Vintage tales of cork vs screw cap… Martinborough

Everyone has their tipping point and for Larry McKenna that came in 2014 when a disappointingly high volume of cork affected wines made him rethink his wine closure strategy.

The owner and founder of the Escarpment Vineyard in Martinborough is now sealing all his wines with screwcaps.

The move took effect from May this year on the winemaker’s new  2015 Escarpment Pinot Noirs, which he tasted with the wine trade in Wellington.

“The move to screwcaps on all the wines happened because of the 2014s, which were too frequently affected adversely by cork. That was enough to convince me to move to screwcaps – there was too much influence of cork taint in those wines,” says McKenna, who had hoped cork would have delivered more consistent quality on his wines, which have been among the top tier of New Zealand Pinot Noir since the very early days of the Martinborough wine region. McKenna made the first Palliser Estate Pinot Noir and all of the early Pinots at Martinborough Vineyards – one of the first four wineries in the small region.

It’s not easy to pick one – or even two – of his new wines as stand outs because the quality is so high across the entire range, and these are the wines I tasted in his new release tasting earlier this month:

2014 The Escarpment Vineyard Pinot Gris

Barrel fermented, dry Pinot Gris – lees contact and old barrels add textural richness and a full body, which is balanced with zesty lemon flavours and a long finish.

2014 The Escarpment Vineyard Pinot Blanc

Same winemaking for the Pinot Gris but from a variety that McKenna describes as more neutral. That said, I love the full body and hints of nutty flavour in this wine.

2014 The Escarpment Vineyard Martinborough Chardonnay

The grapes in this wine were picked earlier than McKenna says he normally would, in order to accentuate the fruit flavours; this wine was 100% barrel fermented with high solids which has always been a focus for McKenna because it accentuates savoury flavours. Only 20% of the oak here was new; the rest older barrels, which is another feather in this wine’s fresh, concentrated, flavoursome cap.

2015 The Escarpment Vineyard Kupe Chardonnay

Smaller crops, higher concentration of flavour and great aeration make this wine a rock star in New Zealand’s Chardonnay universe; this vintage was characterised by smaller crop levels than 2014 but the oak regime is the same. It’s the same oak regime as above but the wine tastes slightly more savoury with spicy nuances; no doubt the lower crop levels and greater concentration of fruit flavour mean that everything tastes dialled up. In a deliciously good way.

There are five Pinot Noir in McKenna’s Escarpment range:

2015 Escarpment Pinot Noir

2015 Escarpment Pahi Pinot Noir

2015 Escarpment Kiwa Pinot Noir

2015 Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir

2015 Escarpment Kupe


To drink now?

My pick to drink now is the 2015 Escarpment Te Rehua Pinot Noir, which has darker fruit flavours than many Pinots, lending this wine a richness, spiciness and drink-me-now style.

For the long haul…

The 2015 Escarpment Kupe is the wine I recommend to cellar for the long term, due to its intense concentration of flavour, pronounced acidity and long finish, all of which bode well for a long life…

2015 Escarpment Kupe

This is the jewel in the Escarpment crown, made from grapes planted at higher density (to encourage competition for nutrient uptake among the vines); this wine has more oak, more whole bunches in the ferment (70%) and more lifted perfume aromas as a result. It’s bold, robust and spicy. A very good wine to drink now and with good ageing potential too.


Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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