The Mistake

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Recently, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Mayfair’s best premium wine shop, Hedonism. I came with the sole intention of buying a single half bottle of red, but was tempted by the immense selection, and knowledgeable staff. The wine was to be drunk at Hawksmoor, the renowned steak restaurant which offers £5 corkage on Mondays (a serious rarity in London). This was a special occasion, and required something interesting and good. In the end, I opted for ‘New Zealand’s best pinot noir,’ from Ata Rangi.

The story of Ata Rangi’s pinot is the stuff of legend. Back in the 80s, Clive Paton (the founder and owner), called on the help of winemaker Malcolm Abel. Fortunately for Paton, Abel had identified some exciting pinot cuttings, brought over illegally from Burgundy in a Kiwi’s boot. In fact, it is thought that these cuttings came from non-other than the world-famous estate of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. These confiscated vines were bought by Paton, planted in his estate, and have been called the ‘Gumboot clone’ or ‘Abel clone’ ever-since. The estate now employs the characteristic of several different Pinot clones, including the Dijon clone for its perfume, and clone 5 for its structure.

These wines has been incredibly well received in the press. Here are the experts’ opinions:

  • Hugh Johnson explains it as ‘seductively fragrant’ and ‘powerful.’
  • At the 2010 International Pinot noir Conference, it was given the title ‘Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa,’ translating from Maori as ‘Grand cru of New Zealand.’
  • Bob Campbell, MW writes: ‘Ata Rangi produce one of the country’s greatest wines’
  • James Suckling calls it ‘a materpiece’, giving the 2013 vintage 98-99 points.
  • Tim Aitkin and Nick Stock have both called it ‘New Zealand’s best pinot’
  • New Zealand experts Sam King and Raymond Chan reward the 2013 vintage 98 points

So, what is the hype about? I gave it a try… below are my tasting notes.

Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, 2013, Martinborough

Visuals: Ruby-purple, clean and medium viscosity.

Nose: Austere primary fruit: blackberries, cherry. Very light touch of oak. Peppery and herbacious. Obvious smoked bacon fat. Alcohol is quite strong.

Palate: Some cherry fruit. Very peppery, almost Rhone like! Dried oregano. Good acidity, great tension and minerality and extremely long finish. Masses of tannin; the most tannic Pinot I have ever tasted.

Conclusions: This is clearly very youthful and primary. Overall, actually rather difficult to drink. So intense, so tannic and overall, rather overpowering for steak. This would probably need something gamey to pair with. I am no expert in anticipating a wine’s potential to age, but based on the structure, the tannin, and the primal nature of this wine, I can at least see why the experts suggest you leave this for a bit in the cellar.

Learning Points: Don’t be greedy. Yes, you can drink wine young, but if everyone is telling you to wait, just wait! To quote Decanter: ‘it would be ‘Sacrilegious to drink it [Ata Rangi 2013 pinot noir) now, despite its deliciousness.’

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