In its eighth year, the Hot Red Hawke’s Bay Wine Roadshow is an institution with the wine and hospitality trade, as well as the public. The opportunity of tasting well over 175 wines from around 20 producers from Hawke’s Bay is not one to be missed. This year saw the event arranged to be conducted in the home region of Hawke’s Bay, as well as Wellington and Auckland. One would think the natives of Hawke’s Bay would be familiar with their own wines, but apparently not! Winery staff as well as consumers would have had the opportunity of tasting an excellent selection under one roof, something seldom offered in The Bay. The other feature was for the first time, white wines would be tasted, as well as red, making the experience a more complete and balanced one. After all, Hawke’s Bay makes some of the country’s best Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Gris…..
With so many wines available for tasting, different strategies and approaches can make the task a little easier. Some tasters prefer to look at whites followed by reds, or all the same variety first before another. One could visit and only taste wines that one was familiar with – or not familiar with! My method is simple: start at one end of the room and work my way to the other methodically, and tasting whatever I fancied, giving preference to new wines, or what the winemaker or person serving recommended. Here’s a list of wines that took my fancy. I’ve tried to limit them to one or two per exhibitor. The wines are listed alphabetically:
Abbey Cellars makes a range of reds from Bordeaux varietals. The Abbey Cellars ‘Cardinal’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 shows the quality of that top vintage with its ripe dark fruits and nicely spiced oak. Some consultancy input from Amelia Riwai and Kate Galloway will no doubt contribute taking the wines up another level. At Alpha Domus, Kate Galloway had a very ‘Euro-funky’ Alpha Domus ‘The Aviatrix’ 2009, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Viognier. While it may not win many top awards at wine competitions at present, it should keep very well and become complex with toast, herb and earthy interest. Much more in line, and very refined was the Alpha Domus ‘The Wingwalker’ Viognier 2009, sherbetty and still exotic, and with a succulence from the acidity. Only 13.5% alc.!
Two extremes appealed to me at Babich. The superb value Babich ‘Lone Tree’ Merlot/Cabernet 2009 which has real fruit sweetness, cleverly handling the cooler spectrum fruit. Amazingly delicious And also the flagship Babich ‘The Patriarch’ 2009, a super-fine and super-rich blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cab Franc and 21% Malbec. Two whites did the same job at Beach House. The inaugural super-premium Beach House ‘Levels’ Chardonnay 2009, with waves of oak laced citrus and stonefruits on a weighty, serious palate. And the Beach House Noble Sauvignon Blanc 2009, at 13.5% alc. and 168 g/L rs, honied limes and nectarines with marmalade, in a Sauternes style. Unctuous and taken far beyond its Sauvignon Blanc varietal base.
Black Barn’s winemaker Dave McKee was pleased with his Black Barn Cabernet Franc 2009, and I could see why. Packed with sumptuous flavours of spicy red berry fruits and lovely oak, this has an earthy, gamy decadence. One of the first wines I tasted made such an impression, that it stayed in my mind even after five hours of tasting. The Bridge Pa Reserve Syrah 2009 is silky smooth, yet loaded with spices and pepper enriching the violetty fruit. The very experienced Rod McDonald now makes the Bridge Pa wines, a real positive.
The team at Church Road are on top of their game. Beautifully sleek with intense mealy and citrusy fruit, underlined by racy acidity, the Church Road ‘Cuve’ Chardonnay 2009 is a something very special. Somewhat reminiscent in acid structure and fruit spectrum expression, the Church Road ‘Tom’ Chardonnay 2009 is much more intense and far more highly structured. If the ‘Cuve’ is a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru, the ‘Tom’ is a Grand Cru. The ‘Tom’ is still incredibly tight. Chardonnay was also a feature at the CJ Pask stand. The CJ Pask ‘Declaration’ Chardonnay 2008 is a far more contemporary style than its forebears. Complex flinty-nuttiness and great power with elegance. The CJ Pask ‘Gimblett Road’ Syrah 2009, a ‘Top 10′ wine in July’s Cuisine magazine made friends with its suppleness and sumptuously sweet fruit.
The affable Tim Turvey was present at the Hot Red. His wines are a reflection of his personality. The Clearview ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2009 bold and brash with smoke-laced herbs and ripe nectarine-like fruit. The Clearview ‘Basket Press’ 2007 is a bit of a Bordeaux-esque monster, with great structure and complex savoury, cedary flavours. This is 75% Cab Sauv., 16% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec. The Couper’s Shed label is a brand for Pernod-Ricard which offers good value. The limey acid zing and zest of the Couper’s Shed Sauvignon Blanc 2010 was a real surprise. Its sibling, the Couper’s Shed Syrah 2009 was rather quiet on bouquet, but blossomed with the proverbial ‘peacocks tail’ of florals and pepper.
Punching way above its weight is the Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ 2009, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet, Franc and Malbec. Concentration and density, yet remarkably sweet in ripeness and accessible by way of its balance. Similarly with Crossroads ‘Talisman’ 2009, a secret blend that serves as this winery’s flagship. The balance and quality imbues real elegance and seamlessness. There is no doubting this has potential. It is excellent to see Cypress pull back on the oaking of the ‘Terraces’ reserve-styled wines. The Cypress ‘Terraces’ Chardonnay 2010 is tight, intense and citrusy, the fruit at the fore. The oak power is there, but in real harmony, backing the fruit with greater subtlety. Having said that, the oak does show a little more in the Cypress ‘Terraces’ Syrah 2008, but because of the fruit concentration and depth of pepper and spice, it works extremely well.
I have not tasted many Elephant Hill wines, but the reputation is high in the marketplace. Syrah may be its star variety judging by the Elephant Hill ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2009, a wine with plenty of potential to release over the next few years. A pre-release tasting of the Elephant Hill ‘Airavata’ Syrah 2009 took that potential to even greater heights, a magnificent wine with power, rich pepper, spice and oak, all there in spades. Size is not everything, as the Esk Valley wines of Gordon Russell showed. Supremely elegant, refined, but intense is the Esk Valley ‘Winemaker’s Reserve’ Chardonnay 2009, tight and minerally, but concentrated, zingy and showing great tension. Grand Cru Chablis in Kiwi clothing. Also very ‘proper’ and in perfect proportion is the Esk Valley ‘Winemaker’s Reserve’ Syrah 2007, now starting to show some nuances of secondary complexities.
A newcomer to Hot Red is Junction, the vineyard of ex All-Black John Ashworth and his wife Jo. The Junction ‘Free Run’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is rich, full and passionfruity pungent, and drinking well now. Look out for the Junction ‘Body and Soul’ Pinot Noir 2010, a step into the serious Pinot scene. It’ll be perfect with the Ashworth’s lamb. All of the wines from Paul Mooney at Mission Estate have made a leap forward in the past couple of years. The Mission ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2009 is textbook Hawke’s Bay, delivering all the flavours you could expect. Citrus fruit, mealiness, nutty oak, all in balance. The Mission ‘Jewelstone’ Cabernet/Merlot 2009, not yet-released commercially is already a proven world-beater, coming in third after Chateaux Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion in a Hong Kong tasting last week. Tight, fine-grained, but lush and rich, with elegance and depth of fragrant dark floral and berried fruit.
From the Ngatarwa stable (excuse the pun), the sheer elegance of the Ngatarawa ‘Glazebrook’ Chardonnay 2010 caught my eye and palate. Some might see it too slender, but this is a wine of finesse and restraint, and very much in the modern, near-trendy complex sulphide expressive model. A white burgundy look-alike. Also down the track of elegance rather than outright power are the wines of Sileni. Winemaker Grant Edmonds wants us to drink the wines he makes, not admire them from afar. The Sileni ‘Lodge’ Chardonnay 2010 certainly lacks nothing, but combines slenderness with power resulting in sinew. Lovely ripe, sweet citrus and mealy on the long finish. The Sileni ‘Triangle’ Merlot 2009 is my pick of his three Bordeaux-varietal ‘Estate’ wines, only by the extra nuanced layers of flavour that fill the palate. The Te Awa ‘Left Field’ Merlot/Malbec 2009 also sneaks up on you. Quiet on the nose, but nearly explosively rich and sweet on the palate.
Showcasing the new Vidal ‘Reserve Series’ tier was winemaker Hugh Crichton. These fit in between where the ‘Estate’ and old ‘Reserve’ wines sat, the latter tier to be called ‘Legacy’. Of these, the Vidal ‘Reserve Series’ Chardonnay 2010 was very much in the award-winning, complex reduction model, with flinty notes. This had lovely acidity and length. A star for the vintage is the Vidal ‘Reserve Series’ Merlot/Cabernet 2008. Surprisingly ripe, sweet and fruity, with sumptuous dark plum and berry flavours, and spot-on structure. It was extremely difficult to choose what to taste from the extensive Villa Maria range presented by Nick Picone. From a number of wines that any could be stars, I liked the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2010, showing very sweet, ripe fruit, still tight, but balanced by the restraint. The winemaker complexities perfectly judged, as far as my palate was concerned. The other star was the Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2009, a model of fruit expression, but framed within a very concentrated and grainy textured palate. Multiple vintages of the ‘Reserve’ Merlot and ‘Reserve’ Cabernet/Merlot were offered, and while all were at the top level of quality, they reflected their different vintages successfully. The Villa Maria ‘Reserve’ Cabernet/Merlot 2008 was my choice, for its combination of fruit ripeness and sweetness, with structure that will enable an ‘each-way’ proposition to drink or keep.