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Wine of the Week for week ending 19 October 2003
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Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir 2002
Martinborough, New Zealand

There couldn't have been a single week where better wines were tasted in suitable tasting conditions where I could muse over the wines and take notes. First of all there were some of the best wines from the Liquorland Top 100 International Wine Competition 2003 - 11 trophy winners and the gold medal and Cuisine No.1 Pinot Noir tasted at the Fine Wine Wednesday Tasting (See my Wednesday write up for October 2003).

Then there was our team practise for the First Glass Wine Options Extreme which included some pretty awesome wines and finally the First Glass Wine Options Extreme itself, where one after another the wines seemed to get better and better. There were two wines in the competition that were actually past Wines of the Week, the same two wines ending up in my Wines of the Year selection - they being the Spencer Hill Coastal Ridge Nelson Chardonnay 2001 and the luxurious blend of Bordeaux reds from Waiheke Island, Stonyridge Larose 1996.

But my absolutely favourite wine served at the competition and one that made me extremely excited for the future of the same grape variety in our country, was the Delas Fréres Hermitage 'Marquise de la Tourette' 1999 a 100% Syrah from the Rhone Valley in France . Why was I so excited? Because I can see this is the direction our fabulous Hawkes Bay and Waiheke Island Syrahs are heading in. I'd tasted this before (see these tasting notes) but this time it seemed more peppery in its profile.

There was also a host of sauvignon blancs, some of the remnants from the vintage lying around that I hadn't tasted.

But the wine I've chosen as Wine of the Week is one we had in our Wine Options practise when we compared 2002 vintage pinot noirs from Martinborough, Marlborough and Central Otago in an effort to nail in our memory banks the distinguishing characteristics.

It's the Walnut Ridge Martinborough Pinot Noir 2002 and proves to me that in a good year throughout the country, Martinborough still has the edge when it comes to pinot noir. Perhaps it's the earthy complexity and the odd feral note that creeps into the wines that isn't often seen in the rich cherry and chocolate numbers from further south. Perhaps it is because the colour doesn't look like Merlot/Syrah, as some of the Central wines from the 2002 vintage seem to be heading towards. Or perhaps it is my mood when I taste the wines.

Walnut Ridge, founded by the late Bill Brink when he planted his vineyard in 1987 and started producing his own label from 1994, is a most reputable brand sought after both here and in Australia. When I attended a vertical tasting in November 2001 of the seven vintages from 1994 to 2000, there was a marked improvement in the wines from 1997 on and nothing could take anything away from the fabulous 2000, a highly awarded wine on both sides of the Tasman.

After Bill's untimely passing early last year, the 2001 Walnut Ridge Pinot Noir that Bill had started was completed and bottle by winemaker Olly Masters at Ata Rangi.

Ata Rangi purchased the Walnut Ridge vineyard, winery and wine stock in November 2002 and the team have decided to continue with and build on the Walnut Ridge brand for Pinot Noir in the New Zealand market.

Walnut Ridge Martinborough Pinot Noir 2002, with the viticulture and winemaking crew of Ata Rangi behind it, is now back to its very best. It's a wine that Bill would be proud of, I'm sure.

It's medium weight in colour, a dark rosy pink, red guava in its bright translucent hue. It smells smoky and savoury - just quintessential pinot noir in its aroma, a little meaty, smoky bacon perhaps. But what was most I found most beguiling/agreeable/delightful/enjoyable about this pinot was its fantastic palate weight, its silky texture and the sweet marinated cherry and more bitter red guava fruit that interweaves with the earthy, feral, savoury and briar rose characters. There's a good tannin structure well balanced to the fruit and a touch of honeyed oak on the warm textural finish. It's got 14% alcohol that adds to the finishing warmth but does not overpower. It's very approachable and very delicious and I love the way the fruit lingers sweetly perhaps with the addition of Christmas plums (the small ones with red skins and yellow flesh) as I sip on the leftovers while I write this note.

For those of you that are finding the pinot from further south just too big and too rich and want something more akin to the Burgundy model, then look no further than this wine for a start. It makes me look forward to the delights that are sure to come from Martinborough when I taste the 'big names', which will happen very, very soon.

Unfortunately for overseas followers of the Walnut Ridge brand, this wine is no longer available overseas. The 2002 vintage costs $25 a bottle via the website (freight free for 12 bottle-plus orders). The wine will be distributed throughout NZ by Eurowine so expect to find it at discerning wine stores too although the price may vary.

© Sue Courtney
12 October 2003

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