If you saw the above headline and your heart rate increased by around five beats per minute (bpm), congratulations; you have obviously tasted and enjoyed Ata Rangi pinot noir before. If it raced up by 10 bpm, you probably have a few bottles tucked away in a cool place.

Since 1985, Ata Rangi has been producing its now highly acclaimed pinot noir. It’s a blend of pinot noir grapes from several vineyards on the Martinborough Terraces. 

What’s so special about Ata Rangi pinot noir? For me, it was love at first sip. Here is my tasting note of the 2003 Ata Rangi Pinot Noir I tasted in July 2004. I bought a case for the then price of $60.

“Ata Rangi is New Zealand’s most distinguished pinot noir producer, although its status is being challenged by one or two winemakers in Central Otago. This Martinborough winery is famous for making intense silken-textured wines that can be enjoyed young but age superbly. This big, chewy example is one of the finest Ata Rangi wines I have tasted. A rich and powerful wine, it has a great future.”

Ata Rangi pinot noir famously ages gracefully. It has power without necessarily being intense. It is typically elegant and complex, with a savoury signature that just gets better and better with the passage of time. It has an X-factor that elevates it above many other great wines.

Ata Rangi McCrone

In 2006, Ata Rangi released the first of its “single vineyard” pinot noirs, although it wasn't until 2013 that winemaker Helen Masters felt she had "mastered" the new sub-regional style. 

Ata Rangi bought the McCrone pinot noir vineyard in 2012 and two years later, the site was certified as organic. It is just across the road to the east of the Ata Rangi home block. Clay from the ridges either side of the vineyard fan out through the gravels.

I have noticed a rise in the number of wines made from grapes grown in a single vineyard. Discussion with several winemakers revealed that this new trend is probably “terroir” driven. More and more winemakers claim to be making wine that has “a sense of place”. 

It is somehow reassuring to recognise a common thread when tasting several vintages of the same wine. Wines that reveal a sense of place are regarded as being more precious than those that don’t. 

Masters enthused about the differences in her single-vineyard wines but was very cautious about picking a favourite. It is very much a case of “vive la différence”.

2020 Ata Rangi McCrone Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $120

Quite a fragrant/floral aroma, with tones of plum, dark cherry, wood smoke, liquorice and nutty oak evident on the palate. Seamless, silken texture that is appealing now but promises to get even better with bottle age. The wine opened up as it sat in the glass and deserves to be aerated.

Ata Rangi Masters

The 2020 Ata Rangi Masters Pinot Noir will be released around March 1. 

Ata Rangi bought grapes from the founders of the vineyard where this wine originates until Helen Masters and her husband, Ben, bought the site in 2015. 

The vineyard is about 4km south of the Martinborough Square and is planted on clay and gravel soils. A relatively cool site with heavier clay than where the grapes for the other single-vineyard wines are grown, it typically ripens one and a half weeks later than the others.

2020 Ata Rangi Masters Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $120

Youthful, supple pinot noir with an initial hint of fruit sweetness balanced by fine, peppery tannins that suggest cellaring potential. Floral/rose petal, cherry, plum and crushed grape stem flavours. Elegant pinot noir with power that’s delivered with consummate subtlety.

Ata Rangi Kotinga

The Kotinga vineyard was planted in 2000 on free-draining gravels with no clay. Ata Rangi took over the vineyard in 2015 and purchased it two years later. 

“We completed the transition to fully organic in 2018," says Masters, "and since then, we have seen more aromatically pure ferments and the once-strident tannins are now well balanced.”

2020 Ata Rangi Kotinga Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $120

Ripe and moderately concentrated wine that is distinctively different from the other single-vineyard pinots, with less savoury influence and more pronounced fruit with a backbone of sweet, soft tannins.

● On March 1 or thereabouts, Ata Rangi plans to release its 2020 pinot noir, $90, and boxed sets of its four single-vineyard wines for $450. The 2020 vintage was a cracker (as was the 2021). I recommend you buy more than you can afford.