Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

2005 was an exciting late summer for North Island New Zealand growers of Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends.  Stephen White from Stonyridge Vineyards,  Waiheke Island,  and in Hawkes Bay both John Buck,  Te Mata Vineyards,  and Steve Smith,  Craggy Range Vineyards,  all imply or say that their best 2005 reds are the best yet:  
White:  ... one of the hottest and driest seasons on record ... regarded by all the winemakers on Waiheke as the finest vintage ever.
Buck:  We believe this 2005 vintage to be the finest Coleraine yet produced ... berries were the smallest on record ... the quality of the grapes ... exceptional.  
Smith:  Our Gimblett Gravels red wines from 2005 represent our greatest ever red wine vintage and are the best young reds I have ever seen in New Zealand.

These are pretty big claims,  which our cellaring tasting group in Wellington felt duty-bound to evaluate.  Accordingly,  what better than to arbitrarily select a few labels that may be contenders for the top New Zealand Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends for 2005,  and,  where they are not yet on the market,  seek pre-release bottles from the winemakers.  In pursuing that,  it became apparent that not everybody agreed that the vintage was ideal.

Stonyridge were in no doubt,  as above.  In Hawkes Bay however the vintage seemed perfect till March 17,  when the first of three isolated rainfalls occurred.  From then on,  there was some luck for each vineyard in where the rains fell,  the crop they were carrying,  the degree of leaf-plucking,  the degree of maturity in each vineyard when it rained etc etc,  as to how the fruit came in.  Te Mata and Craggy feel as above;  Trinity for example will make no Homage series reds.  So not all the expected vineyards are represented in the batch below.

It seemed likely that Esk Valley,  with their track record for Reserve series Hawkes Bay blends,  would have a good one,  but Gordon Russell advised the wine wasn't quite at an appropriate stage to show.  So accordingly we sought the sister wine,  made from fruit from the same vineyard,  the as-yet-unreleased Newton-Forrest Cornerstone.  Likewise,  we have the un-released Blake Family Vineyard wine (back-grounded 30 Nov '06,  GKWR).  Craggy Range were keen for us to examine their premium reds to be released on 1 June.  Thus an exciting tasting assembled itself.  Naturally enough there are no serious 2005 Bordeaux reds in the country yet,  but there was a minor east bank wine available from the famously ubiquitous wine consultant extraordinaire Michel Rolland,  to remind us of the style and taste of the Bordeaux district.

Since we could only present 12 wines to the 23 tasters,  some contenders had to be left out – including Goldwater from Waiheke,  Villa Maria,  and Unison and Vidal from Hawkes Bay.  Once the blind tasting for the 23 group participants was complete,  I assembled fresh pours of both the group wines and two other wines,  and conducted a second blind tasting in my tasting room.  These supplementary wines included (as a courtesy) Craggy Range's principal export label in the Bordeaux blend style,  to see how it stacked up.  This label (Te Kahu) is not available on the domestic market.

The second more leisurely tasting was magnificent.  And I agree with the winemakers.  The 2005 vintage includes the finest Bordeaux-styled blends thus far made in (post-Prohibition) New Zealand.  The best wines have a fragrance and finesse to them,  and a restraint in the oak handling,  which was not evident as recently as 2002,  let alone the hotter 1998 vintage.  That is not to deny that certain wines from either of those vintages may match some of the favoured wines below.  And perhaps the average was higher,  in 2002.  But the very best in 2005 provide a beacon to the future.  Sadly we can never now know just how good the best wines of the late 1800s and earliest 1900s were in Hawkes Bay (and the Wairarapa),  but they were certainly reported on favourably in their day.

Acknowledgements:  the willing assistance of winemakers in supplying pre-release bottles for this review is greatly appreciated.


2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet
2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet Alluviale
2005  Craggy Range Cabernet / Merlot The Quarry
2005  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Franc Sophia
2005  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard
2005  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels Vineyard
2005  Forrest Cabernet Sauvignon John Forrest Collection
  2005  Ch La Grande Clotte
2005  Newton-Forrest Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Cornerstone
2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2005  Stonyridge [ Cabernet / Malbec / Merlot ] Larose
2005  Te Mata [Cabernets / Merlot] Awatea
2005  Te Mata [Cabernets / Merlot] Coleraine

2005  Craggy Range Cabernet / Merlot The Quarry   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.1%;  $60   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 93%,  Me 7,  hand-harvested @ 2.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in oak cuves;  16 months in French oak 71% new,  fined and filtered;  350 cases;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest colour in the tasting.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  showing a Leoville Las Cases-like saturation of fully ripe cabernet cassis and darkest plum,  infused with potential cedar and subtle violets florals,  wonderfully clean,  just beautiful.  Palate is the bouquet liquefied,  total cassis,  aromatic fruit much richer than Coleraine,  subtle oak,  marvellous.  The aftertaste is cassis,  rich berry,  and faint cedar.  This is the greatest New Zealand cabernet / merlot so far released in the post-Prohibition era,  despatching for ever the notion that New Zealand cannot ripen cabernet sauvignon.  American commentators on New Zealand wines need to note that this is perfectly ripe cabernet,  like fine-year classed-growth Bordeaux,  not over-ripened like so many Napa Valley examples of the grape.  Thus it still retains the magical lightness and florals which make great Bordeaux blends refreshing (to use a Jancis Robinson term),  rather than overpowering.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $80   [ cork;  Me 40%,  CS 30,  CF 30;  release date Sept. 07;  goal of Californian proprietor Mark Blake is simply to make world-class merlot / cabernet in New Zealand;  second wine Alluviale;  www.bfvwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper wines.  Freshly poured this wine is a little reticent,  but with air the bouquet opens to be a little more aromatic than some,  the new oak of potentially cedary quality infusing cassis and darkest plum delightfully.  Richness on palate is excellent,  real cassis evident,  all lingering well.  This looks every bit as good as the previous report (30/11/06),  and though perhaps slightly oakier than then registered,  this too can be compared with classed growth Bordeaux,  given the increasing use of new oak there.  It has the fruit to blend it away.  It might even be richer (in terms of dry extract) than The Quarry – an intriguing thought for tastings in 15 years time.  Exciting wine to cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Franc Sophia   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.1%;  $50   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 62%,  CF 34,  CS 4,  hand-harvested @ 3.75 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in oak cuves;  19 months in 80% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  2500 cases;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest.  This is spellbinding wine,  showing to perfection dense rich darkest plums-in-the sun aromas which are nearly floral,  but all just a wee bit big and spirity and darkest chocolate,  a hint of sur-maturité maybe.  It is not quite as aromatic and fresh as The Quarry,  but then neither is it cabernet-dominant.  Palate is velvety,  tremendous dry extract,  oak beautifully in balance,  the plush flavour lingering for ages.  This is classic merlot,  Pomerol in style,  and in the upper equal-to-classed-growth range of the hierarchy.  It is great to see even this biggest of the 2005 Craggys showing such restraint compared with some earlier years.  In some ways it is a wine of Napa Valley richness too,  yet it's cooler-climate freshness and fragrance is always evident.  Either this or the more fragrant but fractionally lighter straight 2005 Gimblett Gravels Merlot is arguably the best merlot-dominant wine made in (post-Prohibition) New Zealand,  though the marvellous 2004 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  just fractionally cooler and hence more floral,  might pip the latter at the post.  I don't have it alongside.  Sophia will cellar 5 – 25 years,  maybe more.  GK 05/07

2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $48   [ ProCork;  DFB;  CS 48%,  Me 35,  Ma 17;  machine-harvested @ 2.5 t/ac,  100% de-stemmed,  some components finished fermentation in barrel,  followed by 18 months in 70% French and 30 American oak, 100% new;  sterile filtered;  c. 500 cases;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  First sniff of this wine,  and all one can think of is classic Medoc,  a wine like Cantemerle,  but so much more generous in its fruit ripeness and sunnyness.  Both bouquet and palate are total cassis,  with some darkly plummy merlot fleshing it out,  but it is not quite as rich and concentrated as the top wines.  The most wonderful thing about this Pask Declaration is the oak handling,  which despite the 100% new,  seems much subtler,  lighter than the Cornerstone,  contrasting vividly with the heavier approach of earlier years.  Hence the emphasis is more on the berry fruit,  and the wine will be so much more food-friendly.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 05/07

2005  Te Mata [Cabernets / Merlot] Coleraine   18 ½ +  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $72   [ cork;  Me 45%,  CS 37,  CF 18;  average vine age 20 years;  20 months in French oak probably around 75% new (if like '04);  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth of colour.  This is a quiet wine,  the bouquet not demonstrative,  another wine remarkably like young Medoc.  There are violets-like florals on cassis and darkest plums,  all infused with potentially cedary oak in an understated way.  On palate the likeness to good Medoc becomes all-convincing,  and of classed growth Margaux standard.  It is not rich enough to be top classed growth,  but it more than matches the already-mentioned Cantemerle.  Balance and style are classical for cellaring,  though like the Larose faintly acid in the present company.  Coleraine is classically made,  to cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $31   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 86%,  CF 14,  hand-harvested @ 3.5 t/ac;  20 months in French oak 50% new;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the third deepest.  Bouquet is superbly midnight-dark cassis and violets,  plus blackest plum and almost blackberry (in the subtlest sense),  magically fragrant and pure,  subtle oak,  a little fresher than Sophia,  total east-bank Bordeaux such as classed St Emilion in style.  And the best thing about it is the alcohol seems lower than some of these wines,  though perfectly ripe.  Palate is velvety rich,  a little lighter than Sophia but still saturated dark berry flavours,  no hint of sur-maturité though riper than the 2004,  new oak in balance,  all suited to cellaring 5 – 20 years.  At c. $31,  this is the best-value premium quality Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend in New Zealand.  [ My earlier review of this wine I now think must have been a cork-affected / scalped bottle.]  VALUE  GK 05/07

2005  Newton-Forrest Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Cornerstone   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 42%,  Me 34,  Ma 24,  65% hand-harvested,  balance machine @ < 2.5 t/ac;  70% French oak,  30 US 25% new;  coarse-filtered only;  c. 900 cases;  not on website yet;  www.forrestwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is a little different on this wine,  fragrant berry and some spirit,  but the oak much more aromatic and reminding of Rioja,  presumably therefore including some American (confirmed).  With it there is elegant cassisy berry,  fresh and fragrant,  not quite as weighty as the Craggys.  Palate is succulent on the berry,  still a little oaky,  but all lingering delightfully.   This wine reminds of some of the more aromatic and cassisy years of Grand Puy Lacoste.  There is also a ghostly reminder of the impact that ultimate New Zealand leading-light cabernet,  1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  had at first release,  on account of the oak.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 05/07

2005  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $ –    [ cork;  DFB;  export only,  @ US$35,  NOT available on the NZ market;  Me 80%,  CS & Ma 20,  hand-harvested @ 3.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in s/s;  19 months in French oak 55% new;  fined and filtered;  CEO Steve Smith sees this as akin to a second wine to Sophia;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  midway in depth of colour.  This wine too shows the magical cassis and darkest plums of the other Craggys,  but with an additional almost blueberry note,  which grades into violets florals.  Palate shows the gorgeous dusky berry richness of the range,  beautifully balanced to potentially cedary oak.  It may be a little lighter and oakier than the Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  but many would prefer it for that.  Given that this is the volume spearhead of Craggy's export thrust in Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends,  and is priced at much the same level as the Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  all New Zealanders can be immensely proud of this affordable but champion red actively out there in the export arena.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 05/07

2005  Stonyridge [ Cabernet / Malbec / Merlot ] Larose   18 ½  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $140   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 44%,  Ma 21,  Me 15,  PV 15,  CF 5,  cropped at c. 1 t/ac in 2005;  up to 25-day cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  oak 90% French,  10 US,  70% either new,  or shaved and re-toasted;  not filtered;  500 cases;  organic;  www.stonyridge.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the darker wines.  This wine stood a little way apart from the rest,  because of its faint mint suggestion on the deep dark berry.  Below that is terrific cassis which the subtle mint accentuates,  on fruit which smells ripe and Bordeaux-like.  Palate is saturated berry,  cassis and velvety plums,  some dark tobacco,  a little oakier than some,  and acid fractionally higher than the Gimblett Gravels wines.  The amazing thing about this wine is the 15% of petite verdot,  yet the wine smells and tastes ripe.  No Pichon-Lalande leafiness – another vineyard with a risky amount of petit verdot.  No wonder Stonyridge say 2005 is the best vintage ever for the island.  Those who like mint in their wines would rate this lovely wine higher,  but for Francophiles it raises a cautionary note:  if eucalypts are growing taller around this vineyard,  it is time to get rid of them.  We do not want one of our finest reds showing Australian suggestions.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  For those who mock my love affair with old wines,  and the cellaring ranges suggested to achieve them,  please note the 1987 Stonyridge is currently perfection (cellared in Wellington's climate) – as seen blind recently with 1986 classed Bordeaux.  It was fully comparable with some of them.  GK 05/07

2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet Alluviale   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 43%,  CS 43,  CF 14;  French oak;  second wine of Blake Family Vineyard;  www.alluviale.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  in the lightest three.  Bouquet is softer and a little older than most in the set,  with fragrant and plummy merlot dominating.  In flavour the style is totally St Emilion,  softish and round,  yet with a touch of cassis in the plummy fruit.  This is a perfect illustration of a second wine,  in the classed Bordeaux sense.  Where the Blake Family Vineyard grand vin is of clear upper classed growth standard,  this is lesser classed growth / cru bourgeois exceptionnel,  by analogy.  This will give a lot of pleasure at table,  over the next  5 – 15 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Forrest Cabernet Sauvignon John Forrest Collection   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 98,  Me 2%,  hand-harvested @ 1.5 – 2 t/ac;  French oak 33% new;  coarse-filtered only;  350 cases;  not on website yet;  www.johnforrest.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a suggestion of carmine and velvet,  the lightest in this set.  This wine opens a little veiled by a trace of  pure H2S – all it needs is a brisk pouring from jug to jug five times.  Transformed.  Then there is aromatic cassis dominating slightly charry oak,  all looking good.  Palate is exactly the same,  but lighter than the top wines.  This is another wine with a lot of Bordeaux styling to it,  though not exactly reflecting its cabernet dominance.  It tastes softer,  and further east.  Well-breathed it rates 18,  the cassis and red plum fruit fragrant.  Being under screwcap though,  the reductive note is a worry.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Te Mata [Cabernets / Merlot] Awatea   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ cork;  Me 43%,  CS 35%,  CF 18,  PV 4;  20 months in French oak probably around 45% new (if like '04);  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the lighter.  There is an intriguing redfruits note to this wine,  almost reminiscent of St Emilion the way it used to be,  delightfully fragrant and mouthwatering as claret.  Palate is fresh and fragrant too,  tending light in the present company,  but attractively flavoured.  The family resemblance to Coleraine is clear,  but Awatea is clearly lighter,  fresher,  less ripe with more red fruits than black,  the oak showing a little more than in the richer Coleraine.  Awatea is now clearly priced as Te Mata's second wine to Coleraine,  so comparing the matching Alluviale wine from Blake Family Vineyards,  Awatea is lighter,  more oaky,  and less ripe.  This raises the issue that where Coleraine and Awatea were once the absolute standard setters in Hawkes Bay,  the wines do not now have quite the concentration – measurable as dry extract – to compete with some of the more highly rated wines in this tasting.  I have expressed doubts about the cropping rate expressed as ripeness for some other Te Mata premium wines previously,  including  the Viognier.  It would be a pity if the potential of their sites and winemaking team is compromised by this factor,  such that an exceptional vintage is needed for the wines to achieve parity.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/07

2005  Ch La Grande Clotte   17  ()
Lussac Saint Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $27   [ cork;  Me dominant,  perhaps alone;  owned by noted wine-making consultant Michel Rolland;  imported by The Wine Importer,  Auckland ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  about midway in density.  This is another wine which is a little out of line with the set.  There is plenty of berry and fruit,  but the oak is not the finest,  instead being rather like some Chilean merlots.  Palate is plump,  clearly plummy berry more black than red,  but again lacking a little elegance on the oak.    Presumably there is a high ratio of older.  It is all very much a good-quality cru bourgeois Bordeaux,  not at all what one might expect from the man accused of seeking to standardise all cabernet / merlot wines via over-ripeness and new oak.  The wine is much riper and richer than Awatea,  but at this stage is let down by the oak,  as well as being youthful.  It will cellar well,  5 – 15 years.  GK 05/07