Anyone who spent time with Peter Cowley, Te Mata’s recently retired Technical Director, would have been left in little doubt where his loyalties lay. The man who once called syrah ‘the thinking man’s pinot noir’ felt that that New Zealand, and Hawke’s Bay in particular, could make astonishing examples of fuller bodied reds from cabernet, merlot etc. but that these wines were often overlooked in favour of the country’s obsession with pinot noir. The annual Te Mata showcase tasting was always a celebration of the styles Cowley held dear.

But 2019 has seen a changing of the guard at Te Mata with Cowley’s longtime colleague Phil Brodie taking on the role of Chief Winemaker. I headed out to the tasting without really looking at the invitation, expecting that little would have changed and I’d be looking at the new Coleraine etc. So I was a little taken aback to sit down and see only two empty wine glasses in front of me. Upon closer inspection of the tasting sheet I realised I was at the launch of the brand new Hawke’s Bay Alma Pinot Noir.

For a producer so invested in the styles of Bordeaux (Coleraine and Awatea) and the Rhone (Bullnose and Zara) it came as something of a surprise to find that Te Mata started planting pinot noir back in 1999. But Nicholas Buck, introducing the wines said the production of high quality pinot noir had been a long term goal of both Te Mata and Brodie.

The company’s pinot vineyards lie on the Woodthorpe Terraces, and comprise a deep layer of sandy loam, mixed in with some volcanic material that overlays red metal soils. It is a cooler site with a longish ripening period that results in ripeness but not at the expense of perfume nor delicacy. A mixture of clones are currently planted (777, 667, Abel and UCD5) but apparently new vineyards will comprise the new Entav clones.

Brodie is self-deprecating but thoughtful and I liked his quote ‘we work hard in the vineyards so we can be hands off in the winery’. He explained the shoulders of the bunches are removed to make sure all the berries are ripe, yields kept low (about 2.5 tonnes/hectare) and the fruit hand harvested. Winemaking is quietly confident (as you’d expect) with the ferments starting off naturally before being inoculated. All French oak, the Alma spends around 11 months in barrel, 20% of which are new.

2018 Te Mata Cape Crest, Hawke’s Bay
Beautifully precise; aromas of greengage, kaffir lime and red grapefruit with the hallmark Cape Crest note of struck match and gunflint in the background. Strongly aromatic but with a good degree of restraint and subtlety nonetheless. The palate is poised with mouthwatering acidity, an appealing grapefruit pith textural note and a long sustained finish. Though no doubt this wine would continue to develop and evolve, it is absolutely delicious now.

2018 Te Mata Estate Vineyards Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay
Perfumed and fruit focussed with red cherry, plum and raspberry aromas, some violet. Although already approachable, a layer of tannin runs across the palate giving a savoury edge and suggests the wine will develop well over the next 1-2 years

2018 Te Mata Alma Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay
Slightly deeper in colour than the estate wine. The aromas are ripe and yet restrained; plum and morello cherry, a touch of damson and some violet florals. There’s a note of cinnamon spice though apparently only about 3% was whole cluster fruit. The palate doesn’t lack for concentration of fruit but it is the structure and tannin that carry the wine at present. A very graceful take on pinot. Reserved on release but looks like it has all the attributes to make an assured, complex wine with five or so years in bottle.

*The name Alma is a tribute to Dr James Thomson who tended the wounded at the Battle of Alma and who received a medal for his services.