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

Mid-2007,  I was asked by Terry Dunleavy,  Editor of New Zealand WineGrower,  to review the emergence of Bordeaux-styled wines in New Zealand.  The text for this account,  titled "Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay blends in New Zealand",  was submitted for publication in the October / November issue of the magazine,  but had to be withheld due both to industry events needing immediate coverage,  and to its length.  With the thought it would be published in two or more Parts,  it was revised and re-submitted in time for the December / January issue.  Revision added further material,  particularly concerning the role of McWilliams in the emerging 1950s to 1970s phase,  but again events conspired to prevent publication.  

To bring the story up to date,  and focus on what has been achieved in the 40-odd years since the appearance of the key wine,  1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon Bin 65/3,  a tasting of the 2005 vintage Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends in New Zealand seemed desirable,  since that vintage was at least good in all parts of the country,  and excellent for some.  These wines were assessed and written up from the viewpoint of someone who has watched the evolution of both New Zealand reds and Bordeaux reds since the early 1960s,  and cellared both.

The plan is that the main text will first be published in two or possibly more Parts in successive issues of New Zealand WineGrower.  Part I will now appear in the February / March issue.  The wine reviews are being published on the website www.GeoffKellyWineReviews.co.nz,  as below.  Once paper publication is complete,  all parts will be assembled on this website.

This report is therefore based on wines either released,  or kindly made available for preview by winemakers,  in September 2007.  Reviews of other New Zealand 2005 Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay blend wines tasted for an earlier review in May (published 25 May 2007) have been spliced in,  including in some cases those of proprietors who declined to participate in the September review.  The ranking presented here was therefore not achieved in one sitting.  Every effort has been made to equilibrate the two batches,  by repeating key wines in the second tasting.  Some of the earlier reviews are simply repeated,  while others have been amended.  For technical reasons,  all however show the new date.  

Conclusions in December 2007
The results of the tasting were simply exhilarating.  There can be no doubt that given skilled winemakers familiar with the wines of the world,  the North Island of New Zealand and Hawkes Bay in particular can produce cabernet / merlot and related blends which match in quality the long-established fine wines of Bordeaux.  In particular,  our best examples of the style may now match classed growths up to the level of second growths,  even in their good years.  The exact reason for this is our temperate climate,  which allows the grapes to reach full physiological maturity and flavour expression at reasonably low alcohols.  This retains the full florality and complexity which the cabernet family and merlot are famous for,  in the similarly temperate and semi-maritime climate of Bordeaux.  Just as with pinot noir and syrah,  these hauntingly beautiful and subtle elements of the grape's aroma and flavour are lost in hotter climates.  Hawkes Bay,  Waiheke Island,  and maybe one or two other favoured North Island places are therefore exceptionally favoured and rare microclimates,  on a world scale.  

Given the quality of the 2005 vintage in New Zealand,  the best wines in this review will easily bear comparison with the 2005 classed growths of Bordeaux,  a similarly excellent vintage,  for many years to come.  I urge all people who are really interested in studying the emergence of New Zealand red wine onto the world stage,  to cellar both the top wines reported on here,  and a selection of the 2005 classed and comparable Bordeaux,  up to second growths.  The latter should have been secured en primeur,  in May / June 2006,  but some will appear at retail during later 2008,  following shipping.  The best of the New Zealand wines will cellar 20 years,  the best of the Bordeaux longer.

Acknowledgements: I greatly appreciate the assistance of those winemakers who supplied wine,  information,  and particularly pre-release samples for this review.  In gaining a picture of the 2005 vintage in Hawkes Bay,  I particularly value the assistance of Chris Scott of Pernod-Ricard,  Tony Bish of Sacred Hill,  and Kate Radburnd of C J Pask Winery,  in making available key wines well before their release date.


2005  Benfield & Delamare Cabernet / Merlot / Franc
2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet
2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet Alluviale
2005  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2005  Church Road Tom
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  Goldwater [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Goldie
2005  Goldwater Merlot Esslin
2005  Goldwater Merlot G Block
2003  Herzog [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Spirit of Marlborough
2005  Karikari Estate Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec
2005  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth
2005  Mills Reef Merlot / Malbec Reserve
  2005  Newton-Forrest Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Cornerstone
2005  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Alwyn
2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2005  Pask Merlot Declaration
2005  Passage Rock Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2005  Puriri Hills Estate [ Merlot / Cabernets ]
2005  Puriri Hills [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Reserve
2005  Puriri Hills [ Merlot / Carmenere ] Pope
2005  Sacred Hill Cabernet / Merlot Helmsman
2005  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2005  Sacred Hill Merlot / Cabernet Basket Press
2005  Stonyridge [ Cabernet / Malbec / Merlot ] Larose
2005  Te Mata Cabernets / Merlot Awatea
2005  Te Mata Cabernets / Merlot Coleraine
2005  Villa Maria Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2005  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve

2005  Church Road Tom   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork;  DFB;  release date 2009;  Me 65%,  CS 35,  all hand-picked at c. 2.5 t/ac from 6-year old vines;  cuvaison 3 weeks for the CS component,  4 weeks for Me;  no BF;  22 months in French oak c. 85% new,  no lees stirring;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 0.1 g/L;  200 cases only;  not on website for some time yet;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest,  a magnificent colour.  Bouquet is one of the most deeply floral and dusky in the set,  darkest red roses and even violets,  plus suggestions of lilac and lighter fractions,  very beautiful.  Below is rich cassis again very deep and dusky,  grading into darkest bottled plums,  wondrously rich yet not heavy,  richer than the 2005 Quarry,  and all enlivened by sweet fragrant potentially cedary and cigar-box oak subtly underpinning the fruit.  Palate is all the bouquet and more,  showing wonderful berryfruit.  It can only be compared with a merlot-rich top second growth (except that unlike the previous Toms and some second growths,  2005 Tom shows no hint of brett).  Aftertaste is velvety,  saturated with dark berryfruits.  I would love to have a dry extract for this wine – it is exemplary.  This is sensational and essential New Zealand wine,  which can walk on any world stage that knows fine wine (as opposed to big wine).  Finally after a very shaky start indeed,  here is a Tom to match the growing myth of Tom McDonald,  the man.  This 2005 Church Road Tom may well be the greatest Bordeaux-blend winestyle ever created New Zealand.  The fact that it was offered for comparative assessment in this review,  in contradistinction to the wines of some aspirants to that status,  shows how intense the desire to excel is nowadays in Pernod-Ricard's New Zealand wineries.  What a challenge they are now laying down to other winemakers,  along with Craggy Range.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 09/07

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;  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  350 cases;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest colour in the tasting.  Bouquet is extraordinary,  showing a saturation of fully ripe cabernet cassis and darkest plum,  infused with potential cedar and subtle violets florals,  wonderfully clean,  just beautiful.  It can be compared with a cabernet-dominant second growth,  such as one of the Leovilles.  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.  Four months ago,  I thought this the greatest New Zealand cabernet / merlot so far released in the modern era,  but now it has to either share that with 2005 Tom,  or give way to that wine.  Either way,  it dispatches 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.  This 2005 Quarry offers a wonderfully dramatic contrast between a merlot-dominant wine such as 2005 Tom,  and this cabernet sauvignon-dominated one,  yet both are superlative.  What a joy it will be to compare them one with the other,  and with selected 2005 Bordeaux,  over the next  20 years.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $ –    [ cork;  Me 40%,  CS 30,  CF 30;  release date:  the future of this wine is now uncertain,  with the withdrawal of Mark Blake from the New Zealand wine scene.  It originally was intended for 2008 release at about the $80 mark;  second wine 2005 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 the 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 10 years time.  Exciting wine to cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 09/07

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 @ 3.25 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in oak cuves;  19 months in 80% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  dry extract 28.9 g/L;  2200 cases;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  very deep.  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,  modern 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 its cooler-climate freshness and fragrance is always evident.  Either this or the more fragrant but fractionally lighter straight 2005 Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels was arguably the best merlot-dominant wine made latterly in New Zealand,  until the advent of the 2005 Church Road wines.  2005 Sophia will cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  CS 74%,  Me 26,  80% hand-picked at c. 2.5 t/ac from 6-year old vines;  cuvaison approx 24 days;  no BF;  22 months in French oak c. 53% new,  no lees stirring;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  hard to differentiate from Tom,  maybe fractionally brighter.  And bouquet likewise is a little lighter,  more obvious florals in the lilac spectrum,  again magnificent dark cassis and rich plum,  plus a hint of darkest chocolate in the oak component,  but very subtle,  nothing crass,  no coffee.  The key difference between this wine and Tom is the velvety saturation of fruit on palate,  which is here fractionally lighter,  the wine seeming a little phenolic in comparison with the velvety rich Tom,  but still outstanding alongside most of the others.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 09/07

2005  Sacred Hill Cabernet / Merlot Helmsman   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  release date 2008;  CS 77%,  Me 22,  CF 1,  hand-picked from 4 year old vines @  just under 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison approx 43 days;  no BF;  14 months in French oak 100% new,  no lees stirring;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  nearly carmine,  a little more developed than the other top wines.  This Helmsman is wonderfully  different from the 2002 and 2004 versions,  all the initial charry oak-related weight having almost disappeared,  and instead the florality of the grapes is clearly showing through.  Bouquet shows deep almost sweet florals in the violets,  dark roses and lilac spectrum,  remarkably Bordeaux-like.  Berry is again very dark cassis,  darkest plums,  plus oak now much more attractively in the background,  just adding potentially cedary aromatics on bouquet,  and the suggestion of darkest chocolate to palate.  Flavour is slightly sterner cassis than The Quarry,  a little more oaky,  but attractively flavoured,  rich,  lingering beautifully.  Only a slight doubt that VA might be approaching threshold kept me below 19 points.  This is another wine to buy with confidence,  and run in blind tastings alongside 2005 Bordeaux classed growths for many years to come.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels Vineyard   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $ –    [ cork;  DFB;  in general,  this is an export label only,  priced around US$35 – however small quantities sometimes appear 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;  dry extract 28 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper.  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 oakier than the Gimblett Gravels Merlot,  but many would prefer it for that.  And aromatics are naturally higher in Te Kahu,  with the cabernet component.  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 09/07

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;  dry extract 28.4 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fractionally lighter than the other Craggy wines.  Bouquet is not quite as complex as the best blends with cabernet.  It is still superbly midnight-dark florals including violets,  plus blackest plum and almost blackberry (in the subtlest sense) as well as cassis,  magically fragrant and pure,  with subtle oak.  It is a little fresher than Sophia,  and total east-bank Bordeaux such as a good classed St Emilion in style.  And the best thing about it is the alcohol seems lower than some of these wines,  though still perfectly ripe.  Palate is velvety rich,  a little lighter than Sophia but still saturated dark berry flavours,  a little rounder than the Church Road Reserve wine,  and there is no hint of sur-maturité.  The new oak is in beautiful balance,  very subtle,  making this in some ways the most elegantly precise and floral example of merlot in the country.  This exquisitely varietal merlot is suited to cellaring 5 – 15 + years.  At c. $31,  it is the best-value premium-quality Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend available (though 2005 Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve ranks too).  For the 2005 vintage,  this affordable Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels is the new gold standard.  Anything better than this is unarguably gold-medal quality !  VALUE  GK 09/07

2005  Te Mata Cabernets / Merlot Coleraine   18 ½ +  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $72   [ cork;  Me 45%,  CS 37,  CF 18,  hand-harvested from vines of average age 20 years;  100% de-stemmed;  20 months in French oak probably around 75% new (if like '04);  the winery believes this is the finest Coleraine yet;  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 a wine such as Ch 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 09/07

2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $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,  some carmine and velvet,  around midway in depth.  The first sniff of this wine is fragrant and floral,  another wine to make one think of classic Medoc classed growths.  The Pask is however more generous in its fruit ripeness and sunnyness than some.  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.  It is appreciably richer than sister wine Merlot Declaration,  though,  and the 2005 Villa Maria Merlot Reserve.  The most wonderful thing about this Pask Declaration is the oak handling,  which despite the 100% new,  seems subtler and lighter than the Cornerstone wine or the Helmsman,  and contrasts vividly with the more oaky approach of earlier Pask years.  Great !  Here the emphasis is more on the berry fruit,  and the wine will be much more food-friendly.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 09/07

2005  Goldwater [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Goldie   18 ½  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $68   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 54%,  Me 54,  hand-harvested @ 0.8 – 1.3 t/ac;  cultured yeast and cuvaison to 22 days for Me,  35 days for CS;  15 months in 50% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.goldwaterwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deeper.  This will be a contentious wine.  Bouquet on Goldie is deep and dark and intensely floral,  but in a midnight-deep way virtually off the colour scale,  with superb depth of dark berry below.  But intertwined with those aromas are the tell-tale fragrant aromas of complex brett too,  in exactly the same way a number of highly-rated classed growths show.  Palate is very rich,  ripe and ample,  but with savoury complexity components that raise the (delicious) thought of bacon and smoked fish,  as well as intense dark cassis,  darkest plum and berry,  pipe tobacco and cedar.   Many technocrat-tasters will dismiss this wine out of hand,  yet it is a stunning Bordeaux style,  which will match some famous names,  Leoville-Barton for example.  So buy this wine for pleasure,  enjoyment,  and world-class achievement in a traditional style,  but be careful to whom you offer it.  Some people like to dissect and destroy academically-faulty wines like this.  They are so preoccupied with technical detail,  they miss out completely on the total stylistic achievement of the wine.  My mark therefore is permissive,  on richness and total hedonistic style.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  maybe longer (though if there is a gram or so of sugar,  the brett will increase).  GK 09/07

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 petit 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,  and it is true that many including Max Lake consider cabernet sometimes shows mint aromatics in the complete absence of eucalypts (as is the case here).  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  Incidentally,  the 1987 Stonyridge Larose is currently perfection (cellared in Wellington's climate) – as seen blind not too long ago with 1986 classed Bordeaux.  It was fully comparable with several of them.  Even so,  pricing is too ambitious for Larose.  At auction the wine does not approach its retail pricing.  And the competition at this quality point is increasing dramatically.  GK 09/07

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;  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.  Cellar 5 – 15 + years.  GK 09/07

2005  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $38   [ cork;  DFB;  CS and Me hand-harvested @ c. 2 t/ac, 100% de-stemmed;  50% BF in French oak via 'Vinification Integrale' in the 400 litre purpose-designed barrel from Tonnellerie Baron,  balance s/s;  c. 16 months in French oak 50% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  another developed colour for the year,  and not as deep as many.  Bouquet on this wine is devastatingly Bordeaux-like,  quite extraordinary,  like a rich Ch. Angludet  or similar,  fragrant with cassisy cabernet and merlot qualities in gentle and not obviously new oak.  In mouth,  the analogy continues,  the berries beautifully ripe,  lovely round tannins,  gentle oak,  a long soft aftertaste.  This will be ready earlier than some.  When the identity is revealed on this wine,  what a revelation.  There is an exciting re-thinking of oak-handling,  and the relative ratio of oak to berry,  taking place at Mills Reef.  The result is more elegant and much more food-friendly wines.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Goldwater Merlot G Block   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 100% hand-harvested,  vinified @ Waiheke;  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation;  c. 12 months in French and American oak,  none new;  www.goldwaterwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet opened shyly,  really needing a lot of swirling to reveal deep florals again in the violets and related camp,  sweet,  pure,  very Medoc (even though it is merlot-dominant).  Below is wonderfully ripe cassisy berry and beautiful oak.  Palate is sturdy Margaux in style,  corduroy rather than velvet in texture as yet,  but showing good richness.  Aftertaste is berry-rich and classical,  shaped by subtle seemingly new oak.  It need several years in bottle,  to soften and communicate.  This wine is beautifully done,  though it is hard to believe there is not a bit of cabernet sauvignon in there,  to produce such cassisy berry complexity.  It teams up with the Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels and Villa Maria Merlot Reserve,  as the new face of merlot in Hawkes Bay.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 09/07

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  3 – 10 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $51   [ screwcap;  Me 86%,  CS 8,  Ma 6,  hand-harvested;  vinified @ Mangere;  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation;  c. 22 months in French and American oak 61% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely fresh colour.  Bouquet on this wine is a little different,  just a suggestion of pennyroyal or lawsoniana aromatics,  these characters highlighted by quite a lot of new French oak.  They merge insensibly into both floral violets and cassisy berry.  Palate melds all these components into attractively dark fruit which is not as oaky as the bouquet suggested,  and shows an attractive balance of Bordeaux-like flavours.  It is not quite as rich as the most-favoured wines,  and acid is fractionally higher than some,  but it is squeaky clean.  It is in a fragrant style reminiscent of Coleraine,  placing elegance before size.  It tastes more like a Merlot / Cabernet,  with clear cassis,  and not quite the ideal plum plumpness for a Reserve Merlot.  But in a sense,  this unpredictability of character is the magic of the Bordeaux blended style in an optimal climate.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  for a supremely fragrant Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend.  GK 09/07

2005  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  release date 2008;  Me 91%,  CS 5,  CF 4,  hand-picked from 5 year old vines @ just under 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison approx 41 days;  no BF;  14.5 months in French oak 100% new,  no lees stirring;  RS < 0.1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  more developed and lighter than Helmsman.  This wine opens quietly,  to gradually reveal merlot in a slightly over-ripe oaky style,  losing florals and subtlety,  showing more a soft rich slightly spicy / leathery plumminess,  which is still well within bounds for warm-year Bordeaux.  Palate follows precisely,  attractive richness and plumpness,  seemingly oakier than the Craggy Merlot Gimblett Gravels,  not quite the precise varietal beauty and richness of sister wine 2005 Helmsman.  Aftertaste is soft and rich,  and the whole wine is attractive in its warmer-climate oakier style.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Puriri Hills [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Reserve   18  ()
Clevedon,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ cork;  Me 40%,  Carmenere 21,  CF 17,  Ma 12,  CS 10,  hand-harvested @ c. 1 t/ac;  cultured yeast and cuvaison up to 28 days,  the Me fraction fermented in a new cuve;  19 months in 80% new French oak;  lightly fined,  not filtered;  www.puririhills.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  deeper than Elspeth or Brokenstone,  but similarly older than some wines.  This wine opens immediately in the modern idiom,  darkly toasty oak influence,  some dark chocolate,  slightly coffee'd,  also a little bretty.  But there is good cassis berry richness here too,  and an attractive weight of fruit,  both cassis and dark plums.  There is just a suggestion of leafyness in the cassis,  no more than Ch Figeac for example often shows,  but enough to keep it out of the top rank.  This wine too is in a Bordeaux style.  Richness and length of flavour are excellent,  and the texture and delicacy of the fruit,  despite the modern oak,  is so different from most Australian cabernets.  The finish in particular shows no added tartaric acid,  for example,  being gentle and lingering,  though a little oaky.  Conversely the hint of green is very comparable with certain machine-picked Coonawarra Cabernets.  Only a technocrat would object to the level of attractively savoury brett-induced complexity in this wine.  The high percentage of the ex Bordeaux / now Chilean grape carmenere is intriguing,  and distinctive in New Zealand.  Cellar 3 – 12 years,  maybe longer.  GK 09/07

2005  Villa Maria Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $51   [ screwcap;  CS 55%,  Me 30,  Ma 15,  hand-harvested;  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  with a longer cuvaison than the Merlot Reserve;  MLF and 24 months in French oak some new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is very youthful as yet,  a firm cassis and oak component not clearly floral,  almost a suggestion of sea-salt (positive).  Flavours however dispel any thought of salinity,  and show  delightful cassis of great purity,  beautifully balanced to fragrant French oak.  It seems not quite as rich as its sister Merlot Reserve,  yet with the added charm of cassisy cabernet,  it is just as attractive.  Though not a big or rich wine,  it achieves a near-perfect cabernet ripeness the Puriri Reserve just misses.  And it is so elegant,  it is hard not to mark it higher.  Both this and the Merlot Reserve are however a little lighter than the top flight,  in 2005.  As noted in the main text,  there was variation in the quality of harvest in Hawkes Bay in 2005,  due to localised rains.  Presumably the Villa Reserve reds were somewhat affected,  since they are lighter than some previous years.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Pask Merlot Declaration   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $48   [ ProCork;  DFB;  if vinification is similar to 2004,  Me 100,  machine harvested;  tail-end BF in 100% new oak 75% French,  25 US;  followed by c. 18 months in barrel;  sterile filtered;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  a little velvet.  Bouquet is in a lighter style than the top wines,  notably complexed by oak into a fragrant pipe tobacco,  leather and bottled red plums expression of merlot.  Palate continues in the same style,  lighter yet with more oak influence than the Goldwater Merlot Block G from Hawkes Bay,  the whole savoury and pleasing,  though a little hard as yet.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/07

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;  www.johnforrest.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  This wine opens a little veiled by trace pure H2S – all it needs is a brisk pouring from jug to jug five times.  Transformed.  It becomes aromatic cassis dominating slightly charry oak,  all looking good.  Palate is exactly the same,  with good berry.  This is another wine with a lot of Bordeaux styling to it,  though not exactly reflecting its cabernet dominance,  being softer than expected.  Since it is under screwcap though,  the reductive note is a worry.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 09/07

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 it with 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  Puriri Hills [ Merlot / Carmenere ] Pope   17 ½  ()
Clevedon,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork;  Me 47%,  Carmenere 33,  CF 10,  Ma 10,  hand-harvested @ c. 1 t/ac;  cultured yeast and cuvaison up to 28 days,  the Me fraction fermented in a new cuve;  19 months in 80% new French oak;  lightly fined,  not filtered;  www.puririhills.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  deeper than the Reserve,  one of the deepest.  One sniff of this,  and one thinks of St Emilion,  a slightly leafy one like Ch. Figeac in many years.  This is richer than the Reserve wine,  but not quite as ripe,  with complex aromatics hinting at trace sautéed red capsicums adding spice to cassis and berries.  Palate is in one sense more fragrant than the bouquet,  the merlot and cabernet franc providing delicate complexity,  in rich tobacco and red bottled plums flavours,  plus again some savoury brett notes.  It is not quite as soft as the Reserve wine,  reflecting higher phenolics / slightly lesser physiological maturity.  By international standards,  the ripeness : price ratio is unsatisfactory.  Cellar 3 – 15 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Goldwater Merlot Esslin   17 +  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.6%;  $90   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 96%,  CS 4,  hand-harvested @ 0.8 – 1.3 t/ac;  cultured yeast and cuvaison to 22 days for Me,  35 days for CS;  15 months in 45% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.goldwaterwine.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet has an oak component which is both bretty in a bacon sense,  and spicy in the sense of the Benfield & Delamare five-spice character that wine sometimes shows.  Palate is rich and plummy in a very Pomerol style,  softer,  broader and richer than the clinically pure Villa Maria Merlot Reserve,  so a hard wine to score.  There is much to like here,  but the brett is a bit above the level at which only technocrats would object.  It is riper than the Puriri Pope,  but more bretty,  so scoring these wines has to be something of a compromise,  requiring juggling of irreconcilable components.  Views on the relativities of these wines will therefore vary quite widely.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Benfield & Delamare Cabernet / Merlot / Franc   17 +  ()
Martinborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $55   [ cork,  wax-dipped;  CS 65,  Me 20,  CF 15,  hand-picked;  a very promising vintage marred for late-season producers (such as Bordeaux-blenders in Martinborough) by rain in the second week of April;  99 cases;  www.benfieldanddelamare.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet,  quite oak-affected in colour alongside the Craggys,  for example.  Bouquet is very distinctive,  dominated by this nutmeg / fivespice oak Benfield & Delamare have made their trademark,  to the extent it is hard to detect the exact fruit quality on bouquet,  but it is berry-rich and fruity.  Palate shows quite rich but relatively simple plummy fruit,  good ripeness,  and reasonable length,  but at this stage,  the oak is all-pervasive.  I don't see the harmony and body the merlot-dominant 2003 showed (from memory),  and I have this fear that with age,  coffee undertones will develop,  rather than berry complexity.  Merlot suffered in 2005.  But once again,  the proprietors have shown that with intense management,  Bordeaux blends (even cabernet-dominant) can be properly ripened in Martinborough.  This wine is physiologically more mature than the Puriri wines,  for example.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Passage Rock Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   17 +  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  14%;  $39   [ screwcap;  DFB;  ex winery price;  CS 90%,  Me 5,  CF 5,  hand-harvested;  15 months in American oak,  60% new;  www.passagerockwines.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than many.  Bouquet is wildly different from all the other wines in the blind tasting.  It is as if a 1966 McWilliams Cabernet had suddenly been reincarnated,  showing intense slightly leafy cassis,  very obvious American oak [ later confirmed ] with the faintest carbolic edge to it,  and in total a remarkably big volume of bouquet.  Palate is rich,  but with slightly less than optimally ripe cassis like the Puriri Pope,  and slightly acid.  The American oak really is out of balance for the weight and ripeness of the fruit,  which shows red currants as well as cassis and red plums.  A wine with a lot of character,  but needing to mellow in cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Mills Reef Merlot / Malbec Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $21   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 51%,  Ma 49,  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s ferment;  12 months in one and two-year French oak;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby.  On bouquet this wine goes straight to minor Bordeaux,  Entre Deux Mers or similar,  where wines are merlot-dominant,  but not as noble as the main Medoc and St Emilion / Pomerol districts.  Thus there is not so much violets florals as a vague floral / leafy component,  in red fruits only.  Palate is pro rata exactly,  slightly leafy,  a hint of acid,  quite a different calibre of wine from the Elspeth Cabernet / Merlot.  Yet in its fragrant lightly-oaked fresh style,  it will be food-friendly and pleasing.  It appeared to be not bone-dry,  in the blind tasting [ later confirmed ].  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Alwyn   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels 53% & Ngatarawa Triangle 47%,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 95%,  CS 5,  hand-harvested @ c. 2.5 t/ac,  13 months in 95% French oak 60% new,  the American oak all older;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a little velvet.  Freshly opened the bouquet is unusual,  and slightly negative on a liniment note.  A good splashy decanting is called for.  The wine opens to red fruits which are hard to pin down,  with a slight stalky / peppery note almost as if there were some under-ripe syrah,  plus bush honey.  Palate however is riper than anticipated,  though lacking concentration.  It is pleasantly fruited in its gently oaked style,  but the wine does not seem to show the qualities the harvest data would suggest.  This label needs a more rigorous barrel selection,  I think.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Sacred Hill Merlot / Cabernet Basket Press   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $18   [ screwcap;  Me 79%,  CS 10,  Ma 6,  Sy & CF 5;  12 months in French oak some new;  mostly sourced Gimblett Gravels;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  slight carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is clear berry in an austere way,  some firm cassis,  very dry,  a little closed-in with retained fermentation odours.  Palate continues in the same vein,  the flavour tending austere,  like sucking on sub-optimally ripe plum stones,  yet the oak is light and the balance is good.  This is not as 'winey' and beguiling as some of the faulty wines !  Should look more accessible after several years in bottle.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Puriri Hills Estate [ Merlot / Cabernets ]   16 +  ()
Clevedon,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ supercritical cork;  Me 63%,  CS 17,  CF 11,  Ma 9,  hand-harvested;  cultured yeast;  French oak;  www.puririhills.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than the other 2005 Puriri Estate wines.  Bouquet is very complex indeed.  There are all levels of ripeness from the capsicum suggestions of Marlborough cabernet through to plummy fruit,  all complexed by both brett and oak to make a quite rich winestyle.  Palate unfortunately brings up a sautéed red capsicum component,  relative to the cassis and plum,  so though quite rich,  the wine lacks physiological ripeness of flavour.  Yet the acid balance is good,  the oak is gentle and older,  and the whole wine will be soft and food-friendly.  Interesting,  good with pizza,  but veering to the eccentric.  Marginal for cellaring,  3 – 10 years.  GK 09/07

2005  Karikari Estate Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec   16  ()
Karikari Peninsula,  North Auckland (NE of Kaitaia),  New Zealand:  12.6%;  $30   [ supercritical cork;  ex winery price;  Me 52%,  CS 35,  Ma 13,  hand-harvested;  11 months in American & French oak;  www.karikariestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  A complex bouquet,  with clear cassisy and fairly dark plum showing good berry ripeness and fruit,  but also fragrant,  savoury,  bretty and bacony oak.  Palate is intriguing for the exact degree of fruit ripeness achieved,  so different from many North Auckland cabernet / merlot blends.  There is no leafiness.  This is real physiological maturity at a traditional Bordeaux alcohol level – exciting.  There is however a sea-salt character,  though it is hard to isolate its significance against the intense brett savoury smells and flavours.  The Karikari Peninsula looks an exciting spot for North Auckland viticulture,  sufficiently far away from mainland humidity.  Once winery issues are sorted out,  this will be a place to watch.  There must be other very promising spots along the Aupori Peninsula and on North Cape block proper,  awaiting planting.  Marginal for cellaring,  3 – 12 years.  GK 09/07

2003  Herzog [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Spirit of Marlborough   15  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $56   [ cork;  not yet released;  2005 not available,  2003 offered;  if details similar 2001,  will be Me 60%,  CS 15,  CF 15,  Ma 10,  hand-harvested @ very low cropping rates (@ 500 g / vine,  one quarter the load per vine of Villa Maria Reserve wines,  but planting density unknown);  wild-yeast ferment,  c. 21 days cuvaison;  24 months in French oak 40% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  not fined or filtered;  www.herzog.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is clean and fragrant,  but is another one with a clear sautéed red capsicums quality,  in old / fading bottled plums,  which is not very red-winey.  Both bouquet and palate have a slightly carbolic quality to them,  as if there were some American oak (not so),  so more likely to be a transformation of the methoxypyrazines of physiologically immature cabernet sauvignon.  Palate is quite rich,  but the lack of physiological maturity and ripeness gives austere and stalky flavours.  These fruit qualities are immutable,  as the 1976 Montana black label Cabernet Sauvignon has shown in the ensuing years (even with all the advantages of the first-crop syndrome).  Notwithstanding the great advances in viticultural understanding since then,  growing cabernet sauvignon in Marlborough is a mistake,  now as then.  Given the attention which is lavished on these grapes,  all efforts should be focussed on merlot,  with perhaps 5% cabernet franc maximum.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 09/07