Tasting Reviews

TOM 2014 Chardonnay, Syrah and Merlot Cabernet

The ‘TOM’ wines from the Church Road winery in Hawke’s Bay are without doubt some of the very best wines made in this country. They are, of course, made only in exceptional vintages. Considerable fine-tuning occurs with each release of Church Road’s flagship wines ‘TOM’. I’ve attended several consecutive launches of the new wines hosted by winemaker Chris Scott. Each year, Chris and his team have worked hard and thought deeply about what the vintage has given them, and how they can take the wines further in quality and also style. But it is also the consumer that undergoes a fine-tuning process, as they (and that includes wine critics such as myself) come to grips with the changes, which can be very subtle. Understanding where Church Road is taking these wines is crucial in their enjoyment.
History and Legacy
The ‘TOM’ range of wines is a tribute to the legendary Tom McDonald, who is regarded as the father of the modern Hawke’s Bay wine industry, and in particular, the development of world class Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, as well as Chardonnay. McDonald began his winemaking career at the winery that stood on the site of what is the current Church Road winery. The winery site celebrates a 120 year anniversary, with building and winemaking established by Bartholomew Steinmetz there from 1897.

‘TOM’ was first released with the 1995 vintage Cabernet/Merlot blend in 1999, to coincide with the opening of the refurbished Tom McDonald Cellar, where the Church Road cellar door is located. The wine at the time reflected the input of the Bordeaux house of Cordier, with which Montana Wines had a technical advisory relationship with.

Since then, the ‘TOM’ Bordeaux-varietal red has evolved, and confidence within the local team increased to the point that the development of the wine has in my opinion gone past and taken a different, though similar or parallel path to the wines of Bordeaux. This has not only happened with this wine, but with all styles and varieties of New Zealand wine, showing the growth, maturity and understanding of our unique growing conditions and environment.

Tony Prichard, then winemaker at Church Road made significant steps, and this has been continued by incumbent winemaker Chris Scott. Chris first worked part-time at Church Road in 1995, then full-time since 1999, and advanced to become chief winemaker in 2005. Within Chris’s tenure, we have seen the introduction of a ‘TOM’ Chardonnay with the 2006 vintage, and a ‘TOM’ Syrah with the 2013 vintage. www.churchroad.co.nz

Chris Scott - Church Road Chief Winemaker

Fine Tuning of the Wines
The development and evolution of the ’TOM’ wines continues, but from my perspective it is a matter of fine-tuning. The vineyard sources for the fruit for the wines are very consistent, and the winemaking is totally geared for maximum protection of the fruit quality, and the fullest expression of the grapes and their provenance. Much of the winemaking involves reaching the best balance of the components to show everything at its optimum. This is complemented by the fine-tuning of style, where Chris and his team shape and guide the fruit to be expressive in a manner that befits the personality and in a sense the image, and indeed quality that ‘TOM’ should have.

The ‘TOM’ Chardonnay is heading down the path of showing minerality via the complex sulphide reduction style. The use of fruit predominantly from the company’s Tuki Tuki vineyard is particularly suited to this style. It is to some degree vintage dependant, and can be enhanced or refined in the winery.

The ‘TOM’ Bordeaux-varietal red is the most variable, or to be more correct requires the most fine-tuning. Church Road employs Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from their ‘Redstone’ Bridge Pa vineyard along with Merlot from their ‘Gimblett’ vineyard. Each year the wine is made, the proportions differ, so that varietal and sub-regional characters are manifest in different ways. This makes this wine potentially the most interesting to follow.

Although the Syrah is only on its second release, the uniformity of style and quality is remarkable. Clearly Chris and his team’s experience with Syrah over the years has given them an incredible head start to introducing ‘TOM’ Syrah at the top level. The two wines have more in common than any two vintages of Chardonnay or Bordeaux-style ‘TOM’. However, knowing the aspirations of Chris and the Church Road team, there will be evolution.

Table beautifully set for the TOM tasting
A Tasting of the 2014 ‘TOM’ Wines
I was very fortunate to be invited to the media launch of the 2014 ‘TOM’ wines. The tasting was held at the Tom McDonald Cellar at the Church Road winery. Church Road winemaker Chris Scott, with ever-delightful Pernod-Ricard Public Relations Manager Cathy McKeown and the efficient cellar door staff presented the 2014 ‘TOM’ Chardonnay, Syrah and Bordeaux-style red with the 2013 vintages of the same wines, and other older vintages of the Chardonnay and Bordeaux-styled red.

For me, it was a wonderful opportunity of fine-tuning my palate to the nuances of development and evolution of the wine styles. It never ceases to amaze me to see wines tasted earlier, again in a different context and with other wines around them. In such circumstances, I’m not averse to adjusting my scores on the earlier wines, to accommodate what I’ve learnt from tasting the new releases, as well as the older wines again. I’m sure it’s a process that is similar to what Chris Scott and his team go through as they make each successive vintage of ‘TOM’ wines. Here are my notes on the wines tasted.

‘TOM’ Chardonnay
This flight highlighted the extra degree of fruit richness in the new 2014 wine, whilst retaining the considerable intensity of reductive complexities. In comparison, the 2013 was tighter and firmer, with a focus on the sulphide elements. For me, the 2010 is coming into maturity, but shows that great Chardonnay can be made without the reductive elements. However, the gunflint characters make a statement in contemporary style, and the 2014 has a superb balance in doing so. It is befitting the statement that the ‘TOM’ Chardonnay needs to make, to be seen as one of this country’s great Chardonnays.

Church Road ‘TOM’ Chardonnay 2014
Brilliant straw-yellow colour with pale gold hues. This has a very fine, firmly bound and tightly concentrated nose with complex aromas of white stonefruits melded with minerally and gunflint-like sulphide reductive detail. The fruit richness shines, showing fragrance, revealing citrus notes. Nutty oak and creamy barrel-ferment layers emerge. This has a superb balance of fruit, winemaking inputs and complexity. Medium-full bodied, the palate exudes power and intensity, with a firmly concentrated core of rich and luscious white stonefruits and citrus fruits, interwoven with flint and minerals with nutty oak adding interest. The flavours are balanced by fresh acid cut and underlined by subtle alcoholic power and drive. This has excellent linearity, and the wine carries to a sustained finish with refined textures. This is a rich-fruited Chardonnay with layers of complexing flint and mineral nuances. The wine will develop over the next 5+ years. 92% clone 15 from Tuki Tuki and 8% clone 95 from Haumoana, hand-picked and WBP directly to barrel for indigenous yeast fermentation to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 11 months in 28% new French oak barrique, the wine undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF, blended and aged a further 4 months in seasoned oak. 19.5+/20 May 2017 RRP $150.00

Church Road ‘TOM’ Chardonnay 2013
Bright straw-yellow colour with some gold at the heart. This has a very firm and tightly concentrated nose with intense aromas of complex gunflint sulphide reduction which has great depth. The white stonefruit and nutty oak aromas are in support, and minerality characteristics prevail. Full-bodied and firmly concentrated, the palate shows great depth and density. The gunflinty reductive flavours are powerful, but pure in expression, with the white stonefruit richness providing sweet detailing Suggestions of nutty oak and creamy barrel-ferment add to the interest. The acidity is refined and a very fine phenolic-threaded line carries the wine to a taut, firmly-textured, lingering finish. This is still youthfully firm, a little hard possibly, but has intensity and considerable complexity and minerality. Keep for 4-5+ years. 60% Mendoza, 37% clone 15 and 3% clone 95 fruit from Tuki Tuki, hand-picked and WBP, indigenous yeast barrel-fermented to 14.5% alc., the wine aged 11 months in 85% French oak barriques and 15% puncheons, the oak 54% new, with batonnage and 100% MLF. 19.5/20 May 2017 RRP $150.00

Church Road ‘TOM’ Chardonnay 2010
Full, even, light golden-yellow colour. The bouquet is beautifully integrated and soft, with full layers of ripe tropical fruits, citrus fruits and stonefruits, melded with creamy barrel-ferment elements and subtle nutty oak and lemon-curd and buttery MLF. This speaks of ripeness, richness and opulence and shows wonderful depth. The palate is rich, lusciously succulent and unfolds wonderfully opulent tropical fruit flavours harmoniously interwoven with nutty oak, unfolding subtle flint and mineral suggestions. The palate breadth is sensational, and the wine is very harmonious and integrated, the core softening to show great accessibility. The softness and plushness of the palate has a balancing underlying acid line which carries the flavours to a very long finish. This is becoming beautifully integrated. Drink over the next 3+ years. 62% clone 15 fruit from Tuki Tuki and 38% clone 95 Omaranui fruit, WBP and indigenous barrel-fermented to 14.0% alc., the wine aged 11 months in 38% new French oak undergoing batonnage and 100% MLF. 19.5+/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

‘TOM’ Syrah
The Syrah is an enviable success story. From the outset, the Church Road ‘TOM’ Syrah was right on the mark. Chris Scott would be understating the case when he says he has limited experience with the variety. But that is the situation with most Syrah producers in Hawke’s Bay. The inaugural 2013 ticked all the boxes to be a sensation. The 2014 takes the wine further with its drive, structure and minerality. It is simply a stunning wine.

Church Road ‘TOM’ Syrah 2014
Very full, impenetrable, saturated black-red colour. The nose is firm with deeply concentrated aromas of ripe, black-berried fruits unfolding layers of black plums, liquorice, spices, earth, and iron-earth black minerals that show startling intensity and density. Full-bodied and in perfect proportion, the palate features rich and lusciously sweet, intensely concentrated flavours of blackberry fruits, black plums, liquorice, along with black minerals and iron-earth elements. The fruit is guided by very fine-grained flowery tannins, of considerable presence, and the palate enlivened by bright, vibrant acidity. The wine has incredible intensity and linear drive, carrying the concentrated palate to a long, firm, detailed finish. The sheer intensity, drive and mineral linearity is the backbone of this wine. It will live 15+ years easily. 100% MS clone fruit, 84% from the ‘Redstone’ Bridge Pa vineyard and 16% from the ‘Gimblett’ vineyard, fully destemmed and the main portion fermented in open top French cuve, to 15.0% alc., the wine spending 27 days on skins and aged 22 months in 54% new French oak barriques. 20.0/20 May 2017 RRP $200.00

Church Road ‘TOM’ Syrah 2013
Impenetrable, saturated black-red colour. The nose is soft and fully voluminous with deep, stylishly restrained aromas of ripe blackberry fruit and black plums, harmoniously melded with Asian spices, liquorice, black pepper, unfolding violet and dark-red florals, with new oak shine. This is beautifully integrated. Medium-full bodied, the fruit flavours of ripe blackberry and dark raspberries are entwined with black plums, liquorice, and an array of spices. Floral and oak detail unfold, and the flavours grow in density and depth. The mouthfeel is very fine-textured, the wine flows smoothly and seamlessly along a refined line. Layers of aromatic spices and floral unfold, unveiling exotic componentry, leading to a very long, soft, very fine-textured and integrated finish. This is a beautifully rich and succulently sweet-fruited Syrah of wonderful harmony and presence. The wine will be gorgeous drinking over the next 6+ years. MS clone fruit from the ‘Redstone’ vineyard, destemmed and fermented to 14.5% alc., the wine spending 31 days on skins and aged 22 months in 71% new French oak barriques. 19.5/20 May 2017 RRP $200.00

‘TOM’ Bordeaux Red Varietal Blend
The ‘TOM’ Bordeaux-varietal red is arguably the most difficult to balance into perfection. The variables of variety and sub-regionality along with the interplay of growing season and vintage lend a myriad of possible blends. This is why the consistency of style is the least of the three wines. Yet the approach to near perfect quality is as high as the other wines, and the ‘TOM’ Bordeaux-varietal red has achieved this level for a number of years. The 2014 has the supple finesse of Merlot with the linear firmness of the Gimblett Gravels in a superb expression.

Church Road ‘TOM’ Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Impenetrable black-red colour with slight purple on the rim, youthful in appearance. The nose is very firm and tightly composed with concentrated and intense aromas of blackberries, blackcurrants and cassis liqueur with iron-earth minerals and an array of intense perfumes. This has primary fruit, freshness and aromatic clarity. Full-bodied, the palate features richness, density, great concentration and beautifully ripened fruit, showing blackberries, black plums, blackcurrants and cassis. The fruit is succulent and luscious with great vitality and freshness. Nuances of Gimblett Gravels iron-earth, pencilly and cedary oak unfold. The structure is very fine-grained, near-soft in texture, refined and with a degree of accessibility, and the wine flows with energy, poise and linearity, carrying to a fine, tight, vibrant and minerally finish. This wine shows Gimblett Gravels personality and the finesse and accessibility of Merlot to perfection. This will evolve over the next 10-15 years. 62% Merlot from the ‘Gimblett’ vineyard and 38% Cabernet Sauvignon from the ‘Redstone’ Bridge Pa vineyard, the Merlot fermented in open top French cuve and the Cabernet Sauvignon in stainless-steel fermenter to 15.0% alc., the Merlot on skins 35 days and Cabernet Sauvignon 30 days, the wine aged 20 months in 74% new French oak barriques. 20.0/20 May 2017 RRP $200.00

Church Road ‘TOM’ Cabernet/Merlot 2013
Very dark, impenetrable black-red colour. The nose is initially soft and gentle in expression with well-integrated, finely concentrated aromas of dark-red and black berried fruits harmoniously entwines and lifted frith red fruit fragrances. With aeration, the depth of black fruits and suggestions of cassis unfold. On palate the wine possesses beautiful richness and succulence with mouthfilling flavours showing a layering of blackberries and blackcurrants and notes of cassis and dark herbs. The mouthfeel speaks of a growing presence, depth and texture as the extraction builds and accumulates in textural breadth and density. Black fruits become more prevalent, and sweet, cedary oak elements emerge. The acidity and nervosity is totally absorbed, and the wine leads to a sweet, succulent finish with fine grip. This is an integrated Cabernet/Merlot blend that builds to show its structure, black fruits and oak. It will continue to do this another 10-15 years. 67% Cabernet Sauvignon from the ‘Redstone’ Bridge Pa Triangle vineyard and 33% Merlot from the ‘Gimblett’ vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels, fermented to 14.5% alc., the Merlot on skins 26 days and Cabernet Sauvignon for 30 days, the wine aged 22 months in 92% new French oak barriques. 19.5/20 May 2017 RRP $200.00

Church Road ‘TOM’ Cabernet/Merlot 2007
Impenetrable black-red colour with slight garnet hues on the edge. The bouquet is refined with a firm core of black berried fruits and mineral notes, now revealing a little savoury secondary interest. This is still relatively youthful, and at the start of its development with iron-earth notes unfolding cassis elements, mint herbs and currants alongside primary ripe plum suggestions. Fullish bodied, the palate possesses a firm and tightly concentrated core of blackberries, cassis, black plums, iron-earth and minerals. The palate has very fine-grained tannin extraction forming a finely packed core supported by considerable tannin extraction. The tannins are beginning to show signs of roundness and resolution, but the mouthfeel is still fresh and energetic from good acidity. The wine carries to a long, lingering finish with freshness and fruit brightness. This is a classically structured, fine and firm-cored Cabernet/Merlot blend just beginning to show signs of development. It will age another 8-10 years. 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Merlot from the Gimblett Gravels, fermented to 14.5% alc., the Cabernet spending 5 weeks and Merlot 2 weeks on skins, the wine aged 15 months in 71% new French oak barriques. 19.0+/20 May 2017 RRP $N/A

Lunch at the Tom McDonald Cellar
Following the tasting of the ‘TOM’ wines, lunch was served to the attendees at the Church Road Tom McDonald Cellar. The accompanying wines were from the Church Road’ ‘Grand Reserve’ range. What was noticeable was the closeness of house style of the ‘Grand Reserve’ wines with the ‘TOM’ wines from the just completed tasting. The ‘Grand Reserve’ wines showed all the same qualities, but without the same degree of richness, intensity and detailed complexities. Having said that, they were very impressive, and arguably more accessible and food-friendly. Here is the menu and wine list:
Lime fish, cauliflower rice, mint pea salsa and lemon butter sauce
served with
Church Road ‘Grand Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015
Eight hour beef rib, kale colcannon, savoy bacon braise, Merlot jus and kale crisps
served with
Church Road ‘Grand Reserve’ Hawke’s By Syrah 2015
Asian style beef carpaccio
served with
Church Road ‘Grand Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot 2013
Chocolate mousse cups and coffee

Church Road 'Tom McDonald Cellar' Barrel storage
Dinner at Cape Kidnappers Lodge
For the evening, the attendees were invited to partake of a special dinner at the luxury Cape Kidnappers Lodge, designed by head chef James Honare in conjunction with Church Road winemaker Chris Scott. As is often the case with wines of unique character, the food needs to be adapted to match the wines. The dinner showed James Honare’s skills in matching the wines in a superb meal which not only highlighted the wines, but showed the quality of the produce. Here is the menu and wine list:
Freshly baked bread rolls served with butter and olive oil
Half shell oysters, lemon and mignonette
served with
Church Road ‘Grand Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2016
Butter poached scampi, Jerusalem artichokes, coastal greens
served with
Church Road ‘TOM’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014
Smoked wild venison tartare, black garlic, toasted grains
served with
Church Road ‘TOM’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014
Charcoal beef, onion textures, shitake and nasturtium
served with
Church Road ‘TOM’ Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
Almond custard, pear, yoghurt sorbet, bee pollen
served with
Church Road ‘McDonald Series’ Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2016

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