Ata Rangi Tasting with Helen Masters

Ata Rangi tasting 2013

I attended an excellent wine tasting at Regional Wines on Thursday night. It was hosted by Alistair, and the tasting was led by Head Winemaker at Ata Rangi, Helen Masters.

I am a huge fan of this producer. Over the years I’ve loved drinking their pinots and Celebre and Summer Rose. I’ve got some good bottles in the cellar too, so was real excited about this tasting.

Ata Rangi’s vineyards lie close to, and north of, Martinborough village. The raised ancient seabed that formed the South Wairarapa plain is exposed to the south and sea, so it is surprisingly a cooler climate than Central Otago. The barrier mountain range on the western edge collects most of the rain from the prevailing winds so the climate is dry. Drying winds are a factor, and extensive shelter belts are needed to protect the vines. It is springtime in the vineyard at present, with bud burst approaching, so frost is a concern. It’s an expensive business flying those choppers around keeping the air circulating on still cold nights.

The vineyard was established in 1980, so some of the wines are coming off vines 32 years old. Helen uses fine French oak barrels with a medium toast.

Two flights were presented – whites and reds. I won’t claim to set any serious scores, save to say they all tasted pretty good to me…

Whites Flight:

Riesling Craighall 2009 – 27yr vines from the Craighall Vineyard (was part-owned for a time with Dry River), handpicked, 80 cases made. Light straw colour; leggy; volatile nose; bracing acidity; lovely texture; some citrus, some stonefruit, definitely green apple/apple skin; age-worthier. 4.5

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – Coolest year since 1993, a hand-picked sav! Helen told us she was after a neutral fruit expression, and used small tanks, lees contact and indigenous yeasts for the ferment. Same colour as the Riesling. Again leggy. Grassy, herby nose but not big with it. Dry and tart. Good Martinborough varietal examplar. I liked it. 4

Pinot Gris Lismore 2013 – A classic Martinborough summer. Fermented in old barrels for texture. Pale yellow. Lightly floral, lightly spiced, in an Alsace style. 8gms residual sugar. Luscious pears, lively sweet with lovely lemonade flavours. One taster thought it was a bit dumb in the bottle yet (2013) but will improve. 3.5

Chardonnay Craighall 2011 – from the eponymous vineyard, vines planted 1983 with the Mendoza clone. This clone is called the ‘hen and chicks’ for the large and small berries produced, with lots of flavour and concentration. Wine is light gold colour. 13.5%. Honey and butterscotch bouquet; ripe fruit taste, balanced with the acid, peaches, stonefruit. Restrained at the moment but will deepen in a few years. 4

Chardonnay Craighall 2008 – Wonderful. Mid gold. 13.5%. I loved the funky smell. Developed, smooth, integrated, the acidity was gone; lashings of unctious butteriness. Yum. Oh why wasn’t the KR Mates ‘08 like this…? 5.

Chardonnay Craighall 2005 – Purity of fruit presence was remarkable in this old kiwi wine. It was deep yellow, but not oxidised. It was funky and rich and luscious. Amazing to see fruit and oak and acid integrate in a bottle. Worth the price of the ticket alone. 5

Reds Flight:

Pinot Noir 2011 – the big ‘un. In 2010 this flagship wine of the company was honoured with the inaugural Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa or “Grand Cru of New Zealand“. It is made in a burgundian style with the typical Martinborough savoury olfactory and taste profile. Helen told us it doesn’t go down too well with American consumers who have been raised on Oregon pinots, so Ata Rangi’s main markets are the UK, Oz, Japan and China. The wine is pinot ruby in colour. 13.8%. Floral. Ripe and fruity, grippy, good palate weight. It lingers. Structured, should age well. 4

Pinot Noir 2008 – I loved this. Pinot ruby browning. 13.5%. Mushroom and forest floor bouquet. Ripe berries. Softened. Integrated. Magic. And I’ve got one in the Pool Room. 5

Pinot Noir McCrone 2008 – Younger (2001?) vines. Less shroomy. Pinot Ruby. 14%. Younger, tauter, a bit austere still? Later vintages should be a looker. 3.5

Pinot Noir 2006 – Pinot ruby browned off. 13.5%. Odd, tasted younger than it should have. Some grippy-ness, with bright fruit. Packed with wonderful flavour. 4

Syrah 2009 – 100% syrah. 40% new oak.  First one out of the blocks. Deep magenta. 13.5%. Bit of funk on the nose with white pepper. Savoury edge. Elegant. Fruitful mouthful, fine tannins. A delightful way to end the tasting. Some attendees contended that the wine deviated from type, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed… 4

After an evening supping quality drops like these, I was replete. The length of the reds were astounding. I still had taste echoes from them in my mouth an hour afterwards.

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