12-15th November 2015
Rain didn’t dampen the spirits of the WWNZ group as it scaled the peaks and traversed the gravels in a three-day trip to Hawkes Bay organised by Hawkes Bay Winegrowers that also took in the annual charity Hawke’s Bay Wine Auction. Members share their views of the place, people and their wines.
Hawke’s Bay not being known for its pachyderm population, I’d had wondered how Elephant Hill had got its name. As we scaled the heights of the estate’s range with winemaker, Steve Skinner and reached Airavata, all was revealed.
Its top Syrah, Airavata is called after the Hindu king-god of elephants, which along with the winery’s name was inspired by the involvement of Elephant Hill’s owners in philanthropic work in Burma. But there were certainly no lumbering wines or white elephants to be found in the stellar line-up of wines Skinner shared.
Top quality Syrah is something with which Elephant Hill has swiftly become synonymous, an opinion confirmed by the examples sampled on this visit. This included the Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2013, which combined concentration and finesse in its fabulously fine and fragrant palate.
Skinner explained how used Cornas as the model for some of hi s Syrah winemaking and likened the Reserve to Cote Rôtie. However, when it comes to Airavata, Hermitage is the reference point. Last made in 2009, the 2013 Airavata was a powerful wine of real depth and complexity, with notes of mineral, leather and star anise infusing dense plum fruit supported by a fresh acid spine.
In a selection of current vintages that was hard to fault, another star was the Elephant Hill Reserve Chardonnay 2013: an elegant and intense example with a vibrant line of acid propelling its palate of pure fruit laced with smoky sulphides and well integrated nutty oak.
We were joined for lunch by the company’s new CEO, Andreas Weiss, son of Elephant Hill’s owner who’d just relocated from Germany. Conversations with him over a great meal at the winery restaurant conveyed a commitment and competence that transcends family ties and suggests the estate is in good hands.
Te Mata Estate
Hawke’s Bay is famous for many different things – including Art Deco architecture, stunning views, and wine. Winegrowing has for well over a hundred years been woven into the fabric of the community and culture – with many of the original vineyards still in production today.
The Buck family are the current and fourth owners of Te Mata Estate and have grown the company over the past forty years into a sought-after brand, both locally and internationally. The domestic and export markets are very strong with around fifty thousand cases produced from 125 Hectares of land under vine – and this amount is growing. All their fruit is sourced from the Te Mata Estate, Bridge Pa Triangle or Woodthorpe areas. A total of eleven wines are produced with the flagship being ‘Coleraine,’ a blended red wine of classic Bordeaux varieties. The wine was named for the town of Coleraine, Ireland – the hometown of John Buck’s grandfather.
On this occasion we tasted wines from two excellent vintages – 2013 and 2014: Bullnose Syrah, Awatea and Coleraine (these are both cabernet/merlot based).
Bullnose 2013 (90/100) – 100% Syrah. A wine with great promise, quite pristine, clean, forward, plenty of floral whispers with fresh raspberry and black cherry flavours, fine defined tannins and acid structure. The 2014 shows a delightful bouquet with plenty of concentration and youthful edginess, lots of texture and flavours, with perhaps even more impact than the 2013; showing great ageing potential (91/100).
Awatea 2013 (89/100). A very pristine, soft and generous bouquet with a moderate+ concentration of red and black fruits, tannins and acidity, still very youthful and still knitting together. A totally approachable wine now and through 2016 if decanted – yet also shows cellar-worthy attributes for ideal drinking from 2018 – 2020. The 2014 is fantastic! Floral, expressive, masculine and even a touch meaty, violets and wild berry fruits, big tannins and acidity, a keeper through 2025 (92/100).
Coleraine 2013 (95/100). An excellent example – easy to see why it sold through so quickly. Concentrated, expressive, oaky, ripe and packed with potential. Great balance, length and complexity with a fine tannin and acid structure. The 2014 is fantastic. A very young wine indeed yet it demonstrated very quickly the reason why this wine will sell through as well when released – vibrant, floral, alive with flavour, a steely hollow (my term) with lots of concentration, bold youthful and ripe tannins, a mealy texture and long finish – what’s not to love! (96/100).
Ash Ridge Wines
Reasonably bright-eyed and (almost) bushy-tailed, the group reassembled in the Masonic Hotel’s Emporium eatery and bar, early on Friday morning for the journey out to Ash Ridge Wines, courtesy of our EIT driving crew and their trusty 12-seater coach.
Former forex dealer Chris Wilcock and his wife Sonya (ex-Invercargill) transplanted their family back to New Zealand after 15 years of living overseas, to establish Ash Ridge. Chris has completed a certificate in wine, specialising in viticulture, and is now working on a post-graduate diploma in winemaking. They purchased bare land on the Heretaunga plains Bridge Pa Triangle area in 2000, planting vines in 2005 and now producing Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and some Bordeaux varieties. They make around 7,000 cases per year.
Taking a punt on a bright new graduate from EIT, Chris engaged Lauren Swift as winemaker in late 2012. To verify his good choice, Lauren went on to win a trophy with her 2013 Ash Ridge Estate Merlot, just 3 months out of college. In 2014 they built their own winery onsite, and following another great vintage in Hawke’s Bay Lauren won Hawke’s Bay Young Winemaker of the Year.
Although Ash Ridge boasts a cellar door and café, the tasting was held in the brand new winery. Chris gave us a brief history of the venture and then introduced us to Lauren as we sampled a line-up of their premium wines.
Estate Chardonnay 2014
Aromas of citrus blossom, melon, spicy oak and blond tobacco. In the mouth, it’s light, bright and soft with hints of lemon curd and oak.
Vintners Reserve Chardonnay 2014
Quite shy on the nose, again with blond tobacco. The palate is elegant and restrained with crisp minerality.
Estate Syrah 2014
Lovely ripe and jammy aromas of black cherry and roast beef.
On the palate it’s young and ripe, with firm tannins, cassis, black olive, tobacco, and a dry finish.
Premium Estate Syrah 2014
Aromas of black pepper, tar and pot pourri. In the mouth it’s a young strapping wine with savoury notes, cherry, black olive, firm tannins and a dry lengthy finish.
Vintners Reserve Syrah 2014
Funky aromas, plus vegemite, black pepper and black cherry. Flavours of black pepper, vegemite, black olive and black currant jam. Dry, firm tannic finish.
Doppio MS clone 2014
Aromas of spicy oak and pot pourri. The palate is dark and dense and dry, with black olive and plum.
Doppio Chave clone 2014
Nose of black currant jam, tomato & herb pizza sauce, black cherry. The palate is savoury with firm tannin. Big flavoured and dark, with cherry, black olive, and a firmly dry finish.
Premium Estate Malbec 2014
Smells of dark berry fruit and spiced plum. In the mouth it’s cherry, chocolate, cassis, and savoury with medium dry tannins.
Barrel Ferment Reserve Malbec 2015
Smells toasty, with black berry fruit. Flavours of toast, dark fruit, anise and liquorice with a dry lengthy finish.
After being welcomed at Trinity Hill by co-founder and current ‘Ambassador’ John Hancock, chief winemaker Warren Gibson and CEO Mike Henley (among others) we were taken to the house belonging to the co-founders Robert and Robyn Wilson. This sits on the highest point of Trinity Hill itself, and looks out over the Gimblett Gravels and the much of the rest of Hawke’s Bay’s Heretaunga Plain.
A tasting every bit as remarkable as the vista (the day was sunny and clear) was set up for us in the living room. It was a 9 year vertical (2005-2013) of The Gimblett, Trinity Hill’s blend of Bordeaux varieties that has become something of a talisman for the company. “A wine that’s very dear to our hearts,” noted Hancock.
It was a fascinating vinous excursion, featuring nine very individual expressions. Many factors contributed to the changes from year to year, one being grape variety mix. As an example, the 2005 featured a mix of Merlot 61%, Malbec 21%, Petit Verdot 11%, Cabernet Franc 5% and Cabernet Sauvignon 2%. Contrast that to the 2013 – Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Merlot 30%, Cabernet Franc 29% and Petit Verdot 1%.
Vine age and changes to winemaking also ensured inconstancy (the new oak component has fallen over the years). But for me vintage variability was the crucial factor. These are wines that very much reflect the year of their birth.
To go through them quickly: 2005 was not an easy year, but the wine was holding on with a gentle sweet fruit core; 2006 looked a tad more advanced than the ’05 but showed good energy and freshness; then we came to a handsome ‘trinity’ – 2007, 2008 and 2009 – which were favoured years and were all outstanding (the ’07 with its delicate herbal lift was a personal favourite); 2010 was bold but perhaps lacked finesse; 2011 and 2012 weren’t kind years in the Bay that was reflected in these wines; 2013 provided an exclamation mark to finish – a dry year giving intense dark fruit and sturdy tannins.
We finished with a splendid lunch catered for by Kate Lester, at which the refined, deep and multi-faceted Trinity Hill Homage 2013 was poured.
There’s an inviting mellowness about the old racing stables that are now Ngatarawa’s cellar door. The drive from the gate beside the long water lily pool lined by trees and lawns to the historic wooden buildings is one of the great sights of the Hawkes Bay wine trail.
We were welcomed by Alwyn Corban and winemaker Peter Gough into the tasting room lined with photographs and portraits of Alwyn’s family, a reminder, if any were needed, that he comes from a line of winemakers stretching back 400 years, of which the past 100 have been in New Zealand.
Alwyn’s great grandfather AA Corban brought his winemaking skills from Lebanon in 1892 and in 1902 established his vineyard and winery in Henderson. Alwyn’s father, Alex, was the first New Zealander to study oenology at Roseworthy and his uncle Joe Corban is a viticulturist. His cousin Brian and he are now the owners of Ngatarawa in the Bridge Pa triangle.
This subregion is a 10,000 year old river bed known for its red metal soils which, Alwyn says, produce more aromatic wines with finer tannins than neighbouring Gimblett Gravels.
He and Peter showed us three vintages of the Alwyn Chardonnay, 2004, 2007 and the not-yet-bottled 2014, all from the same vineyard, mostly mendoza clone, without malolactic fermentation, and with reducing proportions of new oak.
The 04 was still fresh with intriguingly complex aromas suggesting citrus and honeysuckle, a lovely, mellow, nutty, oaky undertone and a pristine acidity. The 07 was also aromatic but perhaps fresher, with a tighter structure, more texture and a lively acidity. The 14 was perfumed, almost floral, with sweet, vibrant fruit, texture, developing complexity, and again that characteristic refreshing acidity on the finish. It was simply delicious.
The Proprietor’s Reserve Chardonnay 2013, oozes ripe golden peaches, supported by rich, nutty, creamy oak – this has some malolactic and more new oak than the Alwyn – and a pristine, crisp acidity. Well balanced, charming and likely to develop for a decade.
Two 2013 reds followed, the dense, spicy Proprietor’s Reserve Syrah, with typical purity of fruit and firm, dusty tannins, and the plummy, spicy, Proprietor’s Reserve Merlot cabernet, a 90-10 blend, with supple, ripe tannins.
A treat to finish was the Proprietors Reserve noble Riesling, 2014, the latest in a long tradition of superb noble riesling dating back to 1987. This is one of the classic botrytised wines of New Zealand.
What a welcome: the Ham clan and their entourage, including their canine that looks like the one off the lottery ad, were out in force to welcome the WWNZ. The tasting, going all the way back to the 1996 vintage, was a real treat and a rare opportunity for us to see the evolution of the region’s wines. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the 2010 Wingwalker Viognier, which was still as fresh as a daisy, five years on. The 1996 red was at its peak, still drinking well too. The 2013 Aviator and 2014 Barnstormer are incredibly young and it would be nice to see them again in a few years’ time.
Two select tasting notes.
Alpha Domus AD 1996 Cabernet Merlot
Cabernet dominant but no-one’s quite not sure what the breakdown of the blend is because they can’t find the documentation! Developed ripe black fruit, plum pudding, with coffee and licorice. Supple tannins and still relatively fresh. At its peak. This wine became the Aviator in 1998
Alpha Domus The Wingwalker 2010 Viognier
Remarkably fresh for a Viognier with youthful peach and citrus and a touch of barrel-derived cashew nut. Rich, glycerol character with low but sufficient acidity.
Perched on some serious ergonomic chairs looking out over Paritua’s vineyard with chief winemaker, Jason Stent our visit proved a perfect opportunity to get some perspective on the label. I’d not seen or heard much from the Maraekakaho Road estate for some time, but as Stent explained, some major changes have been afoot.
Originally established by US couple, Brianne and Gary Fisher, the economic downturn led to the pair putting the label into volutary liquidation in 2011. It was then purchased by a group on New Zealand-based Chinese investors, who Stent informs us have injected more money into the company, which is now “bouncing back”.
Stent, who has been Paritua’s winemaker since 2008, presented us with an impressive line-up of five current Paritua wines. Stand outs started with the Paritua “Grace” Sauvignon Blanc 2013, which totally nailed the restrained textural barrel fermented style that Hawke’s Bay has the potential to do so well.
Paritua Syrah 2013 also impressed, made using a “Gucci” yeast, according to Stent “that costs the same as cocaine and comes in gold bags”! But there was no excess or showiness to this poised and prettily aromatic wine, with its freshness, bright red plum and cherry fruit and fine tannins.
We finished with the estate’s flagship wine, Paritua 21:12 2013. An opulent beast with its ripe cassis fruit, notes of sweet spice, chocolate and vevety tannins and a concentration that enabled it to pull off its 15% alcohol remarkably well. Another great wine from Hawke’s Bay 2013 vintage from a producer on good form.
Sacred Hill and Pask
The context for the Pask and Sacred Hill tasting was a dinner hosted by winemakers Tony Bish from Sacred Hill and Paul Smith from the winemaking team at Pask. It was held in The Emporium dining room of the Masonic Art Deco Hotel, with chef Damon McGinniss providing a five course degustation to enjoy with the wines.
In order of presentation, below are the wines:
Aperitif: Sacred Hill Virgin Chardonnay 2013
Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2006 & 2014 and Pask Declaration Chardonnay 2009 & 2014 (with hot smoked salmon, cauliflower and sheep’s milk feta)
Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2008 & 2013 and Pask Declaration Syrah 2009 & 2013 (with ’12 hour braised’ lamb shoulder, smoked kumara and port pearls)
Sacred Hill Brokenstone Merlot 2006 & 2013 and Pask Declaration Merlot 2009 & 2013 (with beef cheek, spiced lentils, vanilla parsnip and crispy onion)
Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Merlot 2006 & 2013 and Pask Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2007 & 2013 (with Whitestone ‘Windsor Blue’ and Origin Earth’s ‘Sleeping Giant’ cheeses)
It was very exciting for the group to be provided with such a comprehensive tasting. The wines illustrated that careful attention in the vineyard and a more ‘hands-off’ approach by the winemakers can provide significant reward. It also demonstrated that sometimes less can mean more when it comes to oak and the percentage of new (less) versus older barrel (more) can add new layers into the wine. Vine age combined with decent vintage conditions and smart winemaking was also captured. All wines showed varietal signature, texture and palate harmony, with the 2006s, 2009s and 2013s being particular favourites of mine.
Two wines from each producer deserve special mention:
Sacred Hill Virgin Chardonnay 2013 – incredible fragrance of white flowers and minerality laced with white peach, citrus and a core of energy. The palate reflects this – along with silken acidity, lots of tension and poise (92/100).
Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Merlot 2013 – Bold and gutsy bouquet with a core of ripe black and red berry fruits, no mistaking the oak – but a wine that also shows muscle, harmony and finesse. On the palate – a powerful reminder that Cabernet and Merlot remain best of friends and the Cabernet Franc adds magic and floral charms. Fabulous tannins and lots of acidity, great balance and huge ageing potential (96/100).
Pask Declaration Chardonnay 2014 – the Declaration wines have always had a rich and concentrated bouquet with an obvious oak, roasted nuts, burned butter and roasted orchard fruits complexity – and this wine reflects these attributes; this vintage however also shows off vine maturity, a fabulous core of fruit, lesser impact of oak and higher impact of lees complexity; a fabulous wine savoured at the beginning of the evening and an excellent match with the hot smoked salmon dish (91/100).
Pask Declaration Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2013 – a great example of Hawke’s Bay Merlot done well; all the stars were aligned for this variety, vintage and fruit readiness with a bouquet of black stone fruit, roasted black boy peach and spicy toasted oak; bold expressive tannins, plenty of acidity and long concentrated finish (94/100).
Pask and Sacred Hill wine companies continue to demonstrate their commitment to the production of fine wine, and in doing so set the bar very high – continuing to be keynote contributors both to Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand wine.
Winemaker Jenny swept into our tasting, with her brand-themed black and white top and some striking red boots. While there were only two wines to taste, the Stoned Crow and the Nest (both 2013), they showed very well and reaffirmed my opinion that Squawking Magpie consistently remains one of the best Syrah producers in New Zealand. And they have one of the most entertaining speakers in Hawke’s Bay making those wines.
The Stoned Crow 2013 Syrah
Inky purple appearance. Incredibly aromatic, satisfying nose. Masses of primary blackberry, raspberry fruit and floral perfume. Rich yet elegant, with abundant, mouthcoating, stone-licking good tannins and a line of lacy acidity. Flirty, appetizing and fine.
18/20 or 90/100
The Nest 2013 Merlot Malbec
Richly aromatic and plush. Masses of stone-licking tannins with a flush of fine acidity. A melifluous baby with lots of black cherry, violets, exotic spice. 90% Merlot; 10% Malbec. 18/20 or 91/100
Winemaking couple Emma Lowe and her Chilean partner Marcelo Nunez own Monowai Estate and winery on the northern banks of the Ngaruroro River in the Crownthorpe district. Emma was schooled in Hamilton then studied wine making in Adelaide, Australia and California. It was when she was working Chile that she met the man who would become her vineyard manager and husband, Marcelo Nunez.
The wines are produced from their own 22 hectare vineyard in the higher altitude Crownthorpe district. Cool climate varieties are the focus at Monowai, with Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot grown onsite in the free-draining stony river terraces. Almost all their production is exported, with a tiny amount sold within NZ.
With blues skies and warm sunshine beckoning us from inside the chilly winery tasting space, we decided to move the tasting table and chairs out into the winery courtyard and bask in the Hawke’s Bay sun while Emma led us through her wines.
Pinot Gris 2015
Fruity aromas of Nashi Pear, with a lovely clean palate and fruity, unctuous texture. Medium sweet style at 6 g/l of residual sugar, with a lively complementary acid balance
Aromas of herbs, peach and a whiff of toast, this is a 60/40 blend of barrel aged and stainless steel Chardonnay. The palate is medium style with stone fruit and a crisp citrus zing.
On the nose, it’s all strawberries and plum. The flavour profile is off-dry and rich, with cherry, red berry fruit, and a soft medium sweet finish.
Pinot Noir 2015
Aromas of tamarillo and smoky, toast open up on the palate with mild tannins in a
soft, light and easy drinking style with flavours of tamarillo, spice and dark cherry.
Vidal Estate is chardonnay country. Of course, this Villa Maria group-owned winery does not confine itself to expressions of the white grape of Burgundy, but over recent years chief winemaker Hugh Crichton has collected scads of awards for his chardonnays – particularly those in Vidal’s the top tier Legacy range.
After a tour of the barrel room, the group settled in to a rare treat – a vertical tasting of Legacy chardonnays 2010-2014. Crichton prefaced the tasting with some words about the type of chardonnay he wants to make:
“Chardonnay is one of those wines where you get a wide variety of styles. I personally think producers should declare their style with wines that say “this is us” and are faithful reflections of the vineyard(s), season, and the winemaker. Here at Vidal we want complexity, so we look to natural ferments which can give us ‘positive reduction’ among other complexities. I see a sulphide presence as structural; you get a nice texture from it. It’s completely natural but you have to be careful – some ferments are more reductive than others. I think there are enough consumers who support this style. It’s far from the most important element; the picking decision is still the most critical decision I make.”
All the wines reflected this stylistic path. The 2010 was drinking beautifully: softly textured with a silvery line of sulphides under which played sweet citrus and tropical fruit notes, the finish well resolved. The 2011 and 2012, both tougher vintages, were leaner and more linear – I much enjoyed the green olive notes and finishing flourish of the ’12. On the 2013 the sulphides peeled back early, offering a long trail of gorgeous preserved lemon. The 2014 was such a pup – lipsmackingly fresh and bright, grapefruit and fresh herb notes to the fore. I look forward to tasting it again in a year or two.
We then had the opportunity to retaste them all alongside a terrific series of seafood small plates (eg butter poached prawns, smoked kahawai porridge and crayfish bisque) in the Vidal restaurant. The wines were in their element, and continued to open up and reveal more as the meal progressed.
Tim Turvey had a busy afternoon, first at the Hawkes Bay Wine Auction where he introduced his lot, a wine blending workshop and lunch for eight people, and 56 litres of their preferred blend of chardonnay or red, bottled and labeled specially for them, which raised $7000 for the Cranford Hospice.
Then in the evening he hosted the Wine Writers NZ group at his acclaimed Clearview restaurant and treated us to an unforgettable tasting which included some of the country’s most expensive wines, the Endeavour Chardonnay and the Basket Press.
Tim says he taught himself to make wine, having planted grapes, olives and other trees in the pebbles at Te Awanga 30 years ago – the pebbly land turned out to have been an original Vidal vineyard a century earlier.
At the end of three hectic days of tasting we appreciated the relaxing atmosphere of the rustic restaurant, the simple, honest food and obliging service – two of our group only mentioned their wheat-free preference and a special pizza was put in the oven before they could protest they didn’t actually need it!
Home made bread – they’ve been making it every day for 27 years, Tim says – was served with their own olive oil followed, by a hearty paella, smoked lamb quesadillas, pizzas, a cheese board and affogato.
But the wines were the highlight:
Endeavour Chardonnay 2013, at $180 probably the most expensive white in the country, was, despite its youth, deliciously harmonious, sweet-fruited with suggestions of citrus and lime, textural, rich but balanced with a fine acidity and a long finish. Absolutely charming. You would not believe this spends two and a half years in 100% new oak, so well integrated is it.
The Endeavour, named after Captain Cook’s ship which anchored off the coast here in 1769, comes from two rows in the middle of the vineyard and is not made every year. The previous one, 2009, was turning golden and had an unmistakeable aroma of fine, maturing chardonnay, with floral, overtones, rich, creamy complexity and a fresh, taut linear acidity. The 2002 Endeavour in magnum had a similar fine aroma and intensity with underlying creamy nuts, a lovely suggestion of golden syrup and a fresh acidity. In contrast the Reserve Chardonnay 2009 was lively, zesty, tingly and youthfully refreshing.
After the chardonnays, which were so delicious I forgot to spit, we went on to the reds, starting at the top with the 2013 Basket Press ($165), predominantly cabernet sauvignon from Gimblett Gravels, with equal parts of Te Awanga merlot and cabernet franc, and a touch of malbec. Like the Endeavour chardonnay it soaks up 100% new oak without a blink – dark, purple at the brim, dense and spicy, with fine-grained tannins, but above all, harmonious, even in its youth.
The Basket Press 2009 (100% Te Awanga Cabernet) was my wine of the night, with little sign of age, ripe blackcurrants, dense and concentrated but restrained with deliciously supple tannins and again, that harmony which appears to be characteristic of these top Clearview wines.
The Reserve Cabernet Franc 2006 from 30 year old vines showed some age with a brickish rim, but I loved its freshness, sweet fruit, texture and dusty, supple tannins.
We finished with the Noble Harvest 2011, 90% chardonnay and 10% gewürztraminer, that had spent three years in new French oak. Tawny in colour, rich and unctuous in the mouth with suggestions of apricot, 220g residual sugar and a surprisingly finely balanced acidity. Thank you Tim!