Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


New vintage Escarpment Pinot Noir release

The new 2020 Escarpment single vineyard Pinot Noirs have been released and they are an impressive bunch, including the reintroduction of Pahi to the range for the first time in several years. The other wines include Kiwa, Te Rehua and, king of them all, Kupe. These Maori names stand as the turangawaewae of these wines, on their front labels, without the words Pinot Noir. It is a local take on the traditional French theme of naming great Pinot Noirs after the vineyards from which the grapes were grown rather than after the grape variety from which the wine is made. In these wines, the plots of land are all small and the production of the wines is also miniscule. They are all made using wild yeasts, are aged in French oak with slightly varying portions of new oak and the balance all being one to two year old barrels. All are bottled unfined and unfiltered but the flavours in each wine are incredibly different, which makes for a powerful expression of vineyard and the transparency of Pinot Noir to highlight that. 

Winemaker Tim Bourne's tasting notes describe the 2020 vintage as near perfect, a description that  usually raises a big question mark in my mind but in this case, Martinborough actually was picture perfect in the summer of 2020. It was the year that I moved to Martinborough. Summer was hot, dry and long with no rain and near drought conditions at the start of harvest. This meant the grapes were ripe but did not suffer from the problems that drought can bring while they are still ripening. 

"We have honed back the new oak and charry barrels a bit in the last two years. It used to be 50% to 60% new oak and it's generally a case by case basis each year so it could be anywhere from 30% new oak but we generally don't head that high anymore," says Bourne. 

This release of the wines sees the reintroduction of Pahi, as mentioned above, and this also means a step change for the range. Until now, Kupe has been the only Escarpment Pinot Noir made 100% from grapes grown in the Te Muna Valley; that cool, windy, majestic elevated valley that is situated nine kilometres from Martinborough village. Now there are two wines from Te Muna and two from vineyards around the village. 

Two of the wines drink well now as great expressions of place and Pinot Noir while the other two beg to be stored somewhere safe until the time comes to revisit aged, earthy, complex reds. This is my view of the wines, which I have reviewed below. It was a real privilege to try them and, in the case of Kupe, I have now tried it several times, thanks to being at Winetopia earlier this month. 

For the cellar

2020 Escarpment Kupe Single Vineyard Pinot Noir RRP $115

This Pinot Noir has aromas to die for from dried cranberries to red cherries, black cherries and dried concentrated mushrooms and layers of savoury, earthy flavours. It was aged for 16 months in French oak, 35% of which was new and it was bottled, as always, without fining or filtration, so the flavours are dense, dark and savoury with an undertow of dried mushroom, which supports the beautiful fresh dark fruit aromas. It's incredibly youthful and begs to be cellared, whatever that means in your home - stash it under the bed, if that's the only place. This wine will be a stunner in another eight to 10 years. 

Drink now and cellar 

2020 Escarpment Kiwa Single Vineyard Pinot Noir RRP $85

Kiwa is the prettiest of the new single vineyard releases in terms of its fragrance and red fruit flavours, which is the style that this vineyard is renowned for. It's one of the oldest vineyards in Martinborough and expresses exotic spicy aromas with a soft, sensuous mouthfeel. A beautiful and pretty wine for drinking now but equally one that can stand the test of time spent ageing in a wine collection. It was matured for 16 months in French oak, 31% new, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. 

Drink now and cellar 


2020 Escarpment Pahi Single Vineyard Pinot Noir RRP $85

The first Pahi from Te Muna Road from a vineyard planted in 2003 and now owned by Escarpment. This is a solid wine with a full body, red and dark fruit flavours and an earthy dry finish. Like all the other Pinot Noirs in this line up, it was fermented with indigenous yeasts and aged in French oak, only with its own proportion - 35% new, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. 

Stylistically, Pahi sits in between Kupe's dark full bodied style and Kiwa's more delicate red fruited one.

Cellar me please


2020 Escarpment Te Rehua Single Vineyard Pinot Noir RRP $85

This is the biggest of all four single vineyard Escarpment Pinot Noirs with higher tannins than the other wines being an expression of place and vineyard site. For this reason, winemaker Tim Bourne has pulled back the oak particularly here to 30% new oak with the balance being one to two year old barrels (as for the other wines). Again, it was made using wild yeast fermentation, bottled unfined and unfiltered and is incredibly youthful. 

Dark black cherry flavours define the style of this wine with its powerful spicy notes also being in the darker flavour spectrum. 

It drinks well now but will reward cellar time more for those who enjoy the silkier side of Pinot Noirs with bottle age. 

* All Escarpment wines are sealed with screwcaps to preserve freshness and fruit purity.