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Hot Red Hawke’s Bay 2012

By June 12, 2012No Comments

The Hot Red Hawke’s Bay Wine Expo is one of the must-attend events on the New Zealand wine lovers’ calendars. It has evolved over the nine years of being run from showing the red wines from some of the keener producers of Hawke’s Bay to a superb showcase of all styles of wines from a broad and varied group of winemakers representing the diversity of the region. Lyn Bevin and the Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Inc. have done a wonderful job of promoting the expo and taken it to Auckland and Wellington, as well as running it at home.

This year, at the Wellington showing, there were 21 wineries exhibiting over 180 wines. By attending, one could make an appraisal of some of the country’s leading Chardonnays, Viogniers, Pinot Gris, Bordeaux-varietal blends, Syrah and Merlot wines. The wineries represented ranged from large to tiny, all with interesting wines to offer for tasting. And wines from the last five vintages could be assessed, including those from the outstanding 2009 harvest as well as the more challenging 2010 and 2011 years.

As one can imagine there were too many wines to assess properly. My approach was to visit each winery exhibitor to taste a selection of their wines, rather than all. The wines tasted were not necessarily the most expensive or flagships, but they made up a high proportion of what was sampled, as they represent the aspirations of the producers. While many attendees looked at one style or variety at a time across different wineries, my method was to taste various styles within each winery, thus varying the taste experience, keeping the palate fresh. Here are my thoughts on each exhibitor, with some comments on some of the wines, in the order tasted:
 
Sileni Estates: This is a very big business now and although Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc makes up a large chunk of what Sileni does on the world stage, Hawke’s Bay remains its heart and focus. ‘The Don’ Riesling 2009 is the last of this varietal, and a shame as it has developed lovely toasty complexities. I was impressed with ‘The Cape’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011, showing lovely vibrancy of fruit. Sauvignon Blanc was a star in Hawke’s Bay in 2011. A lighter wine reflecting the vintage, ‘The Lodge’ Chardonnay 2011 has a creaminess that draws you in. And ‘The Triangle’ Merlot 2010 shows why this label is a champion for Grant Edmonds. A touch leafy on the nose, a function of the vintage, but redemption with richness and plenty of flavour on the palate. This always delivers.
 
Vidal Estate: I went through the ‘Reserve Series’ wines, all good, noting the confusing use of the nomenclature. The ‘Reserve Series’ Syrah 2009 is possibly worthy of being in the top tier, ‘Legacy Series’, which is about to be released soon. The whole ‘Legacy Series’ range is super stuff, some of the wines already successful in shows. The ‘Legacy Series’ Chardonnay 2010 is a rich, but gentle giant, packed with those complexing sulphides and layers of flavour. The ‘Legacy Series’ Cabernet/Merlot 2009 surprisingly elegant and possessing funky interest. The ‘Legacy Series’ Syrah 2009 wins hands-down over the ‘Reserve Series’, being a veritable spice box. And the new ‘Legacy Series’ Noble Semillon 2011, each vine producing only 430 ml of wine according to thoughtful winemaker Hugh Crichton, powerful, oak-infused and cutting, just like top Sauternes.
 
Alpha Domus: Paul Ham is an unassuming man with plenty to be proud of. Last year’s vertical tasting of ‘The Aviator’ was a highlight (click here to read). ‘The Wingwalker’ Viognier 2010 has come into its own lately, with refined exoticism, and all the varietal expression you’ll ever want. A 5-star wine now for sure. ‘The Barnstormer’ Syrah 2011 shows the lighter vintage, but this is beautifully floral and supple and in excellent proportion. And just wonderful to see the ‘AD’ Noble Selection 2011 again. It seemed a different wine with its softness and breadth. Yet just as decadent as ever. This remains an outstandingly hedonistic botrytis-affected Semillon.
 
Lime Rock: I’ve yet to visit Rosie Butler and Roger Tynan in central (or is it really southern?) Hawke’s Bay, just out of Waipawa, but I look forward to seeing their spectacular site first-hand. The more I taste their wines, the more it seems that Pinot Noir will be their star as far as I can see. Sure, there’s beauty in the aromatics of the Cabernet Franc 2010, and sufficient ripeness and richness of the Merlot 2009, but the Pinot Noirs have that wondrous vintage variability while retaining integrity, just as in Burgundy. Showing the 2007, 2008 and 2009, it was the Pinot Noir 2008 that captured my interest with its deliciously soft red fruit flavours, savoury complexity and density.
 
Esk Valley: Young-looking assistant winemaker Dane Jarvie was standing behind the label today for doyen Gordon Russell. As with all of the Villa Maria-Vidals-Esk Valley ranges, the delineation into the different tiers is clear, but errs on the side of caution, so that the wines of the middle tier could easily make the top tier if it came from another winery! In the ‘regular’ range, the Verdelho 2011 is sensational with its combination of stonefruit, tropical fruit, rich, spicy flavours and lush textures. The top ‘Winemakers Reserve’ wines always please. The ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Chardonnay 2011 may well be the best Chardonnay of the vintage in The Bay. Superb citrus and oak amalgam, with no evidence or need for reductive complexities. This is just great fruit and sensitive oaking. The other standout must be the ‘Winemakers Reserve’ Syrah 2010, with its density and layers of spicy, aromatic interest that continually unfolds.
 
Craggy Range: Unashamedly one of my favourite producers. Two Chardonnays show the elegance being built into the wines from this variety. The ‘Kidnappers’ Chardonnay 2011 showing poised citrussy fruit with a touch of saline, much more pure than earlier releases, expressing the fruit with clarity, yet being true to the terroir of the growing site. The ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Chardonnay 2010, absolutely textbook wine. These are delicious to drink. And of the Bordeaux-varieties from the slow-to-ripen 2010 vintage, Craggy Range ‘Te Kahu’ 2010 is a wonderful success. While the straight Merlot is very smart, the ‘Te Kahu’ has gorgeous succulence and vibrancy that sets it apart.
 
Trinity Hill: Another one of the best producers with established varieties and styles, and innovative ones too. Though based in the Gimblett Gravels, John Hancock and Warren Gibson have happily looked beyond home turf to explore different sites and how they can express varieties with a view for greater suitability or blending options. It’s pleasing to see Trinity Hill embrace the whole of Hawke’s Bay. Just tasting a selection, I was wowed by the ‘Black Label’ Chardonnay 2010, beautifully intense with magical acidity carrying the rich flavours forever. The new ‘Black Label’ Syrah 2011, from a lighter vintage than 2010, and therefore without the weight and richness. Exquisite florals, fine-grained textures and earlier approachability, which can’t be a bad thing!. And the ever-elegant ‘Black Label’ ‘The Gimblett’ 2008 Bordeaux varietal blend. This really defines finesse, the depth subtle and building, with detail emerging in glass. And to cap off the range, the stunningly rich and flamboyant ‘Black Label’ Noble Viognier 2009.
 
CJ Pask: Commercial manager Greg Allinson is in his element at such events, filling the role that ever-busy Kate Radburnd might normally take. While CJ Pask has run out of many recent vintage release wines, Greg took the opportunity of showing some of the top-flight ‘Declaration’ range which has some bottle-age. It’s a treat to see such wines that have been given the chance to show more interesting and complex secondary characters. The multi-award winning ‘Declaration’ Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec 2006 is becoming integrated, softening and showing layers of savoury componentry. This will grace the dinner table perfectly now and over the next 5+ years. Even better is the ‘Declaration’ Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec 2007, a step up in concentration, depth and richness. More spice and more oak to match, but also showing signs of secondary interest. And don’t go past the ‘Declaration’ Syrah 2009, possessing richness, structure and positive funky layers.
 
Cypress: It is said that wines reflect their makers or proprietors. The regular Cypress wines are models of restraint and correctness. But the top tier ‘Terraces’ range push the boundaries. That seems to fit in with Mel Lawson’s image of being demure, but in reality as enthusiastic, excited and driven about her wines as anyone could be. The ‘Terraces’ Chardonnay 2010 is a concentrated and textured wine with plenty of oak at this youthful stage. It is bold. Still tightly bound is the ‘Terraces’ Viognier 2010, a touch of reduction and the acidity prominent, but as apricotty as Viognier should always be. Watch this one. The highlight must be the ‘Terraces’ Syrah 2009, again young, concentrated and oaky, but with a peacock’s tail that blooms.
 
Alluviale and Dada: The special blend of France and New Zealand that David Ramonteu and Kate Galloway bring to their wines makes them worthy of attention. The new Alluviale 2010 red blend shows the elegance of the vintage without losing ripeness and sweetness. Balance and proportion are the key. The Alluviale ‘Tardif’ 2010 sweeter Sauvignon Blanc has developed with time in bottle to show stylish richness and yellow stonefuit nuances and detail. It is delightfully smooth and different. And the Dada 1 2008, this fully-worked Sauvignon Blanc based wine is still remarkably intense on bouquet and fresh on palate, showing earth and dried stonefruit notes.
 
Ngatarawa: One of the quiet producers of Hawke’s Bay, very much like proprietor Alwyn Corban, who has surrounded himself with experienced staff. The wines reflect the nature of the man, quiet, unassuming, but always delivering when you need them. The ‘Glazebrook’ Syrah 2010 combines subtle earthy notes with spicy richness, all balanced and a complete package. Ngatarawa has taken to this relatively new variety quickly. And maturity in handling can be seen in the flagship ‘Alwyn’ Merlot/Cabernet 2009, seamless and effortless, with layers of savoury nuances that just keep on unfolding.
 
Coopers Creek: With fingers in many regional pies, it takes a good person to understand the nuances and requirements in managing fruit from all over the country. It takes an even better person to consistently make top, award-winning wines from them all. Simon Nunns is that person, and he’s at the top of his game. I tasted through a range of his Hawke’s Bay fruited wines, all of them modern and contemporary, with elegance and nothing out of place. So from Viogniers, Syrahs and Bordeaux-varieties, I’ll put in a plug for Chardonnay as Simon’s star from The Bay. The ‘Select Vineyards – The Limeworks’ Chardonnay 2011 with real finesse and wonderfully fine proportions, the fruit growing in intensity since I tried this a couple of months ago. And the always dependably rewarding ‘Swamp Reserve’ Chardonnay 2009, a wine that seems all there but can keep on going.
 
Clearview Estate: Founder Tim Turvey is such a star, with his laid-back and fun style. It’s always a battle to get through the crowd to talk to him, but it’s worth it. You could also talk to Lisa Clarke, responsible for trade sales instead, and she’s just as engaging and helpful. The Haumoana Pinot Gris 2011 is a first effort with this variety, and it’s classic Clearview style packed with ripe pear flavours. The ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2010 continues the tradition for full-on stuff. But more full-on and amazingly dense, fulsome and funky is the super-premium ‘Endeavour’ Chardonnay 2009. There’s a plethora, or so it seems of Bordeaux-styles, but the ‘Enigma’ Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet 2009 was the pick of a strong bunch, just with an extra edge of richness, making it more complete. Over the top, and surprisingly ultra-silky was the super-premium ‘The Basket Press’ 2009, this year 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, just peeking above the new oak shine.
 
Mission Estate: Arguably the unsung hero of Hawke’s Bay, Mission has purchased the 100 ha Cape Campbell vineyard in Marlborough making it a New Zealand hero. Winemaker Paul Mooney already has experience with fruit from outside Hawke’s Bay, and his diligence and eye for detail will no doubt see the South Island wines perform well and offer great value as do the Hawke’s Bay wines. The ‘Reserve’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 showed iron-earth characters of Gimblett Gravels, even though that district provided only 60% of the fruit. The ‘Jewelstone’ Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2010, following on from the 2009 Bordeaux-beater is much lighter, as dictated by the vintage, but with precision, fragrance and a sinewy structure to ensure a good life. My pick was the ‘Jewelstone’ Syrah 2009, beautifully rich and sweet, still oaky, but clearly a winner now and over the next few years.
 
Crossroads: Now part of the Yealands group, Crossroads will offer a strong North Island component to the operation. I should have looked at the ‘Milestone’ range as reports were very good. But I went straight to the ‘Winemakers Collection’ Chardonnay 2011, citrus and mealy toast, serious and undeveloped at this stage. The ‘Winemakers Collection’ Cabernet Franc 2010 much more refined than the 15% 2009 monster, possessing fragrance and freshness. The ‘Winemakers Collection’ Syrah 2010 is a black pepper fiend, with much to show. I took great delight in comparing the complete and complex ‘Talisman’ 2009 with the fragrant and intriguing ‘Talisman’ 2010, both quite individual expressions like no other.
 
Sacred Hill: A wonderful winery with the multi-talented Tony Bish heading the winemaking team. This has a boutique winery attitude with the capability to work better than most large companies. The innovative ‘Virgin’ Chardonnay 2011 takes un-oaked Chardonnay into the super-premium level. Crystal-clear fruit, but now a little softer and richer in texture since its release. Two cool-vintage reds, the ‘Orange Label’ Merlot/Cabernet 2010, sweet and without a trace of unripeness. And the ‘HALO’ Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2010 with some seriousness that will see it age well. The ‘Brokenstone’ 2009 was not as hard and austere as it would have been in the hands of a rookie winemaker, but lifted with spices and with the finesse that an experienced hand bestows.
 
Villa Maria: This is the one company that always gets it right. I have no qualms saying it can claim to be one of New Zealand’s very best wine producers. The classic varieties and wine styles are truly benchmarkers for the rest of the industry, so I looked at some non-mainstreamers. The ‘Single Vineyard Omahu’ Viognier 2010 decadent in expression with masses of rich detail. A beautifully fragrant, Pinot Noir-esque ‘Cellar Selection’ Grenache 2010 will confound the experts. And a potential-packed, immensely concentrated ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2010, tight, sleek, and coiled to show greatness. I was seduced by the ‘Reserve’ Malbec 2009, richly aromatic with spicy, plummy aromas and flavours, almost wickedly decadent, and a core of blackness that will just melt in time. The winemaking team headed by Alastair Maling MW and young super-stars such as Nick Picone are true professionals, but with souls.
 
Church Road: The winery that pulled my strings and got my vote for the best exhibitor of the Hot Red Hawke’s Bay in 2012. Winemaker Chris Scott is modest, but quietly confident that his wines reach and touch the palates, minds and hearts of the fine New Zealand wine drinker. The warm-up was the new ‘McDonald Series’ wines that are the ‘Cuve Series’ rebranded. The ‘McDonald Series’ Pinot Gris 2011 is less sweet that the outrageously decadent 2009, and absolutely down the line. A fantastic comparison was the ‘McDonald Series’ Sauvignon Gris 2011 – resting on texture, with the ‘McDonald Series’ Sauvignon Blanc 2011 showcasing aromatic and lively fruit. Both wines are from the same vineyard site. An eye-opener will be the ‘McDonald Series’ Marzemino 2009, super fruity plummy nose and gentile, supple palate. However, it was the ‘Reserve’ range that won me over. The ‘Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc 2010 like a complex white Graves with sophisticated oak and textural complexities, the ‘Reserve’ Viognier 2010 with beautiful integration and flinty complexities, the lush, layered, bacony oak-infused and fulsome ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2010. The reds were equally good, the ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2010 combining elegance, richness, softness and structure in perfect balance. Then the stunning ‘Reserve’ Cabernet/Merlot 2009, probably showing more Merlot, but with great grip and finesse of structure to see 15-20 years of cellaring.
 
Babich Wines: One of the most venerable of all New Zealand wine producers, nearing a century of operation. They’ve evolved with the times, but family values have ensured success in tough times. There’ll be a host of envious others who wish they could be as sound as Babich. The boyish-looking, but highly-experienced and well-travelled marketing man John Lang was showing the wines including some of the very smart ‘Family Estates’ wines which drinkers looking for cutting edge should follow. I went to the new labelled ‘Irongate’ Chardonnay 2011, a wine that continues the tradition of minerally elegance with great concentration. A Corton-Charlemagne look-alike? And the sister ‘Irongate’ Cabernet/Merlot Franc 2010, seriously structured but fine-grained and driven wine with the ability to see a decade plus of cellaring. ‘The Patriarch’ 2010 takes Babich into the realms of opulence without losing any sense of proper style and class.
 
Elephant Hill: I’ve just recently reviewed the Elephant Hill wines (click here to see), so it was a great opportunity to check if I’d got them right. Tasting them again, I think I did, so a tick for relative consistency on my part. I share winemaker Steve Skinner and marketer Vince Labat’s enthusiasm for the Te Awanga district, as the cooler, coastal climate lends the wines elegance, suppleness and beauty that hotter, drier areas just cannot provide. What a wonderfully understated wine the Gewurztraminer 2011 is. The very fine textural backbone is its strength. The Chardonnay 2010 seems to be improving weekly, and this will be a 5-star wine with a little more time in bottle. The ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2009 is beautifully enticing with its delicate nuances and fragrances as well as complexing elements, all framed within a fine, supple, succulent palate. Size is not everything.
 
Mills Reef: I love the hearty Gimblett Gravels sourced reds of Mills Reef. They are not for the faint-hearted, and those who crave after delicacy and daintiness should look elsewhere. That is not to say they are too heavy, over-oaked or clumsy, but they certainly are packed full of flavour and are user-friendly in the best possible sense. The ‘Reserve’ wines and deluxe ‘Elspeth’ are of the same ilk, the former offering accessibility, the latter ageworthiness. The 2010 ‘Elspeths are just being released now, and I see them as being successes, as usual. I noted just two as time was running out. The ‘Elspeth’ ‘Trust Vineyard’ Syrah 2010 showing a degree of elegance and sweetness of fruit with oak lift. The regular ‘Elspeth’ Syrah 2010 black fruited with a little greater concentration and structure. They will be great foils to compare over the next 6-8+ years.
 
The Hot Red Hawke’s Bay 2012 can still be attended in Auckland on Tuesday 31 July at the Viaduct Events Centre. For more information, see my ‘Wine Focussed Events of Note’ entry by clicking here, or contact Lyn Bevin on email: [email protected] or go to www.winehawkesbay.co.nz

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