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Escarpment Vineyard 2014 Barrel Samples

By January 15, 2015No Comments
I’ve had a preview of some of the Escarpment 2013 Pinot Noir wines over the last year, but Larry McKenna tells me a significant portion of the wines have been sold to the U.S. market, leaving much smaller quantities for the domestic market, with some of the single vineyard bottlings not available commercially. However, the 2014 vintage is being talked about as being one that will be the equal in quality to the 2013s in the Martinborough district, so it was with great anticipation that I accepted an invitation to taste through a selection of 2014 barrel samples of Escarpment Vineyard wines with director Larry McKenna and his winemaker Huw Kinch.

The samples of 2013 Escarpment Pinot Noir that I’ve tasted have been sensational and seem to be statement wines, leading me to query if indeed Larry and Huw had gone out of their way to do something very different, maybe to draw attention and create a great deal of publicity on their eventual release. But no, they’ve assured me they’ve done nothing drastically different, but rather, made subtle adjustments to reinforce the established character of the wines. I now realise it is the contrast with the lighter, more fruit-focussed 2012 wines that have highlighted the stronger and bolder nature of the 2013s I have seen.

2013 and 2014 saw a welcome return to excellent, warm and drier growing seasons, and Larry and Huw have continued the well-ripened, fully-structured and complex Pinot Noir styles as seen in 2011, 2009 and earlier years. They note the increasing vine age of their vineyard sources, and have correspondingly increased the amount of whole clusters in the fermentations, and slightly upped the percentage of new oak. The strength of the fruit in 2013 and 2014 has also enabled giving the Pinot Noir wines a full 18 months barrel maturation, whereas the 2012s received 12 months in oak. Although both 2013 and 2014 are superior years, Larry and Huw see the wines as being different, the 2013s more elegant, whereas the 2014s have more fruit intensity.

The Evolution of the Escarpment Pinot Noirs
However, as Larry and Huw have become confident in the behaviour of the vines and the consistent expression of terroir in the resultant wines, they have contemplated adapting their winemaking to show the site characters more distinctly. At present, all of the ‘Insight’ single vineyard wines are made identically, with the whole bunch percentages, cuvaison and barrel regimes the same. The ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir fruit has been deemed to have the structure to handle more whole bunch and new oak than the others. Maybe it is time for ‘Te Rehua’ to see greater inputs, or maybe the ‘Pahi’ wine made to be even more fruit-oriented?

At the time of release of the first ‘Insight’ single vineyard wines, the 2006s, Larry priced them the same, but touted the idea that the wines should find their own level of pricing, as dictated by the marketplace – very much as the different lieux-dits of Burgundy. Maybe this will happen as the wines evolve in style? www.escarpment.co.nz

Huw Kinch, winemaker and Larry McKenna, director, Escarpment Vineyard

Tasting the 2014 White and Rosé Barrel Samples
First wine to taste was the Pinot Gris 2014, given some skin contact and wild yeast fermented dry to <2 g/L RS, the wine given batonnage with no MLF, it will stay in oak 11 months. This is bright and elegant with pure, pristine and refreshing flavours and mouthfeel. Quite steely amd minerally, with excellent acidity, and in the white stonefruit and floral spectrum. Following this was the Pinot Blanc 2014, treated the same as the Pinot Gris. This has the faintly rustic nutty aromatics with a hint of oxidative handling. On palate considerably richer, with lush stonefruit and tropical fruit flavours, hints of spice and showing some structure. This has a more up-front nature and may be the best Pinot Blanc I’ve seen from Escarpment yet.

Larry and Huw have experienced a greater variation with their Chardonnay than I think they’d really like, so they’ve tried to tighten up the style over recent years, but still retain complexity by going straight to barrel with solids, wild ferment, the wine ending up with approx. 25% MLF. The Escarpment Chardonnay 2014 sample was a pre-blended barrel, certainly fresh and tight with white stonefruit aromas and flavours, along with minerals and a tight acid framework. This is elegant and rather unformed at present, but one can see the direction. A sample of ‘Kupe’ Chardonnay 2014, was a step up in richness, weight, intensity and power. Unsulphured, there’s some aldehyde on the nose, but the level of detail and flinty interest was evident. Another sample of ‘Kupe’ Chardonnay 2014, pure free-run juice, again showing aldehyde on bouquet, but more refined, precise and tighter than the previous sample. Not quite as generouse, but more finesse, detail, fine acid cut and greater fruit focus. For ‘Kupe’ the expression is limited by site and having only clone 95, so Larry and Huw look for diversity and layers of interest in the different ferments.

Larry has made small batches of sparkling wine over the years as an interest and challenge. A little Blanc de Blanc was made in 2012, which I’ve tasted and can pronounce as deliciously soft and elegant with some autolytic interest. Here, Larry and Huw presented a barrel sample of Rosé 2014, 100% Pinot Noir, destined for Escarpment’s second method traditionnelle. Very pale pink, with delicate red florals and berry fruits, tightly bound with good linearity. Surprisingly soft acid expression with a TA 8 g/L approx. This hasn’t yet begun its journey of development. Larry anf Huw have 500 litres dedicated to the style.

Tasting the 2014 Pinot Noir Barrel Samples
As stated above, Larry and Huw have returned to the higher input of whole clusters and new wood for the 2013s, and these 2014s. For the ‘Insight’ single vineyard wines, it’s 50% whole cluster and 40% new oak. Starting with ‘Pahi’ Pinot Noir 2014, very dark black-red colour, a touch lighter on rim. This is very fragrant with perfumes and florals intermingling with dried herbs and some whole bunch stalk and savoury interest. Black cheery and florals, extremely fine-grained, already supple, with fresh, bright acidity. Quite a beauty.

Moving to the ‘Kiwa’ Pinot Noir 2014, dark colour, black-red, not quite clear. Lovely full density and depth on nose, packed with savoury black and red fruits, plummy notes and harmoniously integrated whole bunch complexity, totally in tune with the fruit. Full, rounded, rich and surprisingly accessible, the ripeness and savoury interaction is the feature. Very fine-grained extraction and a softer acid mouthfeel, this is very complete in expression, but it isn’t a big wine by any means.

Then the ‘Te Rehua’ Pinot Noir 2014. Black hued purple-red in colour, and has a pure, rich and ripe nose with perfumed berry and plum fruits with mineral and spice notes. The whole bunch component is in a supporting role to the fruit. Concentrated and lusciously succulent, very fine-grained supple tannins ensure this will be an elegant wine, yet the structure and richness put it a step up in potential. Still very tightly bound and firm, with some acid freshness showing, the aromatics grow in prominence. Clearly, this demands more barrel aging.

Finally the ‘Kupe’ Pinot Noir 2014. This goes up to 70% whole clusters and 50% new oak. This wine has always been the most structured and rugged, maybe not the most refined, but the potential complexity development is clear to see. Black-red with purple hues. The nose is bold and powerful, with ripe black berry and dark red berry and plum fruits interwoven with fresh herbs and savoury, stalky whole cluster characters. Bull and structured, with bright, lively, raw primary fruit, that is nevertheless succulent. Layers of complexing whole cluster elements very obvious, but in great balance with the fruit. Tar and dark herbs, earth and minerals, all part of the equation, needing barrel time for the wine to come together.

The 2013 Pinot Noirs are due for release in a couple of months’ time, and I hope I get to see the full range. Then it’s another year before these 2014 wines will be put on the market. It is exciting times for Pinot Noir lovers as Escarpment Vineyard continues to up the ante.

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