If you’re a long-time client and follower of Ata Rangi, it would be all too easy to fall into the trap of being blasé about each new release of wines from this small, but high profile Martinborough producer. Seeing consistently excellent wines means that outstanding wines become the norm, and such wines can be taken for granted. Then it takes a ‘mind-blowing’ wine to provide the ‘wow’ factor. This is the danger for long-time mail-order customers of Ata Rangi, and of fans of their wines, such as myself, who enjoy drinking the Ata Rangi wines regularly. All one needs to do is to try other wines from a wider range of sources to bring you back to reality and truly appreciate top quality for what it really is. I came to the realisation that I was experiencing this phenomenon at the 2012 Ata Rangi Spring Release tasting, conducted at the new Le Cordon Bleu premises in Wellington, when I noted I was comparing the new wines against some of the great memorable vintages of ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that have been seminal in my wine life. Among Ata Rangi’s recent bottlings, the 2009 Craighall Chardonnay, the 2006, 2008 and 2009 vintages of Pinot Noir are among my all-time favourites, but superb examples from Clive Paton and Phyll Pattie stretch way back to the late 1980s.
The 2012 Spring Release of Ata Rangi is an extremely strong one, as usual, and there are real stars in the line-up. Whether they develop to join the all-time greats awaits to be seen, but all of the Ata Rangi team stood proud behind the wines and there was a distinct air of confidence. It is always wonderful to speak face to face with the self-effacing ownership triumvirate of Clive Paton, Phyll Pattie and Ali Paton. On hand was the long-serving, steadfast Eleanor Dodds, bubbly and talented winemaker Helen Masters and new assistant winemaker Patrick Meagher (an Irish surname pronounced ‘Ma-ha’ – think of All Black Ma’a Nonu!) who took over from Jannine Rickards. Even though much of the country experienced cooler, late-ripening growing condition in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the best growers and producers have fashioned some pretty remarkable wines of real beauty. www.atarangi.co.nz
Here are my impressions of the wines. I have put my scores alongside the wines with the proviso that they are seen only as an indication, based on the relatively brief tasting experience of each wine. I will be reviewing the wines more fully in due course.
Starting with the Summer Rosé 2012 (17.5+/20), this is pretty and pale with gentle soft red fruit aromas and flavours, strawberries and currants, a touch of refreshing herbs, along with a sense of quenchability and bitter quinine that will make it ideal over the warmer months. I like the style direction that Helen is taking the ‘Lismore’ Pinot Gris 2012 (18.5/20). It’s becoming more pure and less overtly sweet, but it retains a delicious hint of richness and lusciousness, combining white stonefruits, pears and honeysuckle. There are some complexing flinty elements too, adding an extra dimension. This year the wine has greater cut and finesse than previous releases. It’s a beauty.
What a compelling coupling the two Chardonnays make. They demonstrate their vineyard individuality with unswerving consistency, but they do show vintage characteristics as well as a progression towards greater elegance as well as interest and complexity. This year’s ‘Petrie’ Chardonnay 2011 (18.5+/20) is concentrated and intense with ripe citrus and mealy fruit flavours perfectly spiced by fine oak. There’s a greater flinty lees and reductive complexity component which takes this label to another level. While the 2010 was bold and ‘out there’, this is concentrated, balanced and integrated with a view to aging well. In comparing this with the ‘Craighall’, the ‘Petrie’ is positively fleshy and fruity. The ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay 2011 (19.0/20) is yet another superb effort. This has restraint and concentration in an alliance. The intensity and layers of detailed flavours are another step up, yet the wine retains style and elegance with its power. White stonefruits, citrus, mealy, nutty and spicy flavours keep on unfolding. And brilliant acid cut with great length. The 2010 was much more shy at this stage, and will show its class over time. You can already see what the 2011 has, and there’s no hurry. I wrote “classical Puligny-Montrachet”.
The Pinot Noirs are the main feature of any Ata Rangi tasting. For a secondary label, the ‘Crimson’ Pinot Noir 2011 (18.0-/20) is comparable to many people’s top label. I’ve seen this 2011 before and I believe a big wine glass shows it best, rather than the smaller ISO glasses this time. The bright perfumes of violets infusing dark cherries and red berries are a draw card, as are the supple tannins. There’s real fruit succulence and vibrancy from the acidity, and the fruit depth present will see it go 5-7 years with ease. The Pinot Noir 2011 (18.5/20) deserved more attention than I could give it. Each time I came back to it, there was another layer of richness and greater depth and packed in concentration. Ripe dark berry fruits, with the lift and perfumed that a slow-ripening growing season gives. Sweet fruited, but with the drying firmness of structure at the core. This has a sense of gravitas. As with the ‘Craighall’ Chardonnay, this is showing better at release than the 2010 Pinot Noir, which I saw as being raw, cooler and sinewy. The 2010 has of course blossomed and become enrichened with fleshiness, becoming a model to judge others by. The 2011 will clearly show more from a stronger starting point. I know Helen is enamoured by the 2011, which speaks volumes.
The last two wines are specialised bottlings. Firstly a one-off Syrah/Merlot 2010 (17.5/20), which is essentially the ‘Celebre’ without the Cabernet Sauvignon, this variety not making the grade. Helen initially did not consider the rest of the componentry as an Ata Rangi bottling, but the remaining Syrah and Merlot worked very well in an equal part blend. Black and redcurrant fruits with plums on the nose speak Merlot and Bordeaux. The spicy, succulent and peppery palate speak Syrah and Rhone. All expressed with supple plumminess and an aromatic enhancing acid lift. Quite delicious, and clearly a must for ‘Celebre’ followers to see the difference. The last wine was the ‘Kahu’ Botrytis Riesling 2012 (18.0+/20), sitting at 12.5% alc. and 120 g/L rs. Citrus, musk, honey, marmalade and an intriguing leaf-leaf Muscatty hint. Very sweet, but not overly sticky, with fine acid cut and a slight textural dryness. Exotic tropical fruits, honey, marmalade and raisins abound. A softer and more gentle outlook than the driven 2011. A delightful finish to the wine and to the tasting!