Mission an unlikely pioneer for pinot

22:26, May 14 2014

When we think of New Zealand pinot noir, we tend to think south - from Martinborough at the southern end of the North Island to Otago in the deep south.

South is the pinot stronghold.

Recently we were reminded of the fact that Mission Estate in Hawke's Bay played a part in the early introduction of the variety to New Zealand.

After a scout through the early chapters of John Saker's beautiful and informative book Pinot Noir: The New Zealand Story, we came up with the following . . .

"Two rows of pinot noir vines, together with 12 of pinot meunier, stood for most of the 20th century at the Mission vineyard at Greenmeadows, on the slope where the annual Mission concerts are now held.

"Remembered as being ‘pretty gnarled and low-cropping' by Brother John Cuttance, the vines are thought to have been planted by Henry Tiffen, from whom the Marist Brothers bought the vineyard in 1897."


John goes on to say that through the 1950s and 60s the fruit of these vines contributed to the Mission Reserve Pinot, a table wine popular among wine enthusiasts.

Pinot noir had a tentative toe in the door at Mission, but that ended when, in the early 1980s, these old troupers were pulled out. Saker says the old Mission vines survived just long enough to see the rebirth of the variety in New Zealand.

It is the Bordeaux reds that do best in sunny Hawke's Bay - merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit verdot. For this reason, when Mission Estate decided to reintroduce pinot noir to its portfolio in 2000, it looked south.

Mission's chief winemaker Paul Mooney oversaw what the company sees as the re-launch of its pinot noir. He sourced grapes from vineyards in Martinborough, Central Otago and, latterly, in Marlborough.

The acquisition of the Cape Campbell vineyard in Marlborough's Awatere Valley was a special time for Mission as the estate was able to once again produce a pinot noir crafted from grapes grown in a vineyard it owns.

The 2013 Vineyard Selection (VS) Pinot Noir is the result and it's a very good value "drink now" wine priced at $25. All the Mission pinots, with the exception of Jewelstone, retail for less than $30 and while we haven't tried the least expensive of these, the others are fruity, delivering some complexity and plenty of lively flavour.

Now it's time to consider the word reserve in relation to two of the wines we review today.

One is a pleasant, easy drinking pinot; the other is an extremely high quality sauvignon blanc - are they both deserving of the "reserve" label? What in fact is reserve standard?

Reserve is an over-used term and there is no control over its use.

In our minds "reserve" suggests only the best wines, but you see it cropping up on labels where the contents simply don't justify the title.

Be a little wary of depending on the word "reserve" to denote particularly high quality. It could simply mean fruit set aside or held in "reserve" for another company. Such are the complexities of the English language.

Mission Estate Martinborough Reserve Pinot Noir 2012 ($29)

Sweet red berry fruit notes are supported by a light floral note and gentle smokiness.

A soft, luscious wine with gentle tannins and some oak spiciness. Ripe dark cherry and milk chocolate flavours make this light to medium-bodied wine quite appealing. Drinks a little off-dry and is an approachable crowd pleaser; if you want a pinot that goes well with tuna, swordfish or lamb chops, this could fit the bill.

Flying Sheep Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris 2012 ($24)

Continuing with the Hawke's Bay theme - and a single vineyard wine from a label with an interesting background. The "flying sheep" refers to clouds spotted by early settlers in Hawke's Bay. They were surprised by the likeness of the local cumulus cloud formations to the sheep that grazed their land.

Subtle and gentle, the aroma carries a soft whiff of ripe pear.

The palate is a light wash of flavour, rounded, lively with some sweet pear and poached quince notes. The gentle, slightly sweet, spicy finish is lingering.

Stoneleigh Rapaura Series Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($30.99)

The savoury, sweaty aroma is cut through by enticing notes of capsicum, lime and tomato leaf.

The palate has excellent depth, well-rounded with gentle stone fruit, passionfruit and mineral notes to the fore. Fruit sweetness kicks in ahead of the acid, resulting in a wine that has lovely balance. We love the passionfruit flavour on the finish.

Lawson's Dry Hills Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 ($27)

No point beating around the bush - this wine has a fantastic aroma; lemon grass, citrus - a lovely ripe fruity/herbal blend with a soft floral note sitting in the background.

The weighty, ripe palate delivers plenty of passionfruit and citrus flavour with clean, crisp herbaceous definition. A very generous, full-bodied wine that will suit a special occasion and deserves its ‘reserve' title.

Both the sauvignon blancs reviewed here are proof that when well-made, a good savvy will age with increasing generosity in terms of taste and texture. They will partner baked salmon or light white meats.