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Elephant Hill – Class and a Taste of Luxury

By November 6, 2014No Comments
It was inevitable that Elephant Hill would become one of Hawke’s Bay wine stars. It’s a classic case of doing it properly with the funding and resources that other wine producers would be envious of. Owners Reydan and Roger Weiss have spared no expense ensuring the best people and equipment contribute to the success of their venture. Establishing the winery, cellar door and restaurant as well as the home vineyard in the coastal Te Awanga district, they’ve added to their estate fruit source with vineyards in the Bridge Pa Triangle and Gimblett Gravels regions. With all three sites supplying fruit for the wines, and vines growing in maturity, Elephant Hill has become the complete Hawke’s Bay winery. The wines have never looked better, and I know they will improve even more.

I paid a quick visit to Elephant Hill to check out the winery complex and catch up with marketing manager Vince Labat, formerly of Wellington, and winemaker Steve Skinner. There, I met Steve’s assistant Jack Cornes and viticulturist John Peet, who has taken over from Brittany Thompson. Steve had set up a preview tasting of some special wines. We were joined by managing director Gunter Thies, and we tasted two bottled wines, and samples of three soon-to-be bottled reds from the outstanding 2013 vintage. My impressions follow. www.elephanthill.co.nz

Gunter Thies, Steve Skinner and Vince Labat

White and Rosé
First up was the ‘Le Phant’ Blanc 2013, a blend of approx. 70% Pinot Gris, 22% Viognier and 8% Gewurztraminer, carrying 8 g/L RS. Served blind, I found the lifted perfumes and spice notes of the Gewurztraminer a feature. A small bit goes a long way. The Viognier component gives intensity to the exotics and plenty of depth, while the Pinot Gris fills out the mouthfeel and is the ‘glue’. It’s dryish and finely textured with no cloying. For this wine, the varieties were fermented separately, but co-fermentation is planned for future vintages. This wine style may become the future for Elephant Hill’s aromatic white varieties. With 25 ha of whites, the production of individual varietal wines may not go far, and blending will not only increase the volume of a line, but result in a wine where the sum greater than the parts.

Next was the Rosé 2014, made primarily from Tempranillo from the Bridge Pa Triangle area, with 20% Syrah from Te Awanga, 10% seeing seasoned oak, and the wine at 3.5 g/L RS. Very pale, as is the fashion nowadays, aromatic with a subtle hint of fruit pastille and herbs, totally refreshing with crisp, racy acidity and thirst-quenching fine textures. Steve sees Tempranillo an ideal variety for rosé, and this Hawke’s Bay wine takes over from the earlier Central Otago Pinot Noir versions.

No expense spared in the 450 tonne Elephant Hill winery

The Reds
The Elephant Hill team are very excited by the wines from the 2013 vintage. They signal the beginning of where they’d like to be in terms of quality and style. Despite achieving some outstanding results already, Elephant Hill know they haven’t the track record of others in Hawke’s Bay, and that’s what they must strive for.

The first red was the ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2013, two-thirds Gimblett Gravels fruit and one-third Te Awanga, clones MS and 470 with 1.5% Viognier and 10-15% whole cluster. Deep, near impenetrable black–red colour, this is tightly bound and intense on nose with archetypical iron-earth characters, the palate beautifully fresh and vibrantly aromatic, with florals first, supported by ripe and tightly packed black fruits, then spices and oak. The Gimblett Gravels signature is clear. The elegance, finesse and poised acidity will ensure the stylishness of this wine will endure for a long time. I don’t think I’ve seen a classier Elephant Hill Syrah. There will be 900 cases.

This was followed by the ‘Reserve’ Bordeaux Blend 2013, this being 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, the wine approx. 70% Gimblett Gravels with the rest Triangle fruit. Again, impenetrable black-red colour, with very ripe black fruits of great intensity and concentration on the nose, beautiful blackcurrant essence. Another wine of sheer elegance and finesse, but with plum, currant and berried fruit spectrum rather than spices. The Cabernet component is strong, and it is perfectly ripened. Gorgeous oaking, cedar and pencil-box will emerge for sure. The softness of texture and acidity the other standout features. This is a combination of opulence and style. This will be a veritable bargain at $49.00. 500 cases were made.

Finally a ‘Top’ Bordeaux Blend 2013, the name yet to be finalised. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Gimblett Gravels, with 25% Merlot and 15% Malbec from the Triangle, co-fermented, the wine in 80% new oak, large format. Saturated black-red colour. This leaps out of the glass with exotic and decadent blackcurrant essence and cassis liqueur aromas and flavours. This has great richness and sumptuousness allied to power, but possessing a sense of elegance and proportion. The new oak is totally integrated. The palate shows wonderful acid balance lending freshness, slipperiness and vitality. The extraction and tannins are extremely fine-grained; building all the time on the palate; this will be a keeper. Only 160 cases made.

Although Steve is a self-confessed Syrah geek, his absolute delight with all these reds could be seen through his inscrutability. They will be wines to seek out when they are released, and savoured over the next decade plus.

Top of the line ‘T5’ barrels – note the golden bands

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