Spotlight on New Zealand: Ata Rangi Pinot Noir 2008

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Jake at Cherries and Clay just posted on the possibilities of aging new world Pinot Noir by looking at a 2004 Rippon Pinot from Central Otago in New Zealand. In that piece he considered how red Burgundy tends to be built for age and most new world producers have instead built their wines for immediate drinking. Nonetheless, his 2004 Rippon seemed to straddle the line between the two worlds. This got me to thinking about what New Zealand Pinot Noir was all about and what it offered to drinkers beyond immediate pleasure.

Sex or History?

This is a difficult question given that most new world Pinot has built its market off its sexy immediacy. In fact, I have a hard time looking beyond the instant pleasure that such bottles bring. Nonetheless I do think the best examples from New Zealand are starting to move into slightly different territory.

Ata Rangi is one of New Zealand’s most iconic producers of Pinot Noir. It uses one of the oldest clones in New Zealand (the abel clone), which is a Dijon clone thought to have been smuggled into New Zealand from France (reportedly, a cutting from DRC itself) in the 1970’s. Amazingly, the current existence of these clones in NZ owes a debt to Malcom Abel, friend of Clive Paton founder of Ata Rangi , who was a former customs officer who was working for the government at the time the cuttings were confiscated and managed to see their potential and preserve them.

So Ata Rangi seems to have a significant link to Burgundy and certainly and important role in the NZ wine industry. They also manage their vineyards at a high standard of biodiversity, vineyards that have never seen the use of insecticide, and other important management practices you can read about here.

Fruit, Spice and Savor

As with most Pinot Noir it is easy to get lost in the hugely immediate up front fruit with this wine. It was not until this wine had decanted for several hours that I began to appreciate the savory nuances that gave this wine its character. This is something I have noticed in the best Pinots from New Zealand, and there is a particularly unique savoriness and spiciness to the Pinots from Martinborough that distinguish the best examples from other regions in the country.

This is a wine with a fruity palate and high acidity. The fruit is darker than expected, but it retains freshness and length on the finish. This is an undoubtedly new world Pinot Noir, but a delicious one. As a classic example of a traditional well made new world Pinot, this wine is texturally very pleasing and this may be its best quality, though the up front fresh fruit is a close second. However, as mentioned earlier with air the wine completely changes. It gets very nuanced, more savory and complex and much more aromatically expressive.

There does seem to be some heat on the finish that I would like to see disappear, and I suspect it will with time. That seems to be a common theme with many NZ pinot noirs. They have such great up front fruit, good acidity and balance until the finish on which you can detect the alcohol, even in many of the finest examples from top wineries.

I have no problem with New Zealand wineries embracing the new world style, though I still think they are going through some growing pains with the Pinot. There is a bit of an identity crisis – what distinguishes these wines from California, Oregon, or Australia? There are subtle nuanced distinctions in fruit and spice, alcohol and acid, but stylistically almost all of the Pinots from these regions go for the same thing: sexy fruit. I’m down with sexy. But I do see the potential for a far more intellectual journey. The terroir is there in the making. All that is needed is the vision (which wineries like Ata Rangi have been instrumental in developing), and a few hundred years.

Very Good+
$68 at Everything Wine

Comments

  1. Brad
    June 24, 2011

    Hey Shea,

    Glad you rather liked this one. I tried an ’06 version of it and thought about the same as you…though I didn’t get a chance to let it decant for a few hours to see the savory underbelly you speak of.

    Curious if you’ve tried the $73 “McCrone Block” one that Everything Wine also has. I’ve heard it’s extremely rare to come across and it’s supposed to be a huge leap up from this one. I believe it’s a cross-venture with some acclaimed Oregon producer ??? McCrone, hence the name. Anyway, I might talk myself into buying a bottle of it next time I’m there, but just wondering if you’ve had a chance to try it.

    Cheers,
    Brad

  2. Shea
    June 24, 2011

    Brad,

    The savoriness never really overcomes the fruit, but the fruit gets less showy with the air for sure, unleashing greater complexities.

    I did not know they had the McCrone Block – perhaps I shall try it soon. McCrone sells fruit to Ken Wright, who I actually think is very overrated for Oregon Pinot – mostly overripe. But, I think that’s more the winemaker’s preferences than the farmer. I’d be curious to see what the Ata Rangi collaboration brings about.

    Hm, don’t see it on the website.

  3. Brad
    June 25, 2011

    Shea,

    No, it’s not on the website, but I did see it in the store a few weeks ago, right next to the other one, and like I say…for only $5 more. What’s interesting is that I couldn’t find much info on it other than on the actual Ata Rangi website where some guy from R.Parker’s brigade was gushing all over it and gave it 94 pts, so it made me a bit curious to see how different it might be than the reg. Ata Rangi. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to drop $73 on a bottle to find out.

    Anyway, I still might check it out next time I’m over that way.

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