Carl Kanowsky | New Zealand’s king of pinot, Tim Bourne

Carl Kanowsky on Wine

The name is Bourne. (No, not Jason Bourne.) It’s Tim Bourne of New Zealand’s Escarpment Winery on the North Island in Martinborough. 

Terry and I recently returned from an exciting trip to New Zealand. We took advantage of some great fares from Delta for an unplanned adventure. We had no idea that we would be on Delta’s inaugural flight from LAX to Auckland. Māori dancers entertained us as we waited for our departure and greeted us once we landed in the Land of Kiwi in honor of this new route for the airline. 

We visited several cities and three wineries and tasted a lot of wine, but I want to start with Escarpment because, for me, its winemaker, Tim Bourne, has crafted some of the finest offerings from New Zealand.  

Escarpment, so named due to its somewhat precarious location near sheer cliffs and deep valleys, embraces the wine endeavor in an exciting manner. Every year interns from all around the world toil there for three to six months. The winery encourages them to express how they feel about their experiences there. The impressions from an Italian intern demonstrate how Escarpment has captured the culture of the fellowship of the grape. 

I will tell you more about Tim in my next column, but, since I was so excited about his wines, I want to talk about them first. 

Escarpment makes a variety of wines, white and red. Some are fine, but many are outstanding. Let’s talk about those. 

We started with the 2023 Pinot Blanc. Now, remember that New Zealand is in the Southern Hemisphere, so their seasons are flipped from ours in the states. That means that their harvest time is much earlier in the calendar year, generally between February and April. The pinot blanc was clear with a spearmint aroma but not a minty taste (a fact in its favor – mint too often can overwhelm a wine). It had a full mouth feel, with a delicious tangerine taste. Tart – ready for some grilled fish. 

Tim makes one chardonnay, so he calls it One Chardonnay (actually that’s my take, not sure if it’s correct). He poured us the 2022 vintage. This saw 20% new oak in its maturation process, with the fruit being 90% estate grown. I loved the unique bouquet, which hinted of vanilla (but not in a sweet way) and peach. A great acidic balance goes well with the flavors of peach and slate. Even though I was enjoying it during the tasting, Tim recommended giving it another five years. 

We then enjoyed a bevy of pinot noirs, all good but two amazing.  

The 2021 Pahi Pinot Nor opens with aromas of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, gardenia and lots of vanilla. Then, it offers tastes of great fruit, including cherry and strawberry. It has excellent structure, meaning great aging potential. It consists of 58% whole cluster with 25% new oak. A wonderful pinot noir. 

Then the home run (Tim, that comes from American baseball – don’t worry, it’s a good thing). The 2021 Kupe is Escarpment’s flagship wine. Upon tasting it, I can see why. It’s 45% whole cluster and 40% new oak. A profound nose of oak, strawberry and cherry. The tastes are assertively intense, reminiscent of a Paso syrah. What an achievement!  

It’s delicious with well-balanced tannins and a long, fruity finish. This could last in your cellar for 10-plus years. While it likely will retail in U.S. markets for $125, it’s an investment that will reap great benefits. We bought two bottles, despite the challenges of bringing back wine from New Zealand. 

Next column, a little bit more about Tim and Escarpment. 

Carl Kanowsky is an attorney, a fledgling baker, an enthusiastic cook and an expert wine drinker.  

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