Without any doubt, the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is one of New Zealand’s top wines. Ata Rangi’s founder Clive Paton has made same of the Martinborough district’s best wines, and Ata Rangi now has the talented Helen Masters as chief winemaker since 2003; Helen continuing the ultra-high standards, and indeed taking the wines further. I had the opportunity of tasting a selection of 2016 vintage Pinot Noir and other red wine barrel samples with Helen. Her depth of knowledge and detail on the growing of Pinot Noir, the behaviour of the vines in their various vineyards, the effect of different ages of the vines, and the processes of the vinification, as well as the effects of the growing season, was astounding, educational and inspirational.
Yet Helen would believe that she is still learning about making the wines and coming to understand the varied facets which influence the character of the resulting wines. Helen would attribute much of her knowledge to the accumulated experience of Clive and previous winemaker Olly Masters (her brother-in-law), and the other members of the Ata Rangi team. But she has learnt much and contributed significantly to the development of the Ata Rangi wines. Her hand is a relatively subtle one in the inputs that go into the wines, and she guides the wines to express their origins as fully and naturally as possible. The empathy she has for the vines, the land, the environment and the growing conditions is very clear. No wonder why the Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs of all the wines she makes is her calling card. Following are my notes on the barrel samples of the wines I tried with her. www.atarangi.co.nz
Helen Masters – Ata Rangi
Helen Masters – Ata Rangi
Tasting the 2016 Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
Tasting through the Pinot Noir samples, it was evident that the core of the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir has elegance, concentration, ripeness and complex layers including whole bunch layers. Clones, site, vine age, the decisions to incorporate various components for varying detail are crucial.
Dijon clone, 17 y.o. from Lake Ferry Road, clay soils, 50% whole bunch, a 2 y.o. barrel
Pale red, the nose tight and elegant, fine and firm, with subtle whole bunch stalk notes, but intense floral fragrance. Some herbal nuances. Concentrated and refined on palate, the florality the feature, red fruits, silky tannins, a little acid edginess.
Dijon clone, 28 y.o., on Terrace soil, c.50% whole bunch
Dark purple-red, this has dark-red fruits, with firmness and density, the whole bunch much more integrated and discrete. On palate this has substance, depth and density. Concentration, with violet fruit and some fragrance. The tannins firm and structural, the acidity less obvious.
Abel clone, Lake Ferry Road, 80% whole bunch, a new barrel
Pale ruby-red. The nose has depth and density, packed with fragrant notes too, and whole cluster stalky complexities, and noticeable oak spiciness. Firm and tight, the alcohol showing drive, but not unbalanced or hot. Fine textures and well-concentrated, the oaking and whole bunch more up-front and obvious. The density is the feature.
Abel clone, a youthful 18 y.o. from the Di Mattina vineyard, on the Terrace, no whole bunch
Dark, deep, purple-red. Soft, full and plummy on the nose, along with violet florals. On palate tightly concentrated with firm, up-front tannins. “Blocky” tannins, but the wine is elegant in presentation still. Sweet and robust in the final analysis.
Clone 5, 30 y.o. vines, from Walnut Ridge and Champ Ali blocks
Dark black-red with purple hues. This is elegant but packed with complex savoury aromas of dark fruits and herbs. Lovely layers of red berry fruit detail with savoury complexities. This is very finely extracted and the tannins sleek and sinewy. The acidity also very finely expressed.
Dijon and Abel clones, planted 2002, McCrone Vineyard with clay, high whole berries
Pale red colour. On nose this is fragrant and floral with beautiful aromatic lift, gently voluminous. Soft red fruit characters, initially tightly bound with a fine linearity, but showing strong tannin core with plenty of extract. More “chunky” tannins. Plenty of mid-palate presence.
High Abel clone proportion, McCrone Vineyard, in a 2013 barrel
Dark red colour. A little restrained, but solid and densely packed dark-red and black fruit aromas. Solid and fulsome on palate, plenty of tannin grip and extraction. Weighty and burly. But essential fine-grained tannins. Black fruits. I see this as the “Merlot” style of Pinot Noir – and was scolded!
Original Abel block, vines planted 1980, 30% whole bunch
Very dark purple-red colour. This is elegantly presented with a firm intensity. Beautifully aromatic and with complex black fruit, dark herb and whole cluster detailing. Tightly concentrated, very refined, powdery tannins, quite silky, with layers of fruit and complex layering of flavour. Density with elegance. Pinot Noir expression at the highest level.
Other Reds – 2016 Barrel Samples
These varieties are used for the ‘Celebre’, but Syrah is also bottled separately as a varietal. These wines showed no greenness at all, but instead vibrancy and elegance.
Syrah, from the Hensley Vineyard, picked at 19° Brix
Dark purple-red colour. This is pure on the nose with blackberry fruit showing elegance with depth and density. Tightly bound with hints of black pepper. Beautifully ripened. Again, elegant and refined with sweet blackberry and black peppery fruit, some spice notes and unfolding dark herbs. Fresh and lively with bright acidity, and in excellent, elegant proportion.
Syrah, from Champ Ali
Dark purple-red colour. This has riper, blacker fruits, but also more aromatic lift with black and violet florals. A hint of exoticism and a range of expression. Sweet and luscious, the fruit is ripe and has more presence. The tannins show ripeness but there is excellent acid poise and energy.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc with some Merlot, original plantings, co-fermented
Impenetrable black-red colour. This has ripe blackberry fruit with some sweet and nutty oak. Lovely ripe black berried fruits, quite vibrant with vitality. Fine-grained powdery tannins, but not insubstantial, and enlivened by bright acidity. No sense of herbaceousness, and with great expression of Cabernet varietal characters.