Ata Rangi tasting with Helen Masters

Ata Rangi tasting 1

In the middle of October I attended a tasting at Regional Wines of the wines of Ata Rangi, the successful Martinborough producer, in the company of their head winemaker Helen Masters. Ata Rangi is a member of the Family of Twelve – a marketing-led ‘grand cru’ grouping of twelve of NZs most noted and celebrated wineries.

We would be looking at a couple of their Pinot Gris vintages, a couple of Chardonnays, their ‘value’ Pinot Noir and then a short vertical of their flagship Pinot Noir, then finishing off with a red blend that is a favourite of mine.

All wines are from Martinborough fruit.

Ata Rangi Tasting 2

2016 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris – Light rose gold colour. In an Alsatian style. Whole bunch pressed. 5.5g RS.  Lightly aromatic with aromas of licorice, apple and white pepper. Fresh and fine in the mouth. Light citrus, peppery, with balance, long and hot. Not oily, which I prefer.

2012 Ata Rangi Lismore Pinot Gris – Brilliant greenish straw colour. 6.5g RS.  From a cool year. Aromatic, forward and sweet and fruity, further scents of confectionery, apple, mandarins and orange peel. Crisp taste, some development, juicy and luscious, short, sweet and textured. Again, non-oily.

2016 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay – Crisp light white gold colour. Mendoza clone, 20% new oak.  Fine bouquet with white florals, layered with citrus, honey and melon. Dense, some reduction. Flavours of citrus fruit, lemons and limes, lean and linear, dry and clean. Balanced. Crunchily textural. Lovely acidity and concentration. Like all great Chardonnays, this was luminous. I liked it very much, and bought a bottle for the Pool Room.

2012 Ata Rangi Craighall Chardonnay – Pale straw colour. Mendoza clone, 20% new oak.  Fine bouquet again, with citrus. Warmer-toned on the nose than the ’16, and showed light spice and butterscotch notes. Dense, flinty and very crisp to taste. There was a kick on the back palate as well. Less balanced, somewhat awkward. Showing the effect of the cool year I suspect. Helen talked this one up, I marked it down.

2016 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir – Bright ruby colour. A fruit-forward accessible early drinking style. Fruit selected from AR vines under 20 years old. Cheerful. Lean on the nose with red cherries. Red fruit on palate, light and washed, somewhat bitter and lean. Drying, some said supple tannins.

2015 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir – Bright ruby colour. Fruit-forward, more flavour and density and depth than the ’16, still with the typical bitter/spice finish. Stalky, seed-y tannins. I found both Crimsons were hard to like.

2015 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep carmine colour. Floral and tight and dense aromas of rich red fruit, dark cherries, savoury, cardboard. Rich fruit flavours, full and ripe yet with lovely crispness and lusciousness. Packed with flavour. Such tension and power. No bitterness at all at the finish. Presistence. Sensational wine.

2010 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep carmine colour, tending brown. Floral and light. Slightly stalky and bitter. My notes are otherwise silent on this one – I must have been looking the other way because other tasters judged this sensational also.

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir – Deep brown carmine colour. Quite primary still, but some age characters emerging of herbs and forest floor. Punchy to drink, with dark cherries, pepper and spice. Huge extract, packed with fruit flavour. Showed gorgeous poise and elegance over time, and started to sing.

2013 Ata Rangi McCrone Vineyard Pinot Noir – Somewhat dumb, with subdued florality. Big chunky and fat. Big fleshy tannins. Showed the ripeness of the 2013 vintage.

2014 Ata Rangi Celebre – A Merlot dominant/Syrah/Cabernets blend. A cool climate energetic red blend, with fine savoury tannins and ripe berries. Delicious unctuousness.

Te Mata Estate Coleraine Library Tasting 1982 – 2015

Te Mata Coleraine 1

New Zealand’s greatest and most famous red wine?

This is the opinion of a few notable palates of the New Zealand wine scene, admittedly encouraged by the superb marketing efforts of the folks behind the winery itself, and this opinion is also shared by several overseas leading palates, namely Jamie Goode and Steven Spurrier.

I am quite partial to the wine myself, though my own palate can best be described as naïve. I was introduced to the ‘00 at a tasting of Te Mata wines back in ‘10, and was I entranced by its quality. I didn’t know a NZ wine would age so well!  Actually, until that time, I had never thought of keeping a New Zealand wine any longer than the thirty minutes it took to get it home from the bottlestore. But life is learning, isn’t it?

Now, however, I am the  proud owner of several vintages of Coleraine, all sleeping it off down in the Pool Room under the watchful gaze of kellarmausefanger Mimi until they hit the Witching Hour of ten years of age. The first cab off the rank will be the 2009. My cellar’s pride and joy is a magnum of Coleraine 2013 (ignoring its admitted rival, 750mls of Stonyridge Larose 2005. Plus a bunch of Rieslings. I could go on).

Geoff Kelly, an aficionado of aged wines, previously a wine judge, and one of the resident wine experts at Regional Wines and Spirits, organised this hugely important look at twelve of the best vintages of this great wine since its inception in 1982. There have been 31 vintages to date, with the 1992 and 1993 not being made due to the localised cool weather influenced by the Pinatubo volcanic eruption in Indonesia, and a later vintage (2011?) which was beset by rain. A large number of bottles had been collected over the years by the late founder of Regional Wines, Grant Jones, and Geoff contributed others to fill the holes. He consulted with Peter Cowley, Te Mata’s longtime winemaker, about what he thought the finest vintages were, and thus assembled a selection for tasting over two nights.

I attended the second helping.

Geoff provided an excellent set of introductory notes, which can be read via the link below, with his carefully considered reviews of the wines themselves. Spoiler alert!

Raymond Chan, another local wine reviewer and judge, also ex RW, and an expert whose writings I admire, and also a long-time fan of Coleraine, he attended the first sitting also. And his informative notes are below. Another spoiler alert!

My good friend GN was in attendance as well, as was a couple of MS members; cracking palates all, plus me, ha! But I’m still at the Bluffing Stage of public winetasting. Again, life is learning, isn’t it?

au vins:

1982 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

1983 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

1989 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

1991 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

1995 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

1998 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2002 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2005 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2007 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2009 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2013 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

2015 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay

Interestingly, Te Mata Estate Coleraine Hawkes Bay 1998 was named a ‘Wine Legend’ in the August Issue of UK’s wine magazine Decanter, placing it amongst the greatest wines of all time. The only New Zealand wine to receive the title to date, Decanter’s profile situates Te Mata Estate’s flagship Coleraine beside other ‘Wine Legends’ at more than ten times its price. Hmm. I take this magazine, surface mail, and haven’t seen this issue yet. It will be interesting to sup that one, then.

Time to sniff and slurp. I won’t write up all twelve wines (I leave that weighty task to Geoff and Raymond), but will rather report on my highlights. The wines were served non-blind, in age order youngest to oldest, as 30ml pours.

Te Mata Coleraine 2

The bouquet, as you would expect, showed evolution as the years progressed. Bright primary fruits to start with the later vintages, tending through secondary characters (cedar etc) in the 2000s, then landing on tertiary notes (tobacco ash etc)  as the decades weighed in from the 90s and back. Colour tended bright deep pink carmine in the young wines, through to darker hues, and tending brick for the oldies.

2015 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – $140! OMFG – This was a great start to the tasting. If I can be presumptuous, the producers are making better wine the more goes they have at doing so, and this makes sense. The vines are getting older. And thus the ‘15 is winner in the making. Bright carmine colour. Sweet red and dark fruits on the nose. Sensitive. Breathy. Fresh fruit flavours. Fresh acidity. Great intensity and length. Bracing. Plush and lush, plumpness and  balance. Three ticks.

2013 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – I have this in the Pool Room. It was a Lauded Vintage in the Bay. Bright carmine colour. More volatile than the ’15. A hint of spirit marker. Dark fruit. An impression of restrained power. There was power and crunch in the in the mouth also. Dense and packed with flavour. Some spice. Gorgeous and concentrated, fine, no oak showing. Fabulous. Three ticks.

2009 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – Notable for the cassis showing, vanilla, and huge fruit profile. Hot on exit.

2007 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – I noted here floral, lifted, and tension. Baking spice.  Elusive violets. Elegant, long and lean of finish. A special wine.

2005 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – Dark carmine, tending brick. A packed nose. Delightful. Cedar, chalk, dusty , and cassis. Good fruit on palate. A rich feel of the wine in my mouth. I saw neatness and harmony and symmetry. Long. Three ticks for this.

1995 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – Dark carmine, tending brick. Dry and evolved, a light and leafy bouquet. Gorgeous fruit flavours again. Poised. I noted sweetness and freshness, length and persistence. A gorgeous wine. Three ticks for this too.

1991 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – Dark carmine, tending brick. Evolved, with aromas of roses, spice, violets, cassis, cedar and blackcurrant jam. A lot going on here. Delicious, involving and mouthcoating. Someone called this a mature Claret. Drying a little. Harmonious. Three ticks again!

1982 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawkes Bay – Dark carmine, tending brick. Most evolved, but still holding up with freshness and intensity of fruit belieing its age. An amazing 35YO New Zealand wine, and my Wine Of The Night because of this (beating out the ’91, ’05 and ’13).

My takeaway from this tasting had to be the pleasure in seeing how the bouquet evolved through the years. And how the wine colour changed. It was also interesting to see how the later vintages showed improvements that I can only put down to greater vine age and better vineyard/winery practice which has evolved over the years. Te Mata are making better Coleraines now than they did in the past, in my opinion.

This was a masterclass. Something you get vanishingly rarely with NZ wines. And this may well be the last public tasting of this breadth of Coleraines, until the winery itself opens its cellar at the next significant anniversary. Thanks Geoff, and thanks also to the late Grant Jones.


Northern Rhone with Giles Robin


Everywhere you go in France today you see appellations revitalized by the new generation of winemakers coming through, and Giles Robin from the Northern Rhone is one of the up-and-comers. Regional Wines recently hosted a tutored tasting of his wines, lead by Giles, who was accompanied by and interpreted by, his wife Jean.

It is not often that in New Zealand that you can attend a French wine tasting hosted by the winemaker, and where a sizeable proportion of the audience is also French. Luckily earlier in the day I had a quick lesson on pronouncing Rhone place names from a Belgian work colleague – ie does the ‘s’ sound in Crozes and what is the right way to say St Joseph?  So I was at least able to follow some of the evening’s comments and information that were bandied about.

It was also a somewhat informal tasting, a bit chaotic, with a lets-make-this-up-as-we-go-along kind of structure to the evening, a departure from the usual normal & formal way we approach the wines at these kind of gigs. Indeed, when questions of residual sugar or oak handling were posed from the floor, the garrulous Giles tended to give a Gallic shrug before answering. He made his wines more to drink than to talk about…and drink we did, and so the group got quite noisy at times, with gusts of laughter. Very entertaining!

The majority of his wines are from the Crozes-Hermitage appellation centred around his home village of Mercurey, which spreads at the foot of the famous hill of Hermitage, with also a single St Joseph, and a small production of Hermitage itself.


We started with a white – Giles Robin Crozes-Hermitage ‘Les Marelles’ Blanc 2015 – a blend of Rousanne and Marsanne from both his and a neighbours parcels, with a nice peach apricot nose, delicious rich fruit and a crisp finish. Fun.  Then to his first red – Giles Robin Crozes-Hermitage “Terroir des Chassis’ 2014 – his “winebar” wine, a simple easy-drinking cuvee with bright red fruit. This was followed by another “not intellectual” red – Giles Robin Crozes-Hermitage ‘Papillon’ 2015 – named for the butterfly signifying a new start. Another light easy drinking wine.  More structure and minerality than the previous red, with good balance and depth.

Up next came three vintages of his premier cuvee – Giles Robin Crozes-Hermitage ‘Alberic Bouvet’ 2014, 2013 and 2010, named for his grandfather who got him into the winemaking game. I noticed an immediate jump in quality. A great interest in the nose, intensity and body and freshness on palate, soft tannins, cassis, black olives, licorice. Beguiling. Very good. The older vintages were a little closed.

Also closed was his Giles Robin St Joseph 2014. I struggle a little with the appellation. It is stretched so long and thin on the map. I never know whether to expect a warmer style Rhone or a river-cooled style. This was fleshier that the Crozes, not so bright and fruity, and more linear. Quiet, I guess.

And then to the rockstar – Giles Robin Hermitage 2010 – land on the Hermitage hill is owned mainly by six domaines or families. To get fruit off this site you need to know someone. And Giles knew someone with half a hectare on the west side near Les Bessars who agreed to sell him fruit. And with it Giles crafted a wonderful wine with a fantastic bouquet, with such depth and richness. It was structured, with gorgeous fruit and lovely acid freshness. What a treat!

When you rub up against a great Rhone, you remember it. Thanks, Giles.

New Zealand Pinot Noir Worth Cellaring


Regional Wines of Wellington ran two pinot noir tastings earlier this year, under the general heading: Are They Worth Cellaring: Pinot Noir. The first week comprised NZ wines under $30, and the second week NZ wines over $30. The tastings were presented by Geoff Kelly, and were designed to complement his occasional short articles for the Regional Wines website, titled Worth Cellaring.

I attended the second over $30 tasting. I was lucky to attend the same a year earlier. I thought it would be fun to compare the two events, and vintages.

Geoff writes of the tasting on his excellent website,

Pinot noir continues to be the red wine of choice, perhaps because it can be so fragrant and delicious, perhaps because it bridges the gap beautifully between white wines and ‘serious’ red wines. Rosé, which in theory should do that job, usually fails to be satisfying. Thus pinot noir provides the perfect pathway to move from enjoying white wines to appreciating reds.

There are hundreds of New Zealand pinot noirs now. To select 12-only for each of these two exercises is therefore invidious. Our selections include wines which have won gold more than once. We then listed the wines which sell most at Regional Wines, and for the expensive set some labels which everybody wants to taste but maybe can’t afford on their own, and then there was the desire to make sure that each pinot noir district was represented somewhere in the two flights. We also put in Michael Cooper’s 2014 red wine of the year, since he has a consistency of approach which is admirable”

As before, Geoff presented all the wines blind, and decanted them into bagged bottles. They were arranged in order stylistically so that the wines followed each other in the most complimentary fashion possible, with the first of each flight “stylistically correct” as a benchmark.

The single bottles were then passed from hand to hand around the room for us 24 participants to measure out 27.5ml quantities, via wee plastic jelly-shot glasses to a level marked, and pour into our tasting glasses. We were asked to examine the wines at leisure, then discuss our impressions, and vote for our best and worst wines.

Geoff writes further; “In the preamble to these two highly enjoyable tastings, I mentioned that I had cellared my first case of grand cru burgundy from the 1969 vintage, a great year in Burgundy, and it was a wine from a vineyard which still remains stellar in my view, yet underrated: 1969 Drouhin Clos de la Roche in Morey-Saint-Denis (Cote de Nuits). My goal in such a statement was to introduce the notion, [ ], that a New Zealander not in the practical winemaking side of wine should actually know something about pinot noir the grape, and burgundy the winestyle.

So in these introductions, we talked about the notion of the pinot noir winestyle, that in the good ones it is a wine of florality, complexity and delight on bouquet, and soft sensuous and often subtle yet essentially satisfying beauty on palate. We contrasted it with the more authoritarian firm aromatic flavours and character of good cabernet, with its need for greater new oak to complement the stronger flavours of the bordeaux grape varieties.

We went on to discuss the fact that beauty in bouquet for pinot noir is a function of not over-ripening, that bigger and riper and darker is not better in pinot noir (as too many in the industry mistakenly believed in the 1990s, continuing through to this century), that the quality of pinot noir must never be judged from its colour, and that great pinot noir sustains the beauty of its bouquet right through the palate. Thus the palate must be long and supple in its fruit / oak charm and beauty, but it does not need to be strong, at all. We mentioned that in evaluating the wines, we should seek what pinot aficionados call ‘layers’ of texture as well as flavour, noting this is a pretty abstruse concept.

Basically we are seeking beautiful sweet floral smells and flavours, where the florality permeates the palate, and the whole lasts and sometimes even expands in the mouth. We mentioned that leaving aside the florals (in their hierarchy from fresh sweet pea → buddleia → rose → lilac → violets and boronia) that simple pinot noir might smell of red currants, strawberries and raspberries to a degree, but quality pinot noir smelt of red grading to black cherries, sometimes with an elusive aromatic quality hard to define, but enticing.

We then discussed the concept of over-ripeness, that the key beautiful floral aromas are simply lost in over-ripening in hot climates (why good pinot noir cannot be grown north of Martinborough (or maybe Masterton), or much south of Beaune), and that when the wine reaches the black cherry stage, be on guard, for it may all too easily pass to black plums, and that is over-ripe for absolute pinot noir beauty, with its increase in size, but the loss of florality, varietal quality and complexity.

We also raised the question of the perceived Central Otago pinot noir style, and remarked that it has been caricatured by pinot-producers from other wine districts, perhaps out of self-interest, as tending to wines which are a bit too big and fruity, though nobody would dare say jammy. There does seem to be some evidence emerging that Otago winemakers are now aiming for a less ripe, less alcoholic and less dark wines. Such a move will certainly increase florality and therefore beauty and complexity, but great care will be needed to not at the same time introduce leafyness and stalkyness. That risk is exacerbated by including stems in the ferment – the whole bunch approach – yet this technique is indisputably part of some of the greatest pinot noirs in the world.

The ripeness of the tannins in the stems (and seeds) is critical, and that seems to be a function of a climate critically appropriate to achieving full physiological maturity of flavour in pinot noir. Loosely speaking, such climates show greater continentality. The goal of such moves is to close the gap on the winestyles found in the Cote de Nuits, which by general agreement is home to the most complex expressions of pinot noir in the world.”

What a great introduction! I learnt a good deal listening to what Geoff said.

What I write below is collated from what I thought of the wines, and what others thought, before and after the wines were finally identified. In a departure from usual form, I attempted a comparable score or valuation to identify the wines I thought were wonderful.

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2011 Fromm Clayvin Pinot Noir Marlborough – the ‘sighter’ of the flight. Pink carmine colour. Fruity nose, lightly scented. To taste; bright red fruit, some acidity, light & fresh, a touch of watermelon. Quite delicious. Beautifully ripened to perfection, no stalks, not long. I like this producer very much – I adored their 2010 Brancott Vineyard PN. 3+

2012 Grasshopper Rock Pinot Noir Earnscleugh Vineyard Central Otago – a serious mover. Pink carmine; expressive nose, herby, brambly, elegant. Red cherries in mouth, solid depth of fruit, firm & long, a bit acidic, a bit of stalk , considered in the top three of the tasting. 4+

2012 Peregrine Pinot Noir Central Otago – a personal fav of mine. I don’t drink enough of it. Deep pink carmine; light florality, red cherries, roses, brambles. This has ripeness and depth in spades, taut, a firm structure with tannins, length, dense fruit delivery, celery nose, clipped, elemental florality, little more complex (due to Central terroir?), pretty, gratifying. This is a keeper. 4+

2011 Escarpment Pinot Noir Martinborough – Larry McKenna’s ‘collective statement’ pinot, as distinct from his SV wines. Deep pink carmine; Light floral red fruit. Shows depth and intensity, ripe red fruit in the mouth, elegant. Would keep well. Good acid balance, finesse, noticeable tannins (hence cellarability). 4

2012 Akarua Pinot Noir Bannockburn Central Otago – Pink carmine; Stronger floral bouquet, herbs and black fruit. Complex depth, black cherries to taste, and vanilla, nice fruit & length, firm, good body, a light touch of funk. 4+

2012 Valli Pinot Noir Gibbston Central Otago – Pink garnet; Burnt match nose, dark cherries, strong aromatics, power. Deep and structured, ripe long and velvety, even seductive. I liked it very much. Then I was told it was reductive. I have a nose for (and liking of) reductive wine. Others opined: grubby, cured meat, dull, leaden. I scored this highly for CHARACTER and INTEREST. 4+

2010 Ostler Pinot Noir Caroline’s Waitaki Valley – Deep carmine; an impact nose – all spice and all the red fruits. Delicious, with ripe red fruit & pointy lusciousness. Others saw freshness, leafy and green, sweet, lolly-like. I saw LIKE! 5

2012 Pisa Range Estate Pinot Noir Black Poplar Block Cromwell Central Otago – Pink carmine; very floral, forward, impactful, a show wine. Warm & round, very ripe, almost jammy, long. Some saw brooding palate weight. Hmm, a bit too pseudo even for me. I saw 4 and cellar potential.

2012 Wooing Tree Pinot Noir Cromwell Central Otago – An over-achiever this one. I have enjoyed previous editions. Deep pink carmine; very leggy. Light, medicinal nose. Tannic and bracing and ripe and very delish. A clear floral component, diffuses through mouth, very pleasing. Top 3 in the tasting. 5.

2011 Black Estate Pinot Noir Waipara – Deep pink carmine; Aniseed nose, thyme. A bit underripe, tho elegant and stylish. Short. 4

2011 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough – Pink carmine. Roses and red cherries. This shows great depth and intensity of fruit expression. Elegant, pure and refined. Very straight and restrained, with absolutely spot-on structure and balance. Did I say it also tasted wonderful? Top 3 in the tasting. 5

2011 Neudrof Moutere Pinot Noir Nelson – Pink carmine; Medicinal, light and elegant bouquet; herbs and black fruit. Tannic and drying; the boldest structure of the flight. Grippy-ness got in the way of any appreciation of the fruit/ripeness qualities of the wine. Long finish. Will cellar for a while, and needs it. 4+

2012 Greystone Pinot Noir Waipara – this was the leading wine from the Under $30 tasting, so was included here for comparison. Smells great – brambly, complex, very purple florals; involving. Light red fruits, delicious, sweet but very correct PN. 4+

This was a great reference journey through New Zealand Pinot Noir. Many thanks to GK and Regional Wines.

My only regret is that the lower boundary of the pinot bliss curve is now shading $30 per bottle…