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Dry River: Martinborough’s Cult Pinot Noir

martinborough-dry-river-pinotThere is nothing else quite like Dry River Pinot Noir in New Zealand, or even in the world for that matter.  Dry River, located in Martinborough, North Island of New Zealand, was the name of one of the oldest Wairapa sheep stations in New Zealand, dating to 1877. It was later named Dyerville, and it was here in 1979 that Neil and Dawn McCallum planted a vineyard.  The area subsequently became known as the Martinborough Terrace, now famous for Pinot Noir.

McCallum is an opinionated winemaker, a committed “terroirist,” who is highly respected by his peers.  His wines have achieved cult status in New Zealand, although he never submits the wines for judging.  At Dry River there is no tasting room, yet the wines are quickly sold to an eager mailing list of customers.  A few bottles are exported to the U.S., Asia, and the U.K.. The wines of Dry River are known for their longevity.  A tasting McCallum staged with Bob Campbell MW in 2004, and reported in The World of Fine Wine (Issue 19, 2008), revealed that older vintages of Pinot Noir dating back to 1989 were still youthful.  Campbell enthusiastically described the wines as showing “high levels of flavor intensity and ripeness, and impressive longevity.”  McCallum uses little oak (20%), and the Pinot Noirs have high levels of grape tannins, requiring 3 to 4 years to start opening up.

In 2002, the winery and 30 acres of vineyards were sold for $7 million with the new owners infusing cash for expansion and updated equipment.  McCallum has remained on as the chief winemaker.  McCallum writes extensively and his musings are posted on the Dry River website under the “Jottings” heading (www.dryriver.co.nz).  You fill find these essays very scholarly, informative and insightful.

2006 Dry River Martinborough New Zealand Pinot Noir 13.5% alc., $80.
Approaching Syrah in color and structure.  Very contemplative nose showing nuanced scents of a variety of wild dark berries, with noticeable oak-derived notes of spice, browned marshmallow, brandy and vanilla.  Utterly amazing intense and saturating flavors of plums, blackberries and currants with a savory, woodsy undertone, and a hint of tangerine peel on the extremely long finish.  Easy to mistake for a young Grands Cru Burgundy with the tip off being the amazing persistence at the end.  A truly unique Pinot Noir of great distinction that stands out from the New World crowd.  Serve this wine blind to any of your Pinot geek buddies, let them try to guess its origin, and you will find many surprised as well as happily satiated winos.

2 responses to “Dry River: Martinborough’s Cult Pinot Noir”

  1. billn

    Sounds like a ‘wow’ Rusty – I really think that only NZ can provide the ‘tension’ (let’s be base and call it mainly, acidity) that can provide freshness coupled to impact, that is characteristic of so many wines from the Côte d’Or. But please try to avoid giving me such ‘new’ buying opportunities 😉
    Cheers, Bill

  2. Thorsten Stanley

    just tasted this wine (12/7/14) In my opinion the best pinot noir ever made in NZ!!! great elegance power and enormous length. Still just an infant do not be in a hurry to drink. Does not show any of the porty characters of some of the hotter years in DR

    well done DR and those who still have some in their cellars Thorsten (Tosh) Stanley

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