It was quite the turnout at Glengarry last week for the Escarpment release tasting, including a handful of wine critics, distributors, wine makers, a few enthusiasts I recognize by face and several more I didn’t know at all. It was great to see this level of interest meeting winemaker Larry McKenna as he introduced the group to his 2011 Escarpment release.
The name Larry McKenna, is synonymous with great Pinot Noir in New Zealand. The 2011 release was further testament to why that is. Much of the wines tasted were compared against their 2008 counterpart, illustrating the wine’s ability to age well.
Although we were there to taste the 2011 release, talk would often circle back to the 2013 vintage. (I’ll leave expectations for the near infamous 2013 vintage to another day.) Almost as often as it would gravitate towards the price of decades-old New Zealand Pinot Noir compared to the much higher price of centuries-old Burgundian reds. (That age, experience and global reputation can all demand a much higher price than a much younger, world-famous-in-New-Zealand wine is – to me – obvious.)
As we’re here to look at the 2011 new releases, let’s get into it.
We were poured a glass of 2011 Escarpment Chardonnay upon arrival. With 20% new oak barrel fermentation this was a full-bodied smooth and creamy Chardonnay with the oak complementing the wine, rather than dominating it. Clean, clear and lemon yellow the wine was expressing aromas of vanilla, green apple and a touch of sweet spice. On the palate it was dry, with fresh acidity, nutty notes and heavily defined by texture. Infinitely drinkable and heavily inviting. The signature range 2011 Kupe Chardonnay was made in a very similar way to the Escarpment, using the same clone, but with fruit from an older vineyard that’s usually picked a bit earlier, there’s also marginally more oak. The difference in site and the older vines have produced a rich wine with great complexity, a flinty backbone and plenty of mouthfeel. Notes of apple, lime, vanilla and nutmeg grab you and pull you in. On the nose there is an abundance of vanilla again, along with a few granny smith apples and a pineapple thrown into the mix. A very interesting wine you’ll want to take your time with. Going back to the Escarpment after the Kupe, the Escarpment expresses less fruit and a bit more astringency than when it was tasted without comparison. Taking things up a notch we get the 2008 Kupe Chardonnay. The 2008 underwent 100% malolactic fermentation, compared to 50% for the 2011, the result was a rounder, mellower wine. Each wine on it’s own is enjoyable, but as you take them as a grouping you move from strength to strength in the order the wines are described here.
Larry’s professed goals for himself and his winemaker Huw Kinch going forward they’re looking for more elegance and a tighter Chardonnay when bottling.
The Escarpment reds
The 2010 and 2011 Escarpment label Pinot Noirs were served as a pair. Both are district blends with fruit sourced from several sites from within Martinborough, with the blend for both years being dominated by the Te Muna Road block. The 2010 Escarpment Pinot Noir has a 40% whole bunch ratio producing a fresh and vibrant Pinot with a wild and brambly character. As a clean, clear ruby coloured wine, the nose was defined by sweet-woodsy notes and vibrant red cherry. The palate was round and fat with fruit, as well as having plenty of stalks and leaves qualities that demanded a food pairing. At a 55% whole bunch ratio, the 2011 Escarpment Pinot Noir was more black fruit, brambly characters, crab apples and rhubarb. Although the 2011 had greater structure it wasn’t as bright and sparkly as the 2010 when it came to fruit expression. The 2011 was more approachable and wasn’t calling out for food in the same way. The two wines were good examples of complementary styles of Pinot Noir.
The single vineyard reds
The single vineyard selection opened with the 2011 Pahi Pinot Noir and the 2011 Kiwa Pinot Noir. Where the Pahi was liberally seasoned with pepper and best suited to setting with thick carpets and a fireplace, the Kiwa was a gamey red with a natural savouriness that Larry characteristic as a constant with this site. The Piha has poise, a more refined full-bodied red. With fuzzy tannins, high acidity and medium body, the Kiwa was a bit rough around the edges, but that roughness lent character to the wine.
Well-coloured and well-structured, the 2011 Te Rehua Pinot Noir offered up an intellectual wine with plenty of medicinal and herbal notes. Bone dry, with healthy tannins and a quality of sweetness that comes from the high level of fruit present. However, it was still carrying around a bit of its puppy fat (or immaturity) that will shed in time. Comparatively the 2008 Te Rehua Pinot Noir has started to develop secondary characters. It has a touch of red fruit, but more so it has complex notes of fungus and forest floor. Always a good sign, I spent 15 minutes simply smelling this wine before I got around to tasting it. The mature earthy characters and intense mineral quality of the 2008 Te Rehua bodes well for the future of the 2011.
The tasting finished with the flagship Kupe wines, both the 2011 Kupe Pinot Noir and the 2008 Kupe Pinot Noir. The 2011 Kupe has a clean expression of fruit on the nose . A bright and welcoming red with fragrant floral notes, elegant sweet spice, a touch of vegetal flavours and prominent drying tannins. From my notes, I’ve labelled this as a happy, bouncy wine, making it my top wine of the night. It has all of the required building blocks to make for a successful older wine. The 2008 Kupe is similar to the 2011, but it is now starting to show some bottle age making it a serious wine with complex smoky aromas. There is a backbone of red fruit present without being the focus, instead you get plenty of black olive and dried mushroom both on the nose and on the palate. The 2008 is drinking nicely now, but with enough fruit, tannin and structure to carry the wine much further.
Tastings such as these are both a blessing and a curse. I was able to taste the wines amidst much conversation and lively debate, guided through the evolution of a wine from 2008 to today by the winemaker himself – all things I wouldn’t get if I were to taste the wines at home. But unlike at home, the pace was set by the group. I would be half way through my thoughts on a particular pairing – having been thoroughly distracted by the conversation going on around me – and it would already be time to move on. If the opportunity to try these wines again undisturbed were to present itself, I would jump at it. But I was happy not to have missed the discussion and the company that came along with the Glengarry tasting.