In January, I had the opportunity and pleasure of catching up with John Porter of Porters Pinot, arguably the smallest commercial winery in Martinborough. He told me his story. In summary, John and his wife Annabel, enamoured by the Pinot Noir wines from this new grapegrowing region joined the fray and established 600 vines in a small vineyard opposite Palliser Estate on Kitchener Street in 1992. They added Pinot Gris during their expansion of what they called the ‘Old Block’. In 2009, they purchased another block, an old Lintz vineyard, next to their home, now called the ‘House Block’ bringing the total vineyard plantings to 6.4 ha. Over the years, they’ve had the assistance of the local winemakers, with Larry McKenna having considerable input, but from 2001, John has taken over the full responsibility of the winemaking. When showing me a number of barrel samples, John mentioned that Porters Pinot would be celebrating their 20th year in 2012.

An invitation duly arrived to attend a celebratory luncheon at Wellington’s iconic Boulcott Street Bistro which has been a strong supporter of Martinborough wines, especially those of Porters Pinot. In attendance were John and Annabel, and the representing the next generation, son Hugo who has a keen interest in the family vineyards and the winemaking process. They celebrated with a number of wine industry and Wellington hospitality trade who have supported them over the first two decades. It was a very relaxed affair with a selection of their wines, some from theie library stock, served to a ‘grazing lunch’ of small dishes prepared by star chef and BSB partner Rex Morgan. The situation wasn’t conducive to make full tasting notes with the good natured banter going on, but I registered the following impressions.

The Porters Pinot Grazing Lunch

Cuvee

On arrival, guests were served the ‘Cuvee Annabel’ Methode Traditionnelle 2001. 55% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 5% Pinot Meunier from the ‘Eden’ vineyard. I believe it was made concurrently with Allan Johnson making the Palliser Methode, and no doubt there would have been a cross-flow of ideas and techniques. The Porters have consumed most of what was made among themselves and their friends! Here, a decade plus later, it looked impressive with richness, rounded mouthfeel and plenty of toasty and autolytic interest. Annabel preferred it when it was younger, but it was still very well received. There can’t be too much left now…

BSB owner John Lawrence and his team served Rex’s creations to match. A Beetroot and citrus cured salmon dish was rich and oily, but very fresh and nicely perked by the lemon. The beetroot was very subtle, allowing the fish to feature. Then a Rock oyster pannacotta with saffron crab. Ultra-smooth, bur sensationally strong in oyster flavour, with the crab textures providing it with substance. Deliciously unusual, and one for seafood lovers especially. Then Vietnamese style crayfish salad, a near-deconstructed roll that was fun to eat with the coriander and slight heat, and plenty of crayfish flesh.

Pinot Gris

The first poured was the Pinot Gris 2009, golden coloured and quite buxom with rich yellow stonefruit and honeysuckle aromas and flavours. Dry to taste, this had good textural line and grip, very much in a serious Alsace style. John Porter voiced his concern that the Pinot Gris 2001 would not be showing its best due to its age, but he needn’t have worried as it was in very good condition. Quite pale in colour with just a little secondary nutty-savoury aroma, this was clean, crisp and elegant to taste, distinctly north-east Italian Pinot Grigio in character. I couldn’t see this deteriorating in the immediate future, and just to reinforce its sound condition, it made a very good, crisp, food wine. The Pinot Gris 2006 sat between the 2009 and 2001 in style, with penetrating aromas and flavours of stonefruits, steely and zingy, possessing some textural body and grip on the palate. It had the best of both worlds and was generally adjudged the most preferred by the diners on my table. Seemingly variable in style and weight, these Pinot Gris wines had ageworthiness and strength of personality on their side.

The accompanying dishes were quite varied, but all excellent. Crumbed snapper wings and cheeks with tartare, in reality classical fish ‘n chips (without the fries), the fish moist but firm. Especially noteworthy was the Paua tortellini with curried cream, an unusual combination for many, the robust texture and flavour of the paua quite easily handling the richness of the curry, served sweet and creamy rather than hot and spicy. I wished I had some pasta (or for me, rice) to soak up the excess sauce! And then some comfort food, BBQ braised shortrib tortellini and ketchup manis mayonnaise, fall-apart meat packed with barbecued flavours.

Pinot Noir

To celebrate 20 years, John and Annabel have released their first ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir to mark the occasion. This ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir 2009, is the result of a special vintage that provided Pinot Noir fruit different to what the Porters normally seek. The Porters Pinot style is normally one of finesse and ethereal beauty, ‘feminine’ for want of a better word. Volnay and Chambolle-Musigny would be the burgundian models. However, this ‘Reserve’ wine is bigger, more fleshy and structured and quite ‘masculine’. I had a preview six months ago, and found it that way. Then, it had layers of spices, cedar and mushroomy flavours. (Click here to see my review.) On this showing, the dark red berry fruit flavours were more prevalent, the wine even more complete (meriting an even higher score), and clearly it would benefit from further cellaring. It’s a sizeable wine that makes a statement and will be drinking well when the Porters celebrate 30 years. Then came the Pinot Noir 2006, archetype Porter Pinot style, possessing elegance and finesse, but no shortage of depth and drive. The brightness of fruit and lively acidity indicated that it’s still early day for this wine. The final red was the Pinot Noir 2001, fully developed, broader and full of savoury secondary game, undergrowth and mushroom flavours. A wine with flesh and plumpness and drinking on its plateau. There’s no hurry, even though it is 10+ years old.

Meaty courses were matched to the Pinot Noirs. Roast duck, beef and venison on baguette with creamy mushrooms. This morsel had everything that mirrors the flavours in Pinot Noir. And indeed, all the meat and mushrooms were compatible in strength of flavour, weight and texture. The Lamb Danish with smoked tomato relish, essentially an up-market sausage roll, the lamb with a little bit of heat and also the relish. Party food! And a hearty Venison and forest mushroom shepherd’s pie, the ultimate Kiwi food servable anytime to anyone. As a dessert, a hedonistic, satisfying and friendly classic Crème brulee and berries was served to cap off a very filling, entertaining and interesting menu. Thanks Rex for putting this together. www.boulcottstreetbistro.co.nz

Finishing in Good Spirits

As a parting salvo, a Grappa, made by son Hugo was served. John denied any responsibility for it, but it was clear he was pleased with what Hugo had created. Made from 100% Pinot Noir lees, aged in magnum with oak stave insert. Most of it triple-distilled to approx. 70% alc. Though very alcoholic in the mouth, it exuded caramel notes from the oak, and featured surprisingly fine spirit and texture, with no rusticity. Reminiscent of cognac on steroids! A dash of Antipodes water reduced the oiliness and calmed the spirit down a little, but I preferred it full-strength. Obviously the desire and spirit (excuse the pun) of working in the winery is alive and well in the next generation of Porters. Succession should not be an issue!