the fruit expression just a little restrained in lift and sweetness. The presence of this wine is a highlight. 18.0+/20
Ara ‘Select Block M62’ ‘Limited Release’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012
Very full, black-red colour. The nose is tightly concentrated with aromas of ripe black fruits lifted with violet florals and enhanced with fresh, minerally layers. This has ‘puissance’ on palate, sinewy grip with lively mouthfeel and excellent concentration, along with vibrant acidity, lifting the black fruit and mineral flavours. The tannins are fine and firm. The wine has linearity and a very long, sustained finish with superb acid drive. 19.0/20
I put together an approximate blend of one-third of each of these components, to make what might give an indication of the ‘Resolute’ Pinot Noir 2012 wine. The result highlighted the fresh lift of the M36 with the density of the K54 and the rich, raciness of the M62. The assemblage certainly brightened and made the K54 more elegant and lively. It will be extremely interesting to see the real and finished ‘Resolute’ wine.
The dish served with the trio of ‘Limited Release’ ‘Select Block’ Pinot Noirs was Duck breast and braised ox tongue, Jerusalem artichoke puree, fennel, carrots, turnip, shitake and oyster mushrooms, ox tail demi glaze. This main course with the two meats was a highlight, the duck breast moist and not overly oily/fatty, and balanced by the soft-textured ox tongue. Both meats were true to their taste, and lifted with the mushroom saltiness. The other componentry on the plate added to the intricacy and detail of flavours. I found the dish interacted and better matched the ‘M36’ and ‘M62’ wines.
Ara Marlborough Late Harvest Sauvignon 2012
The final wine served was a micro-vinification of Sauvignon Blanc grapes left on the vine, developing botrytis infection, picked at 40° Brix, basket pressed and fermented in a glass jar to approx. 10% alc. and 140 g/L RS. Only 25 L was made, and bottled in 375 ml bottles. Due to the small quantity, it will not be commercialised; however it has served as a template for a larger quantity of a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from the 2014 vintage.
The wine is light straw coloured and shows varietal brashness, with ripe tropical fruits and grassy, green stonefruit aromas and flavours, rather than honey, marmalade of botrytis. While sweet and showing some lusciousness, there a rawness, and brash acidity with a coarseness as though it needed more sulphuring. I surmised the wine is a bit rustic, but a wine for the full market will be far more polished. Nevertheless, one can see the bones of something very interesting. 15.0+/20
The dessert course was Crème caramel, pineapple and mango mille feuille, coconut panna cotta. A delicious dessert with a range of flavours that will complement a range of dessert wines. I felt the dessert was more refined than the wine on this occasion.