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

The annual arrival of the latest batch of en primeur Bordeaux in New Zealand is an eagerly awaited event for keen wine-lovers.  Scenic Cellars in Taupo have made something of a feature of this in recent years,  by presenting a tasting of some of the more distinguished wines shortly after they get here.  This year it is the highly-reputed 2005 vintage (see comparative chart in the 1982 Bordeaux report on this site,  12 Oct 2008),  but the price of the wines,  and particularly the first growths which Scenic Cellars like to present,  created costing difficulties for a similar event this year.  

Since 2005 was also remarkable for some producers in Hawkes Bay,  the Gimblett Gravels WineGrowers Association,  represented by Rod Easthope of Craggy Range,  somehow hatched the notion with Scenic Cellars' Ian Isaacs,  that there should be a blind tasting of the 2005s of both districts – six Bordeaux and six Gimblett Gravels wines,  some cabernet-dominant,  some merlot dominant,  as characterises both districts.  The New Zealand wines would be selected by the eminent Australian wineman James Halliday,  to avoid local bias,  and the Bordeaux would be selected by Scenic Cellars.  The Halliday notes referred to in the wine reviews were compiled at that point.

Such an approach could serve both as a benchmarking exercise for this new district with its great aspirations,  and at the same time cut down the cost of the whole exercise.  In the event however,  as is so often the case in wine affairs,  an eight-course dinner to conclude the tasting was added,  raising the ticket price again to $550.  There is a dilemma in this approach.  The tasting took place on Saturday 18 October.  

As the Gimblett Gravels WineGrowers Association say in their website www.gimblettgravels.com and the press release for this tasting,  the area adjoins the inland State Highway 50 WNW of Hastings.  It is a viticultural district formed on the outwash gravels of the Ngaruroro River,  and is defined strictly by soil type (a rarity in world terms).  It amounts to 800 hectares,  and now supports more than 30 vineyards on land that only a generation ago was dismissed as 'useless' by local farmers.  It is becoming famous for both its Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends,  and its syrah.  It is worth noting however that in the enthusiasm for the district,  there is a tendency to overlook the probability that in some seasons,  the district may prove too hot for subtle European-styled merlot and syrah.  Those who aspire to the more ample Napa style for their wines are not too worried about this caveat.  

The Tasting:
The tasting was held in Scenic Cellars' remarkable underground showcase cellar.  Walking into this space,  and seeing the 28 places set out with a tasting mat much larger than A3-size,  each bearing 12 Spiegelau Bordeaux Authentis formal large glasses,  was a remarkable sight – a sparkling sea of crystal.

The tasting itself was a challenge,  the 12 wines being presented completely blind.  Once a few introductory remarks had been dispensed with,  the concentration and total silence evidenced by these 28 people was enchanting,  for the first 40 minutes or so.  Participants included mostly winemakers and wine growers,  some winewriters,  and several keen enthusiasts.  Some of these people were also wine judges or MWs (or both).  And clearly,  there were some lovely wines amongst the 12,  but tasters were initially guarded as to what was what.  Discussion of the wines was convened by James Halliday from Australia,  and Elin McCoy from America,  both noted winewriters and judges.  Tension mounted as tasters went out on a limb in trying to characterise this or that wine,  but despite the wine qualifications so many of the participants had,  it was noticeable that few ventured to 'identify' any wine,  or even say whether it was Bordeaux or Hawkes Bay.  That speaks volumes for the quality of the wines,  across the board.

As a person interested in total wine style achievement first and foremost,  but with some attention to technical components too,  to be tasting amongst so many winemakers and some MWs can be un-nerving.  It was therefore a great relief to me to hear conflicting views presented about the same wine.  It emphasised the fact in wine appreciation and possible purchase,  that in seeking an advisor,  one must locate a person who first and foremost is consistent,  and then whose palate suits your own.  

In ranking the wines,  as a first step tasters were asked to list their top six wines in order of preference – these forms were collected.  Then discussion ensued.  No progress vote was taken on the ranking of each wine as they were worked through,  but some kind of consensus emerged about the quality of some of them.  Their origin and identity however remained delightfully obscure,  until the ranking and ID schedules were handed out at the conclusion of that session.  It is fair to say there was some astonishment,  at that point.

Tony Bish of Sacred Hill highlighted a key issue,  when he pointed out that the wines fell into two camps.  Essentially they could be characterised as on the one hand wines which were more evolved in character,  and more complex on bouquet,  and those which were more vibrant and youthful in their relatively pure berry / oak characters.  Several of the wines with older colours also showed trace brett and oxidation notes in their complexity,  bespeaking old world winemaking.  And when the identification schedule for the 12 blind wines was finally handed out,  so it turned out to be.

What was not stated but became glaringly apparent on a moment's reflection,  is that how the wines are ranked will therefore vary enormously from venue to venue.  In a place such as London,  where style is paramount,  and technicalities lesser,  the more complex (and familiar !) characteristics of old-world winemaking (faults and all) will be rated more highly.  In this new world New Zealand tasting,  with so many winemakers present,  and where so many keen tasters are likewise strongly influenced by a more technocratic approach to winemaking,  technical excellence and purity of fruit expression are going to be rated more highly,  provided the wine has appropriate concentration and elevage parameters.

So in one sense,  when it comes to wine tastings,  never the twain shall meet,  and the results of a tasting in one place can easily be mocked by the inhabitants of another.  It is the same with all judgings.  To try to minimise this,  the organisers decided to use only the rankings of the winewriters for follow-up publicity about the tasting,  and publishing a grand ranking of the wines.   The thought was that experienced winewriters,  particularly if they happen to be industry judges as well,  offer an impartiality in achieving a final ranking,  quite independently of the views of the organisers,  the Gimblett Gravels WineGrowers.  And perhaps they might better reconcile the total achievement of each wine relative to any slight technical 'faults' it may display.  Whereas winemakers might in contrast be thought 'too technical',  particularly in respect of the current hot topic,  brett,  which in absolute trace amounts adds such a wonderful savoury dimension to wine.  This caveat must be remembered,  when considering the final winewriters' ranking for the 12 wines.  

Ranking of the 12 'Bordeaux Blends' at Scenic Cellars 18 October 2008,  by 9 winewriters:  

1:Blake Family Vineyards 'Redd Gravels'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ$75
2:Ch Lafite-RothschildPauillac First Growth, Bordeaux, France$1050 – 1950
3:Sacred Hill 'Helmsman'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ$70
4:Mills Reef 'Elspeth'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ$40
5:Ch Mouton-RothschildPauillac First Growth, Bordeaux, France$1050 – 1650
6:Trinity Hill 'The Gimblett'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ$30
7:Craggy Range 'Sophia'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, NZ$50
8:Ch Troplong-MondotSt Emilion Grand Cru Classe, Bordeaux, France$265 – 600
9:Ch Haut-BrionPessac-Leognan First Growth, Bordeaux, France$745 – 1650
10:Newton-Forrest 'Cornerstone'Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand$40
11:Ch l'Eglise-ClinetPomerol (highly-rated), Bordeaux, France$610 – 1350
12:Ch Cos d'EstournelSt Estephe Second Growth, Bordeaux, France$350 – 400

[ Prices are difficult to provide,  particularly for the Bordeaux.  For the en primeur (or futures) trade,  the French release the more expensive wines in successive tranches,  each usually more than the batch preceding it.  Astute New Zealand merchants try to secure all they need in the first tranche,  not always with complete success.  On top of the initial en primeur price,  a little over two years later when the wines are delivered,  there is an additional freight,  duty,  sales tax and GST addition approximating slightly more than 20% of the first price.  Later sales are at full retail,  which tend to reflect the final tranche,  multiplied up.  The price bracket given for the Bordeaux shows an optimal final landed en primeur cost on the one hand,  averaging several merchants,  and a current retail as illustrated by Scenic Cellars.  2005 was the first vintage for which the first growths would cost more than $1000 per bottle landed,  en primeur.  Wine lovers found this sobering.  It is fair to record that Scenic Cellars en primeur prices have over several years tended to be higher than most New Zealand merchants specialising in this trade,  which carries over into their final RRP.  Not many wine retailers have the selection of 2005 Bordeaux Scenic Cellars now have,  however.  The New Zealand wines are shown at their original (or current for some– the Redd is just released) release price. ]      

The wine reviews which follow reflect my final ranking of the wines,  taking note of all the comments offered in discussion,  and sometimes being influenced by them.  For example at one stage I had marked a very floral and pretty wine as my top one,  but later realised it did not have quite the body and stuffing to also make a great 15 or 20-year wine – as top cabernet / merlot and related winestyles should.  I have added in a number of other reviews in the 'admin' section,  to highlight the range of opinions being offered on these wines.  In a country like New Zealand,  it is important we take note of a cross-section of overseas reviews,  and not just promulgate those that serve our interests.  These reviews of both overseas and local wines raise interesting implications,  not only in terms of wine quality per se,  but also in relation to the author's viewpoint.

I have already reviewed a number of these 2005 vintage New Zealand reds in the tasting article (18 Dec. 2007) which accompanies the formal account:  The Evolution of Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay Blends in New Zealand,  to 2005 (16 July 2008).  It was a pleasure to find several of the wines favoured in the earlier review continuing to look fully international in style and quality,  when tasted blind intermingled with 2005 Bordeaux of high repute.  In the 'Evolution' article,  I had a section saying the quality of the New Zealand wines was now such that the time had arrived to present a carefully structured annual review of our top Hawkes Bay blends in London each year,  the wines presented blind and matched against selected Bordeaux wines of the same vintage.  This tasting at Scenic Cellars reinforced the timeliness of the proposal,  but also highlighted how carefully and competently the tasting must be convened,  if the differing perspectives of old world and new world tasters are to be constructively reconciled.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of the tasting for me was a slight sense of disappointment,  that the much-reputed 2005 Bordeaux wines did not stand out as dramatically better than the top 2000s or even 2003s.  None of the wines left me with such a vivid impression of absolute quality and achievement as the 2003 Montrose,  two years ago,  also at a Scenic Cellars en primeur tasting.   In discussion afterwards,  to my further surprise,  somewhat similar thoughts were evident in the musings of Steve Smith,  Rod Easthope and James Halliday.  The latter murmured at one point (referring to some of the famous labels):  All too often,  the gods do indeed have feet of clay;  and:  I got the good wines,  it just is I had their location wrong !  It turned out that four of James' top 6 were in fact Gimblett Gravels wines.  

As a wineman of the world,  somebody like Halliday has attended many more tastings of top French wines than anybody in New Zealand,  and often in the company of some of the world's finest palates,  so his conclusions are of critical relevance to the aspirations of the Gimblett Gravels producers.  The message from this has to be,  there are going to be some simply sensational Gimblett Gravels / Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux 2005 tastings in the years to come,  particularly when perhaps more suitable wines selected from the middle ranks and second growths of Bordeaux (such as Cantemerle,  Montrose and Pichon Lalande) are deployed in the Bordeaux team.  Roll on 2010, for the first round.

However one actually sequences the wines (and the introductory notes for some of the wines below show there is plenty of scope for differing views,  from overseas just as much as locally),  the results of this tasting are exhilarating for Hawkes Bay as a whole,  and in this particular context,  for the organising group Gimblett Gravels WineGrowers Association.  The best Bordeaux blends of the Hawkes Bay district walk in the same league as some of the greatest examples of the winestyle on earth.  The differences are more of subtle style and perception than of absolute quality,  though as noted,  geography and familiarity greatly affect the conclusions and ranking any single judging panel reaches.  

This tasting therefore highlights the immediate need for an annual London comparison of the red wines of Hawkes Bay and Bordeaux.  The wines however should be more carefully chosen,  and the presentation more structured (as earlier outlined).  Locally,  this tasting or something very similar to it should be repeated in five years,  and 10 years,  when the Hawkes Bay wines will be more mellow and accessible,  and probably seem even closer to the Bordeaux wines.  
Meanwhile,  the results amply fulfill the predictions of Decanter magazine's vastly-experienced claret man Steven Spurrier,  when in the November 2006 issue he asked if Bordeaux-lovers could find equivalent-quality wines elsewhere in the world.  He concluded:
For me, New Zealand, particularly Hawke's Bay, remains with Napa the natural home of the claret lover. There is perhaps a reserve, at least a lack of flamboyance, in the wines [ of Hawkes Bay ].

Acknowledgements:  It is a pleasure to record that three Hawkes Bay wineries enabled my sharing in this hors classe 2005 Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends tasting experience at Scenic Cellars.  They are Craggy Range winery (via Rod Easthope and Steve Smith),  Esk Valley Estate (via Gordon Russell) and Trinity Hill winery (via John Hancock).  They do not necessarily agree with or endorse every detail of this independent report,  however.  I also greatly appreciated Scenic Cellars management allowing me to occupy a corner of their space,  to concentrate on the wines privately after the tasting.  They had much on their minds at that moment in preparing for the dinner.


2005  Blake Family Vineyards [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Redd Gravels
2005  Ch Cos d'Estournel
2005  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Sophia
2005  Ch l'Eglise-Clinet
2005  Ch Haut-Brion
2005  Ch Lafite-Rothschild
2005  Mills Reef [ Cabernet Sauvignon ] Elspeth
  2005  Ch Mouton-Rothschild
2005  Newton – Forrest [ Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec ] Cornerstone
2005  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Ornellaia
2005  Sacred Hill [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Helmsman
2005  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Malbec ] The Gimblett
2005  Ch Troplong-Mondot

2005  Craggy Range [ Merlot / Cabernets ] Sophia   19 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 62%,  CF 34,  CS 4;  average vine age 6 years;  80% new French barriques for 19 months;  2300 cases;  Halliday: A faint whiff of cedar, even tobacco, along with black fruits on the bouquet; has great drive and energy to the palate,  and a very long finish;  JR 2/08:  Deep crimson but weaker rim. Very winning and flattering – quite alive and pungent. Round. The Cabernet Franc really helps to give it fragrance and freshness. 17;  WS 5/08:  Very concentrated, with sweaty saddle leather flavors battling black currant, mineral and violet tones. Lead pencil, peat moss and gripping tannins linger on the leathery finish. Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Drink now through 2010. 500 cases imported.  86;  N. Martin 4/08:  The 2005 Sophia is a blend of 62% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, hand-picked, de-stemmed and aged for 19 months in French oak of which 80% is new. It displays a less ostentatious nose but has even better delineation with scents of red cherries, wild strawberry and gravel, the palate full-bodied and ripe with layers of thick black fruits on the backward finish. It needs serious cellaring. 93;  GK 19;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the richest,  densest and most velvety of all the wines.  Bouquet is much more opulent and large-scale than The Gimblett wine,  yet at the same time,  to first sniff it is reserved,  even austere in the sense of very youthful,  right now.  Darkest fragrant nearly floral plum dominates,  but again with cassis qualities too:  good merlot really is very bright and fragrant in the New Zealand viticultural milieu.  Palate however is immediately sumptuous,  no other word for it,  the richest of all the wines,  with the promise of fresh aromatic fruit flavours to come.  It is all tightly held in check by oak,  at this stage.  It is therefore not as fragrant and accessible as some of the other wines,  but it will cellar much longer,  10 – 30 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Blake Family Vineyards [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Redd Gravels   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.1%;  $75   [ cork;  Me 40%,  CS 30,  CF 30;  average vine age 5 years;  100% new French barriques for 18 months;  298 cases;  Halliday: Very good colour; medium bodied, but complex; good balance of cassis, blackcurrant and redcurrant fruits backed by subtle tannins and integrated oak; long finish and after taste;  GK: 19 +;  this wine was referred to as: '2005  Blake Family Vineyard Merlot / Cabernet' in the Dec. 2007 review.  The name 'Redd' alludes to the proprietor's interest in trout fishing,  which first brought him to New Zealand,  and introduced him to the Ngaruroro River.  Reflecting on the quality of the current gravels in the river for trout spawning,  combined with the quality of older now-dryland phases of the same gravels for viticulture,  led to the name,  which combines two of the passions in Mark Blake's life;  www.bfvwine.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in density.  Freshly opened the wine has an aromatic quality on bouquet which is quite exotic,  hinting at lemon balm.  It quickly marries down into an intensely cassisy wine like The Gimblett,  yet richer,  moving towards Sophia.  Palate is magical,  the best points of both wines,  wonderfully berry-rich and aromatic,  the oak showing a little much at this stage.  It is completely in a ripe-year Bordeaux style,  Margaux-like (district) maybe,  but with more immaculate winemaking than many.  Halliday described this as:  one of the great wines in the line up.  In the 'Evolution' article referred to in the introductory text,  I have discussed the unfortunate loss of then-proprietor Mark Blake to New Zealand winemaking.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch Haut-Brion   19  ()
Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $745   [ cork;  optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $745,  retail up to $1650;  CS 56%,  Me 39,  CF 5;  average vine age 30 years;  100% new French oak barriques for 24-27 months;  15000 cases;  Parker  4/08: Another profound effort from Haut-Brion, the 2005 (a 9,000-case blend of 56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc) has bulked up to the point that it is fair to compare it to the great successes of 1989, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2000. A dark ruby/purple color is followed by a nuanced, noble bouquet of blue and red fruits interwoven with wet stones, unsmoked cigar tobacco, scorched earth, and spring flowers. The wine is full-bodied, pure, and complex as well as exceptionally elegant with laser-like precision. The tannins are still serious and substantial, and in that sense, this is a completely different style of Haut-Brion than the opulent, silky-textured 1989 and 1990. As I have written before, it comes across as an improved, more concentrated and structured version of the 1995 or 1998. Patience will be required for this stunner. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2040+  98;  WS 3/08: This is incredible on the nose, showing coffee cake, blackberry, floral, coffee bean and vanilla bean, with Chinese spices. A very complex, full-bodied red, with seamless, hyperpolished tannins that caress every millimeter of the palate. Lasts for minutes. So beautifully balanced, I'm left speechless. Is it even better than the 1989? Best after 2017. 9,080 cases made.  100;  JR 4/06: 56% M 39% CS, 5% CF (45% [of the crop used] in grand vin). Very very dark crimson with maroon rim. Truly great, very savoury, appetising absolutely classic, true Haut-Brion scents of minerals as a grace note on extraordinary ripeness without fatness. Bravissimo! What delicacy with power! There is masses and masses dug in underneath here – weight and tannin and dryness on the finish but it’s all covered with a fine cashmere blanket. A tiny bit of heat on the end? Extraordinary fan of flavours. Great lift and precision and then length. Absolutely no sweetness – what a contrast to many of yesterday’s St-Emilions! You wouldn’t think they were at all in the same region… 19.5;  www.haut-brion.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  clearly older and much more oak-influenced than the other top wines,  above midway in the set for depth.  Bouquet likewise is in a more evolved style than the berry-rich top two,  less vibrantly berried,  the fruit more floral and integrated with darkly tobacco-y and cedary oak,  all wonderfully fragrant.  Palate shows exactly the same integration,  softer and more mellow,  velvety as if an older wine.  The quality of cassisy fruit hidden within the wine is still excellent,  though,  once one looks.  Along with several of the Bordeaux,  one can only wonder at the evident new oak in young Bordeaux nowadays.  It is fashionable to decry new world wines for their excessive oak,  but these French wines are an eye-opener.  In size and concentration,  the Haut-Brion is between The Gimblett and Sophia,  more like the Redd,  but richer,  softer and older.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch l'Eglise-Clinet   18 ½ +  ()
Pomerol,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $610   [ cork;   optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $610,  retail up to $1350;  Me 85%,  CF 15;  average vine age 40 years;  80% new French oak for 18 months;  1500 cases;  Parker 4/08: A sensational effort from proprietor Denis Durantou, this 2005 is a compelling wine, but purchasers should wait at least a decade to begin the magical liquid tour. One of the monumental wines of the vintage, it boasts a dense purple color as well as a glorious perfume of caramelized blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, a hint of toast in the backward, fully integrated oak, full body, and exceptional density and richness. Prodigiously concentrated, this layered, broad Pomerol reveals a seamless integration of acidity, tannin, alcohol, and wood. It is a massive, yet remarkably elegant wine that is as singular as it is exhilarating. Anticipated maturity: 2017-2040. 100;  WS 3/08:  Dark ruby in color. Fabulous aromas of blackberry, tobacco, black olive and brown sugar follow through to a full body, with incredibly velvety tannins that go on and on and caress the palate for minutes. Shows class and complexity. Stunning. The greatest young wine ever from this producer. Best after 2016. 1,375 cases made.  98;  JR 4/06:  1st sample: Dark, bright purple. Rich, round, rather cool and long term – fine and refined. Much less opulent than I would have expected. 2nd sample: Rich, velvety, cool and slightly gassy. More than 14 per cent alcohol. Quite different from 2003!!  18 ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  pretty well midway in depth.  Bouquet is classically fully ripe to over-ripe merlot as one understands it,  florals in the deep red roses spectrum,  and unequivocal bottled dark plums fruit.  In mouth it is velvety rich,  much more developed than Sophia,  but pointed in the same direction,  softer and more mellow.  It is not quite evident why this should be 100-point wine in the Parker hierarchy,  being neither the richest in the set,  or the most vibrant or otherwise remarkable.  There is a suggestion of sur-maturité on the palate,  but it is benchmark merlot,  contrasting vividly with the cassisy cabernet-led Haut-Brion it sat alongside.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch Mouton-Rothschild   18 ½ +  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $1,050   [ cork;  DFB;  optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $1050,  retail up to $1650;  CS 85%,  Me 14,  CF 1;  average vine age 48 years;  100% new French barriques for 19-22 months;  25000 cases;  Parker 4/08:  The 2005 Mouton Rothschild will have to take a back seat to the prodigious 2006 … A blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest mostly Merlot, the dark purple-hued 2005 exhibits a restrained but promising nose of cedar, tobacco leaf, creme de cassis, and toasty oak. Full-bodied, tannic, and extremely backward, with the vintage’s tell-tale acidity, it appears to be even more closed in the bottle than it was from barrel. It does possess a long finish and multilayered mouthfeel. This is an undeniably outstanding, yet restrained, shy wine for a Mouton Rothschild. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2040+ 96;   WS 3/08:  Dark purple black in color. Complex aromas of mineral, licorice, lead pencil and blackberry follow through to a full body, with ultrafine tannins and a caressing, pretty finish. Has a lovely texture. Shows elegance and refinement. Best after 2012.  95;  JR 4/06:  13.1 per cent alcohol compared with the more usual 12.3–12.8 per cent. Extremely deep crimson. Blackish tinge. Very dense and an interesting edge to it but, unusually, intensely sweet for a Pauillac first growth. Even hints of tar and game. Not as dense as some. Very raw at the moment – lots and lots fruit. The tannins are much less marked than on most – perhaps because the fruit is so ripe. Silky texture – but the overriding impression is one of sweetness. Bigger than the 2004 served immediately after but Mouton 2004 looks awfully good, if quite forward, now. Just 64 per cent of the crop went into the grand vin, so this is the smallest production of the grand vin for 25 years (not counting 1991 and 1977 which suffered such extreme weather conditions). 18.5;  www.bpdr.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the older ones,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately cedary and fragrant,  with a suggestion of the elusive aromatic the Redd wine shows,  and an academic touch of brett complexity.  Below is cassisy fruit lifted by a trace of VA,  more ester than acid.  Palate shows a complex synthesis of fruit,  berry and oak,  all in a softer more evolved style than the New Zealand wines,  more what the best New Zealand ones will show in another five years.  The quality of the cedary oak on the finish is exceptional,  the fruit long and smooth,  richer than the Lafite,  surprisingly developed.  The comparison of this 85% cabernet wine with the 85% merlot l'Eglise-Clinet is breathtaking.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Malbec ] The Gimblett   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $30   [ supercritical cork;  DFB;  Me 61%,  Ma 21,  PV 11,  CF 5,  CS  2,  hand-picked at c. 2.75 t/ac;  average vine age 10 years;  oak 40% new 'predominantly' French for 20 months;  600 cases;  WS 2008:  Firm and brawny, with peat moss, dark chocolate and black olive character framing black currant fruit. Herb notes, toasty, spicy oak and surly tannins extend through the finish. Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and others. Drink now through 2009. 542 cases made.  83;  Bob Campbell: 93;  Halliday: Delicious redcurrant/berry bouquet; a supple, smooth and elegant wine, no more than medium bodied, but with harmony and length to the intense palate;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is intensely floral and fragrant,  showing all the beauty of classical (as opposed to modern) Bordeaux,  where the berries spoke louder than the oak and the elevation.  There is an almost wallflower / violets / syrah-like floral depth to perfect cassisy berry,  wonderfully poised and elegant.  Palate follows in the same style,  not the biggest of the wines,  tasting astonishingly cabernet-like for a merlot-dominant wine,  slightly fresh acid,  a little lean,  but elegant.  The florality of this wine wins high praise from me,  the whole winestyle reminding of good 1966 or '96 Bordeaux when young – the unqualified bargain of the tasting.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch Lafite-Rothschild   18 +  ()
Pauillac,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $1,050   [ cork;  optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $1050,  retail up to $1950;  CS 89%,  Me 10.5,  PV 0.5%,  average vine age 40 years;  100% new French barriques for 18-20 months;  25000 cases;  Parker 4/08: While the 2005 is another brilliantly classic Lafite Rothschild, for my taste, it comes in slightly behind their extraordinarily opulent 2003 as well as the dramatically powerful 2000. A blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Merlot, the 2005 boasts a dark ruby/purple color in addition to that exceptional Lafite perfume of graphite, spring flowers, crushed rocks, and sweet black cherry and black currant fruit that exudes class and nobility. The wine is medium-bodied with extremely high levels of tannin in addition to sensational purity, length, and overall harmony. However, it is exceptionally backward, and even more tannic than either the 1995 or 1996. Anticipated maturity: 2020-2050+. 96 +;  WS 3/08:  Delivers blackberry, dried porcini, tobacco and licorice aromas. Full-bodied, with layers of velvety tannins and loads of dark chocolate, cigar box, currant, berry and mineral. The finish is long, with a coffee, almost meaty, aftertaste. Very beautiful and balanced. Best after 2013.  98;  www.lafite.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  clearly the freshest and most youthful of the Bordeaux,  close in hue to the Mills Reef,  the lightest of all the wines.  Bouquet is fine-grained and fragrant,  with much vanillin oak overt at this stage,  cassisy berry below.  Palate is cassis and oak,  TA slightly higher than the Mouton,  some chocolatey undertones from toast,  just a hint of leanness like Trinity's The Gimblett,  but more petite.  Aftertaste is a little unusual,  just a hint of radish in the berry / new oak amalgam – a passing phase,  I'm sure.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Newton – Forrest [ Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec ] Cornerstone   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 49%, Me 26,  Ma 17,  CF 8,  65% hand-harvested,  balance machine @ < 2.5 t/ac,  average vine age 11 years;  70% French oak,  30 US,  1/3 new, 1/3 one-year and 1/3 two-year;  coarse-filtered only;  c. 1000 cases;  Halliday: Excellent clear colour; aromatic juicy berry fruits seamlessly interwoven with spicy oak; has length and great overall finesse;  GK: 18.5;  www.forrestwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly below midway in depth.  Bouquet is classic classed Medoc,  nearly floral,  clear cassis,  a lot of oak,  astonishingly like the Lafite it sat against,  while blind.  As with all the New Zealand wines,  palate is fresher and less evolved than the Bordeaux,  more pure (which could be called one-dimensional if one were so a-minded),  with apparent cassis and oak.  This wine does not have the saturation of berry The Gimblett shows,  and is a little firmer and oakier than the Lafite.  Otherwise,  the degree of similarity between the two wines is staggering.  One slight difference is a lovely touch of black pepper hinting at syrah,  like The Gimblett.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Sacred Hill [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Helmsman   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  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;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  RS < 0.2 g/L;  200 cases;  Halliday: A fragrant bouquet with blackcurrant and spice aromas which flow through to the palate; well integrated oak, and pleasantly savoury tannins.  N. Martin 4/08:  The 2005 Helmsman Cabernet/Merlot has a rich, opulent nose that lacks some definition and finesse: black cherries, cassis and violets. The palate is rich and decadent with a lot of extraction and a backward, almost heavy-handed mocha-laced finish. This needs a little time to sort itself out, but I would have preferred less oak than the current 75%. 88 +;  GK: 18.5;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is big and obvious,  cassis,  plum and nearly blackberry fruit lifted by subliminal VA more ester than acid,  on noticeable oak.  The whole bouquet looks unknit and youthful at this stage.  Palate is intensely cassisy,  the oak potentially cedary,  but the wine seems young and very oaky right now – a quite different impression from my previous review.  Only fair to note my assessment was a minority view on the day,  but it is important to record one's own (checked) views.  I await the next blind encounter with it eagerly.  A wine to put aside for five years at least,  and cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch Cos d'Estournel   17 ½ +  ()
Saint Estephe Second Growth,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $350   [ cork;  optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $350,  retail up to $400;  CS 78%,  Me 19  CF 3 CF;  average vine age 35 years,  80% new French oak barriques for 22 months;  20000 cases;  Parker 4/08: While I am not convinced the 2005 Cos d’Estournel will eclipse the compelling 2003 Cos, it is unquestionably another superb classic … Made from an unusually high percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon (78%) and the balance mostly Merlot with a tiny dollop of Cabernet Franc, this superb effort requires plenty of time in the bottle. It boasts an inky/purple color as well as a glorious perfume of licorice, Asian spices, creme de cassis, blackberries, and toasty oak. This full-bodied St.-Estephe is exceptionally powerful, pure, and dense with a layered mid-palate that builds like a skyscraper. While there are massive tannins, they are remarkably velvety and well-integrated in this big, backstrapping effort that should enjoy an unusually long life. Forget it for 8-10 years, and drink it between 2017-2040. 98;  WS 3/08:  Black in color, with aromas of orange peel, new leather, currant, berry and Christmas pudding. Full-bodied, with layers of velvety tannins and a long, long finish of fruit and spices. The cashmere texture is all there. 2003 plus 2000 equals 2005. Best after 2015. 25,000 cases made. 98;  JR 4/06:  Wonderfully intense, healthy purplish crimson. Restrained nose – rather cool impression despite the record alcohols that rose to 15 per cent for some Merlots. The finished wine is just below 14 per cent. Quite chewy and inky. There is obviously a lot of ripeness buried in here but that’s what it is for the moment – buried. A sure bet but it’s a monster for the moment. Very dry and Médoc and chewy. They have gone for max this year, and that means you will have to wait for max time for it to be ready. Less of a wine, more of a statement of intent. Jean-Guillaume Prats was perhaps aware that the first sample did not show perfectly so produced a second which was slightly more expressive. 18;  www.cosestournel.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the richest colours.  Bouquet is opulent,  but somewhat over-ripe and hence lacking florals and freshness in comparison with the best wines.  Key characters are dark bottled plums as if the wine were a merlot-dominant cepage,  but with the chocolatey notes of sur-maturité and toasty oak as beloved by American winewriters.  When is somebody going to campaign for this attribute to be seen as a latter-day artefact and fad,  relative to optimally-ripe berry fruit ?  Palate is as expected from bouquet,  soft,  rich and plummy,  tending broad even,  though the oak is not as prominent as some.  Some disappointment here,  in the sense that St Estephe fruit can be so classically fragrant,  cassisy and aromatic in good years.  This Cos shows the downside of winemakers pandering to the popular American palate.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Ch Troplong-Mondot   17 ½  ()
Saint Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.5%;  $265   [ cork;  optimal en primeur landed in NZ price $265,  retail up to $600;  Me 80%,  CF 10, CS 10;  average vine age 35 years;  100% new French barriques for 22 months;  10000 cases;  Parker 4/08: The 2005 is one of the monumental wines of the vintage, and may eclipse their prodigious 1990. Inky/blue/purple-colored with an exceptional bouquet of Asian spices, blueberries, blackberries, truffles, cold steel, graphite, and charcoal, it hits the palate with exceptional purity, laser-like precision, a compellingly concentrated, multilayered mouthfeel, a broad, savory texture, terrific acidity, and substantial, but sweet tannins. It lives up to everything it revealed in barrel, and appears set to live for a half century or more. Anticipated maturity: 2018-2050.. 99;  WS 3/08:  Exhibits aromas of coffee, ripe fruit, wild mushroom and blackberry. Dark and very complex. Full-bodied and chewy, yet velvety and beautiful, with intense flavors of blackberry, chocolate and tobacco. Very, very long. This is layered and gorgeous. Best after 2016. 6,250 cases made.  96;  JR 4/06:  Dark purple. Rather savoury and dense. Lots of voluptuous fruit and heady, tarry flavours with a strong liquorice element and pretty dry tannins but there is beguiling silky fruit in the middle. Someone here has run with the concept that this is an exceptional vintage and the wine deserves to be exceptional in style but it’s not a trial to taste or drink! Clean, brisk finish. 17 + ]
Ruby and velvet,  above midway in depth,  but one of the most developed.  This wine shares many attributes with the Cos,  including a certain broadness consequent on over-ripeness,  again pandering to the American taste.  Bottled plums and milk chocolate are the key notes.  In mouth it is almost Australian,  nearly leathery,  with soft rich plummy fruit well dominant over oak.  It is the kind of wine which gives some encouragement to the Irvine style of merlot (at least in their coolest years),  from South Australia.  After the tasting,  scanning the bottles revealed an alcohol of 14.5%,  surely all the confirmation one needs for the assertion that this kind of wine forsakes classic claret ideals in terms of florality,  beauty,  style and structure,  to please latter-day obvious new world palates.  Sad is the only word for it.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 10/08

2005  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Ornellaia   17 +  ()
Bolgheri Superiore DoC,  Tuscany,  Italy:  14.5%;  $260   [ cork;  CS 60%,  Me 22,  CF 14,  PV 4,  hand-picked,  table-sorted;  25 days cuvaison;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 70% new,  30 one-year;  11600 cases;  Parker 6/08:  The medium-bodied 2005 shows plenty of delineation in its dark cherries, blueberries, spices, minerals and crushed rocks … not the detail of the 2004 or the richness of the 2006, but it does offer notable finesse and clarity in an understated style for this wine …relatively early-maturing vintage … 2010-2020.  93;  WS 10/08:  Displays beautiful aromas of ripe fruit, with currant, plum and blackberry. This complex and full-bodied Tuscan red has soft, polished tannins and a long, long finish. Shows a deft hand in the winemaking. Best after 2012.  95;  www.ornellaia.it ]
[ This Italian wine was produced by Stephen Bennett,  Auckland wine merchant and MW,  to see how it would sit with these aspiring new- and old-world 2005 Bordeaux blends.  It is one of the so-called super-Tuscans.  The answer is,  clumsily,  another wine made in the big over-ripe,  over-oaked and overly-alcoholic style so praised these days by new world commentators. ]  Colour is old for age,  older even than the oldest Bordeaux 2005,  but also one of the deepest.  Bouquet is richly berried but very oaky,  noticeable VA,  yet in the leathery sur-maturité there is an odd savoury herbes complexity,  almost hinting at some of those clumsy mixed-ripeness reds from Coonawarra a generation ago.  Really quite odd.  The palate is intensely sweetly fruited,  dry no doubt,  but high glycerol and alcohol giving viscosity,  and apparent sweetness,  all lingering long but relatively coarsely.  The massive Sophia looks like a ballerina alongside this Ornellaia.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  in its style.  GK 10/08

2005  Mills Reef [ Cabernet Sauvignon ] Elspeth   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 100%,  average vine age 11 years;  50% new French oak for 18 months;  115 cases;  Bob Campbell:  93;  Halliday: Tightly structured, with ripe cassis/blackcurrant fruit; has good texture, and balanced fruit, oak and tannins;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  not much carmine,  closer to the Bordeaux in hue,  the second lightest.  This is a simpler wine in the present company,  the bouquet showing over-ripe nearly blackberry fruit in raw oak lifted by a little VA.  Palate is in the same style,  reminding of some Wynns Coonawarra Cabernets from earlier years – the 1968 comes to mind.  There is plenty of flavour,  but not the magical concentration and complexity of a successful Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blend,  and hence a weak finish.  Some tasters described the wine as tending porty,  which fits in with my blackberry.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 10/08