A Spring tasting of Wairarapa wines

A Tasting of Wairarapa wines

A chance to have a quick taste through a few wines from the Wairarapa region today, including some familiar names and a couple of new labels. On hand to answer any questions were Jannine Rickards from Urlar and Huntress; Nick Hewitt from the Beverage Bureau and Mick Hodson from Nga Waka. I really appreciate people taking the time to bring the wines up to Auckland and let us have a leisurely cruise through – in superb surroundings (at Sidart on Ponsonby Road, with some delicious canapés). Kudos to Wine Wairarapa for making this happen.

A good cross-section of the sub-regions, with Te Muna, Gladstone/Masterton and Martinborough all represented. One of the labels new to me was Blue Earth Estate from Te Muna. Seven acres of vines, mostly Pinot Noir with some Pinot Gris. The grapes from the estate vines were sold to Martinborough Vineyard until 2010, when they made The Elder Pinot wines. There’s also a substantial olive grove. The Blue Earth Pinot Noir 2019 was particularly good. An expression that I think still sits in ‘old school’ with reasonable tannin extraction, a slice of oak and plenty of dark, sweet fruit flavours melded together. ‘Savoury, serious and broad’ were in my notes.

The Escarpment Pinot Blanc 2023 shows a light touch, with the varietal signature pepperiness tied into a mix of zesty acidity and ripe citrus flavours. Their Pinot Noir from 2021 is really hitting its straps now too. The character of this well-regarded wine continues to be defined – more purity and finesse… less grunt. A couple of wineries that you might think of as ‘Martinborough’ actually fall into the ‘Wairarapa’ regional focus. Schubert have an excellent Cellar Door close to Martinborough town centre; but their main vineyards are out of town. Schubert Syrah 2020 was tucked away at the end of a line of Pinots, and was a welcome finale to the tasting – if you followed the room around clockwise. I think it shows the hand of someone who makes great Pinot – it is like a spicy version of that. Generous, with fine tannin, bags of dark spice and bright acidity all neatly woven into one glassful.

Wairarapa tasting

Paddy Borthwick is a winery I’m very keen to visit. Usually when I try one of their wines I am impressed. Paddy Borthwick Pinot Gris 2023 was a lovely expression of this variety. A dry, tight and lightly spiced style, with bags of typicity that showed the Pinot Gris character to the full. Other whites that showed well were the Martinborough Vineyards Home Block Sauvignon Blanc 2023. It has that definitive passionfruit note, but steers away from too much green in the palate – with a delicious ripe citrus and grapefruit, finishing long and crisp. I rate Sav from Wairarapa, but this was a new one for me, and quite delightful. Margrain Chenin Blanc 2021 was on form too. They’ve stuck with this varietal, making three versions when I visited the Cellar Door last. Floral, aromatic and juicy. There’s a pithyness to the texture and good acidity – a bright, intense wine.

Huntress wines now have five styles to the range. The Huntress Waikoa 2023 white this year is a blend of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc – taking the best of both grapes and making a wine ‘that just works’ (according to my notes). Huntress Kuratea 2023 is a wine to look out for though. A chilled red made from 10/5 and Abel-clone Pinot, with a slice of whole-bunch winemaking. Spicy, juicy and textural, with fine tannin, but light and mouth-watering. I was also keen to try the Champion wine of the New Zealand International Wine Show again. Dublin St. Pinot Noir 2019 is a complex and satisfying wine that you can ramble through – picking up on its layers and facets with every sip showing something new. Starts off smoky and savoury on the nose, moving into ripe dark cherry and blackberry, with a floral lift of violets in the mix. A grip of tannin, enough oak to frame everything, but also a green note of herbs and nettle in there too. I can see why this would catch a judge’s eye in a line-up. Their Rosé was also here, but I found all of the rosé on show a little underwhelming – I am notoriously fussy with this style of wine.

There was a slew of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir here – B.wine, Nga Waka and Te Kairanga all showing both varieties, as well as some Riesling (Palliser Estate) and a Pet Nat (Equilibrium). Watch out for some more reviews on here in the coming days and weeks. The last producer I’ll make note of from today is from Gladstone. Urlar Pinot Noir 2022 is a wine I’ve liked in the past, and was outstanding today; but the Urlar Sauvignon Blanc 2022 also deserves a mention. With zesty whitecurrant, lime and green apple fruit flavours and a razor-sharp acidity – this just underlines the potential and charisma of this varietal in the region. 

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