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edited by Sue Courtney

Wine Reviews
Taste Martinborough

A celebration of the wines of Martinborough
© Sue Courtney, 1st January 2002

How do New Zealand wines age? Well, the answer is 'it depends on whose wine it is'. I was fortunate to find out for myself when I was invited to attend a tasting of tastings, a "horizontal of verticals" as part of the 10th anniversary of Taste Martinborough. Ninety-eight wines in all - so many wines that palate fatigue could quickly wear in. But the palate only tires when the wines you are tasting are themselves tired, or just n.b.g.

some Martinborough wines

The marathon tasting was the inspiration of Martin Carrington, ex-Corbans and now the proprietor of his own boutique wine shop, Carrington and Deans in the rural heartland-Wairarapa backwater of Greytown.

Martinborough is unique in that the wineries are small, often family owned and the focus is on quality rather than quantity. Most of the vineyards are on free draining alluvial river terraces.

Pinot Noir is the region's glamour wine and its success is the envy of many. Martinborough Sauvignon Blanc often excels on the show circuit. But other varieties do extremely well. So we looked at Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz in addition the the 60-plus pinot noirs.

Martin's vision was for us to understand how the benefits of vine age and the winemaker's expertise had influenced each producer's evolution of style over the years. But we were also able to see that weather conditions play an important role - especially years like 1998, the hottest on record for the region.

He compiled these summary notes on the Martinborough vintages of the last nine years.

Dry but very cool season. The impact of suspended ash from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on temperatures was considerable. Even with small crops, harvest dates were late. The autumn was dry to allow the grapes to hang on the vines and develop flavour, albeit at low sugar levels.

The influence of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo continued with a dry but markedly cool growing season and very small crops. Depth of flavour and concentration were helped by the small crops -but a better vintage for aromatic rather than full-bodied wines. An extremely long dry autumn resulted in some vineyards regarding this as one of their better seasons- especially late ripening varieties.

The 1995 vintage received very mixed reviews primarily due to difficult weather conditions (rain!) in the large wine-producing areas. This tended to obscure the fact that Martinborough, living up to its status as the driest North Island wine region, escaped very lightly. Crops were therefore able to ripen fully rather than being picked early due to disease pressure. This is reflected in a comparison between sugar levels at harvest of the 1995 and 1994 vintages with each of the 1995 varieties being riper at harvest than 1994.

A textbook season started with mild, settled weather right through flowering. This resulted in excellent fruit set and the promise of a good-sized crop. Although the summer months were hot, rain arrived almost exactly when needed and consequently no irrigation was required this year. Summer was followed by a dry and warm autumn. The harvest commenced in the first week of April (a week earlier than usual) and was completed before the end of April with no rain at all over this period. The grapes came into the winery in pristine condition.

The 1996-7 growing season was very much a "swings and roundabouts" affair. Spring was early and warm with generally settled weather until flowering. The onset of flowering coincided with a spell of cool, very windy conditions, which dramatically reduced the number of flowers set and therefore the potential crop. With the exception of February, which was hot, the summer months were relatively cool. However, from mid-March onwards we experienced an "Indian Summer" of warm, dry weather, which was perfect for ripening and harvesting grapes, certainly the best autumn in recent memory. The result was a small crop (30% less than 1996) of outstanding quality both in terms of fruit intensity and balance. The wines are powerful and tightly structured.

The hot, droughty summer of 1998 may not have pleased many farmers but it was perfect for winemakers. The grapes ripened in ideal conditions and were harvested about a week earlier than normal. Judicious use of irrigation ensured that the vines were not unduly stressed and preserved the natural acidity and fruit intensity, which typify the region's quality wines. The wines of 1998 are weighty and concentrated reflecting the warmth and dryness of the growing season. Happily this has not been at the expense of the vibrancy of flavour and the natural acidity, which determine the cellaring potential of the wine. The wines of 1998 are therefore likely to offer good prospects for longer-term cellaring.

The 1999 growing season and vintage is best summed up by the old adage "quality not quantity". Cool and windy weather in spring resulted in poor flowering and very low crops, ranging from 1-3 tonnes per acre. These low crop levels and the warm, dry conditions, which continued right through summer and harvest, produced grapes with marked intensity of flavour and real concentration. The 1999 vintage continues the unbroken sequence of outstanding vintages going back to 1994. The wines of the 1999 vintage will be more approachable when young than the 1998 vintage wines but will offer the same potential for long-term cellaring.

The vintage 2000 growing season was very similar to the fine 1997 vintage with cooler summer temperatures and a warm, dry autumn, which was ideal for ripening grapes. With fewer of the cool and windy episodes we typically experience in spring and over flowering, crops were the best since 1996, averaging from 3-3.5 tonnes per acre. The cool summer, followed by a warm autumn produced ripe grapes with excellent levels of natural acidity and low pH's, c classic cool-climate vintage after the two warm-hot vintages 1998 and 1999. The vintage 2000 wines are tightly focused with beautiful varietal expression and balance, immediately appealing but outstanding cella ring prospects. Our best vintage yet.

Despite a generally cold spring in 2000, which included several frosts and hail (in November!), December was warm and flowering was the best we've experienced. Due to the good flowering the vines set a crop to rival 1996. The vintage 2001 growing season had three distinct phases. Before Christmas, conditions were typical, with plenty of wind and alternately cool and warm spells. Summer was exceedingly dry but cool and autumn was dry and warm. With the drought conditions, irrigation was absolutely essential to maintain the vines in good health and to enable them to ripen the crop. The cool summer followed by a warm autumn produced ripe grapes with bright flavours, good levels of natural acidity and low pH's. A fine vintage, which will probably be underrated by having to follow the outstanding 2000 vintage.

The Tasting
Martinborough Winemakers
Martinborough winemakers wait for their turn to host their wines.
Thirteen wineries were participating in the tasting. Each set of tastings was hosted by the winemaker of the set of wines we were tasting. In most cases, the same winemaker had made every wine in his/her line-up.

Margrain Vineyard
Margrain Vineyard was originally planted with 5 hectares in 1992. Another 5 hectares was planted this last winter and with the purchase of the old Chifney vineyard they expect now have 15 hectares under vine. Strat Canning has been the winemaker since 1996.
Margrain Vineyard has been producing Pinot Gris since early in the renaissance of this intriguing variety. The wine has been made in a dry style, except the 1998. None have seen oak. Since 1999, the wine has had extended yeast lees contact.

Margrain Pinot Gris 1996
Lovely aromatics. Developed flavour of tropical fruits with peach and pineapple. Quite subtle with a touch of toastiness lingering on the finish. (3/6).

Margrain Pinot Gris 1997
A little duller on the nose with faint peach nuances. Fairly developed, oily texture, sharpish finish with a touch of herb flower. A bad year, just 12 cases were made. (6/6).

Margrain Pinot Gris 1998
An aromatic wine. Developed baked peach, bright pear notes and hints of tropical fruits. A sweeter style with apricot jam and honey, a bright lifted finish, good balance and acidity. (4/6).

Margrain Pinot Gris 1999
Deep colour. Some honey notes. Pineapple, pear and more noticeable toastiness. Lifted finish with a long intense flavour of baked peach. Slightly oxidised I thought. (5/6).

Margrain Pinot Gris 2000
Intensely aromatic with bright pear and citrus, honeysuckle and some leesiness. Classic pinot gris with pear drop flavours, oily texture and a touch of steeliness. Lovely balance Very impressive. (1/6).

Margrain Pinot Gris 2001
(tank sample - tasted while still on yeast lees). Leesy, baked vanilla biscuits. Lemon coloured - a little cloudy. Sweet peach / apricot. The most noticeable acidity of the line-up. lemon oil texture. tropical fruits with hints of pineapple energe and linger with a touch of honey. Good potential . (2/6).

Nga Waka Vineyard
The first vintage was in 1992 when vineyard was only 4 hectares in size. Now vines cover 10 hectares and production is expected to increase to 5000 cases in 2002.
Nga Waka produced an outstanding line-up of riesling showing they do have the capacity to age.. All are made in a dry style, except the 1996. The wines are bottled and aged for a year prior to release. The older the wines, the soft and more integrated the acidity of this natural high-acid grape. The winemaker is Roger Parkinson.

Nga Waka Riesling 1993
Grape zest and fish oil aromas, or perhaps grapefruit leaf oil.
Bright zesty fruit with plenty of citrus and honey with a developing toastiness. Still youthful with a vanilla and lemon custard flavour. Dry finish with zesty spice. Drinking very well.

Nga Waka Riesling 1994
Golden hues. Quite developed nose with a lime richness. A little overripe when first in the mouth but honeyed grapefruit emerges. A richer wine with concentrated lime, hints of honey and an intense finish. Drinking very well now but perhaps at peak.

Nga Waka Riesling 1995
Floral nose with marmalade character and hints of ginger spice. Aromatic, lifted and zesty in the palate. Very pure. Good concentration with peach and apricot emerging. Long finish. Plenty of life. I really like this wine with its honey / toasty finish.

Nga Waka Riesling 1996
A little duller on the nose. A sweeter style with white flowers and citrus zest. Moselle-like with white honey and freshly squeezed lemon juice. The nose evolves as the wine sits and the palate shows richness and concentration with sweet fruit.

Nga Waka Riesling 1997
A more delicate wine with less oomph than others (a reflection of vintage, we're told) but pure in its varietal typicity. Soft acids with lemon and orange juice and starting to develop a toasty character.

Nga Waka Riesling 1998
Very dry, seemingly drier than the others. Clean and pure with a talcy character and lime juice flavour. Merest hint of honey. Still evolving. A classic dry riesling.

Nga Waka Riesling 1999
A note of cherimoya (custard apple). Lemon jube character in palate. More apple-like than others with a hint of vanilla and a touch of orange and spice. Lacks a little in concentration.

Nga Waka Riesling 2000
Slightly spritzig in appearance. Dry and talcy with floral hints. Youthful. Very subdued in palate at first but really evolves in the mouth to richly concentrated honey and a citrus orchard of lemon, grapefruit and lime. Will evolve well, just give it time.

Nga Waka Riesling 2001 (Pre-release sample)
Leesy notes on the nose. In the palate it's clean, pure and zesty with citrus, honey and floral notes. Touch of talc, too. Juicy lemons & limes with a fabulous concentration & richness. This looks like it will be an amazing wine in 2-4 years.

Murdoch James
Murdoch James, established in 1986, makes wines outside of the square - literally and figuratively, for their main vineyard and winery is the furthermost from the village. The wines presented at this tasting were an unoaked chardonnay and a shiraz. "Why do you make a Shiraz" asked someone. "Because I like Shiraz", replied Roger Fraser. It seemed like a good enough reason to me.
The shiraz comes from the Fraser Block on the famed Martinborough Terrace. This line-up of reds concluded the day's tasting on a high, but for convenience I have listed them here with the chardonnays.
Chris Buring (previously at Te Kairanga) has been the winemaker at Murdoch James for four years.

Murdoch James Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2000
Leesy and mealy with stone fruits and delicate scents of flowers. A ripe fruit sweetness at first in the palate then spice. Bright and clean with good acidity. Butterscotch-like flavours linger.

Murdoch James Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2001
Pungent aroma. Rich & concentrated oily style with ripe stone fruit. This wine did not seem as bright and luscious as the sample tasted in Auckland a couple of months earlier.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 1995
Well coloured medium red, not fading. Pepper and cedary oak aroma. Creamy American oak in the palate with sweet spicy fruit, a touch of meatiness, developing secondary characters and becoming quite complex. A chocolate creaminess on the finish with the lift of cherry. Good acid structure. A fine shiraz.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 1996
Vanillin aromas. A creamy textured wine with hot pepper spice, juicy vinosity, plum, prune and blueberry. Well developed and mellow at first but lifts and lingers well. Quite delicious. A wine I would like to drink.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 1997
Pepper and a touch of leather on the nose but in the palate there's sweet plum fruit sitting attractively alongside lifted creamy oak. Full, round and generous with a red berry tone throughout, a biscuity meaty note, a touch of herb and crisp spice on the finish. Soft tannins and good balance.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 1998
Very well coloured deep red with dark berry fruit aromas. Densely textured in the palate with lifted blackberry, blueberry and plum, meaty oak, good tannins and a soft ripe finish.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 1999
White and black pepper spice and plum aromas while there's a touch of mintiness in the palate. Rich blackberry, plum, cinnamon & cloves the spice more obvious than in the older wines. There's plenty of upfront peppery spice on the medium length finish.

Murdoch James Estate Shiraz 2000
Fragrant aroma with a floral nuance. Rich and creamy with spicy oak, a touch of sweet leather, redcurrant and plum fruit, an earthy note and a long sweetish, creamy finish. Very ripe and lifted, this is a good example of the complex structure that this grape can produce. The quality of the vintage shows through.

Alana Estate
Established in 1993, this 22-hectare vineyard of Alana and Ian Smart produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. We looked at two varieties from the first commerical vintage in 1998 to the current. John Kavanagh is the winemaker.

All chardonnays are hand harvested, 100% barrel fermentation of whole bunch pressed fruit and complete malolactic with lees stirring and barrel aging.

Alana Estate Chardonnay 1998
Rich, toasty wine with plenty of spicy oak, peach, pear and a touch of pineapple. Richly textured, lovely concentration with some lively acidity. Not a blockbuster but will be a superb food wine.

Alana Estate Chardonnay 1999
A steelier aroma and citrus malo leesy notes dominate this wine that has some Burgundian nuances. Evolves slowly in the mouth to a lifted lemony, toasty finish. A touch of honey, due to concentration, perhaps, and some pineapple notes on the finish.

Alana Estate Chardonnay 2000
Nuts and figs dominate the nose with smoky (not overpowering) oak. Lifted, clean, spicy fruit with peach, pear grapefruit zest, creamy malo characters and a sweet toasted sugar finish. Again, Burgundian in style. Looking very good.

Alana Estate Chardonnay 2001 barrel sample
Leesy aromas dominate the nose. Very spritzy, spicy character with a metallic note. Flavours of peach and pineapple with loquat. Fruit is looking good but W.I.P leesy barrel characters dominate.

Alana Estate pinot noir is hand harvested, gravity destemmed to hand plunged open fermenters and barrel aged for a year before release.

Alana Estate Pinot Noir 1998
Cedary oak, blueberry and spice with an oxidative character which carries through to the palate. This is a ripe style, with smoke, baked berries and brambles.

Alana Estate Pinot Noir 1999
Baked berry and cherry aromas, varnishy oak hits the palate along with meaty pinot characters. The most complex of this mini line-up. Quite creamy with a lovely perfumed pinot flavour that lingers.

Alana Estate Pinot Noir 2000
Plum and spice aromas. Bright, crisp, savoury fruit with ethereal pinot flavour. Looking very good with cherry, strawberry, a touch of savoury meat and a bright, long finish.

Alana Estate Pinot Noir 2001 (barrel sample)
Oily, spicy aromas. Bright fruit, a little rich with a peach-like fleshiness. Very smoky, cigar-like at this stage. Good pinot character with potential - time will tell.

Dry River
Established in 1979 by Neil and Dawn McCallum. The first vintage was in 1984. Introducing his wines, Neil McCallum said it was a dilemma as to which wines he would show. What he gave us to taste were a selection of chardonnay and pinot noir, wines that he described as 'at the end of their life or from some unusual vintages'.

Dry River Om Santi Chardonnay 1988
Very light colour for it's age. Rich yeasty chardonnay, unusual! Toasted butter, wild yeast, mealy - not a fruit style - it's all about texture. Hard to believe it is 13 years old. Plenty of bright & creamy acidity. Amazing!

Dry River Chardonnay 1993
Developed, butterscotch & hints of banana. Oxidation starting to creep in. Baked peach & bread pudding, but will go well with food.

Dry River Chardonnay 1996
Brilliant! More in the style we know. Spicy oak, rich mealy characters, poached stone fruits, pears and a toasty full bodied lingering finish. A brilliant example of classic McCallum. A superb 5-year old Chardonnay that is long and deeply flavoured and totally satisfying.

Dry River Chardonnay 1998
Very fine grapefruit zest aromas - more Burgundian than the others. Has a fine citrus/lime character for a moment, then creamy, a kind of chalkiness/graininess in palate - think pears, then lovely lemony/leesy/mealy characters fill out and linger.

Although Dry River's first vintage was in 1984, Pinot Noir was a later addition with the first full-fledged Martinborough pinot being produced in 1989.

Dry River Pinot Noir 1989
Pale, light-red, cherry red, fading at rims to pink hues. Savoury & delicate fruit/cherry spice on nose. A touch of 'old wine' character - not at all detracting. Delicious developed wine, sweet cherry & complex aged pinot character with a touch of meatiness. Seems quite light at first but underlying power carries the delicate wine. Whole bunch in ferment. Very good.

Dry River Pinot Noir 1994
Med-dense colour. I don't like the stinky/leathery nose of this wine. Then in the palate a sour Vitamin B character - reminds me of the '94 I opened in Sept & didn't like. Meaty, medicinal, but wait a while and rich black plum and savoury gamey characters emerge. Sweet and sour finish.

I found similar characters in a glass tasted from a magnum that evening, but in December when I opened a bottle to accompany portobello mushrooms, I found the wine just amazing. The slightly medicinal character emerged on the finish, however.

Dry River Pinot Noir 1996
Slightly oxidised biscuity note at first which fades to reveal amazing fruit aromas with hints of musky oak. It's a big wine in the palate, full & vinous with savoury fruit, spice, cherry, plum. Let the 'bigness' subside and the finish on this wine is amazingly concentrated with strawberry & black peach.

Dry River Pinot Noir 1999
Densely coloured. Plenty of pinot spice on the nose which carries through to the palate. The spice actually overpowers the fruit at first but let the wine evolve in the mouth to bring out the power of the pinot. Creamy texture and a beautiful structure. This will age extremely well and while the wine seems gorgeous now it has the fabulous potential to age.

Ata Rangi
Clive Paton and Oliver Masters
Clive Paton and Oliver Masters pour the Ata Rangi pinots.
Planted in 1980 with pinot noir from the outset, Ata Rangi has built up a great reputation for this classic grape. It has always performed well on the stony site. Winemakers Clive Paton, Phyll Pattie and Oliver Masters aim to make a complex, sensuous opulent Pinot. A number of small blocks with different clones are harvested over 2-4 weeks. A variety of fermentation techniques are used and the wine is aged in oak from 8 different Burgundy suppliers.

Ata Rangi Caitlin Jayne Pinot Noir 1989
Developed, light cherry colour with pink hues, good acid structure, spice & drinking well today - some sweet macerated ripe cherry fruit flavours, fine tannins, soft, long finish with a sweet subtle spice lift. Very good.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1993
Developing colour with orange hue. Meaty nose with tar and strawberry. Quite developed with sweetish earthy/mushroom meaty characters and the lift of fruit spice on finish. A wine to muse over. Drinking well today.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1994
Fragrant scents but with a touch of fish oil?? - bottle stink? It blows off. It's a lovely developed pinot with a touch of pepper and plenty of flavour in the palate with spice, cherry, baked plum and savoury meats. A well structured wine with good acidity. Drinking well!.

Ata Rangi Noir 1995
It seems a touch oxidised after the brilliant 94. Dense structure with strawberry & plum fruit and a creamy texture with cedary oak & spice loitering in background. Fairly firm tannins & sweet fruit finish.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1996
Well coloured, meaty aromas, richly flavoured pinot, quite silky with spice, florals, tamarillo, savoury and lifted pinot notes. There's plenty of acidity in this well integrated creamy wine, making it an excellent proposition for further cellaring.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1997
Cherry hues. A stinky, meaty, gamey wine with a touch of musk, lifted spice, mushroom, earthy notes and a baked guava-like nuance and a dense velvety texture.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1998
Ripe and creamy fruit nose with a hint of spice and aromas reminiscent of baking biscuits. Seems youthful, lifted and vibrant with crisp biscuity guava and berry fruit. Developing well. Quite thick textured wine with the biggest tannins of the lot.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 1999
Creamy spice on the nose, plenty of spice in palate. A finer wine than the 98. Warm berry fruit with integrated spice and fine oak nuances.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2000
Creamy nose. Vibrant clove-like spices in palate - mulled wine with cinnamon/clove and orange. Meaty notes - delightful floral nuances. A wine to unfold and savour over the next few years. Elegant and balanced with a silky texture. This wine is a star!!! Waves of flavour, floral one minute, tamarillo and spice the next, strawberry the next.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2001 (barrel sample)
Perfumed, delicate cherry and spice scents. Spice predominates in palate again with guava, tamarillo, musk and strawberry. Juicy fruit with citrus tones at this stage. Looking good.

The range of Ata Rangi Pinot Noirs is outstanding. Wines that show quality and consistency.

Martinborough Vineyard
Established in 1980, this was one of the four original vineyards in the area - the others being Ata Rangi, Dry River and Chifney. The first wines were produced in 1984. It is due to one of Martinborough's owners, Derek Milne, a DSIR scientist, that the Martinborough region was developed. His study of climate patterns and soil types found the region very similar to parts of Burgundy. Hence the venture into the unknown area and the decision to plant Pinot Noir along with Ata Rangi. Of the other two original vineyards, Chifney made the decision to persevere with Cabernet while Dry River eventually planted pinot after seeing the successful results from the pinot pioneers.
Larry McKenna was the Martinborough Vineyard winemaker until 1999. The current winemaker is Claire Mulholland. She finished the 1999 wines and produced the magnificent Martinborough 2000 - one of the stars of the day.
I noticed a salty savouriness with good acidic spiciness in the first few wines. The1990 to 1995 are lighter style wines, made from the 10/5 clone.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1990
Developed, orange colour, a little cloudy. Savoury, almost salty cedary aroma and similar in the palate with savoury, spice and fruit tea-like fruits. Silky and long it's interesting and complex. I really like this.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1992
Clear, orange cherry pale colour. Salty spice at first but again interesting, complex, baked fruit of the forest flavours and some bright mulled wine spice character. Lovely development. Drinking well. Bright lifted finish, silky. Very good.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1993
Similar colour to the 92. Savoury spice over earthy, orange and berry. A lovely developed pinot with a toasty biscuit character. Denser and meatier than the 92.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1994
Again a savoury, salty-spice with lovely developed fruit, hints of citrus, earthy notes, a floral nuance. Silky wine. Good.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1995
A touch leather and maybe a mere hint of TCA (or forest floor). More varietal cherry fruit. I've tasted this wine 3 times since and do believe this was a faulty bottle. It's an elegant wine, light but vinous with good pinosity.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1996
Creamy nose, tea fruits, floral elegance, strawberry and cherry, lovely elegant structure in this wine. Silky, long and flavoursome. Lingering flavours. Amazing length. Bright, lifted, savoury and toasty. Very, very good.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1997
Earthy, strawberry, hints of cherry, touch of musky oak. A denser richer wine than those before it. Softer spices, more tannin, and long flavoursome finish with a touch of savoury spice.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1998
A bit weird. Perhaps a bit of beetroot. Leathery, savoury, earthy wine. From a bigger, riper year. Creamy. Burnt oak and baked fruit. Powerful finish. Disappointing but in keeping with most of the other 98's today.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999
Elegant spicy, powerful wine with strawberry/cherry/baked guava, firm tannins, rich texture. Good concentration. Lovely integration, a flourish of berry spice at the finish with savoury oak.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2000
Bright cherry coloured. Lovely ripe bright fruit, sweet and lifted with floral spice, cherry, a touch of earthiness. It is looking very good. Very long finish. Velvety texture. Gorgeous array of fruit and complexities in excellent balance. Nothing too dominant at all. Concentrated and rich with a long fulfilling finish. The star!.

Muirlea Rise
Established in 1987 by Willie Brown who has made the wines to date, however it looks like the vineyards may be leased out for future vintages. Apart from the Pinot Noir, Willie's speciality has been his fortified styles.

Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 1996
Medium density cherry colour. The aromas emit cherry and spice and all things nice. Another excellent example of the 96 vintage. Savoury toastiness lingers. Warm and vinous. A little powdery on the texture.

Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 1997
More perfumed with a spicy array of fruits, toastiness, earthiness tending toward a touch of herbal. A nuance of the characters found in the 94 Dry River. Then a lovely bouquet with lavendar, orange, musk and spice. Velvety texture. A good 97.

Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 1998
A richer, full-bodied smoky style with musk, forest fruits, dense tannins and a creamy texture. Savoury and spice finish with some toastiness and cherry fruits lingering.

Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 1999
A creamy-textured wine with reasonable tannins, earthy cherry fruit and a touch of herb. Lovely emergence of fruit on the finish. Another taster described this wine as 'the essence of pinot'.

Muirlea Rise Pinot Noir 2000
Fragrant with cherry, violet and subtle oak. A lovely elegant wine with some purity. Quite lifted after the denser 98 and 99. Clean, good varietal characters with cherry and spice and a velvety texture - a wee touch of earthy meatiness and a splash of musk. Delicious fruit sweetness and a gorgeous length. Brilliant!

Palliser Estate
First vintage was 1989 from vines planted in 1984. Winemaker Allan Johnson, who introduced the wines, has been with Palliser for 10 years. Palliser is one of the few Martinborough wineries that consistently enter wine shows, and it is one of the few wineries that consistently wins gold medals and trophies for its wines over all varieties. The pinots are probably the biggest in alcohol from the region - consistently around 14%. This makes the wines seem warm and generous. In general, I found the Palliser pinots more tannic than most of the others. We had a vertical of five wines.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 1996
Well coloured. Sweet fruit with spice and warm pepper. Good concentration. Lovely lingering savoury flavours. 14.6% alcohol. Allan Johnston says this wine was like a CdP when young.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 1997
Well coloured. Warm and savoury with bright spice and a velvety texture. Quite crisp. Earthy flavours, a flash of citrus, pepper and a savoury finish with a mere touch of leather.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 1998
Slightly 'rubbery' whiff on the nose and a sour fruit taste. This wine did not really do well in the hot 98 vintage. Fairly big tannins for the style but what do you know, the savoury, floral, meaty characters on the lingering aftertaste are quite superb.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 1999
Cherries, spice and warm savoury oak. Dry with savoury fruit and a touch of gamey earthiness. Plenty of full, ripe pinot flavour. I like how this wine has developed over the last year. There's an oaky, herbal, savoury note on the finish.

Palliser Estate Pinot Noir 2000
Very ripe, velvety, creamy wine with woody, brambly characters. It's a big wine. There's a touch of aniseed perhaps. Very warm in the palate. Pinot spice and toasty oak without any prominent fruit characters. There's a lovely richness, a touch of savoury herb and oak spice on the gorgeous lingering finish.

Te Kairanga
Established in 1984, there's been three winemaking teams over the years. Current winemakers, Peter and Mayi Caldwell have worked at Te Kairanga since 1998, producing three vintages. They are looking to produce a big style pinot noir with concentrated fruit in the black cherry spectrum and with the ability to age for six years plus.

Te Kairanga Premium Pinot Noir 1991
Pale, quite developed oxidised aromas. Lacks a bit in the palate and spice is pronounced on the finish. Past it.

Te Kairanga Premium Pinot Noir 1992
Pale 'Old wine' aromas. Fairly developed and going downhill fast.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1994
Smoky, toast, cherry and plum with a hint of tobacco. Sweet jammy fruits and spice. Quite good.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1995
Spicy nuances, reasonable tannins, stewed pinot fruit, spice, good varietal character, touch of earthiness and a lifted finish.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1996
Pale colour. Lifted vibrant berry fruit, sweet creamy oak, a fairly big wine with still plenty of life ahead of it.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1997
Dark cherry colour. Savoury fruit, quite powerful with musky perfume and fairly big tannins. Very flavoursome, concentrated and rich.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1998
A much darker colour. Quite opulent with a vanillin American oak aroma. Oak plays a big part in the flavour of this wine. Savoury and spice emerge. Sweet fruit finish. Very easy to drink. A pinot for the non-traditionalists.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 1999
Dark, very meaty aromas and a little stinky though this character does not carry through to the palate. A creamy textured wine with roses, savoury and spice, black cherry and plum fruit, fairly big tannins and big structure.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 2000
Earthy at first and then lifted, fragrant citrus and spice scents. Chocolatey, flavours, sweet fruits, spice and musk. Some varietal characters linger with elegance and an intriguing pinot fruit character. Perhaps a little chunky.

Te Kairanga Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 (barrel sample)
Lifted spicy fruit with cherries and strawberries, creamy oak and a lovely savoury spice with citrus notes.

It was interesting to see the evolution in the winemaking styles, with all wines from 1997 on very much darker.

Voss Estate
Established in 1988 by Gary Voss and Annette Atkins, 70% of the 12-hectare production is pinot noir. Pinot is their passion - each vintage they strive to make a better pinot than their last. The pinots never have more than 15% new oak. I found the pinots to be quite savoury and with the exception of the 98, they had good fruit too.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1993
Pale, starting to fade. Intriguing aroma, sweet fruit, violets, musk and mushroom. A soft and spicy pinot. Good.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1994
Dense earthy wine, quite a bit darker than the 93. Cherry, plum, subtle spice and savoury creamy, slightly toasty oak. Drinking well but seems to be at peak. Enjoyable.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1995
Lifted fruit, a slightly leathery meaty nuance, sweet fruit and a touch of musk. Quite developed but drinking well if you like these earthier styles.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1997
Earthy notes, good bright fruit, spice and savoury characters, clean and ripe.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1998
A big tannin wine with a spicy grainy texture. It seemed totally out of place in this line-up, which was otherwise good.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 1999
Elegant and refined with good varietal spice, savoury notes, cherry fruit and toasty oak. Lovely length and lingering flavour. My favourite wine from Voss.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 2000
Cinnamon spice and cloves, slightly drying tannins, savoury, floral - violet-like - fills out on the creamy finish.

Voss Estate Pinot Noir 2001 (barrel sample)
Spice and musk. Good varietal characters. Creamy. Looking good.

Walnut Ridge
Bill Brink established his vineyard in 1987. First vintage was 1994. Cold soak methods, indigenous fermentation, barrel ferments and lees aging have been used since the outset.
As he introduced his wines he told us it was for him the first vertical of his seven vintages to date. There was a marked improvement in quality from 1997 on.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1994
Good colour. Fairly developed oaky aromas. Lacks in flavour and is really over the hill.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1995
Very pale compared to the others. Closed on the nose. Delicate floral aromas and light cherry flavours are the key note in this light style. There's a touch of strawberry and some nice savoury nuances.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1996
A rich pinot with a touch of raisin. Show good ripeness but keeps the varietal characters in check. A little jammy.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1997
Good colour. A nicely developed savoury pinot drinking very well now. A vinous richness of macerated cherries with a touch of chocolate creaminess, spice and lingering savoury, floral and herbal notes. Lifted, bright and clean, this is a totally delicious wine with a great finish.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1998
Developed ripe fruit, a little jammy but round and flavoursome. One of the better 98's. Big tannins but lovely texture and flavour. Spice and savoury notes linger. It is really quite moreish.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 1999
Fairly big wine with a touch of chocolate which quickly gives way to delicious savoury pinot flavours of cherry, plum and spice with a creamy earthiness. Clean and lifted on the finish. Pretty gorgeous.

Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 2000
Rich, spicy, flavoursome with hints of chocolate and cinnamon and a touch of orange. Very well structured and complex wine with lingering savoury and a touch of herb. Delightful wine. One of the stars today.

The last three wines in this line-up had obvious higher alcohol than the first four.

Claddagh Vineyard
This was a new name to me, although their 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon had won a gold medal at the Air NZ Wines Awards, Cabernet is the forté on the 4-hectare vineyard. They have not yet produced a Pinot Noir. Russell Pearless introduced his wines.

Claddagh Cabernet Sauvignon 1994
Well coloured for a 94 with pink hues on dense red. Smoky nose with cigar and mint. Creamy oak in the mouth with rich, leathery blackcurrant fruit and minty nuances. A really mouthfilling wine with excellent lingering fruit and meaty oak. Long finish with lovely flavours.

Claddagh Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
(plus 5% merlot). Biscuity nose and a touch of yeastiness at first. Very ripe fruit, not so varietally discernible on the palate but as the yeasty character blows off it is definitely cabernet on the nose. Grapey wine with leather and subtle oak spice. Good.

Claddagh Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Well flavoured minty cabernet with quite firm tannins - certainly the biggest tannins of the entire day. Sweet fruit leather, redcurrants, good concentration and length. Very good.

Claddagh Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (barrel sample)
A lighter coloured cabernet than the other. It has a kind of pruney flavour running through the wine with a redcurrant lift. Seems a little one-dimensional at this stage but has the potential to develop well. Still in the making and will be sold until 2003.

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