Crimea, 1854, Battle of the Alma: Doctor James Thomson, forefather to Te Mata Estate’s Buck family, saves the lives of 400 enemy soldiers. He contracts cholera in the process and passes away a week later.
The newest release from New Zealand’s iconic Te Mata Estate, Alma Pinot Noir, is dedicated to this hero. Like all Te Mata top labels, Alma is a celebration of the people, events or places that have contributed to shaping the estate’s identity and its wines.
In addition to Alma, Te Mata has added another Pinot Noir interpretation to its range under the Estate Vineyards label. Both are multi-clone blends of mature-vine material grown in Hawkes Bay. The fruit underwent extended maceration on skins before pressing, then maturation in a mixture of new and seasoned French oak barriques for 11 months. Alma is a selection of the best barrels, which resulted in a 50/50 proportion of new and old oak.
Te Mata has been experimenting with its Pinot Noir fruit for 15 years before releasing these wines onto the market: ‘We’re very conservative in this sense. These two wines are the first releases in 25 years,’ Te Mata’s Tobias Buck told Imbibe. ‘We wanted to go out with mature vine material – a very uncommon thing in New Zealand and a big deal for us – and make sure they were right and reflected the character of Te Mata.’
Cambridge Wine Merchants’ Alice Archer, who was present at the UK launch in London, confirmed that ‘the 20 years of thought, planning and testing that have gone in to these releases is clear’.
The two Pinot Noirs certainly speak of the place they’re from and undeniably showcase the house style. With their intense, darker colour and ripe-yet-poised fruit given by the warmer climate of Hawkes Bay, these wines set themselves apart from most New World Pinots and from any other Kiwi interpretation.
‘I really like how Te Mata approached the challenge of making a Hawkes Bay Pinot Noir. They’ve made something different that moves away from the classic New World “red berries” fruity style,’ commented Elena Serban, head sommelier at Heritage restaurant, London.
Indeed, the Estate Pinot Noir is a valid alternative to a light Syrah, revealing dried herbs on the nose, dark berries and an elegant mineral touch. Meanwhile the Alma, which Archer described as ‘a classy step up, showing finesse, intensity, and long ageing potential’, simply plays in a league of its own, showing further complexity given by aromas of black tea, prune, maraschino cherry, fresh spices and cured meat.
The wines have just been released, but they’re certainly set to become another of Te Mata’s great classics.