Jamie Drummond on Food and Wine #18 Helen Masters (Ata Rangi)

Helen Masters started as a Cellar Hand at Ata Rangi’s Martinborough property in 1990. After much study and travel she returned to the winery as Head Winemaker in 2003. Good Food Revolution caught up with her in Wellington, New Zealand…

By Jamie Drummond

2009 Ata Rangi Riesling “Craighall Block” Martinborough
Citrus and honey. Crisp and lively acidity. An enjoyable aperitif.

2009 Ata Rangi Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough
Whilst it is quite tricky to get me in any way excited about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc these days, this is very pleasant. Intense ripe fruit dominates on the nose with a hint of lime. This wine sees a 20% barrel fermentation and lots of lees contact which is quite evident upon the palate. Texturally impressive.

2009 Ata Rangi “Summer Rosé”
A beautiful deep pink hued wine. With 50% Merlot sourced from Hawkes bay, this wine is most refreshing and requires a pool party augmented by some  friendly ladies with pronounced eyebrows and a ghetto blaster pumping roller disco boogie to do it justice… and that’s no bad thing. Enjoyable.

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Gris “Lismore Vineyard” Martinborough
This wine showed amazingly well alongside chilled lobster and grilled abalone with a squirt of lemon. Oooohhh… it was delicious. Much more in the Alsatian style. Good Pinot Gris texture that I adore. Still retaining enough malic acid to prevent the wine from ever being cloying.

2009 Ata Rangi Pinot Gris “Lismore Vineyard” Martinborough
Again this is made in a rich Alsatian style with lots of glycerol mouthfeel and even less residual sugar than the previous vinatge (around 11g), this wine is really quite delightful. I picked up on some lovely pear aromatics on this vintage.

2008 Ata Rangi Chardonnay “Petrie Vineyard” Wairarapa
From alluvial soils with a little more clay content. This vineyard is a little later ripening than the Craighall examples. It’s also planted to different clones (namely 6 and 5) that give this wine a markedly different aromatic profile from it’s sister wine. There is an interesting nuance on the nose that I am not quite sure about. “Good not great” as an old friend of mine used to say… about almost everything!

2005 Ata Rangi Chardonnay “Craighall Block” Martinborough
Now this is special. I wasn’t quite ready for this Mendoza clone wine. Ripe tropical fruit gives way to lovely tertiary aromatics that show this Chardonnay’s calibre. The palate doesn’t disappoint either with a great vitality, seamless oak integration, and an intriguingly complex mineral component. Wonderful texture round this wine out. Up there with my favourite New Zealand Chardonnays. Actually, balls to my subterfuge… I think it is my #1. An amazing wine.

2008 Ata Rangi Chardonnay “Craighall Block” Martinborough
The Craighall block is really teeny, a mere 2 acres. The 2008 shows great promise but needs a few years to develop into the deliciously complex bugger that the 2005 has. Again the oak integration is impressive, and the C,raighall minerality is also apparent. I’d love to see this again in a couple of years.

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir “Crimson” Martinborough
This wine really surprised me. The value here is quite astonishing. Possibly the best introduction one could possibly have to New Zealand Pinot. This should be on every restaurant’s by-the-glass list. We need to see more wines like this from New Zealand. Made from Ata Rangi’s younger vines, this seriously punches above its weight. Bright, lively red fruit excites the senses. Not the most complex of wines, but well made and a pleasure to quaff.

2006 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough
All three of these Pinots took my breath away. The 2006 exhibited everything that one would expect from Martinborough Pinot. Deliciously ripe and bright red and black fruits on the nose alongside an alluring spiciness. Structure is also quite delightful with firm and yet approachable tannins. Damn good juice.

2007 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough
This vintage shows a lot of concentration and tannin, making it a bit of a beast, and that is not necessarily a good thing. This is all down to vintage, as due to a poor fruit set Ata Rangi lost 2/3 of their Pinot crop. During vinification it took 3 people to punch through the cap during punchdown as this cap was almost all skins and very little juice. It’s undoubtedly a good wine, but it doesn’t quite do it for me in the same way as the other two vintages.

2008 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir Martinborough
Now this is more like it! Perfumed and incredibly seductive with that signature spice character. This wine has elegance, finesse, and balance in spades. Silky tannins pleasure the palate. Very special. Needs some time to evolve though. Built to age.

2006 Ata Rangi “Célébre” (50% Merlot/30% Syrah/20% Cab)
In the early years of Martinborough viticulture many growers were unsure whether Pinot Noir would actually take and so they also planted some Cabernet and Merlot to hedge their bets. This blend is well put together with all three varietals bringing something to the party. Good value too.

2007 Ata Rangi “Célébre” (40% Merlot/30% Syrah/30% Cab)
Despite the Syrah component being exactly the same in this vintage I found that the Syrah was a little more dominant on the nose. Again, a well crafted example of blended wine. If you find the addition of Syrah to Cab and Merlot a little odd then please understand that the “Hermitaging” of even the grandest of Bordeaux wines used to be commonplace.

2008 Ata Rangi “Kahu” Botrytis Riesling Martinborough
My favourite dessert wine from this beautiful country thus far… and believe me, up in Hawkes Bay we tasted through some real dogs. This smells amazingly Teutonic but has a lovely ripe, dense tropical aspect that those wines often fall short on. Fresh and full of vitality. Essential with a local NZ bloomy rind cheese with membrillo and gingerbread… I kid you not!

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