Wairarapa wine tasting

By: Jacqui Gibson, Photography by: Jacqui Gibson, Destination Wairarapa, Toast Martinborough, and New Zealand Wine


NZMCD writer Jacqui Gibson samples the premium wines of the Wairarapa

Foregoing a vineyard tour to sample the Wairarapa’s best wine in a cosy city bar may sound like an odd choice over summer, but it needn’t. At least that’s the view of Noble Rot Wine Bar co-owner Josh Pointon.

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In April, Josh and business partner Maciej Zimny opened a new wine room dedicated to the wines of the Wairarapa in their Wellington city premises on Swan Lane. It’s called the ‘Wellington Wine Country room’ after a marketing initiative to promote Wairarapa wines under a single regional banner.

Josh and Maciej are using the room to host new wine releases, tasting evenings, meet-the-winemaker talks, and special events focused on pairing local food and wine.

Wairarapa wine tasting tours

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Riesling from Dry River in Martinborough

This summer, it’s open for wine tasting tours. Josh explains, "We’re hoping cruise boat guests from overseas will pop in to learn about and taste our region’s world-class wines over the course of an afternoon.

"We’re also here for Kiwis who love the Wairarapa’s wine but can’t make it over the hill because they’re booked on the ferry the next morning. On the other hand, if you simply want a personal introduction to the wines of the region before you go, then that’s another good reason to drop in. We’ll tell you everything you need to know and give you plenty of tips on which vineyards to visit."

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Vineyard bike tours are a great way to sample the region’s wines over summer

The night my husband and I stopped by, we got a decadent five-course, wine-paired menu lined up. During the evening, we sampled three Martinborough wines: Escarpment, The Elder, and Devotus. Each wine’s flavours, aromas, and vintage were explained.

We were told about the terroir—the particularities of the land and climate in which the grapes are grown—and were offered the chance to compare them to wines from France, Lebanon, and California.

Noble Rot wine bar

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Noble Rot was recently ranked in the country’s Top 100 restaurants

Talking to Josh, I learn Noble Rot Wine Bar opened in 2016 after Josh and Maciej met on a professional wine tasting course and decided to go into business together.

Open seven nights a week, the friends’ wine bar now offers one of the country’s largest international wine selections, as well as a degustation (or sampling) and bar menu. 

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Noble Rot owners Maciej Zimny and Josh Pointon

"We’ve always had a special fondness for Wairarapa wines," Josh says. "We love the range of high-quality wine coming out of the three main sub-regions of Martinborough, Gladstone, and Masterton. It’s our nearest winegrowing region, so we know many of the 200 or so winemakers over there. I was just at Ata Rangi the other week."

New Zealand’s best pinot noir

The Wairarapa, says Josh, produces the country’s best pinot noir but in small quantities compared to the pinot noir produced in other highly-regarded regions such as Central Otago.

"Look, you just can’t beat what’s being produced over the hill. To be honest, it’s blowing me away. Today it’s possible to drink a premium $100 Wairarapa wine—I’m thinking of Escarpment—that would rival what’s produced in Burgundy for $500-US a bottle."

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As a region, the Wairarapa produces just 1.4 percent of New Zealand’s wine, yet represents about 10 percent of producers

According to New Zealand Wine, New Zealand pinot noir is fast gaining a reputation for quality among international wine drinkers, too. Data shows export sales in the last five years have grown considerably, with 12.2 million litres exported in the 2016 year.

Today, New Zealand pinot noir is second only to sauvignon blanc when it comes to production volume. "But the Wairarapa—as a wine region—is still flying under the radar," Josh says. "We want to play a role in changing that through education and by giving people a chance to taste the wine."

That’s why Noble Rot stocks more than 50 wines from the Wairarapa, all of which are available to buy on-site and take away. People can sample nearly half the range by the glass.

Dining at Noble Rot

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A peek inside Noble Rot’s Wellington Wine Country room

The Sunday night we dined in, Noble Rot was humming. There were six couples (including us), a group of four friends, and a young family with a sleeping baby. In just a couple of hours, we managed to munch our way through a dish of whipped tofu, followed by baked goat’s cheese and mascarpone, dressed in pickled beetroot slivers and candied walnuts.

We devoured chunks of grouper and Angus beef and, somehow, still had room for an incredible dessert of sour cherry sorbet. It was exquisite to look at on the plate—a pretty picture of tonka bean custard, dotted with tiny chunks of vanilla olive cake, meringue and hokey pokey.

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Noble Rot’s new regional wine room is essentially "a Wellington cellar door on the Wairarapa," says Josh Pointer, co-owner of Noble Rot Wine Bar

Yes, Noble Rot is a wonderful place to drink some of New Zealand’s best wine, my husband and I agreed. But it’s no wonder this city wine bar was rated in the country’s Top 100 restaurants by Cuisine this year.

All told, a very special night out in the city. We’ll definitely be back for another glass of The Elder rosé over summer.

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