Larry McKenna is widely recognised as the winemaker who introduced New Zealand to quality Pinot Noir – he is often referred to as the “God Father” or “Prince” of Pinot Noir in New Zealand for his history of the variety here. Originally from Australia Larry started in NZ in the early 1980s with John Hancock at Delegats in Auckland. In 1986 he shifted to the new area of Martinborough as the inaugural winemaker for Martinborough Vineyards. In 1998 he established Escarpment. He was inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame in 2014.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Larry has continued refining, developing his style of Martinborough Pinot Noir. Tonight’s tasting was showcasing the 2015 vintage Insight wines. The model for the Insight series is Burgundian, with the emphasis on small batch, single site wines. The 2015 wines are all exceptional, with subtle and not so subtle differences between them. Preference will always come down to personal tastes but these are examples of not only Martinborough’s or New Zealand’s greatest Pinot Noir but world class wines. The wine world in the USA was surprised when the 2013 Kupe Pinot Noir was rated number 7 in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 wines of the year (an outstanding result as the Top 100 is selected from the 1000’s of wines tasted during the year from around the world and is the highest ever rated New Zealand wine to make the list.)

Escarpment Riesling 2013 $18.99

Larry introduced this wine with the usual ‘Why don’t we drink more Riesling..”  And tasting this, you have to wonder why Riesling seems to be the forgotten variety. No excuses for wondering if it is dry or not – Larry uses the Riesling scale on the back label where it clearly  states this is dry. 2013 was a nice warm vintage and he was able to ferment the wine to virtual dryness (6g/l rs) whilst keeping the alcohol relatively low at 12%. Refreshing classic citrus, lemon fruits with a hint of aged character coming through. This would work well as an aperitif style as well as with food.

Escarpment Pinot Gris 2014 $21.99

Larry is certainly not a fan of the ‘beverage wine’ style of Pinot Gris. For him the wine needs, like Chardonnay, to have some wine-making input to give added textural elements. Aged in old Chardonnay barrels (some over 10 years old) with plenty of lees contact for around 12 months. The result is a wine with spicy, earthy, orange /citrus, bartlett pear flavours. Dry with a slightly oily texture and finishing long.

Escarpment Chardonnay 2014 $26.99

Larry has an even longer history with Chardonnay than he does with Pinot noir. From his early days at Delegats in the early 1980’s, to Martinborough Vineyards Larry has had a hand in some of New Zealand’s most famous Chardonnays. The move to screwcaps has aided the Escarpment style. Larry has never been afraid of a little oxidative character to enhance the palate. This 2014 also has some beautifully managed flinty, gunsmoke flavours. The style is tending to 1er Cru Chablis with some green herb, mineral hints and any overt creaminess pulled back. Best Escarpment Chardonnay for quite some time.

Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2015 $42.99

The Kupe Chardonnay is from the same single old vine block that provides the fruit for the Pahi Pinot Noir. Much denser and ripely fruit than the “Escarpment 2014”. Ripe fig, marmalade, smokey and rich. There’s a nutty savoury and mineral finish. Superb Chardonnay.

Escarpment Pinot Noir 2014 $39.99

The Escarpment is what Larry calls his ‘regional’ blend. 2014 was a long, warm vintage with the grapes able to be picked in perfect condition. Hand harvested and wild fermented , 50% whole bunch with the wine spending 19 days on skins, and aged 11 months in 30% new French oak barrels. There is a savouriness about this with a mix of red and black fruits and a hint of olive. Mouthfilling with substantial ripe tannins. There is a huge amount of Pinot pleasure to be had from this.

Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir 2015 $64.99

From the McCreanor block in Princess St, Martinborough; 28 yo  vines naturally  fermented  with 50% whole bunch, 30% new oak aged for 18 months. Unfortunately due to a vineyard ownership change this may be the last Pahi released. Quite perfumed with dark fresh plum and a hint of red fruits. Quite floral and aromatic. Medium bodied with a coating of lacey acidity around the core of fruit and then the tannins grounding the finish.

Escarpment Kiwa Pinot Noir 2015 $64.99

Also 28 year old vines, this from the Cleland vineyard on Cambridge Rd Made similarly to the Pahi, 50% whole bunch, but with a bit more time of skins and a bit more new oak (40%). This shows as being a bit more savoury and earthy then the glazed cherry elements come through on the back palate. Beguiling, intriguing, gorgeous.

Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir 2015 $64.99

The vines here are 23 years old, from the Barton Vineyard , Haungarua Rd about 1/2 km out of Martinborough on the alluvial soils. The vineyard is quite sheltered and is the first to ripen.The time on skins is the longest  of the Pinot Noirs at 24 days; has 65% whole bunch, but less new oak (30%). My notes were succinct  – dense, solid, big, rich, ripe. Impressive wine.

Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir 2015 $82.99

This is from Escarpment’s own vineyard, planted in 1999. Here the vines are much more densely planted than the older vineyards at around 7,000 vines/ha, but the yield from each vine is around 1/2 at 1kg per vine. 50% new oak and 70% whole bunch. This is a stunning wine and probably even better than the 2013 which was awarded the number 7 best wine of the year in the USA Wine Spectator 2015. There is sensual density and weight, yet the palate just floats and again like the Te Rehua a cloud of fine tannin coats the finish. Really quite a monster Pinot Noir that should be cellared for a few years, but like all great wine, beautiful now.