Escarpment: The other Martinborough superstar
They’re the ‘other’ superstars.
The ‘other’ superstars are wine producers that were once considered to be the pinnacle producer in a region, yet now seems to be just part of the landscape. Typically the wine quality hasn’t suffered, yet the press coverage and perception of fashionability seems to have moved on to the new/old favourite producer.
Sadly, this fashionability is (often) directly related to advertising, distribution, volume and PR spend, with the richest, biggest estates often receiving the greatest share of love irrespective of wine quality (like a certain NZ winery that receives great media coverage because of a multi-millionaire owner willing to fly critics around on his private jet).
Martinborough’s Escarpment are one of these ‘other’ superstars.
Despite co-owner and winemaker Larry McKenna’s unparalleled experience (he spent 15 years as the Martinborough Vineyard winemaker and made the first few Yabby Lake releases); access to some of Martinborough’s best fruit and a suite of high quality wines, it seems Escarpment slips below the radar a bit (in Australia at least).
It could be because Escarpment has no cellar door presence in Martinborough. It could be because the range is so premium Pinot focused. It could be because volumes are so low. It could be because the firmly structured wines need a little patience to really shine.
Whatever it is, Escarpment seems to be clumped into Martinborough’s best less-often, even despite garnering high scores for the wines. I mean, Ata Rangi gets loads more Pinot attention (it deserves plenty of it, don’t get me wrong) even though they make less Pinot based wines. Ditto Kusuda, who are everyones ‘cool Martinborough producer’ right now (again, great wines though). Yet Escarpment seems to hang at the periphery.
A recent tasting, however, reminded just how good Larry’s wines (particularly the Pinots) can be. They’re different, less primary and with a real attention to structural detail (sometimes too much so) that I latch on too. They’re ‘architect’ wines, with less flash and more substance, which appeals to me greatly.
All the more reason why I’m surprised that Escarpment is one of the ‘others’.
(These were hurriedly tasted with Larry a month or so back. Tidbits from Larry in italics and if you get him started he has plenty of great stories)
Escarpment Pinot Gris 2012
Foot trod! Partial malo and lees stirring.
Nutty. Quite developed and full. Lemon tang and quite complex, warm finish. Complexity of lees and oak but maybe lacking enough freshness . Length is great though. 17/20, 90/100
Escarpment Chardonnay 2011
From the Te Muna rd vineyard. Full solids, picked quite early ‘we’re aiming for that that mineral spectrum’. Partial malo. 20% new oak.
Cheesy leesy and surprisingly full. Again there’s an edge of flab and broadness which detracts a fraction, though still propped up by lovely tangy acid. Honey buzz to finish is just a little distracting. Good but I wonder if this would have been better 6 months ago. 17.5/20, 91/100
Escarpment Kupe Chardonnay 2011
‘Our oldest vineyard’. Largely old oak for 10 months. 250 cases produced.
Quite developed lemon pie nose. Acid line is excellent here. Acid acid! Such a backward, leesy, solidsy style – reminds me of an old school Burgundy style (with some quirks too). Really clever and layer of honey then acid and lees. Such complexity! Next level quality. 18.5/20, 94/100
Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir 2010
Sourced from the McCreanor vineyard. 30% new oak, 40% whole bunch.
Again developed and quite stem driven, bacon bits and a ferrous tang. Really concentrated but a fraction baked. Again. like an old school Burgundy style (in a ripe year like 09). Red brick and ferrous tannins. Firm. Will be long lived if just a tad hard and ferrous. 17/20, 90/100
Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir 2012
2012 was a very cool and late season. This was picked ‘at the end of March – we were very concerned’. 30% whole bunch.
Much more cherry brightness compared to the 10. Black cherry. Again with that ferrous tannins. Really drying finish. Bacon bits tannins. I think I like this as a younger wine with less earthen tang. Lots of acid this year. Wonderfully complex nose with tomato bush and dry tannins. Such chew ! If you like Pinot with fruit and grunt this is an easy choice. 18/20, 93/100
Escarpment Kiwa Pinot Noir 2012
Sourced from one of the old Martinborough Vineyard properties that Larry helped setup. 30% new oak.
A really classic, black cherry and pepper nose with that Martinborough meatiness too. What structure! This is a long and crushing sort of Pinot that is more akin to cool climate Shiraz than featherweight Pinot styles, yet it never feels heavy – indeed there is a curranty lift through the finish that hooks you right in. Masculine, rewarding, structured pinot for the long haul. 18.7/20, 95/100
Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir 2012
‘This is quite different. The most recognised in NZ’. From the Barton vineyard.
Dark and yet also more about fruit than the wines before it, all dark cherry but less red fruit prettiness. It’s probably a more easily likeable wine in this line, yet without the same complexity of the Kiwa. There’s an appeal in that though – this will be a favourite for its approachability. 18.2/20, 93/100
Escarpment Kupe Pinot Noir 2012
From the high density plantings on the Te Muna road vineyard planted in ’99. ‘Everyone says Te Muna is cooler but that is bullshit’. There’s more new oak too (50%). ‘We push the boat out a bit here with Kupe’.
An extra layer of red fruit density after the Te Rehua. Much more open, the oak welcomingly sweet too. There’s some great chalky acid underneath the red fruit, but it also feels less compact, more flashy and a wine that will woo with top tier length. This feels just a little new world after the previous wines, but you get the sense of greatness – the length is top tier. It stands in the shadow of the Kiwa for power and sheer perfection of Martinborough detail, but this is a lovely wine. 18.5/20, 94/100