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Wine of the Week for week ending 11 Dec 2005
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Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1989
Martinborough, New Zealand

The best tasting I went to this week, in fact the best tasting this month and probably the whole year - yes definitely the whole year, was not the normal marketing type of tasting showing off the latest releases. It was, instead, a celebration.

Martinborough Vineyard has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of their conception and part of the proceedings was a tasting voyage back in time to the first vintage ever made in 1984 right through to the current vintage. It was a tasting of very interesting wines and showed why Martinborough is unquestionably the premier region for Pinot Noir in this country. This may upset those fine pinot winemakers from Marlborough and Central Otago, but if any of them can put on a vertical tasting like this, I’d be surprised. Every wine, well almost every wine, was absolutely drinkable and of the 25 wines on show, right back to that first, non-commercial, vintage in 1984, there was a stunning display of longevity, depth and flavour with the older vintages showing lovely mature characters and impressive staying power.

The 1984 vintage was an eye-opener, Deep in colour with good depth, this wine never saw oak though you'd be a pretty expert taster if you could pick that up now. It was first crop fruit and today we are seeing many wines from first-crop fruit that are totally sensational. Not surprisingly it was happening back then too. Only tiny quantities of the wine were made by winemaker Russell Schulz, and this was the last of the winery's Museum stock. All that is left now is in private cellars.

Larry McKenna joined the company for the first commercial vintage in 1986 and the change of winemaking style was evident. Larry's skill soon made Martinborough Vineyard a household name to those householders who appreciated fine wine, and not just in New Zealand either. With Martinborough Vineyard winning a four-peat of Air New Zealand 'Champion Pinot Noir' trophies as well as international awards and flying aloft in the Air New Zealand Cellar in the Sky, the wine became internationally known as one of New Zealand's best pinot noirs. Larry McKenna left after putting the 1999 vintage into barrel.

Claire Mulholland finished the 1999 vintage and has made the wine since then.

Many of the wines were glorious and the younger wines still very youthful in the pinot noir scheme, however I'm picking an oldie as my Wine of the Week because the wine was simply stunning on the day. And as it is the first vintage of Martinborough Vineyard I ever bought after becoming interested in New Zealand's fine wines, it has a special place in my vinous memory.

Martinborough Vineyard Martinborough Pinot Noir 1989 is a fading cherry red colour with a dense translucency. The alluring, aged pinot aroma has an earthy, almost chocolatey richness to the forest floor and mellowed cherry scents. There's richness in the palate with velvety tannins, while citrus peel adds acidity to the backbone. With great structure and texture, this wine shows the exceptional quality and longevity that can be achieved. The vinosity has developed to show a touch of fine cherry caramel with a smidgen of chocolate, lifted fruit, a touch of tamarillo and a lovely forest floor earthiness to the long lingering finish.

After the tasting, as I was the last of the invited tasters left in the tasting room, I was asked if I would like to take a glass of my favourite wine to accompany my lunch. I perused the menu to see if anything looked pinot noir-friendly and when I saw mushroom risotto, couldn’t pass it by. The Sommelier said, "Good choice", and later, when I matched the Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1989 to this delicious dish, both the wine and food were better than good.

Those readers of who still have this wine in their cellars, should not be disappointed, so long as the wine has been cellared well and the cork is clean with a tight seal.

Here are the tasting notes for all the wines. The only down side to the tasting is that the event was held in a cellar and the artificial lighting was dull, which did not give a good insight to the hues of the wines.

I tasted from oldest to youngest to concentrate more on the development and not let a youthful number overpower a fading wine.

Here are my notes …….

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1984
13.5% alc. Picked at 24.2 Brix, 3.3pH and 8.8 g/l acidity.
Cloudy, brick coloured with an opaque centre. Smells like old Burgundy with a vinous, earthy sweetness and alcoholic warmth. Savoury red fruits, macerated strawberries, spice, integrated oak and a mellow, earthy richness to the finish. Surprisingly good. I only found out later it had no oak, which is why I thought it so integrated.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1985
12% alc. Picked at 24 Brix, 3.5 pH and 7.27 acidity.
Translucent and light in appearance. Quite stinky on the nose from overuse of sulphur with old leather and bitter cherry breaking through the pong, but surprisingly good acidity in the palate with bitter cherry to the fore, hard tannins and a woody earthy finish with a fruit cake cherry finish. Matured in heavy toasted puncheons and small barrels.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1986
12.2% alc Gold and Trophy, Air NZ Wine Awards 1987.
First commercial vintage from a wet summer, with some botrytis. Fading, brownish, translucent. Earthy smelling with hints of cherry, macerated fruit, mellow, jammy, cherry liqueur, fine silky tannins and a seamless flow.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1987
Cooler year, early harvest. 11.4% alc. Gold and Trophy, Air NZ Wine Awards 1988.
Fading, brownish, translucent. Earthy, pongy, but actually quite appealing old pinot aromatics with a vinous, old leather, liqueur-like sweetness. Earthy mellow flavours with a hint of mustiness at first which fades to let the macerated strawberry and cherry fruit take over on the earthy, mellow finish. An interesting, fascinating wine with a long, lingering finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1988
A fantastic, hot dry season. Cyclone Bola did not affect Martinborough. 13.2% alc. Picked at 21.6 to 24Brix, 3.2Ph, 8.5 g/l acidity. Gold and Trophy, Air NZ Wine Awards 1989.
Fading, brownish, translucent. Cherry liqueur aromas give it a sweetish, slightly porty character which carries through to the palate, and with the sweetness there's a minty note emerging too. A rounded wine with soft supple tannins, a silky texture and a touch of peppery spice on the long finish that is carried by good acidity, with stewed red plums lingering on the earthy aftertaste.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1989
A great vintage with physiological ripeness. Similar to 1998 but more rain during the season. 12.5% alc. Gold and Trophy, Air NZ Wine Awards 1990.
A fading cherry red with a denser translucency than the others so far (except, perhaps, the 1984). Alluring, aged pinot aroma with an earthy, almost chocolatey richness to the forest floor and mellowed cherry scents. There's richness in the palate with velvety tannins, while citrus peel adds acidity to the backbone. Great structure and texture, this wine shows the exceptional quality and longevity that can be achieved. As the vinosity has developed in the wine there's a touch of fine cherry caramel with a smidgen of chocolate, lifted fruit, a touch of tamarillo and a lovely forest floor earthiness to the long lingering finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1990
Small crop from a relatively cool year. 11.5% alc. Three gold medals in 1991 and 1992.
Thinner, browning but still deeply translucent. Earthy aromas with mellow vinosity. Savoury, earthy herbal (rosemary) with slightly grainy tannins - a savoury rather than fruity wine with a mellow fruit infusion of macerated red guava and perhaps a hint of tamarillo. Juicy and long.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1991 - Magnum
13% alc, picked at 23 Brix, 3.41 pH and 6.9g.l acidity. This was the first vintage after Larry's Burgundy trip. The 1991 vintage is famous for being rejected as 'malodorous' by the Department of Health. It went on to be selected as the top pinot noir for serving to Air New Zealand's First Class passengers.
Fading orange/pink with medium translucency. Earthy, Burgundian-like aromas with a mellow vinous overlay and hints of bitter cherry. Sweetish in the palate with a chocolatey richness, there is good texture and structure in the wine with firm, silky tannins, mellow stonefruit (cherry, plum and peach) and an interesting mellow French oak character coming through to linger on the finish. It's savoury and long with a vinous, slightly salty, herbal sweetness. A good wine with an earthy depth and plenty of life ahead of it.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1991
This was an unlabelled bottle from single vineyard fruit.
A little more translucent than the ex-magnum sample, but with similar flavour. There's more chocolatey notes, a little more leather and more earthy funk with orange pomander on the lingering finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1991 Reserve
This is a barrel selection of the best 'theoretical' blends. Nine barrels were selected for 6 months extra aging. 12.5% alc, 3.54 pH, 6.6g/l TA. Trophy and top gold at the National Wine Show of Australia in 1993.
Savoury, mellow and earthy smelling with Burgundian-like funk and bitter cherry fruit. Vinous sweetness in the palate with grainy tannins, a touch of chocolate, macerated strawberry and cherry fruit with a hint of mossy undergrowth. Lots of structure with good underlying acidity - still plenty of life ahead of it - and a lingering mellow finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1992
Cool year with average to low crops. Weather patterns affected by the Mt Pinotabu eruption. 12.5% alc. Gold at the National Wine Show of Australia in 1993.
Fading brick with average translucency. Orange-infused, slightly earthy aromas with an 'old orange' citrus character lifting the strawberry, cherry and guava fruit. Silky tannins, herbs - a touch of rosemary again - and a lovely vinosity to the lingering finish with earthy mellow French oak coming through to linger.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1993
Cool wet summer - the coldest year on record. Two trophies at the Sydney International Wine Competition in 1995. 13% alc. 3.61pH, 6.3g/l TA.
A little more colour and depth than the 1992. Toasty oak gives a slightly burnt character, like smoky fires in the distance. On its downhill slide, there's old range, mellow oak and funky earthy notes with mushroom and grainy tannins. Again that mellow vinous sweetness as it linger with a fruit character reminiscent of original 'Throaties' lollies. Quite chewy with a good finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1994
Fantastic vintage. 13% alc.
Good depth of colour though fading brick red. Appealing aromas of tamarillo, strawberry and bitter cherry then in the palate, excellent structure with a velvety texture and firm tannins for a wine of this age. A hint of chocolate, and strawberry caramel and lovely balanced acidity that give a flare to the finish, and a touch of salty spice adding interest. A long sustained finish with fruit sweetness. Plenty of life still ahead of it. Excellent.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1994 Reserve
13% alc. Winner of the Bouchard Finlayson trophy at the IWSC in 1997 and 3 trophies in Australia in 1997, and one in 1996.
Fading brick red, opaque in the core receding to a translucent about 1cm from the rim (when glass tilted, of course). Earthy, Burgundian-like aromas with mellow oak and a hint of orange chocolate. Savoury to the taste with good acidity coming from a citrussy-like tartness which balances well to the bitter cherry fruit. Earthy and herbal with mellow French oak, a touch of strawberry alongside the citrus and a long sustained finish with a lovely mellow, earthy aftertaste and great length. Excellent.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1995
Quality summer with rain 2 weeks before harvest. Half of the crop was dropped to the ground. 12.5% alc.
Quite earthy with a liqueur-like cherry flavour coming through. A little muted, however, with firm tannins. A disappointing follow-on from the 1994's.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1996
Average year. 13.5% alc.
Good colour, with hints of ruby. Attractive earthy aromas and earthy, forest floor flavours with macerated plum and strawberry fruit and lots of mushroom, earthy connotations. A rich earthy style, but the earthiness masks the fruit to some degree.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1996 Reserve
Gold Medals at IWC and IWSC in 1999. 3 clones AM10.5, UCD5 & UCD 13. 15% alc. 50% new oak.
Good colour, a bright but fading ruby with deep translucency. A big wine with an earthy richness, lovely velvety tannin structure, macerated strawberry and guava fruits, a touch of cherry sweetness, beautifully balanced French oak with enough acidity to ensure it will last. There's fruit richness to the finish with a touch of spice. Earthy, chocolatey, complex, velvety and ripe.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1997
A long hot season.13,.5% alc, 3.52 pH, 6.5g/l TA.
Brightly hued, browning ruby tones with medium to deep translucency. Lifted, appealing, slightly musky, anise-infused, earthy aromas - and absolutely no oxidation as seen in a previous tasting in November 2001. Creamy, slightly chunky texture with velvety/silky/grainy tannins, mellow plums and red guava fruits, lovely acid balance and an earthy mellow finis with tamarillo coming through to linger. There's a touch of herbal savouriness on the long mellow aftertaste. Fantastic length.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1997 Reserve
Selection of the best vineyards. 14% alc. Barrel-aged 12 months in 50% new oak, racked, then oak-aged for 6 months more.
Deep ruby garnet with an opaque core. Sweetish fruits to the fore - cherry, black peach, a touch of strawberry over an earthy backbone with a chocolate richness and a touch of orange. Supple, velvety tannins and the peacock tail's flare to the finish. Lovely, complex, earthy and chunky (like the non-reserve) with lovely vinosity as it lingers with a touch of cherry and tamarillo.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998
Best vintage to date. Gold and 4 trophies at the Singapore International Wine Challenge. 13% alc, 3.6 pH, 6.2 g/l TA.
Quite dense, ruby, excellent colour for its age. Soft and smooth with lovely integration of dark, dusky tannins with a gravelly earthiness, sultry bitter cherry and strawberry fruit and a long silky finish. So much better than the last tasting in Nov. 2001.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998 Reserve
13.5% alc.
Good depth of colour with ruby hues to the solid, slightly fading rims. Aromatic with hints of anise, this is a beautifully balanced pinot with lovely ripe fruit in the strawberry, guava, black cherry spectrum with just a hint of tamarillo; smoky oak, velvety/silky tannin and an earthy depth to the dark, dusky lingering finish. A lovely, earthy, complex wine.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999
Lowest yields yet but a long autumn resulting in high quality fruit. 13.5% alc, 3.6pH, 6.5g/l TA.
Ruby-hued and savoury smelling with a lovely silky smooth texture and mellowing berry fruits that still have an edge of youthful freshness. Dense and earthy with fabulous concentration and acidity adding a flourish to the finish. Still on its uphill journey. Excellent.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000
13.5% alc. Blue-gold and trophy, Sydney International Wine Competition.
Ruby red with medium to deep translucency. Lovely fruit with a perfect balance of savouriness coming through. Rich and complex with a slightly savoury, slightly salty (rosemary) nuance to the finish and good acidity. An excellent wine and drinking beautifully now.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2001
A dry growing season. 13.5% alc. Gold at the Royal Hobart Wine Show 2002
Earthy, savoury and complex with silky tannins and floral, smoky, tarry, cherry notes. A beautifully structured wine with an air of finesse. Extensive previous notes on my 2001 vintage pinot noir reviews page and there is little more to add other than this is still on the lower slopes of its uphill journey Starting to open up beautifully and simply a gorgeous drink.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2002
13.5% alc. 10 clones of pinot noir up to 24 years old as well as younger clones. A wet summer but an extended dry finish to the season which gave superb ripeness.
Youthful looking bright ruby with medium to deep translucency. Smooth and silky with a lovely spicy backbone, the anise combines with black cherry fruit with a rich savoury complexity and a long, juicy finish.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2003
13.5% alc. Frost in the spring result in low crops - approximately half of normal. A dry summer and long autumn resulted in fantastic fruit.
A complex wine - savoury, earthy, Burgundian-like - it lives up to its expectations and is very similar to my previous note made in July 2005. Dense in its youthful cherry-red colour, a nice meld of smoke, savoury oak, fruit and just a hint of rose-petal on the nose and vibrant flavours with a great expression of earthy savouriness, tart fruits in the tamarillo and guava spectrum, creamy oak, silky tannins and a long, dry finish. This is the current vintage at the time of writing and it has a recommended retail price of $60 a bottle.

I hope that people who read these tasting notes will end up with their mouths watering.

Read more about the history of Martinborough Vineyard on the Martinborough Vineyard website

© Sue Courtney
4 December 2005

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