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Tasting Reviews

Esk Valley and ‘The Terraces’ 2015 – 2013 with Gordon Russell

Gordon Russell - Esk Valley

One of the wineries under the Villa Maria Estates umbrella, Esk Valley of Hawke’s Bay holds a special place, not only for the company, but for a hoard of wine lovers. If anyone pointed the finger of homogenisation as being part of one overall company, one need only look at Esk Valley to prove that individuality and uniqueness can be maintained. As part of the Villa Maria group, Esk Valley makes Marlborough wines in addition to the Hawke’s Bay bottlings which in reality represent its heart and soul. The Esk Valley winery, and ‘The Terraces’ vineyard are located at Bay View, and as with all of the Villa Maria group wineries, is run independently, with winemaker Gordon Russell having his own fruit sources, and making his own vinification and elevage decisions. Of course there is a high degree of communication and collaboration between all the wineries, and the accumulated experiences contribute much, and in fact raise the overall standard at each winery.

The Hawke’s Bay wineries of Villa Maria – Esk Valley, Vidal, Te Awa – as well as Villa Maria itself in the making of their Hawke’s Bay wines, will soon be operating out of one facility, on the Te Awa site. However, I understand that much is being done to preserve each winery’s uniqueness, with the super-site each having separate areas of operation. For Esk Valley, this has included the importation of concrete vat fermenters from France to replicate those on site at Bay View. The vineyard sources remain as they are, and for Esk Valley that includes ‘The Terraces’ vineyard on the slopes behind the Bay View facility, the ‘Cornerstone’ vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels and others particular for Esk Valley.
The Terraces
‘The Terraces’ is indeed a special wine, first made in 1991, and only in exceptional years. It is a co-fermented field blend that mirrors the 45% Malbec, 35% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc as planted on the terraced hillside in Bay View. In every vintage made, the proportions vary slightly according to what the growing season gives, and Gordon and his viticultural team work hard to try to bring together the ripening of the different varieties to allow picking at the same time. The 6 or so tonnes of fruit are fermented in the No.2 concrete vat. The resultant wine is then aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. Only 250 – 350 cases are made. It is agreed that the wine has its own character, reflecting the site, and is of the highest quality that emanates from the Esk Valley winery, made by Gordon Russell. It is offered for sale ‘en primeur’, but limited amounts are sold later at normal retail pricing, and through fine wine outlets.

A Tasting at Regional Wines
As part of the wine programme, Regional Wines in Wellington hosted a tasting of Esk Valley wines, including three vintages of the flagship ‘The Terraces’ with winemaker Gordon Russell. Working with wine writer Joelle Thomson who facilitated the tasting, and John Shearlock of Regional, they put together a range of special wines to showcase the Esk Valley winery. As well as the classical Hawke’s Bay wines of Chardonnay, Syrah and Bordeaux-variety, there was also Verdelho and a Late Harvest Chenin Blanc, plus a mini-vertical of ‘The Terraces’ from 2015 to 2013. Gordon has been at Esk Valley from 1990, thus involved with the start of ‘The Terraces’ production. With three decades of winemaking under his belt, Gordon remains one of the most wine-passionate people I know. If he is presenting a tasting, it is a must and a joy to attend. Here are my notes on the wines shown.

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Verdelho 2017
Very pale straw colour, near colourless. The nose is elegant and well-proportioned with aromas of tropical fruits entwined with subtle herbal elements. This shows freshness with good intensity. Dry to taste, the palate is tightly bound and taut, with a zesty and lively mouthfeel showing bright white florals with subtle notes of stonefruits and hints of tropical fruits. The palate is fine, and elegantly proportioned, the acidity carrying the wine along a fine-textured palate. This is Verdelho from a cooler, wetter year and while smaller scale is clean and varietal. An excellent effort. Seen by Gordon as the rosé style from white varieties. Fruit from the ‘Omahu Gravels’ and ‘Joseph Soler’ sites, indigenous yeast fermented, approx. one-third in 600 L demi-muids to 13.8% alc. and approx. 3-4 g/L RS, undergoing batonnage in one-third new oak, with no MLF. 800 dozen made. 17.0+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $19.99

Esk Valley ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016
Very pale straw colour, near colourless. The nose shows powerful and intense white stonefruit aromas with mealy and nutty layers, white florals and gunflint, along with unfolding citrus fruit, toasty and nutty oak. A steely freshness guides the fruit expression and depth. On palate, this is rich and powerful, but taut and refined, with wonderfully rich white stonefruits, along with saline suggestion interwoven with nutty oak, toast and smoke. The mouthfeel features fine acidity and very fine textures, and the wine carries to a very long citrus and flinty notes, with a mouthwatering finish. Lovely richness, vitality and flavour intensity incorporating a little flintiness from whole solids fermentation. Clone 95 fruit with a small portion of clone 15, 70% from the ‘Howards’ and 30% from the ‘Home’ vineyard, hand-picked and WBP, indigenous yeast barrel-fermented to 13.3% alc., the wine aged 11 months in 30% new French oak with some batonnage and partial MLF. 19.0/20 Sep 2017 RRP $31.05

Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015
Dark, deep, ruby-red colour, youthful in appearance. This has an up-front, voluminous, aromatic, fruit-driven nose with sweet dark-raspberry and blackberry fruit flavours, along with black pepper and a little spice. This is ultimately elegant, with subtle oaking and harmoniously fragrant fruits, florals and spice all interwoven seamlessly. Rich, sweet and lusciously juicy, this has plenty of up-front flavours of blackberries and raspberries, dark plums, spices and liquorice, revealing dark violet florals. The palate has very fine-grained tannin extraction and fresh acidity. A lively and beautifully accessible expression. Fruit 80% from the ‘Cornerstone’ vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels, aged in 20% new oak. There was no ‘Winemakers Reserve’ wine in 2015 so this includes the declassified fruit. 18.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $24.50

Esk Valley ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014 
Very dark, deep, black-hued ruby-red colour. The nose is fine and tightly concentrated, with taut, but dense aromas of ripe blackberry fruit along with iron-earth complexities speaking of the Gimblett Gravels, along with beautiful fragrances of spice, game and liquorice, and mineral detail. Dark, deep, concentrated black fruits feature on the palate, with great intensity and iron-earth complexities, minerals and oak. This has excellent underlying power. Rich and well packed on the palate, the textures are very fine-grained, but the extraction is serious. The depth, extract and drive indicates this is extremely ageworthy. 100% Syrah from the ‘Cornerstone’ vineyard, fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 16 months in 55% new French oak. 400 cases made. 19.5-/20 Sep 2017 RRP $61.99

Esk Valley ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2013
Dark, deep, black-red colour, a little lighter on the edge. The nose is elegant and fragrant with fresh blackberry, blackcurrant and cassis aromas, along with some blackcurrant leaf notes. This has density, concentration, with finesse and style. Bright and lively on palate, the fruit has lusciousness and vitality, with intensely concentrated, fragrant aromas of blackberries, blackcurrants, lifted dark-red and black florals and cassis liqueur. The mouthfeel is one of freshness, verve and vitality, with lacy acidity and underlying fine-grained tannins providing structure. The wine shows a slender proportion and the blackcurrant flavours carry along a very finely extracted line unfolding cassis and leaf notes. The palate has richness, elegance, finesse, vitality and a sinewy flow and feel. This will age very well. The blend includes more Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and approx. 10% Malbec. Aged 18 months in French oak. 19.0/20 Sep 2017 RRP $57.50

Esk Valley ‘The Hillside’ Hawke’s Bay Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2010
Dark ruby-red colour with good depth, a little lighter on the edge. The bouquet is full robust and a little rustic with powerful, up-front black fruit aromas, with savoury blackberry and blackcurrant, earth and dark herbs. A little undergrowth indicates some bottle development. On palate, this is fulsome with robust flavours of savoury black fruits, dried herbs and some game, showing secondary development. The fruit is sweet and lush, and encased by grainy, mouthfilling tannin structure and fresh acidity. This opens to show dried herbs, game and earthy elements. The structure and concentration of flavours will allow it to age. Will it ever become more refined? This is the first of the second label releases of ‘The Terraces’. A blend of 58% Malbec, 26% Merlot and 16% Cabernet Franc from ‘The Terraces’ vineyard overlooking the Esk Valley winery at Bay View, hand-picked and co-fermented in a concrete fermenter to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 16 months in 100% French oak barriques. 18.0+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $69.99

Esk Valley ‘Heipipi’ ‘The Terraces’ Hawke’s Bay Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2015
Black-red with a very dark, near impenetrable heart and purple hues on the edge. The nose has great density and concentration, with size, presence and power, showing interwoven aromas of ripe blackberries, cassis, black plums, ink and plenty of oak shine with vanilla and lead pencils. Some boysenberry, plum and jam elements unfold in the glass. Extremely rich, ripe and plush, the sweetness of the fruit is the feature. Flavours of blackberries, blackcurrants, boysenberries with exotic spicy plums fill the mouth and are supported by considerable tannin extract, the texture very fine-grained, powdery and refined, with fresh, lacy acidity lending liveliness to the mouthfeel. The tannin extraction and structure grows and carries to a sweet, super-ripe plummy finish. This is a wine of ripeness and sweetness with great structure. A blend of approx. 40% Malbec, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc from ‘The Terraces’ vineyard, the fruit hand-picked and co-fermented in concrete vat, the wine aged approx. 18 months in 100% new French oak barriques. 19.5/20 Sep 2017 RRP $163.50

Esk Valley ‘Heipipi’ ‘The Terraces’ Hawke’s Bay Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2014
Black-red colour, with a black heart, near impenetrable. The nose is full, dense and voluminous with great breadth and depth of ripe black berries, black plums, unfolding an amalgam of spices, iron-earth, hints of black herbs and minerals. The nose is complete in expression, quite multi-layered and multi-dimensional. Full, firm, still quite tight and near closed on palate, the density and power grows, with concentrated ripe blackberry fruit entwined with spice notes, sweet oak and iron-earth and minerals. The tannin extraction provides mouthfilling structure, the acidity integrated. The trade-off is vitality for completeness. This is a monolithic wine, with immense drive and ripeness and density. A great wine. A blend of approx. 40% Malbec, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc from ‘The Terraces’ vineyard, the fruit hand-picked and co-fermented in concrete vat, the wine aged approx. 18 months in 100% new French oak barriques. 20.0/20 Sep 2017 RRP $163.50

Esk Valley ‘Heipipi’ ‘The Terraces’ Hawke’s Bay Malbec/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2013
Intense black-red colour, near impenetrable. The bouquet is full and densely packed with ripe black-berried fruits unfolding beautiful aromatics and fragrances. This has florality, along with the dark herbs, freshness, iron-earth notes and balanced pencilly oak. This exudes finesse, with aromatic beauty. On palate, the fruit is extremely rich, the blackberry, blackcurrant and spicy black plums showing vibrancy and vitality. The tannin extraction is very fine and powdery, providing mouthfilling structure to underline the fruit. This has brilliant acid piquancy that provides aromatic lift and enlivens the mouthfeel. The overall result is elegance and liveliness, with aromatic beauty. Underneath, remains plenty of power and drive. This is classical 2013 Hawke’s Bay vintage in expression. A blend of approx. 40% Malbec, 35% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc from ‘The Terraces’ vineyard, the fruit hand-picked and co-fermented in concrete vat, the wine aged approx. 18 months in 100% new French oak barriques. 19.5+/20 Sep 2017 RRP $163.50

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2016
Bright golden-yellow colour with some orange hues and some depth. The nose is full, up-front and voluminous with aromas of tropical fruits, pineapple, yellow stonefruits, honey and orange marmalade. The aromas grow to show density and intermingling of complexing aromas, with a beautiful balance of fruit and botrytis.. Very rich and sweet on palate, the fruit is very lively and fresh in expression, showing pineapple, tropical fruit and hone, melded with marmalade and beeswax boytrytis. The palate has a rich, rounded, near unctuous core with fine textures and brisk acidity. This has energy, tension an linearity, and the wine carries to a lingering finish of tropical fruits, pineapple, citrus fruit, honey and marmalade. A sweet wine with wonderful vitality, freshness and richness. Heavily botrytised fruit from the ‘Joseph Soler’ vineyard fermented to 13.0% alc., and 150 g/L RS, the wine given oak aging. (375 ml) 19.5/20 Sep 2017 RRP $34.50


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