Three of the best

22:34, May 07 2014
Jeff Clarke
RUBY HUES: Ara Wines chief winemaker Jeff Clarke with a glass of pinot noir.

Let's have a look at three pinots, all from one place, but each a little different from its stablemates.

Ara is in the spotlight as we review an appealing lineup and acknowledge the marked improvement in quality due to the ongoing influence of chief winemaker Jeff Clarke.

Jeff began his career making wine in Australia before moving to New Zealand to work as chief winemaker at Montana (later Pernod Ricard) for 17 years.

Internationally recognised for his contribution to the development of the world famous Marlborough sauvignon blanc wine style, he was named international white winemaker of the year at the International Wine Challenge, London, in 1999.

Jeff has also helped drive the development of New Zealand pinot noir.

He joined the Ara team just before the 2011 vintage, and by 2012 the company had gone through several changes, including introducing some new wines and new packaging.


The Ara vineyard site was once a part of Bankhouse, a pioneering sheep station established in the 1840s.

Close to the confluence of the Wairau and Waihopai rivers, Ara's 400-hectare vineyard is on a terrace made up of old alluvial clay and gravel - much older than the soils found elsewhere in the Wairau Valley. Regarded as very special by Ara's developers, the site has been promoted as a distinct region within the Wairau.

A wander through the vineyard delivers some surprises. The grapes are planted close together on low trellising. The high vine density means the plants will bear less fruit, but fewer bunches usually signals higher quality.

Back in 2002 the first plantings were sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, but since then the range has been extended to include pinot gris.

Back to the pinot - this column is being written as the first southerly of late autumn tugs leaves off the vines, so it seems appropriate to be writing about red wines and ideal food matches.

Ara Single Estate Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012 ($24.95)

Deep ruby-hued, inviting to look at.

The heady, perfumed aroma is plummy and laced with sweet violets. Deeply satisfying with tamarillo, spice and a toasty oak character.

The palate is sweet, juicy and ripe, with plenty of plum and sweet blackberry fruit. Intense, concentrated flavours, yet very easy drinking. Firm tannins and gentle acids reinforce the quality but this wine is really all about sweet ripe fruitiness and approachability.

This supple pinot will go well with grilled tuna, ham or even turkey served with cranberry sauce. Team with green vegetables and potatoes prepared simply.

Ara Pathway Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012 ($21.94)

Plums, earth, smoke and rich, dried fruit notes dominate the aroma. Some crisp green herb and bacon savouriness round things out.

The palate is full-bodied; a blend of plum, almond, boysenberry and gentle spicy oak with a lick of coffee in the background.

A stylish wine with fine, yet drying tannins and a reasonably complex palate. Very attractive, nice length and balance - all of which make this a really satisfying wine experience.

This pinot with its soft and savoury qualities will go well with the foods mentioned above - or try venison, duck or beef prepared in a lighter style.

Ara Select Blocks Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012 ($29.95)

Dark ruby, semi-opaque in the glass.

The aroma is spicy and plummy - we picked up notes of nutmeg and gentle oak.

The palate is a rewarding sweet/savoury blend of flavours complemented by drying tannins. Sweet plum, savoury oak, earthiness and a hint of mushroom combine towards the finish in this full-bodied wine with its crisp, leafy notes.

Still very young and quite muscular - a wine to cellar with confidence as it has all the bells and whistles.

Gunn Estate Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($19.99)

The crisp, prickly aroma is herbaceous, with pineapple and sweet lemon notes, slightly sweaty and grassy.

The juicy, ripe palate is full of flavour - grassy with currant notes and some minerality at the citrusy, cleansing finish. There's some prickliness to the palate and this results in lovely balance.

A lovely example of Marlborough sauvignon blanc. Winemaker's food recommendation: try with Thai fish cakes with fresh coriander and finished with lime juice. Fresh Bluff oysters with a squeeze of lemon would be a treat, too.

Allan Scott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($21)

This wine gives us the perfect opportunity to see how the 2012 vintage is standing the test of time.

The deep, rich, stonefruit aroma is delightful; it is also intensely savoury with red capsicum notes and a hint of herbaceousness.

Smooth as satin on the palate with some rich, aged characters. Gentle stonefruit, mineral, dried herb and light earthy notes combine with the more standard flavours found in a younger sauvignon - namely passionfruit and a hint of tomato leaf.

Intensely flavoured, full-bodied, spicy and with exceptional length of flavour, this attractive wine will partner a wider range of foods than usually associated with sauvignon blanc.

Buy this wine while you can.