2011 Martinborough Pinot Noir: A Case For Waiting

September 24th 2013

When should you release your wine?

It’s a predicament most wineries face and is a trade off between what’s good for the wine and what’s good for the winery’s accounts.

The issue was evident at a recent tasting of the 2011 Pinot Noirs from the Wairarapa.  The current release that Martinborough producers are pouring is tight with high acidity and fairly sturdy tannins. This combination means they’re pretty hard to taste, and they certainly shouldn’t be drunk yet even though it is the current vintage hitting the shelves.

At a regional seminar, New Zealand’s only Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas, said: “If I had a magic wand I would say don’t release these wines for another 18 months. They are taut and poised. It’s almost like an early release look at them.”

But this is what consumers will soon be pouring and it doesn’t do the region any favours. “They are released too early and people are selling them to be drunk and that would be a disappointment for them,” noted Wilco Lam of Dry River. While Dry River has released its 2011 Pinot Noir, it has with an almost-cult following, and it’s likely that most of their mail-order customers will have the good sense to put it in the cellar. If only all producers had that luxury.

The season started well with bunch set that was “too good” according to Ata Rangi, which meant extensive crop thinning was necessary if producers wanted to ensure the fruit on the vine ripened. Larry McKenna of Escarpment noted: “Up to 30% was dropped at veraison which is a very hard thing to witness.”

The start of the summer was warm, putting water stress on the vines, leading to small berries on bunches. February and March cooled off with what Craggy Range called “small pesky rain events” during the harvest period, which meant picking dates were crucial.

While some have managed to make successful wines that will come round in a few years, it’s certainly not the region’s greatest vintage with a few too many showing a definite underripe herbal character and startling acidity.

My picks of the vintage:

2011 Dry River Pinot Noir
This wine is not about New World fruit sweetness but structure. Currently closed on the nose and palate, it possesses density without weight – great concentration yet remaining delicate on the mid palate. Firm acidity and around 30 percent whole bunch provides linearity and abundant tannin for Pinot Noir. Refreshingly low in alcohol at 13%. Long finish with subtle spice and clove. Don’t even think about opening it for the next five years – it’s tight as a pair of skinny jeans after a big meal.  18/20 or 90/100

2011 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
Fairly closed on the nose but there’s a pretty wine lurking beneath with cranberry, plum and a floral note, if you really work at it. Vibrant wine with aspirin-like textural component (the winemaker Helen Masters suggests it could come from the skin and seeds – or the soils). Well balanced with firm acidity. Needs time. 17.5/20 88/90

2011 Vynfields Pinot Noir
A more open and voluptuous example of the vintage than both Ata Rangi and Dry River. Lifted floral and violets on the nose, likely from cold soak. Supply and fleshy on the mid palate (100% destemmed) with firm acidity providing good drive. 17.5/20 87/100

All samples tasted September 2013.

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