Roger Jones, our Michelin-starred chef and self-confessed New World Pinot Noir fan, hosts a range tasting of Larry McKenna’s Escarpment winery at the Harrow at Little Bedwyn. McKenna works with the grapes to develop distinctively superior wines that are true to character, quality and vintage and has a rare skill of being able to balance whole bunch pressing with the delicacy of the fruit.
Five Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris – these are just some of the wines that have full tasting notes below. First, though, Larry McKenna explains why he feels that Martinborough will soon be able to compete with Burgundy and Oregon for producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.
With a glut of tastings and masterclasses happening last week, I decided to corner a few winemakers and persuade them to pop down to my restaurant in the countryside, my first target was Larry McKenna, aka Larry McPinot, from The Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough in New Zealand.
So over a relaxed lunch with a few locals including Moët & Chandon’s Sommelier of The Year finalist, Romain Bourger from The Vineyard at Stockcross, we went through all his new releases. McKenna has been branching out a bit and we were treated to some excellent white wines including an “Aussie” style dry Riesling and two white Pinots, a Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, and of course some excellent Chardonnay.
Martinborough has a distinct Pinot style, which is different to Central Otago, in McKenna’s words; “Martinborough’s reds are more savoury, while Central Otago’s are more overtly fruity. Our wines show a good balance of ripe fruit and moderate acidity, while those from Central Otago combine ripe fruit with higher acidity.”
In comparison to Pinots from the rest of the world I asked him where New Zealand stood, to which he mentioned words like “running rings around Australia”, smiled gracefully on my own Pinot Noir that I make in South Africa but thought that, with time, the Pinots from Martinborough could stand up well against the best from Burgundy and Oregon.
McKenna has built a solid reputation for understanding and gaining the best out of this typically stubborn and capricious grape. His guiding lights have been Dujac and Louis Latour in Burgundy.
Known for his relaxed and unassuming style McKenna applies the same approach to his winemaking. Rather than force a wine into doing something out of character, he works with the grapes to develop distinctively superior wines that are true to character, quality and vintage. Whole bunch pressing is high on his chart, but the way he can balance this without destroying the delicateness of the wine is impressive.
Born and bred in Adelaide, Australia McKenna graduated from the Roseworthy Agricultural College in 1976. After travelling for a stint through Europe sampling the wine culture, he ‘cut his teeth’ with fellow Roseworthy student, John Hancock, at Delegat’s Wine Estate in Auckland, New Zealand.
In 1986 McKenna left Auckland to take up the position of CEO/winemaker at Martinborough Vineyard in the Wairarapa region of Martinborough. From 1986 to 1999 he grew this company from 20 to 160 tonnes and firmly put Martinborough Vineyard and himself on the world map as one of the pre-eminent New World Pinot Noir producers and winemakers. In 1999 he set up The Escarpment Vineyard, and the rest as they say is history.
McKenna’s Pinots are made to be cellared and these wines grow in stature with age, it was a fabulous treat to taste these new releases and I look forward to returning to them in five years and in a decade.
The wines that made up the tasting
All prices are Recommended Retail Prices
Riesling 2013 £12.50
Bright full fruit, floral, lime zest, fresh but fruit-filled. This is a classic Aussie-style Dry Riesling, a perfect appetiser. Easy drinking but lovely texture and gentle acidity.
Pinot Blanc 2014 £12.50
Subtle flavours with some spice, clean stone fruit, barrel fermented but precise and clean, with a lovely dry finish. Fresh, clean stone fruit and pear, some wet stone, fabulous fresh zingy clean flavours. Lovely focus and precision.
Pinot Gris 2014 £13.95
Luscious opulent fruit on the nose, rich, white fleshed peaches, ripe pears, textured and layered, full flavoured wine. Pretty floral nuances continue on the nose and palate, multi-layered, textured, a very fine Burgundian style.
Chardonnay 2014 £17.00
Mineral backbone, white stone fruit, softly textured, long finish with a bright clean acidity. Delicate oak, the freshness is amazing, the end palate is full of fresh clean fruit with a hint of white flowers. Drinking so well now.
Chardonnay Kupe 2015 £23.00
Complex multi-layered and flavoured, ripe but restrained fruit, pink grapefruit, flinty, matchstick, white flowers, a wine that will evolve. On the palate there is an explosion of fruit, some tropical, wet stone, flint, and this carries on for a long time – a fabulous wine to age.
Pinot Noir 2014 £21.00
Gentle perfume on the nose, elegant, soft ripe tannin, black and red fruits, gentle, easy drinking Pinot, with a clean, fresh finish. This has evolved well and is a beautiful, easy drinking wine of distinction.
Pinot Noir Kupe 2015 £37.00
This Pinot continues to shine and highlight McKenna’s expertise: rich, dark fruit with a touch of cocoa, spices, liquorice, dark cherries, but to balance the deep flavours there is a soft acidity, this is a wine that will drink for years – decant and enjoy now in its youth.
Pinot Noir Pahi 2015 £32.00
Dark deep red/black fruits, liquorice, spiced, but there is an underlying clean brightness to this wine that is evolving, herbaceous flavours from whole bunch pressing, dark juicy cherries, expressive Pinot, almost Chambolle like.
Pinot Noir Kiwa 2015 £32.00
Soft, gentle nose gives way to a red and black cherry-fruited wine with a lovely savoury, earthy background; deep and heady flavours, exotic nuances that evolve on the palate. Juicy, roast lamb juices, savoury and sweetly spiced.
Pinot Noir Te Rehua 2015 £32.00
Beautiful wine, delicate perfumed nose, dark fruits, balanced with spices, this is youthful on the palate and will evolve. Perfectly seamless balanced wine. Drink from two years time onwards.
Hinemoa Riesling 2016 – half bottle £12.99
Beerenauslese style, luscious sweet Riesling, but had depth and a good backbone which went well with a dessert comprising of mango, yuzu and lemon.
Seckford Agencies are the importers for all these wines in the UK.