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Tasting Reviews

Elephant Hill ‘Earth’ and ‘Icon’ Wine Preview

During my visit to Elephant Hill, I stated to winemaker Steve Skinner that I’d like to see the vineyards and the winery, as well as meet the staff, and maybe taste some of the new 2018 wines from tank or barrel. Steve happily enabled all this, and more. What was probably the icing on the cake was a presentation of yet-to-be-released wines under the new ‘Earth’ series, along with the up-coming ‘Icon’ wines, tasted with Steve, his assistant winemaker Alex Breen, viticulturist Jon Peet and marketing executive Kalos Chan.
Earth, Stones and Sea
The ‘Earth’ wines are part of a set of single vineyard bottlings designed to show individual varietal expression paired with their provenance, or maybe, my understanding of it as terroir. The ‘Earth’ wines come from the company’s Bridge Pa Triangle vineyard, which is noted for its top layer of earth, which is believed to imbue the wines from there with certain traits. Also in this group are wines named ‘Stones’, these being bottlings from the company’s Gimblett Gravels vineyard, and whose character is in a significant part due to the stony nature of the soil. The third part of this group are the ‘Sea’ wines, from the home Te Awanga vineyard next to the coast, and influenced of the ocean breezes and saline presence. The wines are to be positioned below the ‘Icon’ wines, and above the ‘Reserve’ wines, and are very limited in production.
The Icon Wines
Soon after Elephant Hill began releasing their wines from the 2007 vintage, a number of ‘Icon’ wines began appearing. These were superb wines indicating the potential that Elephant Hill had, and the goals to which the winegrowing was aspiring to. In essence, they were and are ‘statement’ wines. Interestingly, winemaker Steve Skinner states that it is only from the 2013 vintage that he has begun to see the full potential available in making these wines, with vineyards in Te Awanga, the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle enabling many blending options and the ability to take advantage of particularly favourable vintage conditions operating in different sub-regions.

To date, there have been made as ‘Icons’, the ‘Airavata’ Syrah, ‘Hieronymus’ Bordeaux-variety blend (usually with Cabernet Sauvignon) and a ‘Rania’ sweet wine. Joining this will be the ‘Salome’ Chardonnay, the inaugural wine from the 2016 vintage. This wine is predominantly from Te Awanga fruit and displays wonderful fruit purity and finesse along with plenty of power.

Steve Skinner - Elephant Hill Winemaker 

The Tasting
Steve Skinner served the wines, with the ‘Salome’ Chardonnay 2016 first, followed by the 2015 ‘Earth’ Tempranillo and Syrah pairing, then the 2014 ‘Airavata’ Syrah, finishing with the 2014 ‘Hieronymus’. Mr notes from the tasting follow. These are ‘preview’ notes, and I will be publishing ‘Feature Reviews’ of these wines in due course.

Elephant Hill ‘Salomé’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016
Light golden-yellow colour with some depth. The nose is full, soft, harmonious and seamless in presentation with very pure and clear aromas of citrus fruit and white stonefruits along with subtle nutty oak and nuances of a creamy barrel-ferment overlay. This has beauty and refinement, the aromatics forming a tightly concentrated core. Medium-full bodied the palate has sweetly rich and luscious fruit, expressed with style and subtlety, unfolding layers of citrus and stonefruit and nutty, creamy oak. This has subtle power – the proverbial ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’. The sumptuousness is held to counterpoint and poise by very fine acidity. This captures beauty and finesse with clarity and there is absolutely no funky flintiness. Seamless in flow and an expression of sheer finesse. Nothing that shows any excess at all. A truly stunning wine. Chardonnay fruit, 83% from Te Awanga and 17% Triangle fully barrel-fermented to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 12 months in 28% new French oak, avoiding MLF. 150 dozen made. 19.5+/20 Apr 2018 RRP $75.00

Elephant Hill ‘Earth’ Hawke’s Bay Tempranillo 2015
Full, very deep, near saturated black-red colour with purple hues. The nose possesses intensely concentrated aromas of ripe dark raspberry and blackberry fruit with notes of liquorice, spice, fine lifted oak, unfolding complexing mineral and earth nuances. This is firm and tightly bound with much to unfold. Medium-full bodied, the palate is taut and very well-concentrated with lusciously bright, plush and juicy dark raspberry and black berried fruits intermingling with liquorice, spices and nutty oak-like flavours. The mouthfeel is still firm and condensed, showing plenty of grainy-textured tannins, with integrated acidity. The fruit richness, depth and considerable extract speaks of the need for bottle aging, say at least 5+ years to go beyond youthfulness. It should keep for near a decade. Tempranillo fruit from the Triangle vineyard fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 24 months in 3 y.o. French oak. 83 dozen made. 19.0+/20 Apr 2018 RRP $75.00

Elephant Hill ‘Earth’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015
Very dark, deep, black-hued ruby-red colour with youthful purple hues. The nose is very refined and concentrated, showing finesse and intensity, with black-berried fruits, along with dark raspberries, all overlaid by fragrant dark-red and violet florals, unfolding Asian spices. The aromatics are beautiful and build in intensity. Medium-full bodied, the fruit is elegant in expression, but exudes succulence and aromatics, with ripe blackberry and dark raspberries, hints of plum, but more spices and an array of dark-red and violet florals. The mouthfeel is very fine in texture with flowery tannins in the background allowing the fruit to feature. The acidity is balanced and integrated. This is sheer finesse, balance, beauty and fragrance with wonderful fruit richness. The fruit sweetness is truly striking. This will live for a decade, but is accessible now. Syrah fruit from the Triangle vineyard, fermented to 14.0% alc. with 25-30% whole bunches, the wine aged 26 months in 40% new French oak. 139 dozen made. 19.5/20 Apr 2018 RRP $75.00

Elephant Hill ‘Airavata’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014
Very dark, deep, impenetrable black-red with purple hues, youthful in appearance. This has a huge, massively concentrated, and powerfully intense nose, packed with ripe black berried and plum fruits with liquorice and Asian spices, a fine iron-earth mineral layer and reductive complexities and detail. Layers of fruits, spices and minerals unfold, the interest overflowing. This has immense density and depth, and makes a bold and powerful statement. Full-bodied, the fruit is extremely rich, sweet and succulent, quite lush with ripe black berried fruits, now revealing a little savoury complexity of dried herb and earth to the layers of spice and minerals. The extraction is enormous, but balanced by the fruit richness, and refined by the powdery tannin textures. with integrated, seamless acidity lending a degree of finesse. There is no doubt this is stupendous wine, just developing some edgy savoury complexities. This will develop over the next 15-20 years. Syrah fruit with 2% Viognier, two-thirds from the Gimblett and one-third from the Te Awanga vineyards, fermented with approx. 15% whole bunches to 13.5% alc., the wine aged 26 months in 71% new French oak. 149 dozen made. 19.5+/20 Apr 2018 RRP $120.00

Elephant Hill ‘Hieronymus’ Hawke’s Bay 2014 
Full, dense, saturated black-red colour. The nose is full with sweetly aromatic aromas of ripe black plums with notes od liquorice and Asian spices, a touch of lift and fragrance, unfolding layers of dark berried fruits. The aromatics are tight and fine in proportion, and yet to unveil its detail. Medium-full bodied, the palate has very ripe dark-red and black plum flavours with complexing savoury game elements, suggesting sweet and sour. Is this too ripe? There is no raisining so places it in the fully ripened spectrum. The extraction is serious, but very fine and flowery, with soft acidity. The savoury notes turn to game and herbs, then move to black fruits, indicating Cabernet Sauvignon expression. The black plum Merlot background also changes to blackberry Malbec in the glass. This is intriguing how it changes and shows different facets with aeration. A wine to go 15 years easily. A co-fermented blend of 46% Merlot and 44% Malbec with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, fruit 90% from the Triangle vineyard and 10% Gimblett, fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 26 months in 67% new French oak. 80 dozen made. 19.5-/20 Apr 2018 RRP $120.00

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