We now journey to the southern end of the North Island to the region of Wairarapa and the town, and sub-region, of Martinborough. Martinborough is what you will see more often on labels in the U.S., but Wairarapa is coming on. I profess to knowing little about the latter and have only tasted a few wines labeled as such. There are two other sub-regions, Masterton and Gladstone. We will focus on Martinborough exclusively since, as far as America is concerned, Martinborough is all there is.
The soils are deep and made up of silt and stone over gravel. The summers are warm to hot and the autumns are generally dry and long. While sauvignon blanc has been a calling card internationally, pinot noir gets more lip service. Sauvignon blanc has over 14,000 acres planted while pinot noir tips the scales next at just over 1,800 making it a distant second but an important marketing point.
Martinborough makes good pinot noir, although I still tip my cap to Central Otago as the best New Zealand has to offer. For a long time, this was a region of small production, low-yield wineries. Quality appears to still be the focus but numbers have increased.
As a general rule, I find the sauvignon blancs less exotic than Marlborough but also less complete. They still offer vibrant fruit but it's a bit tarter without offering much more complexity. Some have impressed, but mostly I view this as pinot noir country. That being said, I stop short of endorsing the region wholeheartedly. I have found way too many of the light, cranberry fruited wines that appear almost more like white wine on the palate. For comparison, this is a complaint I have about many Carneros pinot noirs as well. They have the tart acids of white wine and lack the body or structure to draw the taster in further. There are exceptions...
Ata Rangi pinot noirs are outstanding, and expensive. I have not had the pleasure of exploring the rest of their portfolio as I have never sold the wines and have only seen pinot noir available. They are rich, fairly extracted and impressive, but they better be for the price.
Palliser Estate impressed me with their riesling and sauvignon blanc. The former offered deep flavors and a dry palate with lip-smacking, soft lemon acidity. The sauvignon blanc serves as my hallmark for the style from Martinborough - balanced but exhuberant and more food friendly than their neighbors on the northern part of South Island. Their pinot noir served as a great example of what I dislike about the reds from this region.
Te Kairanga's pinot left me in a similar state but I liked their sauvignon blanc. The chardonnay from this winery impressed me the most with a delicate approach, but not shy, with some true intrigue on the finish.
That wraps up New Zealand, feel free to place requests for the next destination...