Nick's Blog: Is 2013 New Zealand's Greatest Pinot Vintage Ever? One Winemaker Says So

April 15th, 2014

I love it when a winemaker talks up the next vintage they have sitting in the cellar. I love the stare down moment, calling their bluff without speaking a word. I love to hear them elaborate their reasoning, describe the wines in relative terms – set out what it is that makes it special. And I like to taste it for myself.

This situation played out recently on a visit to New Zealand’s Martinborough region, where I was visiting to host an event at Peppers Parehua Vineyard Retreat. It’s one thing for a winemaker to make a bold self-assessment of their wine, but when two of the region’s most highly-respected winemakers both make the same call (in their own unique way) then it’s time to get amongst the wines and see what all the hype is about.

The first was none other than the Godfather of New Zealand Pinot Noir, Mr. Larry McKenna of Escarpment Vineyard (photo). It’s a big call to stare a bloke like McKenna down. But the word from Larry was typically straight down the line; “I’ve waited 30 years for this vintage,” he said, “it’s as good as it gets.”

McKenna’s favourite aspect of the season was the warm and early start to things and good weather that continued throughout. The result was a season without pressure or stress, culminating in the luxury of unforced picking decisions, taking grapes off perfectly ripe at the perfect moment.

Tasting his collection of single vineyard Pinots from barrel it was clear as to why he’s pumped about them. They’re powerful, clearly defined, beautifully detailed and very impressive wines. They’ll be bottled later this year and released in 2015. I’d make space in the cellar.

The second endorsement came courtesy of Ata Rangi winemaker Helen Masters. Her excitement around the vintage was also vindicated by a tasting of the 2013 blend, still maturing in barrel as the 2014 harvest assembled in the winery around it.

Masters’ view is that it was down to the double play of a warm smooth-sailing vintage, followed by a cooler April in which things ripened gently and retained freshness on the vine. “The wines have great aromatic expression,” she said, “with vibrancy, fine tannins with restrained alcohols, what more could I ask for?”

Well that’s a very good question. And if you’re willing to take McKenna at his word, the only problem he can find with the 2013 vintage is that 2014 looks even better. I sampled his 2014 crop as I walked the Kupe Vineyard the night before it was due for harvest and, believe it or not, Mr. McKenna may just be onto something!

For now though, my first impression of the quality of 2013 Martinborough Pinot Noir is strong. I’m heading back later this month to do some more investigating so stay tuned.


Nick Stock is a renowned Australian wine writer, author, presenter and filmmaker who reports on his worldwide wine tasting experiences for JamesSuckling.com.

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