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16/10/2014

Small town, big achiever

George W. Russell looks at a celebrated village in New Zealand’s North Island.

John Martin, an early European settler in New Zealand, might have known the village he founded had international aspirations. A well-travelled man in his youth, Martin named the main streets after places he had visited in the world and to this day include Texas, Kansas, Naples and Oxford.

Today, still only a village of just 1300 people, Martinborough packs quite a punch on the world wine stage. Its alluvial river terraces and silty loams have proved ideal for the production of winegrapes, especially Pinot Noir, but also Shiraz, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Once known for its sheep and cattle, and growing olives, lavender and nuts, Martinborough has established itself as a major viticulture centre in less than four decades, with more than 30 wineries now located in the district.

Max Stevens, a member of the South Wairarapa District Council, of which Martinborough is a part, says the success of the wine is due to the micro-climate of equinoctial winds during spring and early summer, warm summer days with cool evenings, and dry summer and autumn. “This is all contributing to low-cropping, high-quality Pinot Noir grapes,” he said.

The vineyards have greatly assisted tourism and the renaissance of Martinborough by attracting capital investment to the town, creating jobs and a small but healthy hospitality industry with restaurants, cafés and accommodation. Quaint colonial architecture, friendly locals and proximity to Wellington have helped the village become a significant tourist destination.

Pinot Noir remains the district’s flagship product. “The Martinborough community is very proud of the international fame that our flagship Pinot Noir wines have achieved, especially in a global market that is extremely tough and competitive,” Stevens said.

The district’s bucolic charms have attracted oenophiles from as far away as Hong Kong: dentist Edward Leung and his wife Marjory created Ma Maison to make notably full-bodied single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines. The 2007 Ma Maison Pinot Noir (HK$229, MarketPlace by Jason’s, The Peak) offers complex cherry fruits. It should keep a few more years but is ideal for drinking now.

Another full-bodied example is the Palliser Great Marco Pinot Noir 2009 (HK$468 Watson’s Wine Cellar, Central), with its deep red and purple hues. The nose is densely packed with plums, dark cherries and blackberries with complex layers of toasted oak. By all means drink now but has the structure to last another decade.

Larry McKenna, an outspoken ambassador for Martinborough Pinot Noir, has created some of New Zealand’s most complex wines, such as the Escarpment Pinot Noir 2004 (HK$328, Wine Direct, Cheung Sha Wan). This award-winner has red cherry and plum flavours. Moderately complex, this wine has and firm tannins and a savoury edge to its long finish.

Another medium-bodied example is the Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2012 (HK$158, Watson’s) with its nose of cranberries and raspberries cloves. The red berry flavours endure along with its fine tannins and a long finish.

For a fine Shiraz, look no further than Dry River, one of the first wineries in the Martinborough region. Established by Neil McCallum in 1979, hedge fund pioneer Julian Robertson is now the owner but McCallum remains at the creative reins. The Dry River Syrah 2003 (HK$928, Wine Direct, Cheung Sha Wan) has a very dense, dark colour with fresh fruit flavours of blackberries. A somewhat elegant Shiraz, this wine has cardamom and black pepper undertones and a strongly mineral finish. It could also be kept for a decade or more.

McCallum has an interest in producing top-flight white wines. The Dry River Craighall Riesling 2009 (HK$368, Y18 Elegant Spirits, Lai Chi Kok) lives up to its name: it’s bone dry and strongly mineral and a robust acidity. Although interestingly youthful at the moment, this Riesling can only benefit from some time in the cellar.

Ata Rangi — Maori for “dawn sky” — is another old name in Martinborough, established since 1980 and best known for its award-winning Pinot Noir range. But the vineyard has also made waves with its Ata Rangi Riesling Kahu Botrytis 2008 (HK$198 for 375mL, Altaya Wines, Causeway Bay). It is a pale gold colour with a nose of honey, honeysuckle, lime and, naturally, kiwi fruit. Lemon, lime and tropical create a luscious flavour and long, citrusy finish.           

Also established since 1980, Martinborough Vineyard has the oldest Pinot Noir grapes in the region. However, the Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay 2012 (HK$335, Victoria Wines, North Point) is worth trying. Aromas of tropical fruit intertwine with notes of citrus. This wine is a powerful, flavoursome Chardonnay with the deep mineral expressions that make Martinborough wines outstanding worldwide.

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of A Plus, the magazine of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

To view the article click here


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