I attended a tomato tasting last week. Or, so my colleague thought. It seems that my pronunciation of Hawke’s Bay winery Te Mata and tomato are very similar. Or, that could be my north-east accent getting lost in translation in a foreign land.
Heirlooms and pomodoros weren’t on the menu; Te Mata’s 2013 Estate range and …
Classic is an apt descriptor for the 2011 reds from Gimblett Gravels in 2011. Voluptuous they are not.
For the fourth year running, the Hawke’s Bay subregion of Gimblett Gravels has selected 12 wines “as a unique snapshot of a particular vintage” and it’s time to taste what it’s got to offer.
The 2010/ 2011 vintage started well enough: it was a lovely and warm summer until February when it all went pear-shaped, cooling down with rain through March and April to the harvest and beyond.
As a result, notes the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association, “The sugar levels in the fruit were lower than normal due to the wetter autumn but there are no signs of unripeness in the resultant wines.”
Indeed there’s no greenness in the wines but exuberant New World fruit ripeness is not a feature in this vintage. Expect restrained wines with a rather classical Old World structure in the Bordeaux blends.
Those blends with a large chunk of earlier-ripening Merlot are particularly successful, providing plenty of charming fruit on the mid-palate with the cooler growing season packing a punchy line of acidity on the finish.
Tony Bish, winemaker at Sacred Hill and current chair of the Association said: “Cabernet Sauvignon was a bit skinny so Merlot and Cabernet Franc have put some flesh on the bones. “
All the Bordeaux blends have abundant tannins and firm acidity. I’d question the concentration of fruit on a couple of examples but overall the wines show that even in a cooler vintage, the best producers can make the right picking and sorting decisions and blend judiciously.
I’ll publish all the tasting notes on my shiny new website, which I was hoping would be up several weeks ago but IT being IT has put paid to my best laid plans… In the meantime, here are my top picks to give you a flavour of what’s to come:
2011 Sacred Hill The Helmsman, Gimblett Gravels
50% cab sauv, 25% cab franc, 25% merlot. Very attractive and alluring wine. Perfumed: pure black cherry fruit, plus spice and florals. It’s certainly no blockbuster with medium body but this wine shows its class in the density of fruit, which carries the new oak well. Its pedigree is backed up by mouthcoating, structured tannins, fine line and long length. 18.5 or 93/100
2011 Newton Forrest, Stony Corner, Gimblett Gravels
50% cab sauv, 30% malbec, 20% merlot. Richly aromatic, redolent of fruitcake, spice and black cherry fruit. One of the riper styles from the vintage, managing 14% alcohol and a high level of ripe fruit concentration on the mid palate. Abundant structured tannins and firm acidity, with long length. At $30, this is either an incredible bargain or I am a cheap date. You decide! 18/20 or 90/100
2011 Squawking Magpie, Stoned Crow Syrah, Gimblett Gravels
Richly aromatic and complex nose, redolent of black and red cherry fruit, violets, and smoky bacon. Medium-bodied style, certainly not the weightiest Syrah from Squawking Magpie, but this is a reflection of the cooler growing conditions. Abundant tannins, fresh acidity and long length. Very attractive. 17.5+ or 89/100
2011 Sacred Hill Brokenstone, Gimblett Gravels
82% merlot, 8% cab sauv, 7% syrah, 3% malbec. ThIs wine is a charmer: soft on the mid palate with lovely richness. There’s lifted floral characters and spicy notes on the nose combined with vanilla-like oak in the mouth. On the finish, this alluring wine then packs a punch with firm acidity driving this to a linear finish. Well balanced with the high level of fruit concentration handling the 14% alcohol and 50% new oak well. 17.5+/20 or 88/100
When New Zealand makes an unoaked Macon-like wine with 12 percent alcohol, which is cheaper than most Chardonnays in the country, it’s time to sit up and take notice.
Sacred Hill’s recently released Virgin Chardonnay is unoaked with no malolactic fermentation, creating a crisp clean wine with pure white stone fruit and citrus flavours. Having been disappointed all too often with expensive, buttery and oaky New Zealand Chardonnays (Villa Maria’s Keltern Chardonnay and Kumeu River excepting), I wondered why aren’t there more unoaked Chardonnays in New Zealand?
Australia is way ahead of its Tasman neighbour, making a host of earlier picked “unwooded” Chardonnays to satiate an ever-growing appetite for refreshing, crisp white wines.
Bish thinks the unoaked Kiwi Chardonnay has an undeserved reputation from the late ‘90s and early 2000s, when unoaked Chardy sales were going well. “I think the whole genre got a bit overplayed. It ended up being a not-very-flash vinous grocery wine selling under $15 and that tainted the category,” he says.
Then there’s the competition circuit, where delicate, understated wines get overwhelmed by the fruit and oak bombs. “Oaky Chardonnay wins awards. It [the Virgin Chardonnay] has not got a shitshow of winning a gold medal in a line up of Chardonnays,” says Bish.
Bish has been pestering his team to do a Chablis-like style for some time. “I have been nagging people to do it for years.” With the winery looking for something new to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Bish got his opening and the Virgin Chardonnay was born.
Unfortunately, the cool summer and all-round crappy weather in New Zealand’s north island means there won’t be any Chardonnay from the block used to produce Rifleman’s and the Virgin this year, so the 250 cases produced last year will have to last us until 2013.
In the meantime, I shall be on the lookout for more Virgins in New Zealand and leave you with a classic bit of Madonna…
New Zealand’s winemakers descend on Lord’s cricket ground to show their wares today. While their countrymen are getting trounced on the field by Pakistan, the wine industry is in slightly better health with 33% growth in sales in the past year (Nielsen, MAT to October 2010). The average bottle price has dipped below £6 but it still boasts the highest price per bottle out of any country in the world.
If you are heading off to the tasting today, have a plan of action or you’ll be wasting valuable time. You might already have cherry-picked the tables you’ll be visiting but if not, here’s a few producers you ought to visit.
Table 9: Elephant Hill, Hawke’s Bay
Under German ownership and with a restrained Old World character to the wines, be sure to have a taste of the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah.
Table 10: Schubert, Martinborough
Er, another German owner. There seems to be a theme emerging here. Kai Schubert’s Sauvignon Blanc and Decanter trophy-winning Pinot Noirs will be available to taste. Worth the shuffle to the table, I promise.
Table 14: Felton Road, Central Otago
A British owner this time – Nigel Greening. In all honesty, Felton Road doesn’t need any introduction. Its wines are the bees knees and everybody knows it, particularly its Pinot Noirs – Cornish Point, Calvert Road, Block 5 and Block 3. Its Riesling with 45g/l residual sugar is also attractive. Get your elbows out and get your glass to the front of the queue.
Table 25: Framingham, Marlborough
Geordie winemaker Andrew Hedley will be in town to talk you through his delicious wines. It’s difficult to fault them. They’re all classy and restrained (strange, considering they’re made by someone from grotty Gateshead), particularly the Riesling and an interesting new addition to the range – a Montepulciano Rosato. If you’re bored of discussing residual sugar and tannin, talk cricket with Hedley – he was at the Gabba for the Ashes. Lucky sod.
Table 31: Man O’War, Waiheke
With Germans and Brits in the room, we shouldn’t really mention the war. Nevertheless, the Man O’War wines show Waiheke at its best. Just 40 minutes by ferry from Auckland central, my favourite wine of the moment from this vineyard is the 2010 Gravestone Sauvignon/Semillon blend although the Dreadnought Syrah receives the most rave reviews.
Table 32: Pegasus Bay, Waipara
Finally a Kiwi family running a Kiwi winery. Fellow MW student Lynnette Hudson and her party animal husband Matt Donaldson make the wine. If Matt is in town watch out for him and Matthew Jukes – they’ll likely be painting the town red and all hell will have broken loose! The Rieslings are the stars but its Sauvignon/Semillon blends also attract interest for their sulphidey style.
Ok, there are heaps of others I could recommend but I’d be here all day. Let me know how the wines perform – better than their cricket team, I hope…
Suspicions that the 2008 Mouton-Rothschild label would be designed by a Chinese artist were confirmed last week.
Prices have been creeping up in the past 12 months amid the speculation. Since Xu Lei was announced as the artist, prices went up 20% overnight. According to Fine & Rare Wine’s market data tool (frw.co.uk), a year ago, you could pick up the 96 Parker point wine for £2800; now you’re looking in the region of £8750. A 211% rise in value.
The Mouton move followed Chateau Lafite’s announcement that the 2008 vintage would feature the Chinese number eight symbol on the bottle. The wine’s value has since surged. In the past twelve months, the price has increased from £4857 to £15,303– a rise of 215%.
Which brings me to ask the question – why aren’t other producers doing the same thing? A New World producer with some traction in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai would be pretty smart to follow the likes of Mouton and Lafite. If a Kiwi winery – say Craggy Range, Te Mata or Villa Maria employed the services of a Chinese artist or designer for their top Bordeaux blend (Sophia, Coleraine and Twyford Single Vineyard respectively) it woud be incredible PR – increasing awareness, sales and possibly prices. Surely, it couldn’t be that difficult and a cost benefit analysis would no doubt conclude benefit benefit benefit.
I was polishing off a bottle of Hawke’s Bay Syrah last night with a flatmate. I thought it was elegant; he didn’t think it had enough balls. I tried to explain that just because it didn’t have balls didn’t mean it wasn’t a great wine. Big doesn’t mean better. But what if that’s what you like?
We concluded that everybody needs to find a wine critic with similar taste. It helps if they write well (that doesn’t stop a few people) but wine is a matter of taste.
It’s the same with film reviews. Any movie that gets a five star rating in the Independent newspaper, I avoid like the plague: The Aviator, The English Patient, Lord of the Rings. Spare me the three-hour epic. If it gets two stars the likelihood is, it’s for me. There’s nothing wrong with liking a trashy movie and there’s nothing wrong with drinking something uncomplicated mid-week. It can be tiring being highbrow all the time.
Having judged at a few wine tastings recently, panels should even things out. However, we’re all trying to look for elegant, restrained wines at the moment â€“ sometimes that isn’t what people want.
I’ve been asking myself whether Hawke’s Bay should be concentrating on Syrah or Bordeaux blends for a few months now â€“ and it seems the same question is floating around on Waiheke Island.
Bordeaux blends initially put the island on the map but Syrah is now creeping up behind it and making a big splash.
Syrah is my favourite grape variety so I’ll admit I could be a bit biased but in my opinion, the Syrahs from Waiheke better reflect their sense of place than Cabernet blends. Feel free to disagree but that’s the way I see it.
The Bordeaux blends are very good, often elegant (although some aren’t so good: I don’t think Cabernet and American oak go together) with black ripe fruits, firm tannic structure and medium to high alcohol.
There are green capsicum (even brussel sprout) notes found in many Cabernets here alongside a ripeness of fruit and tannin that you don’t find in Bordeaux. The green aromas are not unpleasant at all (hey, it’s Cabernet’s varietal character) but in a cooler year, ripening can be an issue. Neil Culley, founder of Cable Bay says, â€œThe Cabernet sites need to be warm right to the end of the season so they need to be in the middle of the island or sheltered sites.â€ Cool sea breezes scupper Cabernet’s chances of ripening and some sites are certainly not suited to it.
But the Syrah screams class in a glass. It’s unique and performs consistently year to year. Yes, it’s a vigorous little bugger but on a low vigour site and with careful management, boy is it characterful.
Daniel Schuster (no relation of Michael), a flying wine consultant with Stag’s Leap and Chateau Palmer on his CV, says, â€œThere are Bordeaux varieties here and it is obvious they are working. But the Syrah is the closest I have seen to classic Rhone. They have Syrah that doesn’t taste like marmalade, full of American oak.â€ Which Syrah producing region are you referring to, I wonder Danny?!!
The Syrahs here are full of blackberry, violets, floral notes and, although many try to deny their wines are peppery, they are. Get over it â€“ some of us kinda like it.
If I were a producer on Waiheke, I’d be planting Syrah and I think this should be the Island’s flagship. Duncan McTavish, winemaker at Man O’War, the island’s largest producer, says, â€œI don’t think we necessarily need a flagship. The two can co-exist. We built our reputation on Bordeaux blends. Syrah is the new kid on the block and it has made a big statement early on. But we can’t focus on one to the detriment of the other.â€
I attended my first wine trade tasting in Auckland at the end of last week. Theyâ€™re few and far between compared to the tasting fests in London, where you could attend a tasting every day of the week, if you didnâ€™t actually have a job to do.
I had to invite myself, as I must not be on the radar here in NZ yet.
Te Mataâ€™s tasting compared its 98s with the recently released 08s. They showed us their three top wines: the Bullnose Syrah, Awatea Bordeaux blend and their flagship wine Coleraine – another Bordeaux blend.
As a massive fan of Syrah, the 08 Bullnose really impressed me. It had that beautiful pepper note we have come to love from Hawkeâ€™s Bay plus aromas of violets and balsamic. It wasnâ€™t overly weighty and had a really focused mid-palate, moderately fresh acidity and silky ripe tannins. It needs time still but a gold medal winner for me. While I love a sprinkle of black pepper in my Syrah, winemaker Peter Cowley is clearly not so keen. â€œWe used to call it fly spray in the winery but with vine age itâ€™s less overtly peppery. We are probably at the lower end of where you can ripen Syrah. We donâ€™t like too much pepper although the public seem to. They might need a bit of training up in the respect.â€ Er, excuse me Peter, I love the pepper. Do I need some more training up too?
The â€™98 Bullnose was another impressive wine but has developed as far as you would want it to go and needs drinking. Itâ€™s no longer on the market so itâ€™s not like you can rush out and buy it anyway. It still had that balsamic note combined with dried fruit, black tea leaf and liquorice. The classy focus was still there but it was gearing up for retirement.
It seems Cabernet/Merlot blends are more appreciated at Te Mata and the 98s are not yet ready to draw their pension, no doubt the Cabernet tannins and acid provide that extra longevity. Both of the 08 wines had pure cassis fruit and showed green bell pepper aromas typical of Cabernet but it wasnâ€™t an unattractive green note that you find in many Chilean Cabernets. Cowley added, â€œPeople talk about the green character and thatâ€™s part of the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal character. If we wanted to blow all that off, we would go and make wine in the Barossa Valley.â€
Both of these wines are incredibly youthful and have structured powdery tannins. Theyâ€™re both fleshy in the middle with balanced alcohol and fresh acidity. The Coleraine ainâ€™t cheap at NZ$60-65 with the Awatea a more reasonable $30. Itâ€™s great to taste the top-end of the wines and as a journalist Iâ€™m very lucky to do that but I look forward to trying their entry level wine, the Woodthorpe range, as a winery should be judged on its cheapest as well as itâ€™s most expensive wines.
Hawkeâ€™s Bay producers based close to the Gimblett Gravels in â€˜The Triangleâ€™ are planning to group together to gain international recognition for their terroir.
While still embryonic, producers including Bridge Pa and Alpha Domus aim to form a â€˜Triangleâ€™ association to compete with their well-known neighbours Gimblett Gravels.
Paul Ham, Managing Director at Alpha Domus, said, â€œWe are constantly bombarded with Gimblett Gravels. Iâ€™m not complaining about it but itâ€™s up to us to be proactive. Across the road from the Gravels we have this triangle sub-region which offers something else.â€
â€œPeople have heard all about Gimblett Gravels and they are looking for whatâ€™s next from Hawkeâ€™s Bay, so we have a great opportunity to get some traction,â€ he added.
The Triangle â€“ also known as the Ngatarawa or Bridge Pa triangle â€“ first needs to settle on one name for the area and define its boundaries. It lies around one kilometre from the Gimblett Gravels, on the same former river bed but with a clay and sandy top soil. The wines are similar in style to the Gravels but Stephen Daysh, director of Bridge Pa, claims, â€œThe Triangle fruit isnâ€™t as dense or heavy as Gimblett Gravels but is a little more lifted and perfumed.â€
This is not the first time people have talked about defining the area but it has not yet come to fruition. It is likely to come against some opposition from other Hawkeâ€™s Bay producers and the regional association, which aims to promote the region as a whole. Letâ€™s face it, most consumers donâ€™t even where New Zealand is, let alone Hawkeâ€™s Bay! However, in the fine wine market the Gravels have already started to gain recognition and the producers shouldnâ€™t just sit and watch while they run away with all the headlines.
Other vineyard owners in the Triangle include Ta Mata, Sileni, Matua and Church Road.