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Wine of the Week for week ending 4 April 2010
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Escarpment Vineyard Insight Pinot Noirs
Martinborough, New Zealand

I met Larry McKenna at Occum, a buzzy little café and espresso bar at the top of Williamson Avenue in Grey Lynn. "Do you want something to eat?" he asked. It was late morning so I chose mushrooms on toast because I thought the mushrooms would complement the Pinot Noir. They did. More on that later.

Larry was keen to show me his new wines and I was delighted to be given the chance to taste them. An Internet buddy, Anders, who lives in Sweden, is always asking my opinion and likes to compare notes, but these were one set of wines I had not tasted - until now. Apart from the inaugural Kupe Pinot Noir 2003, reviewed gushingly here on Wine of the Week, the top tier wines from Escarpment, were a whole new insight to me.

The light, bright gold Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2008 ($55) was served reasonably chilled and initially seemed quite oaky but as the wine warmed up, the oak integrated into the mealy, leesy, savouriness of the wine. There is an exotic fruit character and hints of figs. Partial malolactic adds creaminess and the finish is nutty and long.

Escarpment Martinborough Pinot Noir 2008 ($45) is a 'district' blend, where grapes from several vineyards are combined. The colour is vibrant, the aromas are rich with chocolate and 'fruit of the forest' and the flavours have Martinborough's characteristic earthy depth. It's savoury to the taste with firm tannins, a hint of spice and dark fruit. This alone is top class wine, but it is not the top of the tier.

The 'Insight Series' Pinot Noirs are called such because they are single vineyard Martinborough wines from various sites. Made by the same winemaker in a similar way they give a remarkable insight to the vineyard characters that each wine expresses. It is not only the soils, but also aspect, shelter and wind blown tree and flower pollens. As the grapes are fermented in whole bunches with their natural yeasts, wind blown organisms will have input into the natural yeast composition. This series was first made in 2006, none were made in 2007.

An quick eyeball of the wines showed them to be all similar in appearance - dense, bright, some vividness to the young wine hue. I'm thinking if it was clothing, the colour would be called 'Burgundy', or even more simply, 'wine'.

Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir 2008 ($65) immediately shows more elegance and refinement after the 'district' blend and has that deep, almost anise-y spice I adore in Pinot Noir. Tannins are fine and silky and the flavour is earthy and savoury with mouthfilling richness and that lovely cherry guava thing going on - perhaps those NZ cranberry (Chilean guava) - with hints of smoke and fruit sweetness to the aftertaste. I detect some tea-like tannin flavour coming through too. A fascinating wine.

Escarpment Kiwa Pinot Noir 2008 ($65) has rich aromas and seems sweeter, richer, brighter in the palate with black cherry fruit, a hint of chocolate/mocha, underlying herbal earthy, forest floor/fungal notes and mulled wine spices. The texture is a little chunkier and the finish is an amalgam of fruit sweetness with a herbal streak and a spicy, savoury depth.

Larry planted Pahi and Kiwa in the 1980's, early in his Martinborough Vineyard days and he has made all the vintages off the vineyards, except for two.

Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir 2008 ($65) has a deep savoury aroma and even deeper, darker, savoury flavours with a firm slightly grainy texture. The black fruit has a cherry sweetness with a tea-like tannin to the wine and that dark, sweet, spicy character on the finish. It has funky intrigue, a sexy appeal and is the most complex of the three. The vines are 22 years old but Larry made his first vintage from the block in 2003.

Finally, to the wine from the vineyard that gives the brand its name. This is Larry's own site in Te Muna Road, Martinborough. He planted this at the end of last century.

Kupe by Escarpment Pinot Noir 2008 ($85), the fourth single vineyard release from the tightly planted Escarpment vineyard, immediately grabs one's attention. The colour is dense and sumptuous in appearance. The aromatics are bright, savoury, smoky and floral - and as I swirl and sniff the wine, it is continually unfolding - there's so much going on. In the mouth the wine is immediately fine textured. It is smooth and velvety with spice, anise, hints of chocolate, hints of black forest, hints of forest floor, a suggestion of herb and well-integrated new oak. It is seductive yet firm, indicating it has more to come with time yet already enjoyable now with the right food.

The tasting finished and the mushrooms on toast arrived. I recommend Occum's mushrooms on toast if they are always as good as mine were on the day. Huge chunks of mushroom in a creamy sauce with a hint of tarragon, perhaps. A fitting accompaniment to the wines - all of them, but Kupe in particular. In short, sensational.

All the wines were opened about an hour before I met up with Larry. He had been showing his wines to someone else. Then the wines were sloshed around in a car for a short journey on the way to Occum. So I would suggest decanting on first opening for utmost enjoyment of these young wines right now. If you do get to taste them you won't be disappointed.

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© Sue Courtney
24 Mar 2010

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