Ata Rangi 2013 Barrel Samples
Another thread on the board Consistently NZ's best pinot noir ... ? - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers has been discussing the development and consistence of NZ Pinot Noir producers and terroirs. The notes from a tasting of barrel samples below seem a good rejoinder to that discussion as they give, what was for us, an insight into the wines of one of the top Pinot producers in New Zealand, Ata Rangi http://atarangi.co.nz.
Ata Rangi ‘s winemaker Helen Masters has joined many of our formal and informal gatherings to taste and drink wines with some of the Wellington regulars who on this occasion were joined by Brodie. On a previous evening she had kindly offered a tasting première outside of the winery: 7 barrel samples of 2013 Pinot Noir right before Helen and her team start the blending. None of the barrels had been racked.
2013 produced a long and stable growing seasons with just about perfect conditions. The industry is heralding this as a great vintage 2013 'a vintage to remember' say New Zealand winemakers - Decanter with healthy crops in the whole country. This was also the case in Martinborough where growing pinot can be quite a challenge.
Martinborough is a very small vine growing area (See map here: Ultimate New Zealand Wine Guide: History, Types, and More - Winesfrommartinborough.com) with especially challenging conditions. While Martinborough is much further North than Central Otago (about 600kms) and therefore closer to the equator, it has cooler growing conditions and grapes are picked much later.
Howard posted some comments on the climate and geology of Martinborough which provide a quick introduction http://www.wineberserkers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=1410915#p1410915
The 7 samples we tasted are representative of the blend of Ata Rangi’s Pinot Noir, with different plots, clones, terroirs and vine ages. All of the vineyards are located within or very close to the village of Martinborough see maps: http://www.atarangi.co.nz/vineyard-sites.html, Ultimate New Zealand Wine Guide: History, Types, and More - Winesfrommartinborough.com). The wines were served blind and discussed before Helen revealed them. While Helen did not tell it to us at the time, all the samples were for the top Ata Rangi Pinot Noir except for sample 4 which will be released on its own for the 2013 vintage.
Ata Rangi releases 2 different pinot noirs every year: a wine called Crimson (10 to 20 year old vines) and made for early drinking; and Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, the flagship wine. Ata Rangi has released a single vineyard cuvée wine in 2006 and 2008 (http://www.atarangi.co.nz/mccrone-vineyard.html) and this will be the case for the 2013 vintage.
All technical details were provided by Helen. Each sample has a name the origins of which might reflect parcel origins or something else.
Freshly crushed and bright red berry fruit; cherries, raspberry, some plums. Good detail and layering. Some subtle secondary unami and savoury touch. Rich sweet fruit on palate; forward and mouth-coating. Fruit-infused mid palate. More acids than tannins which give the wine brightness and preserves elegance.
“Hiro and Kusuda”
Dimattina vineyard, all Dijon clones- 19-year old vines (some of the first Dijon clones in NZ)
• 30% whole bunch
• 17 days total ferment time
• Brix 23.4
• organically grown
More subdued than sample 1 as this one shows some reduction and some leesy/barrel character. Fruit is also in the red spectrum (raspberry and cherries). Floral lift and a slight confectionary character.
On entry, there is a bit of spritz and then rich sweet fruit. This sample has more earthy and savoury character than the first one (the complexing influence of its slight reductive character?) but it also has bright acidity and tannins.
Cambrae vineyard; Dijon clones: 115, 667, 114. 20 year-old vines.
• 25% whole bunch
• 6-day preferment
• 17 days total ferment
• Brix: 23.9
Deeper colour than previous and more profound aromas. Darker fruit spectrum with wood and brambly spices.
Again a bit of spritz on entry. Darker fruit on palate with more tannins and spices. Rich and imposing wine with a mid palate that is quite broad and coating. Plenty of acidity and focus. More clay in this vineyard seems to explain the extra weight.
Serioulsy nuts vineyard; clay between gravel. Dijon clones: 115, 667, 777; 12 year-old vineyard.
• 26% whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 20 days of total ferment
• Brix: 23.5
Some reductive/barrel character. Bright red fruit and some spices. More feral character with pronounced acidity and savoury notes. Fresh and lively palate. Rich acids and tannins. Dominated by structure and especially acidity at this point. Vine age might the explanation for the vibrancy and forwardness of this wine.
McCrone vineyard, 11 years old; 40% Abel clone, 40% Dijon (115 and 777); 20% clone 5. The vineyard has more clay between the gravels.
• 25% whole bunch
• 3-day preferment maceration
• 18 days total tank time
• Brix 23.5
Will go in a separate release (as did the 06 and 08).
More subdued. Darker fruit: black cherries and stonefruit (plum). Layered and rich with elegance.
More tannic structure again. Good freshness and structure. Old vine feel.
Longer extraction time and tannins make this a big wine.
“Aidrie and Huck”
Blend of Ata Rangi home block vineyard and the adjacent Champ Ali. All clone 5 (Pommard); 25-25 year old vines.
• 18% whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 22 days in total tank time
• Brix 23.2
Dark fruit and savoury/earthy character. Very Martinborough. Richness and structure on palate. Savoury, spices, brambly fruit on palate Complex and old vine character with sappiness and concentration.
Claddagh vineyard; 18 year-old vines. Mix of Abel (http://www.atarangi.co.nz/the-gumboot-clone.html) and 10/5 clones. Dry farmed.
• No whole bunch
• 13 days total tank time
• Brix: 23.4
• Little extraction
This has the focus and concentration of small berry fruit; it’s rich and layered. Red and dark fruit, some cassis.
Velvety palate: lots of structure. Big wine; layered and saturated. Mid palate and back palate have tannic grip. This needs integration but this a distinctly appealing wine.
32 year-old Abel Clone vines.
• No whole bunch
• 8-day preferment maceration
• 26 days of total tank time
• Brix: 23.8
After the discussion of the samples we also tasted the following:
Blend of 6 samples (samples 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)
Helen performed a blending of the 6 samples which represent something close to what the final blend of the Ata Rangi wine will be.
Expressive and layered. Florality, and vibrancy, with complex characters. Good concentration and focus. Rich and expressive fruit with good acidity and tannins. A wine with power and with balance.
We also tasted out of bottle two wines from the 2012 vintage.
Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2012
Much cooler vintage, picked one month later than 2013. Sappy vinocity in a restrained fruit expression. Good structure and balance. Will develop more quickly than the 2013 and will show savory character earlier. Some of the cooler Ata Rangi vintages (such as 2004 and 2007, Howard notes) have produced what can be called Burgundian wines and this could be the case here.
William Grace 2012 Martinborough Pinot Noir
The first vintage of Mark St Clair’s small production Pinot Noir (Paul Mason from Martinborough vineyard is the winemaker). The vines are 3-years old: organic and not irrigated; 115 and Abel clones. 12.5% alcohol.
Light touch, fresh red fruit with balance and restraint. Good pinocity framed by subtle touches of wood. In this cooler vintage, the wine shows balance and typicity.
The samples revealed very different expressions of pinot and Martinborough terroir. We were all looking for the characteristics we associate with this sub-region (savoury, restrained and structured wines) and while we found them in different parts, it seems that the clonal assemblage has much to do with this expectation. The Abel clone (and Pommard to an extent) remains a key ingredient to Martinborough as expressed by Ata Rangi, but clearly the Dijon clones are providing the florality and detailed structure which renders the wines especially appealing. The Abel clone has an interesting story: http://www.atarangi.co.nz/the-gumboot-clone.html
While some of the samples showed evidence a pungent and reduced characters (in a complexing but not a faulty way), it seems that Helen uses this as an ingredient for the blend. The blended sample certainly did not show any reductive character but it was the most complex wine.
The blending Helen performed produced the typicity we expect of Martinborough and the complexity which made that “sample” the most satisfying. As NZ Pinot continues to progress, it will be interesting to see what happens to the development of single vineyard wines as opposed to blends of vineyards. Ata Rangi’s strategy seems to focus on a high quality estate wine which achieves complexity and interest every year but certainly reflects vintage (the contrast between 2012 and 2013 is a good example). Considering how much there is still to discover about Pinot and New Zealand, the focus on estate wine (and if you’ve looked at the map you’ll understand that these are vineyards a stonethrow away from each other) has distinct merits. It is also worth mentioning that Ata Rangi’s price structure has remained reasonable and that they are resisting the marketing which equates high prestige wines with charging the highest prices.
Old(er) vine character was evident in samples 5, 6 and 7 with their extra sappiness and focus. The Abel Clone samples were also the ones which had been less extracted in the winemaking process (no whole bunch; no preferment maceration) but they were certainly big and complex wines.
As to vintage 2013, we thought the wines had richness and complexity but no hints of over-ripeness and surmaturité. As mentioned above, 2013 was a climatically outstanding vintage, and on the evidence of this, Ata Rangi seems to have managed things well to avoid clumsy wines. Quite the contrary, these should be excellent wines.
The geek factor of this sample tasting was of course stratospheric. We felt that we understood Ata Rangi’s wines better from that experience.
Thanks to Helen for bringing these samples from the other side of the Rimutaka Hills.