china daily wine column #61

Some wines cannot help but echo where they are made. This week we discuss some of the best Antipodean reflections of this principle.

The Ata Rangi estate in New Zealand has become associated with great pinot noir. Clive Paton planted his first vines in a stony sheep paddock at the edge of the village of Martinborough at the base of the north island in 1980. He was one of a handful of pinot pioneers. Martinborough’s meso-climate is similar to that of Burgundy. Meso-climate is a viticultural term that refers to the place, the region, weather, soil, sunlight and temperature.

The vineyard’s name comes from the Maori words for dawn sky, often translated as “new beginnings”. This estate has certainly led to recognition for both the vineyard and the grape variety around the world.

In 2010 Ata Rangi pinot noir received the inaugural “grand cru of New Zealand” award. And a year later Decanter magazine declared Ata Rangi the “crowned king of New Zealand pinot noir”. At the same time Robert Parker wrote on his web site: “When I asked winemakers to name New Zealand’s greatest producers, one name kept coming up: Ata Rangi.”

The 2009 pinot noir was available at a Hong Kong tasting organised by Altaya Wines and it was a delight to encounter. The tannins are ripe and subdued. The wine’s cool climate origins are reflected in the aromas of pepper, liquorice, black cherries and spice.

The wine tastes sweet on the palate and the oak blends beautifully. Winemaker Helen Masters writes on the Ata Rangi web site that this pinot spent a year in French oak, a quarter of it new. The amount of new oak suggests it best to cellar this wine for three to four years. It will be even better in a decade. Altaya sells this wine online for 450 HKD. It is a bargain compared with Burgundy of the same price.

If you seek a wine that is less expensive but still full flavoured, try the 2009 or 2010 Crimson pinot noir from the same maker. It sells for about 250 HKD and offers a perfumed nose and tons of fruit, and is drinking well now. I tasted the 2010 at a formal event, the 2008 at a friend’s home, and the 2009 after I bought some on the strength of the two tastings.

It may seem like the company’s second-tier wine but it is better than a lot of first-tier offerings from other vineyards.

Also impressive were a brace of Ata Rangi chardonnays, the 2008 Petrie and the 2008 Craighall. The former was lean and feminine, while the latter was more broad-shouldered and masculine. Both had good length and acid-fruit balance and are drinking beautifully now. These retail for 195 HKD and 290 HKD respectively.

The 2009 editions of both these wines have received impressive reviews, in the 95 to 97 points range, though I have yet to taste them.

Another terroir that speaks elegantly and loudly of place and quality is the Rolf Binder range made from Barossa Valley shiraz in Australia.

The Hanisch is the company’s flagship. It is 100 percent shiraz from the estate and is named after the original owner of the vineyard, “Punch” Hanisch. The wine comes from about four acres of vines and the yield, and therefore production, varies between only 300 and 350 cases a year. The wine sells quickly at home, the reason this wine is not easily available in China.

Rolf Binder provided a taste of the 2001 and 2004 editions. The former was a hot year and it shows in the ripeness of the fruit and the medium length. I preferred the 2004 because of its elegance and beauty – like a thoroughbred racehorse, all muscle and power yet at the same time elegant and surefooted. It had intense aromas of dark fruit with a tang of eucalypt and fruit sweetness, the last probably from the American oak.

The American wine critic Robert Parker described Rolf Binder Wines as “one of the world’s greatest wine estates”. The current available vintage of the Hanisch is the 2006. Parker gave it 97 points, writing that this was Barossa shiraz that “does not get much better”.

Elegant wines like these that speak of place are worth seeking.

* “Wines that know where they’re from” in China Daily, 4 February 2012, page 12. Find link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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