A man in Linden Wilkie’s position sees a world of fine wine as few others do. As the owner of The Fine Wine Experience, Linden has the opportunity of visiting numerous fine wine estates around the world, from first growth Bordeaux chateaux, grand cru owning Burgundy domaines, to cult Californian wineries and Martinborough Pinot Noir producers. It interested me to hear that he was quite taken by the openness he experienced at Ata Rangi when we visited winemaker Helen Masters. A man in Linden’s position can speak to if not influence a great many consumers of top wine, and it is in the interests of the producer to be as helpful as possible with the sharing of information. Possibly we in New Zealand take openness and honesty for granted, but then that is the way at Ata Rangi. Owners Clive, Phyll and Ali Paton do everything they can at fostering success in the district, and winemaker Helen operates in that way too. As we tasted through a selection of bottled wine and barrel samples, Helen discussed the methods she was employing to improve the wines and what her findings were. Linden intimated that this would never happen in many of the other places he had visited. Of course, Helen didn’t give any ‘trade secrets’ or confidential information pertaining to Ata Rangi, but the spirit of sharing and encouragement with those around was evident.
We tasted a selection of finished wine first. The Sauvignon Blanc 2011, which has 20% barrel-ferment and a portion of MLF is still tight, but lush and ripe notes come through with fine textures, weight and length. The fruit is still the focus here. Then the ‘Lismore’ Pinot Gris 2011, with 8 g/L rs, showing great finesse, tension and liveliness, the acidity providing cut and length. A ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2009, from 27 y.o. Mendoza clone vines seamless with layers of flavour unfolding , while retaining style and class. This is a wine with richness and complexity, and one of my all-time favourite Chardonnays. In comparison, the ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2010 is tighter, more citrus fruit based, with pronounced acidity, and carries a very long, nuanced finish. This promises a great deal more with bottle age. The last white was the ‘Petrie’ Chardonnay 2011, yet to be bottled. This Wairarapa site gives more up-front fruit compared with the Martinborough ‘Craighall’ vineyard, and this is the case with this wine, already rich, accessible and delicious!
Three Pinot Noirs tasted were all class and high quality. Ata Rangi have made a second release of a single vineyard Pinot Noir, the ‘McCrone’ Pinot Noir 2008 follows the inaugural 2006. The team are loathe to take juice away from the main blend if there is any hint of reducing the interest in it. The single vineyard wine is lush, smooth and beautifully even, with spices and silk. Made from 40% Abel and 30% each Dijon and clone 5. The ‘Crimson’ Pinot Noir 2010 is a seriously constructed wine, lacking nothing as a ‘second tier’, but with bright fruit, plenty of sweetness, clearly expressing fruit first. I suppose that’s the younger vine material talking, but it’s good words. The Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2010 is altogether fuller, more layered, denser and more concentrated, without losing any elegance or finesse. This is a superb wine for the vintage, and seems o be improving every time I try it.
Helen then took us through a tasting of barrel samples of 2011 vintage Pinot Noir, showing components that can go into the main label. The barrels which went through a later malo were more harmonious and richer, with their character and personalities better defined. First was from the ‘Seriously Nuts’ vineyard, planted to Dijon clones 115, 667 and 777, the wine showing dark herb and dark chocolate flavours with density and concentration along with supple textures. Then from the ‘Walnut Ridge’ block with 22 y.o. with clone 5 Pommard. Round but with length, a little more one-dimensional, clearly a wine to provide mid-palate drive. Then wine from the main ‘Ata Rangi’ vineyard, Abel clone with 30% whole bunch. This is big, fully-structured and juicy with savoury-stalky flavours. This is a feature component, full of individuality and character. A sample of ‘McCrone’, made from Abel and 115, also 30% whole bunch, much more fragrant and delicate, with suppleness, and slightly cooler herbal-spice notes to the fruit. Finally a blend of 22 y.o. 10/5 from ‘Lismore’, ‘Haythornthwaite’ and ‘Cambrae’, with rich, lifted and luscious fruits, a new barrel sweetness and lift very prominent, but supple textured.
Helen would have kept on showing us various barrels of wine with their distinctive and fascinating characters. It was clear that Ata Rangi has such good and varied resource to build a complex and layered wine – which they do. Afterall, the Ata Rangi Pinot Noir is acknowledged to be one the very best from New Zealand, and world-class. But time was pressing and a drive direct to the airport to see Linden off to Christchurch had to be made. Both Linden and I were the recipients of a very open tasting, something we knew was special, but natural at Ata Rangi. www.atarangi.co.nz