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

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)

Hawkes Bay WineGrowers and the Hot Red Wine Expo
Hawkes Bay is one of the very few regions on earth that can produce red wines to compare with the magical beauty and delicacy of the great wines of Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone Valley.  They are delicate in the sense that at best,  they are floral and fragrant,  but they can have real substance too,  and be totally satisfying.  With the growing recognition of these facts,  the annual presentation of the Hawkes Bay WineGrowers' Hot Red wine-tasting roadshow has become a 'must-visit'.  

This year's Hot Red Wine Expo in the second week of July was the sixth,  it featured 26 wineries,  and was presented in Auckland,  Wellington and Christchurch.  The organisers report an increase of 6% in total attendance from last year,  and consider this year's Expo a great success – an event which is coming of age.  Wellington achieved the greatest number of attendees totalling 345 with public predominant,  and Auckland with its greater commercial base achieved a 40% increase in trade participants,  up to 157 people in that sector alone.  All told,  over 800 people visited the Hot Red Expo.  These numbers really say something about present interest in Hawkes Bay red wines,  when wine merchants all over the country currently report a generally diminishing interest in wine tastings and presentations.

There are 654 wineries registered with the Wine Institute / WineGrowers of New Zealand,  as at 30 June 2009.  83 of them are in Hawkes Bay,  and de facto belong to Hawkes Bay WineGrowers,  in terms of their website (www.winehawkesbay.co.nz) statement:  "All wineries and grape growers in Hawke's Bay are automatically members of Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Inc if they are levy payers to NZ Winegrowers."  They are listed with contact details on the website.  

Unfortunately,  not all 'members' choose to participate in all the association's activities.  The region does not always achieve quite the demonstrated unity of purpose among its wine producers that one would hope for in an industry which makes much of hospitality and fellowship.  For the Expo,  26 wineries participated,  though not all went to each centre.  Sadly,  high-profile wineries such as Sacred Hill and Te Mata Estate were not present.  Wine-lovers regret this greatly – they would relish the opportunity to compare their wines with other leaders.

Hawkes Bay Wineries exhibiting in the Hot Red Expo in Wellington:
Abbey CellarsMatariki Wines
Alpha DomusMission Estate Winery
Ash Ridge WinesMoana Park
Bridge Pa VineyardParitua Vineyards
Church RoadSalvare
CJ PaskSileni Estates
Clearview Estate WinerySquawking Magpie
CorbansTrinity Hill
Craggy RangeVidal Estate
Crossroads WineryVilla Maria
Esk Valley EstateWishart
Lime Rock Wines

For information about the district,  though Hawkes Bay WineGrowers have their website with some district information,  member wineries,  activities etc,  they have not tackled the need for a comprehensive on-line resource describing the geography,  geology,  soils,  climate and history of the wine district,  the details of the grapes planted,  and the quality of recent vintages.  There are general statements,  but their site should be the first place to go in order to thoroughly background the district.  Hawkes Bay have been put in the shade by the Waiheke WineGrowers,  on this one,  so there is a worthwhile project to be achieved there.  The handiest public sources of info are (as for Waiheke Island):  Michael Cooper's Wine Atlas of New Zealand,  in its 2002 and 2008 editions,  Sue Courtney's summary for the district @ (www.wineoftheweek.com) and Cuisine's biennial Cuisine Wine Country,  for which a skeleton is on their website (www.cuisine.co.nz).

The Hawkes Bay wine district
Hawkes By has approximately 4900 ha of producing vineyards,  amounting to 17% of the national vineyard.  About 41% of the total is red varieties for red table wine as in the Expo,  with merlot at 1000-odd ha much the dominant grape,  about half the totals reds.  Merlot is followed by cabernet sauvignon,  syrah,  pinot noir (for table wine),  cabernet franc,  and malbec in rank order – all these exceed 100 ha.  Another 13 varieties comprise only 55 ha.  Hawkes Bay contains by far the largest area of Bordeaux blend (Hawkes Bay blend ) varieties in New Zealand,  and 68% by area of the syrah (2009 projection,  2008 New Zealand WineGrowers Statistical Annual).  The district totally dominates national achievements with both winestyles,  though Waiheke Island is offering a spirited challenge.  Nowhere else comes close.

The key factors that make the Hawkes Bay wine district of such compelling viticultural interest are the encircling mountains to the west,  the consequent low rainfall over much of the wine district,  and the warm but not baking hot summer temperatures.  For every day over 30 degrees,  the chance of the grape losing subtle aroma and flavour compounds in the vineyard,  of them being sun-baked out of the grape,  increases.  This is the simple reason why regions like Australia,  California and Washington State have difficulty competing in the beauty and subtlety components of international winestyles,  and instead must make a virtue out of size,  all too often with the wines subsequently re-made pseudo-aromatic by the excessive use of oak.  Annual rainfall for Hastings and Napier and a large part of the Heretaunga Plains where the vineyards lie is of the order of 800 mm per annum,  with on average about 200 mm of rain through the February to April ripening period.  These numbers are remarkably close to the totals for both Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone Valley.  The low total rainfall in Hawkes Bay is critical to vine health,  when compared with other plausible red wine parts of the country like Gisborne,  Auckland district and North Auckland,  in all of which humidity is much more likely to become excessive at some stage of the growing season.  

Heat summations for Hawkes Bay also closely match the French districts,  but heat summation is in one sense less important than the nature of the heat.  Coonawarra for example claims a heat summation similar to Bordeaux,  but in most years temperature spikes destroy the ultimate subtlety of the grapes (witness Australian,  even Coonawarra,  merlot),  no matter how much the locals call Coonawarra a cool-climate zone.  Cool-climate relative to where ?  

Another exciting aspect of the Hawkes Bay wine-growing scene is the diversity within the district.  In the late 1800s and into the early 1900s,  viticulture was centred on Taradale and thereabouts adjoining Napier,  and the Havelock district.  Now the centre of excitement is the Gimblett Gravels,  closely followed by the very best parts of the Ngatarawa Triangle.  These areas comprise the warmest and driest heart of Hawkes Bay.  The best sites in the well-established districts of Havelock North,  Fernhill,  Bridge Pa and the Tuki Tuki Valley are hot on their heels.  Bayview and Te Awanga are coastal outliers,  where apart from the The Terraces amphitheatre,  temperatures are a little too coastal and equable for consistently fine Hawkes Bay blends.  For the more peripheral districts such as Maraekakaho Valley,  Dartmoor Valley including Woodthorpe and Esk Valley (the river) the taste evidence is that these districts are not quite warm enough for producing red wines (or viognier) to the consistency of ripeness the export market needs (see discussion below on calibration).  There may be a few exceptional sites within these districts standing outside that generalisation,  and in years like 1998 these slightly cooler districts do come into their own.  But in terms of consistent achievement over the 10-year period,  doubt remains.  The truth or otherwise of climatic warming will be of pivotal interest to the future of viticulture and the varietal mix in these places.  Conversely there is great interest in chardonnay,  which may find a near-perfect home for example in the Dartmoor Valley,  as Sacred Hill's Rifleman has not only shown but confirmed.    

Beyond these districts there are exploratory plantings in a number of places,  including the geologically diverse hill country to the south.  In the cooler but at best equally dry c.800 mm annual rainfall regions in the Waipawa / Waipukurau / Takapau districts some 60 or so km SW of Hastings,  where there are limestone soil parent materials,  there are even hopes for pinot noir.  Lime Rock Wines near Waipawa has wines in the Expo,  and as these vines gain age,  some depth of varietal character is becoming evident,  sufficient to overturn the somewhat patronising views some of us have held about pinot noir quality in Hawkes Bay.  So while currently the Gimblett Gravels area is the head-line grabber in Hawkes Bay,  there are other sites of great interest.  And as I have commented previously in these pages,  it is probable that the Gimblett Gravels will in some years prove too warm for optimal varietal performance of both merlot and syrah,  if our winemakers accept the thesis that beauty comes before brawn in red wine making.  Thus far,  that goal is not everywhere agreed upon,  and it is an old-world view,  but the European export market is still a very worthwhile one.  

A combination of holdings on the Gravels,  and districts immediately peripheral to them,  covers all options,  and allows for the blending of finer wines than from one district alone.  This approach is certainly proving part of the superb re-emergence of the Church Road winery as one of the absolutely top wineries of the district.  Related to this is the increasing evidence that the bald and undefined assertions about the Gimblett Gravels being 3 degrees hotter than the adjoining Ngatarawa Triangle may be little more than indeed hot air.  There are too many green wines in this tasting allegedly drawn from Gimblett Gravels fruit,  and there are green wines reported from the Gravels in the challenging 2008 and 2009 vintages.  Further,  Te Mata Bullnose Syrah has in several recent vintages displayed a quality of physiological maturity matching in beauty if not size anything from the Gravels.  As always in wine,  the proof lies in the bottle,  not the publicity.  By physiological maturity I mean the alchemy by which organic acids,  carbohydrates and phenolic / tannin precursors ripen through the summer / autumn season via sunshine,  temperature and standard plant physiological processes into the sweet,  ripe-smelling and ripe-tasting compounds which give each fruit its characteristic aroma and flavour profile.  The chemistry of ripening is complex,  and does not need to be fully understood to be agreed to as a fact.  Anybody can tell the difference between a tree-ripened and perfectly fragrant Royal Gala apple and an early-picked coolstore one.

Recent Vintages
It is astonishing that to brief review,  neither Hawkes Bay WineGrowers or any winery in the district seems to have a detailed log of vintage conditions in the district for the last 20 years (say) on their website.  Surely this is the kind of information we need,  if we are to build up an image of Hawkes Bay (or New Zealand) being wine country.  Imagine Bordeaux without the ubiquitous vintage charts.  There are practical reasons for the lack of Hawkes Bay summaries,  not least of which is the near-impossibility of achieving one thumbnail impression for the district (as above).  But the benefits of a summary far outweigh the fish-hooks,  and this is an immediate task Hawkes Bay WineGrowers should be tackling,  as part of  a regional wine resources website.  

If one digs deeper into winery websites,  there is some info retrievable where the website has past Newsletters available.  Both Stonecroft and Te Mata (since 2005) are helpful in this respect,  the latter's website having at one stage been a model for the industry in the sense it says something about all back vintages of each wine.  There is still not the detail an enthusiast would wish for however.  Latterly Craggy Range has set the pace with exemplary info including cropping rate for every wine they have ever marketed,  and the Pernod-Ricard group too has satisfying detail for nearly all wines,  though not consistently up to date.  In sum,  however,  there is a tendency for wine companies to confuse reporting with marketing,  and to say that each vintage is a variation on very good,  irrespective.  Critical evaluation is therefore difficult.  

Gordon Russell at Esk Valley seems to be the only winemaker to have made some effort to extract a comparative vintage quality statement onto the firm's website,  but it refers only to The Terraces vineyard at Bayview,  and only to the years in which The Terraces wine has been produced.   In several cases vintages there have been high quality when the rest of the Bay has generally considered results modest,  and vice-versa.  So it is of limited application.  Latterly,  Craggy Range set out to summarise each vintage (as opposed to wine) for their website,  but have managed 3 vintages only in the 9 they have produced wine.  I hope this nudge will encourage them to complete the record back to say 2000.  So any attempt here to summarise recent vintages in Hawkes Bay must be an arm-waving exercise only,  and the column numbers refer only to the reds.  

The tabulation below aims firstly to provide a context for the wines reported on,  and then to complement Michael Cooper's excellent annual Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines book reports (not all of which I have) in a handy web form,  but noting all the limitations that generalising for such a diverse district must entail.  Winemakers contributed critically to preparing this chart,  which I appreciate enormously,  but the complexity of the district and particularly the localised nature of rainstorms is such that no one winemaker is now likely to be happy with the summation.  There are always so many exceptions,  for example where a winemaker halves the crop load in a cool year,  in pursuit of excellence.  My stance below is a little more inclined to the absolute quality of the kind of wines people cellar,  rather than simply the commercial success of the vintage.  Feedback is welcomed (address at foot of home page,  below the Index of articles).

Vintage Ratings for the last 10 years in Hawkes Bay – for discussion:
20096 – 9 Variable summer,  wet patch starting 28 Feb.,  some hassles for chardonnay.  Then March cooler than ideal,  merlots good to great but some cabernets fell behind.  April better for reds,  like 2008 some report better cabernet,  others report best merlot ever,  so hard to generalise.  The best of the Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends may match or even exceed 2007.  Persistence of leafyness in some cabernets and syrahs reported,  even some Gimblett Gravels,  a worry.  Bit early yet,  so wider span.
20085 – 7Spring frosts,  varying impact,  warm dryish summer but easterlies dominant = humidity.  So difficult vintage,  uneven ripening and conflicting reports,  some report good cabernet but on average merlots better physiological maturity.  Syrah quality localised,  some very good in '07 style from Triangle area.  No Reserve / top tier wines from some wineries due to green notes,  but perhaps like 05 & '06 will be occasional notable exceptions.
20077 – 9+Average temperatures but very dry season (driest 10 years),  near-perfect for many sites,  with full physiological maturity achievable at attractive (13.5%) alcohols in many appropriately-cropped reds.  Syrahs soft and rich,  but perhaps not as aromatic as best '05 / '06.  Fine whites too.  May end up best vintage of decade.
20066 – 8+Warmest year of decade,  localised / unpredictable rain as in March 2005 but not as heavy,  some superb wines e.g. Church Road & Villa surpass 2005 in Hawkes Bay blends.  The best syrahs including Trinity Homage,  Villa and Church Road may be the most powerful of decade (9).  Many reds fractionally lighter than best 2005s,  described as fragrant,  ripe and stylish.  Some fine chardonnays.  
20056 – 8+Best excellent,  but patch-wise rain (up to 80mm near Roy's Hill 18 March) significantly reduced final quality for some growers,  despite dry subsequently.  Nonetheless the top reds and particularly cabernet-dominant from selected wineries inc. Church Road exceptional.  Syrahs aromatic and fragrant.  Score more for better wines,  some average.  Critical selection needed for cellaring.
20044 – 6+ Second coolest vintage of decade,  but great Indian summer.  Best Gimblett Gravels reds fragrant and attractive (7),  but red fruits more than black.  Beyond Gravels,  many leafy reds developing too rapidly.  Conversely,  some stunning whites,  marvellous chardonnays (9) and gewurzs !
20032 – 4For many growers,  severe and widespread frost 5 Oct. dominated the coolish,  dry but difficult season to follow.  Small crops,  but some reasonably good medium-weight red wines.
20027 – 9Modest early season and damp early summer,  then great Indian autumn gave best quality and quantity vintage since 1998,  but high alcohols – referred to locally by some as the Californian vintage.  At best superb reds,  but many too big.  Not the technical knowledge then as now,  but the best cellaring well.  Some whites also too big.
20013 – 5Widespread frost 20 Nov,  difficult summer,  coolest year of decade but not good for chardonnay even so.  Some settled spells March / April but botrytis pressure,  uneven ripening,  mostly a small crop of lean red wines,  now near their peak,  but some better where viticulture exceptional.
20006 – 8As for Bordeaux,  not a perfectly dry season (70 mm 9 & 10 April) yet where viticulture good a plentiful and stylish vintage,  with very good wines if cropping rates were conservative.  Reasonable alcohols,  and Bordeaux style in the best blends too.  Score given is more the better wines.

More calibration of our wines to overseas wine standards needed    
Reflecting on the entrants in this Hot Red Wine Expo as I wrote them up,  and tasted and re-tasted them,  a key issue is the number of not-quite-perfectly-ripe red wines,  when compared with good regional wines of Europe.  All told,  if one is acutely critical,  around 21% of the wines show some suggestion of leafy,  stalky or otherwise green notes through their bouquet and / or flavour profiles.  This has been an issue in New Zealand red wines for the last 40 years,  in other words the entire recent Vitis vinifera era.  It was a major problem through the 1970s and 1980s when too many winemakers were not familiar with the characteristic flavours of the traditional wine-world's better representative wines,  and continued well into the 1990s.  Nowadays,  with so many widely-travelled and highly-qualified winemakers,  and the vast strides in viticulture in the last 15 years,  plus the quality of the 2007 vintage in Hawkes Bay,  under-ripeness should not be so much an issue,  so this result is unwelcome.  A second too-common failing is the number of reductive wines,  where around 10% of the wines show some suggestions (or more) of this dulling defect.  

First however,  a few words of background,  since our wine industry has a tendency to listen only to "overseas" opinion on our wines and wine practices,  irrespective of the length of experience of the commentator.  I have been studying and cellaring the cabernet / merlot red wines of Bordeaux since the 1962 vintage,  and northern Rhone syrah and the wines of Burgundy for not much less (1969).  Throughout that time I have always had Australian and New Zealand wines to hand,  to compare and contrast.  After more than 40 years of written wine evaluation,  fairly clear ideas about climatic potential for and optimal ripeness in our key Hawkes Bay grape varieties do develop.  And reading explicit,  consistent and experienced commentators such as Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier reinforces a European-palate approach to wine,  as discussed below.  Adding in Robert Parker (sensu stricto) regularly helps refine and focus all those ideas remarkably well,  and splices in another climatic tangent.  

This Hawkes Bay Hot Red Wine Expo offers an exceptional opportunity to report on 132 red wines of the district.  The objectivity of such a report is likely to be enhanced by the reviews being based on rigorously blind comparative assessment of the wines immediately after the Expo,  where tasting is not influenced by winemaker comment or hospitality.  

Leafy,  stalky and greenish-tinged wines – perceiving ripeness  
Hawkes Bay has a fabulous red wine grape climate,  but like all the finest (in the sense of wine complexity,  not size) climatic zones (Bordeaux,  Burgundy,  the Northern Rhone),  Hawkes Bay is marginal for the key varieties of the cabernet family including merlot etc,  as well as syrah.  The vintage chart shows that 2005 and 2006 were pretty good vintages,  and 2007 was an exceptionally good season in the Bay.  There can therefore be little excuse for the excessive number of wines in this Expo which are being exhibited at premium prices,  yet are under-ripe and green to varying degrees,  with leafy or stalky characters noticeable and sometimes obtrusive.  [ At least,  some of the worst are not 2007s. ]  The two (or three) principal reasons for this dilemma I suggest are either:  too many proprietors are not benchmarking their efforts alongside internationally acknowledged wines regularly enough (and they do not have to be expensive wines);  or,  proprietors cannot wean themselves off cropping rates owing more to historical New Zealand cropping practice than contemporary European AOC (or equivalent) vinifera practice.  Heavy cropping rates mean there is little hope of the grapevine taking so many berries through to full physiological flavour maturity and tannin-ripeness as opposed to sugar-ripeness.  This deficiency is made more acute where water management or climate permits (or encourages) vegetative vine growth to continue much beyond veraison.  Where vegetative growth continues,  the vine is not putting all its efforts into ripening the fruit,  and even a reduced crop may still retain green notes.  In some cases,  all these reasons will apply.    

Style-leading wineries such as Craggy Range,  where the wines almost across the board show premier and grand cru levels of physiological maturity,  ripeness and concentration,  actually publish their cropping rates consistently on their website.  Many wineries don't.  Wines which appear to display the symptoms of an excessive cropping rate or sub-optimal viticulture precluding fine wine quality can be recognised in the notes that follow from terms such as leafyness,  stalkyness,  lack of concentration etc.

To make the problem worse,  some of the wines priced at premium prices in this Expo are clearly under-ripe,  by any reasonable international standard.  It would be great if some of these proprietors perused the en primeur lists of wine merchants such as Maison Vauron,  Wine Direct and Glengarry all in Auckland.  There they will find perhaps with some shock that there are beautiful cru bourgeois and lesser classed growth Bordeaux wines known the world over available for less than some of the top-of-their-range but indifferent wines reviewed in this report.  To compound the problem,  some of these under-ripe New Zealand wines have won gold and other elevated medals and endorsements in this country.  It is not only winemakers therefore:  too many New Zealand wine judges and commentators are simply not sufficiently well-enough versed in what constitutes ripeness amongst the reference wines of the world – the evidence is in their results.  There is nothing personal in this at all.  It is simply a matter of being more familiar with the wines beyond one's back door,  and particularly with the benchmark wines,  and therefore striving for better wines in New Zealand – rather than adopting a winemaker's estimation of achieved wine quality.

It has long been apparent simply from the relatively few winemakers who do regularly attend imported wine tastings,  that the style leaders in this country's wine industry taste a lot of imported wine.  As I have commented before,  no winemaker can make better wine than he or she has regularly tasted and understood.  But how is this tasting 'education' to be achieved,  where winemakers are either unaware,  or will not spend the money to taste other people's wines ?  This is a task for New Zealand WineGrowers and its regional subsidiaries to be tackling urgently,  I suggest.  Long ago,  when what is now the Air New Zealand judging was the National Wine Competition held via the support of the Department of Trade & Industry,  after the judging there were winemakers' workshops supported by the Department to try and learn from the judging impressions and results.  Sometimes overseas judges brought tasting wines with them,  and presented tastings.  Very rarely indeed,  New Zealanders were asked to prepare and present tastings along the lines discussed in this report.  This is a theme that merits revisiting.

I have therefore commented regularly where the ripeness dimension is lacking in a wine,  in the hope some proprietors will take more active steps to secure en primeur what are described as the useful and well-priced wines from the 2008 Bordeaux vintage.  While the actual 2008 en primeur offers have now closed,  merchants usually have some uncommitted stock.  And similar principles apply to pinot noir and syrah,  despite our initial export success with the former.   As we more and more seek to expand our export wine base beyond sauvignon blanc,  there is this urgent need,  as I see it,  for both winemakers and wine judges to undertake far more 'calibration' tastings against the acknowledged reference wines of the world.  Specifically for the red varieties,  there is an imperative need for all winemakers to be familiar with and understand what the rest of the world considers to be appropriate ripeness in red wines.  The present Expo shows this is not the case now.  

This understanding can be simply achieved by buying and cellaring the same wines that highly reliable tasters such as Steven Spurrier and Jancis Robinson are tasting and reporting on regularly in London (via Decanter magazine and in the case of Robinson,  her subscription website,  and then,  as opportunity offers,  comparing notes.  Regularly reading the assessments of these people is as important as tasting the wines,  yet again,  remarkably few winemakers seem to follow the top winewriters (unless their own wines are mentioned).  It is astonishing just how much can be learnt and even assimilated about winestyle from reading alone,  if the task is approached in an acutely focussed and empathetic mode.  It is indeed possible to taste vicariously,  but only with writers who use words accurately and consistently.  [ Note the Decanter panel reviews written by other than Spurrier do not qualify.]  But needless to say,  the best results are achieved when words and wine are presented together.

For such tastings,  candidate wines need not be only the expensive ones.  In one sense,  for the cabernet / merlots say,  more can be learnt from the better cru bourgeois than the classed growths,  since the former are more the wines of the reasonably informed everyday marketplace,  where we seek to compete (and are climatically exceptionally well placed to do so).  A few of the latter are needed as well,  but not at the highest level where value is all too often lacking.  

For those who are already in tune,  such comparative tastings should be fun,  and for others,  such tastings should open intellectual doors to a new,  riper and more challenging world.  It is imperative we do not undermine the growing overseas reputation for New Zealand wines including now our best reds,  by also allowing under-ripe and variously leafy / stalky / green wines to go overseas.  A few bad reviews for our reds can undo years of effort by internationally-switched-on companies.

In the above discussion I specifically suggest European wine-writers for determining the style best suited to our wines.  They are more attuned to temperate-climate viticulture.  But this statement immediately needs qualifying,  for it is only in the last generation that British winewriters have evolved from a generally woolly style of writing to the much more focussed work the best practitioners display today.  This is a result solely of the influence of the American Robert Parker,  who is in practical terms the first winewriter to be writing more for the consumer,  rather than as part of the commercial wine establishment with its often too-benign slant.  Further,  he uses words in a highly consistent way,  a gift few winewriters have (especially when they venture into semi-technical terms).  In terms of the two winestyles Hawkes Bay is most famous for,  Parker without qualification sets the pace,  for Bordeaux and Rhone red wines are his favourites.  

Reading Parker is therefore essential,  but with the caveat that all warm-climate winewriters carry a lot of climatic baggage with them,  because they tend to be habituated to big wines.  So while he is quick to tell us when our red wines have green notes or thin textures,  he is not so astute at picking up the subtle floral delicacies of fine wines from more temperate viticultural climates.  He is not so well-regarded for his pinot noir assessments,  for example.  Sadly,  to judge from some of the descriptors employed on back labels of New Zealand wines,  too many of our winery people read only American or American-influenced wine reviews.  The last thing we need in New Zealand is any desire to make warm-climate winestyles,  or to adopt American or Australian notions of desirable wine size or style.  Our wines need to be about finesse,  not size.  Thus to optimise our wine export endeavours,  we need to differentiate ourselves from Australian wine as completely and totally as possible.  European rather than American mentors are better suited to our needs,  therefore.

Reductive wines and the role of Wine Judgings
The other issue needing discussion is the frequency of reductive wines,  if 10% of the wines in this Expo show some signs of the defect.  The difficulty here is that individual thresholds to hydrogen sulphide (and the myriad more complex molecules derived from it) vary enormously from taster to taster,  and hence from winemaker to winemaker.  There is a tendency for wine people who are insensitive to reduced sulphurs to pooh-pooh the concerns of the more acute.  The simple fact is,  there are a significant number of consumers who are sensitive to reduced sulphurs,  even if they don't know the right words.  Comments such as the wine is 'heavy',  or 'I can't smell anything',  are warning signs.  With the swing to screwcaps,  a key reason for concern is,  wines that go into bottle reductive are much less likely to develop harmoniously in bottle.  The evidence so far is that wines under screwcap are much less likely to bury their reduction,  whereas if the problem is minor,  wines under cork do resolve their sulphur over the 5 and 10 years period due to oxygen ingress.  

Over the decades I have deliberately cellared reductive wines in a spirit of inquiry,  to see what happens for myself.  As above,  unless the reduction is minor they simply stay reductive,  and become more leathery or rubbery as well.  Cos d'Estournel went through a long phase of tending reductive,  for example (though few were game to say so),  before it became the 'sweet' glamour-puss it is today.  The international wine world out there is thinking about sulphurs and reduced sulphurs in wines a lot more now (after decades of indifference in Europe),  and we need to remove the blinkers and be thinking too.  Too many wines in this Hawkes Bay batch are reductive (discussed further in the reviews),  yet have won contemporary gold and other medals.  There is a critical judging issue here which needs to be acknowledged.

One relevant issue facing wine judgings is the growing tendency for the whole judging process to be subverted by commercial interests – with the unstated goal of the sale of more wine.  As is becoming apparent from both the Waiheke report and now this one,  we in New Zealand are much too much influenced by overseas judgings,  and particularly latterly the London International Wine Challenge,  some of the results of which are laughable (see the 2007 Trinity Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay review).  Yet New Zealand winemakers,  trading on the colonial insecurity (yes,  still) of the New Zealand wine consuming public,  are quoting these results as if they were holy writ.  Britain is not (or scarcely,  champagne-styles excepted maybe if global warming is true) a wine-producing country,  so the wine judgings there often have a more commercial or consumer under-pinning,  sometimes with extraordinary results.  To judge from their  results over the years,  and cross-tasting,  technical factors are often ignored,  and at times faults such as VA are consistently marked up.  Likewise,  Australasian results over the last 20 years have demonstrated that consumer-oriented judgings tend to reward wines which are out of balance particularly with respect to oak,  sheer size,  and sometime VA.  

Unlike Britain,  New Zealand is a wine producing country,  and we must very clearly remember that wine judgings have their roots in the Agricultural & Pastoral Shows,  and the traditional first goal of such Shows is to "improve the breed",  not sell more of it.  

There is a grave danger that the commercially-oriented wine shows such as the Liquorland Top 100,  the New Zealand International Wine Show,  and the New World one,  will in fact devalue our two premier judgings (the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and the Royal Easter Show Wine Awards),  if only-slightly-interested consumers become disenchanted with sometimes misleading results.  Australian experience over the last 45 years with their plethora of national,  state,  regional and local wine shows has shown that the wine public can very easily become weary of never-ending strings of medals on virtually every wine.  The whole wine show concept becomes devalued.  To end up in this position here would be a great loss to New Zealand wine practice.

As I see it therefore,  there is an urgent need to improve the standard of judging even more in our two pre-eminent shows,  so that even the most doubting-Thomas will concede that yes,  a medal from the Air New Zealand or the Easter Show does mean something.  Tightening up on the present lax approach to reductive wines would be a good starting place.  As discussed earlier in this report,  our continuing tolerance of variously green / under-ripe wines is another,  though a little more care is needed here,  since there is an overlap with the critical temperate-climate positive attribute of florality.

Procedure was much the same as that documented for the similar Waiheke Island Expo,  recently reported on in this website,  except that this time the extra step of evaluating all 134 wines (two replicates) blind in one batch was adopted.  This approach highlights perception of exactly how varietal each wine in fact is,  before re-examining and ranking them in the varietal classes,  though still blind.

Review format follows the Waiheke model too.  Inclusion of the winemaker's thoughts on the winestyle as expressed in the Catalogue,  and where applicable the Awards it has won as listed in the Catalogue (either or both sometimes summarised),  into my italicised 'admin' section,  combine with my assessment and these prefatory remarks to give a more balanced picture.  All available website info has been summarised.  The good winery websites,  led by Craggy Range and Pernod-Ricard (the latter not always totally up-to-date for the latest release of every label) set a splendid example in providing worthwhile wine detail.  Some websites are sadly wanting in specific wine information,  and some are mere marketing blah.  For more important or intriguing wines,  I have contacted the winemaker for further detail,  but I have not contacted every winery in the Expo – the whole project starts to take too many weeks.  

Related to methodology,  I would like to make a plea to wineries concerning the communication of cropping rate.  Is it perversity that drives some winemakers and viticulturists to express their cropping rates in terms of kilos per vine only ?  Since they virtually never give the planting density per unit area,  that statistic is much less meaningful than it could be.  Certainly producers proud of cropping at 3 kg / vine are going to make much lighter wine than those cropping at 1 kg / vine – both figures are in this batch of wines.  But France has for more than 100 years now expressed cropping rate either as tonnes per hectare or hectolitres per hectare,  with the unstated assumption that around 1 kg / vine works well for wine quality.  It is the basis of the AOC system,  and pivotal to a semi-quantitative expression of wine quality – an index.  [ As an aside,  2007 Craggy Range Sophia,  described as of undoubted classed growth Bordeaux quality in this report,  is cropped at a grand cru rate of about one kilo per vine.  Producers of lesser and leaner (but sometimes more expensive) wines wonder why reds such as Sophia are recognised both in New Zealand and overseas as being totally international in quality.  There is the answer,  supplemented by viticulture and water-management regimes designed to optimise tannin ripeness in the grapes.]  So,  in terms of ease of comparison,  and intrinsic meaningfulness and comprehensibility,  it would be helpful if wineries would at least observe the traditional standard measure of cropping rate in communicating with the outside world.  If they cannot abandon their kilos per vine,  please also advise the planting density per hectare,  so keen observers can complete the equation.  I acknowledge I need to give thought likewise to adopting tonnes per hectare in these reports – for the moment tonnes per acre simply has greater immediate meaning for most readers.

Final thought on Hawkes Bay wine quality
One incidental impression of the wines in this tasting is the delight in finding more of them delightfully fragrant and charming in mouth.  One factor is our wonderfully temperate viticultural climate,  as touched on elsewhere.  But from another slant,  it does not seem too far-fetched to correlate this increasing 'beauty' in our wines with our leading winemakers growing in the confidence to move away from industrial prescriptions for red wine-making learnt in wine-school.  There the emphasis has too much been on low pHs way under 3.5 meaning added tartaric acid and harsh palates – like so many Australian reds.  Conversely the traditionally great wines of Europe have always shown more natural pHs at a much higher value,  say 3.65 or higher sometimes.  Many of the more lovely wines in this review likewise have pHs in that area.  It would be a brave person who opines that reds with pHs at this level do not cellar.

Several people helped me with detail and perspective in preparing this report.  In alphabetical order,  Chris Scott of Church Road,  Gordon Russell of Esk Valley Estate,  John Hancock of Trinity Hill,  Jon Peet of Ash Ridge,  Michael Brajkovich MW of Kumeu River,  Paul Mooney of Mission Estate,  Peter Cowley of Te Mata,  Rod Easthope of Craggy Range,  Rod McDonald of Matariki Wines (and Chairman Hawkes Bay WineGrowers),  Rosie Butler of Lime Rock and Warren Gibson of Trinity Hill contributed greatly to the understanding needed.  I appreciate their help enormously.  That does not mean they agree with my views,  however.  Many thanks also to those winemakers who added much interest to the proceedings by bringing preview bottles of future releases.  This is exciting for winewriters,  and when written up allows everybody the pleasure of anticipating further good things in the pipeline.


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2006  Abbey Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Cardinal
2005  Abbey Cellars Cabernets / Merlot
2006  Abbey Cellars [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Graduate
2007  Alpha Domus [ Cabernets / Merlot / Malbec ] Aviator [ preview ]
2004  Alpha Domus [ Merlot / Cabernet ] The Navigator
2004  Alpha Domus Merlot / Cabernet The Pilot
2005  Alpha Domus Merlot The Pilot
2007  Ash Ridge Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2006  Ash Ridge Wines Cabernet / Merlot
2004  Babich Cabernet / Merlot Irongate
2006  Babich [ Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot ] The Patriarch
2005  Babich [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Patriarch
2007  Babich Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Lone Tree
2007  Babich Merlot Winemakers Reserve
2006  Bridge Pa Vineyard Merlot Zillah
2007  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2005  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve
2007  Church Road Malbec Cuve Limited Release
2007  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet
2006  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Reserve
2005  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Tom [ preview ]
2007  Clearview Estate Cabernet Franc Winery Reserve
2007  Clearview Estate Winery  [CS / CF / Me ]  Old Olive Block
2007  Clearview Estate Winery [ Malbec / Cabernet  ] Two Pinnacles
2006  Clearview Estate Winery [ Me / CF / CS ] Enigma
2007  Clearview Estate Winery [ Merlot / Malbec ] Cape Kidnappers
2006  Corbans Cabernet / Merlot Cottage Block
2007  Corbans Merlot / Cabernet Private Bin
2005  Corbans Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin
2006  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cabernet Franc Te Kahu
2007  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels
2007  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia
2007  Crossroads Winery Merlot Hawkes Bay
2006  Esk Valley Malbec / Merlot / Cabernet Franc The Terraces
2007  Esk Valley Merlot Black Label
2007  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label
2006  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2006  Lime Rock Merlot
2007  Matariki Cabernet / Merlot
2005  Matariki [ Hawkes Bay blend ] Quintology
2007  Mission Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc Jewelstone
2007  Mission Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2007  Mission Merlot Reserve
2007  Mission Merlot Vineyard Selection
2007  Moana Park Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Tribute
2007  Moana Park Merlot Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Tribute
2007  Moana Park Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Selection
2006  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Alwyn
2007  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Glazebrook
2008  Ngatarawa Merlot Silks
2007  Paritua Red The Paritua Collection
2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2007  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Road
2005  Pask Malbec Declaration
2005  Pask Merlot Declaration
2007  Pask Merlot Gimblett Road
2007  Salvare Merlot
2007  Sileni Merlot Cellar Selection
2007  Sileni Merlot EV (Exceptional Vintage)
2007  Sileni Merlot The Triangle Estate Selection series
2005  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Cabernet Gimblett Gravels SQM
2005  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels The Nest
2006  Squawking Magpie Merlot Gimblett Gravels The Nest
  2007  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Syrah / Malbec The Chatterer
2007  [ Paritua Vineyards Merlot / Cabernet ] Stone Paddock Scarlet
2006  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Gimblett Gravels The Gimblett
2007  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Estate
2007  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2006  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2007  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Cellar Selection
2005  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve
2007  [ Craggy Range group ] Wild Rock Merlot / Malbec Gravel Pit Red
2005  Wishart [ Merlot / Malbec ] Legend
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
2007  Lime Rock Pinot Noir
2006  Lime Rock Pinot Noir
2005  Lime Rock Pinot Noir
2007  Lime Rock Pinot Noir White Knuckle Hill
2007  Matariki Pinot Noir Aspire
2005  Sileni Pinot Noir EV (Exceptional Vintage)
2007  Sileni Pinot Noir The Plateau
2007  Vidal Pinot Noir Reserve Hawkes Bay Stopbank
Syrah = Shiraz
2007  Alpha Domus Syrah
2007  Ash Ridge Wines Syrah Cardoness Vineyard
2007  Babich Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2007  Babich Syrah Winemakers Reserve
2005  Bridge Pa Syrah Hawkes Bay
2006  Bridge Pa Vineyard Syrah Louis
2007  Bridge Pa Vineyard Syrah Reserve
2007  Church Road Syrah Reserve
2007  Corbans Syrah Private Bin
2007  [ Corbans ] Cottage Block Syrah
2006  [ Corbans ] Cottage Block Syrah
2007  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels Block 14
2007  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay
2006  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay
2007  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve Elms Vineyard
2006  Esk Valley Estate Syrah Black Label
2007  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve [ preview ]
2006  Matariki Syrah
2007  Matariki Syrah Aspire
2007  Mission Syrah [‘Special’ Future Release – preview ]
2007  Mission Syrah Jewelstone
2008  Mission Syrah Reserve
2007  Mission Syrah Reserve
2007  Moana Park Syrah Vineyard Selection
2007  Moana Park Syrah / Viognier Vineyard Tribute
2007  Ngatarawa Syrah Glazebrook
2007  Paritua Vineyards Syrah The Paritua Collection
2007  Pask Syrah Declaration
2006  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road
2007  Salvare Syrah
2006  Salvare Syrah
2007  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection
2007  Sileni Syrah The Peak
2007  Squawking Magpie Syrah Gimblett Gravels The Stoned Crow
2007  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Chatterer
2007  [ Paritua Vineyards ] Stone Paddock Syrah
2007  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2007  Trinity Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay
2007  Vidal Syrah Estate
2007  Vidal Syrah Reserve
2007  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection
2007  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve
2007  [ Craggy Range group ] Wild Rock Syrah Angels Dust
2005  Wishart Syrah Alluvion
2006  Wishart Syrah Te Puriri
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
2006  Babich Pinotage Winemakers Reserve
2007  Church Road Marzemino Cuve Series Limited Release
2007  Crossroads Winery [ not-revealed blend ] Talisman
2006  Matariki Sangiovese
2008  Trinity Hill Montepulciano Hawkes Bay
2007  Trinity Hill Tempranillo Gimblett Gravels
From the Cellar. Older wines.

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2005  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Tom [ preview ]   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $120   [ cork;  DFB;  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;  release date late '09 probably,  not yet confirmed so wine not on website;  Catalogue:  TOM is the very best Bordeaux blend we can produce, and is only made in exceptional vintages. Tom can be Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot predominant depending on the season, with lesser amounts of Malbec and Cabernet Franc sometimes playing a role. TOM is a dense, powerful and complex red wine, with a backbone of fine textured tannin that helps ensure excellent cellaring potential;  Awards:  94/100 Robert Parker.com. ‘Outstanding Bordeaux inspired wine that would out-inspire many a Bordeaux’;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  good density.  The quality and volume of bouquet is extraordinary,  combining dark rose / violets floral qualities with now-beautifully-integrated cassis,  dark plum,  dark tobacco and cedar,  which is total classed-growth Bordeaux.  The harmony of the wine is superb,  alongside which many new world cab / merlots seem merely an admixture of berry,  fruit,  oak and alcohol.  In mouth,  the wine now seems lighter and fresher than the 2006 Church Road Reserve,  and more aromatic,  closer to the Esk Valley Reserve.  I do not mean it is weaker,  instead it has the delicacy and poise of great Medoc whereas the Church Road is more in a darker east-bank style.  And there is a complexity of flavour beating all the others.  People looking for sheer brawn in their wines as a measure of quality,  as in so many highly-touted Australian cabernet blends,  and therefore by definition almost less familiar with classed Bordeaux,  may find this 2005 Tom understated.  That is fantastic:  every inch we can achieve which takes us more closely towards the classic Bordeaux model,  and further from the American-influenced Australian one,  is the measure of quality and difference in our wines we need to captivate the European market.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $50   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 81%,  CF 10,  CS 7,  Ma 2,  hand-harvested @ c. 2.2 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments in oak cuves;  18 months in 50% new French oak;  fined and filtered;  RS nil;  production around 2000 cases,  exported widely;  Catalogue:  no description;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  minutely less carmine than the same firm’s Gimblett Gravels Merlot.  If the standard Gimblett Gravels Merlot is superb,  this wine is exactly the same in its wonderful violets florals,  and its glorious bottled black doris and some dark cassis saturated fruit on the palate,  but it is even richer,  with more apparent new oak.  It is absolutely of classed growth Bordeaux quality,  and not Fourth or Fifth either.  The violets florals run right through into the palate – a wonderful complexity factor only achievable in a cool-temperate viticultural climate.  Craggy Range (along with Church Road in this Expo) are making explicit all the promise the Hawkes Bay viticultural region has shown for decades now,  since the 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon.  These two Craggy Merlots are two of the greatest achievements with the variety so far in New Zealand.  The challenge now is to get those alcohols under 14% to emphasise even  more the beauty of the variety.  The magic of the 2007 season (dry,  and not hot) has allowed them to get away with 14.3% this year.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels and Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ cork;  Me 83%,  CS 15,  Ma 2,  80% hand-picked at c. 2.5 t/ac from 7-year old vines;  cuvaison approx 24 days for the Me,  28 for the CS;  no BF;  20 months in French oak c. 50% new,  balance 1-year,  no lees stirring,  racked 3-monthly;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 1 g/L;  Catalogue:… aromas of dark berry fruit, black cherry, and floral characters are complemented by integrated toast and spice from French oak and complexities of earth, cedar and a hint of minerality. The wine has excellent flesh and concentration, balanced by a backbone of ripe, fine-grained tannins. The finish is long and persistent;  Awards:  Gold @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  Bouquet is totally sensational,  displaying a great depth of darkest ripest black plums,  cassis,  dark tobacco,  and light potentially fragrant cedary oak.  It is hard to imagine how a new world merlot / cabernet blend could smell more like a wonderful ripe-year classed St Emilion such as Pavie (before it became oaky).  Palate is saturated and velvety,  quite exceptional fruit of superb texture,  showing great complexity of flavour,  oak handling and balance.  This is a great wine,  to cellar 10 – 20 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels 72% & Ngatarawa Triangle 28,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $38   [ cork;  CS 54%,  Me 41,  CF 5,  mostly hand-picked at c. 2.5 t/ac from (on average) 8-year old vines;  cuvaison extended to 35 days for some components;  MLF and 22 months in 100% French oak c. 50% new,  with no BF or lees stirring at all,  just racking;  not fined,  coarse filter only;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  release date August 2009;  Catalogue: not in;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense,  more carmine than the 2006.  As the name implies,  with cabernet listed first,  the cassis and aromatic component on bouquet is fractionally more evident than the 2006 wine,  and it is all less melded.  The floral violets complexity component of the bouquet is superb,  of a quality rarely seen.  Palate tastes fresher too,  not as yet quite the great plummy depth of the 2006 but an equal volume of flavour,  and all much more cabernet-dominant.  The quality of oak handling is delightful.  Tobacco complexities are not evident yet,  but potential cedar is.  These two wines offer further evidence (not that it is needed) of the tasting skills and great palate of Chris Scott,  chief winemaker at Church Road.  These wines and the Reserve Syrah have yet to receive the worldwide recognition they deserve,  and the price (happily for the consumer) reflects this.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $59   [ screwcap;  Me 53%,  Ma 33,  CS 14,  all hand-harvested @ c.1.9 t/ac,  and de-stemmed;  some wild-yeast;  MLF and 20 months in French oak 75% new;  RS nil;  minimal filtration;  Catalogue:  aromatics hinting at black fruits and chocolate. The flavours are typical of Gimblett Gravel merlot blends, with fruitcake, plum, black cherry, chocolate and oak spice all evident. Cellaring is recommended to soften the firm tannins;  Awards:  ‘Super Classic’, Michael Coopers Wine Buyers Guide 2009;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as dense as some of these top wines,  but a gorgeous colour.  Bouquet is already deep and beautiful,  showing some of the violets floral notes of the 2007 Church Road.  Cassis and dark plums are mingled with these seductive floral aromas,  plus beautiful oak much more subtly used than in some earlier Esk Valley Reserve wines (though the 75% new above would suggest otherwise).  This too is a glorious Bordeaux-styled wine on bouquet.  Palate at this stage is primarily cassisy even though merlot is listed first in the cepage,  with superbly aromatic berry quality and flavour.  It does not seem quite as sumptuously rich as the two Church Road Reserve wines,  but like 2005 Tom,  the freshness of berry is stunning.  Cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $30   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 87%,  CF 13;  75% hand-harvested @ 3.3 t/ac;  inoculated ferment in s/s;  18 months in French oak 31% new;  RS <2 g/L nil;  fined and filtered;  Catalogue:  Aromas of dark plum, blackcurrant, dark chocolate and cinnamon combine for a bouquet. Texturally, layers of soft, silky tannin combine with dollops of ripe fruit flavours and a hint of oak derived mocha character to form a luscious and long palate;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  One smell of the bouquet and this is merlot as it was meant to be,  superlative black plums,  some violets,  deep yet still fresh,  not at all dominated by oak yet still shaped by it.  Palate follows on perfectly,  plump,  ripe,  delightful.  Though the alcohol as stated is a worry,  in the blind tasting it is not noticeable and the wine does not show any sur-maturité,  so as with some other wines here,  Craggy has got away with it.  There is a particularly attractive cassis aromatic twist to the finish,  as if there were a little cabernet sauvignon added to spice the wine,  but this is the added beauty of properly-ripe cabernet franc.  This is wonderful wine,  showing again the great potential for New Zealand Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2006  Esk Valley Malbec / Merlot / Cabernet Franc The Terraces   18 ½ +  ()
Bay View dissected coastal terrace,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $125   [ cork;  Ma 45%,  Me 40,  CF 15,  hand-harvested;  all vars co-fermented as one batch;  100% new French oak c. 15 months;  RS nil;  269 cases;  the 1-hectare NNW-facing The Terraces vineyard was until recently pretty well unique in New Zealand,  being planted on man-made terraces in a natural semi-amphitheatre reminiscent more of some famous Northern Rhone vineyard sites than broad-acre New Zealand plantings.  Underlying soil parent materials are young sedimentaries including limestone and volcanic ash.  Vineyard practice is special too,  the cropping rate being of the order of 1 tonne per acre,  all the constituent varieties are harvested on the one day,  and co-fermented.  Maximum production is 300 cases (of 12).  The site was created in the 1940s,  but lapsed into pine plantation.  It was re-planted to vines in 1989;  Catalogue:  Produced since 1991 and only released when quality matches our aspirations, this is an age-worthy and unique wine;  Awards: ‘Super Classic’, Michael Cooper’s Wine Buyers Guide 2009;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  In a big blind tasting this understated fragrant wine can be confused with syrah handled in a Cote Rotie style,  mainly because of the floral red roses quality to the berry which is quite unlike malbec (but a perfectly good expression of cabernet franc and merlot).  On palate it swings back to Bordeaux,  St Emilion more precisely,  with aromatic still firm and slightly peppery berry and red fruit qualities,  and shaping oak.  It is not an overly big wine,  and could be overlooked at first,  but the flavour is long and potentially gentle,  bespeaking a lower cropping rate than the colour first suggests.  The Terraces is in fact a good guide to what a New Zealand wine made to French First or Second Growth (or Grand Cru in Burgundy) standards tastes like,  for (varying with season) these vines are cropped at around one kilo per vine,  on average.  And since there are c. 3450 vines,  the 3450 kilos makes roughly the same number of bottles of The Terraces – hence the 300 cases above.  Winemaker Gordon Russell takes immense pride in ‘his’ Terraces wine,  and lesser years are ruthlessly culled.  There is no 2005,  ’07,  or ‘08 of The Terraces,  but there will be a 2009.  He has lately referred to it as his aspirational pinot noir made from Bordeaux varieties,  which is pushing things a bit – the tannins are very Bordeaux.  But by the same token,  it is light years away from big black premium Argentinean malbecs.  This is arguably New Zealand's most distinctive and sought-after wine,  made by one of our most committed / passionate winemakers.  A wine to treasure.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe 20.  GK 07/09

2007  Church Road Malbec Cuve Limited Release   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ cork;  DFB;  Ma 100%;  35 days cuvaison;  MLF and 21 months in French oak 46% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  cuve refers to the oak fermenters (imported from France) in the winery,  a premium Bordeaux approach;  release date June ’09,  not on website yet;  Catalogue:  a powerful, richly textured and inky dark wine with layers of plum and blackberry fruit and perfumed aromatics of spice and violet. With careful cellaring the wine will soften further and develop more complex, savoury aromas;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Carmine,  ruby and velvet,  a sensational midnight-deep kind of royal purple,  very dense indeed.  This is exciting wine.  Bouquet is darkly floral and fragrant,  an aroma I can't find the floral analogy for exactly,  but it is velvety deep yet slightly sweet and aromatic,  reminiscent of the maroon-flowered native Pittosporum shrub plus a suggestion of canned guavas.  Associated with that lovely smell are darkest dropping-from-the-tree ripe plums,  and light fragrant oak.  Palate is gorgeous,  big yet not oppressive,  not unduly alcoholic,  finer and more silky than top Argentinean examples,  and fully ripe.  I have virtually never seen a Cahors malbec without brett,  but if they can be this fine,  re-evaluation of the variety in New Zealand is needed (as Gordon Russell has done for The Terraces).  Stephen Bennett MW has consistently said the variety does not ripen properly in New Zealand,  though his views are somewhat biassed by adopting an Argentinean yardstick.  And in one sense,  if 2007 is a one year in ten in Hawkes Bay,  then this lovely wine would support his view.  Meanwhile,  revel in a truly ripe and rich local malbec which is not over-oaked,  is technically pure,  and shows a floral dimension in the variety rarely seen.  The Church Road winemakers say of the Cuve series programme that it is designed to:  extend the varietal and winemaking boundaries to deliver exciting wines with unique personality interest.  This wine is a triumphant exposition of that goal.  Along with Villa Maria’s 2002 Single Vineyard Omahu example,  it is the best straight example of the variety made so far in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 47%,  CS 40,  Ma 10,  CF 3,  hand-harvested;  all de-stemmed,  20 – 25 days cuvaison;  MLF and 20 months in French,  American and Hungarian oak with a percentage new;  Catalogue:  a bouquet of lifted plums, cassis and cedar characters. Layers of berry and plum flavours combine with complex savoury characters on a palate which is full, rich and soft with excellent length and structure;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour.  Bouquet is saturated cassis,  really quite remarkable.  Below is rich berry showing all the freshness and zing lacking in the even richer Mission Jewelstone 2007,  and ample bottled black plums.  Palate at this stage reflects aromatic cabernet more than plummy merlot,  but that will change in bottle.  Being the Cellar Selection,  it does not have quite the concentration and expensive oak treatment of the Reserve range,  so it is easy to underestimate.  Sometimes the Cellar Selection edition can be more attractive than the Reserve,  for the same reason – there is more emphasis on the fruit.  And given fruit of this quality,  this is a gorgeous wine which is going to be available for irresistible prices.  It is a little oakier but also more sophisticated than the competing Church Road Merlot / Cabernet.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2006  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 56%,  Me 44,  hand-harvested @ around 2.75 t/ac;  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  with a longer cuvaison than the Merlot Reserve;  MLF and 18 months in French and American oak 46% new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  Creme de cassis, bitter dark chocolate, coffee grindings, dried mint and graphite flow seamlessly from the nose to the palate. The palate is well structured with fine-grained tannins, concentrated, but with an overall elegance that is rare when coupled with this intensity. Anticipated maturity 2013-2018;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is deep and quiet,  with a beautiful quality of floral-infused cassis,  which is exactly modern Bordeaux from a classical producer.  By that I mean,  a wine which is not over-ripe,  not over-oaky,  is free from brett,  but is still essentially aimed at European ideals of beauty.  The floral notes are sweetly violets and dusky red roses.  Palate is leaner than the top wines,  but the quality of the cassis is superb,  merlot plums still to fatten,  and the body of the wine is floral right through.  This is a delightful Hawkes Bay wine,  not overly big but very beautiful indeed,  unequivocally Bordeaux classed-growth standard.  It is almost ‘delicate’ alongside the 2007 Church Rd Cabernet / Merlot Reserve,  but then many a good Bordeaux would be too.  This Villa Maria Reserve is simply an equally valid and equally exciting interpretation of the classic Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels 85%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $29   [ screwcap;  CS > 85%,  Me < 15;  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak mostly new;  RS < 1 g/L;  cuve refers to the French oak fermenters in the winery,  a premium approach from Bordeaux which Church Road introduced to New Zealand;  Catalogue:  A wine of power and elegance, this is an earthy, rich Bordeaux-style wine built around a core of ripe Hawke’s Bay fruit. Deep in colour with aromas of dark berry fruit, black cherry, and floral characters are complemented by integrated toast and spice from French oak and complexities of earth, cedar and a hint of minerality. The wine has excellent flesh and concentration, balanced by a backbone of ripe, fine-grained tannins. The finish is long and persistent;  Awards:  Gold @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is mellowing now on this very fragrant 2005 Hawkes Bay cabernet.  The integration of cassisy berry and cedary oak is magnificent on both bouquet and palate,  producing a wine in a St Julien mould.  The delicacy yet length of the cassis / cedar aftertaste is particularly noteworthy.  This unassuming wine is an elegant illustration of Hawkes Bay’s stunning potential to achieve world-class Bordeaux blends quite regularly within the next 10 years.  The best wines from the years 2005,  2006 and now 2007 provide all the guidelines needed.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Corbans Cabernet / Merlot Cottage Block   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels (Me & CS) and Havelock North (CF),  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  CS 41%,  Me 31,  CF 18,  all hand-picked,  100% de-stemmed; 21 separate fermentation components,  up to 38 days cuvaison for the CS;  MLF and 16 months in French oak 40% new;  not fined or filtered;  Catalogue:  classic blackcurrant and dark forest berry characters with complex savoury nuances;   Awards:  Silver @ Liquorland Top 100 2008,  Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008;  background @ www.corbans.co.nz,  leads to detail @;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com//tastingnotes.php? ]
Ruby and velvet,  dense,  the same richness as the 2007 but clearly older.  Bouquet on this wine shows some of the integration and completeness the 2005 Tom shows,  being beautifully complex and Bordeaux / Medoc like,  with gorgeous cedar and cassis,  as well as gentleness.  Palate is not quite as good as that wine however,  the weight of fruit being more cru bourgeois whereas the bouquet promised more,  but the subtlety of oaking and Medoc totality of style is delightful.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  Me 46%,  CS 46,  Ma 8,  hand-picked,  all de-stemmed;  cuvaison varies from var. to var. up to 35 days;  20 months in ‘predominantly’ French oak 64% new;  RS nil;  minimal filtration;  Catalogue:  Perfumed blackcurrant, coffee tobacco and spice lead into a ripe but balanced palate with well-defined acidity and fine-grained tannins;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  This is another among the Bordeaux blends which in its florality,  its dark roses grading into wallflower,  can be confused with syrah.  In addition,  there is the attractive aroma of cassis,  dark bottled plums and oak making this exciting wine on bouquet.  Palate shows more new oak than some of the other top wines,  partly accounting for the excitement on bouquet,  but there is a good berry fruit as well.  The cassis of the cabernet fraction is more apparent on palate,  and the wine is not as saturated and plump as,  say,  the Craggy Range pair,  but it is going to marry up into an worthwhile and aromatic blend.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Villa Maria Merlot Reserve   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Me 86%,  CS 8,  Ma 6,  hand-harvested @ c. 2.75 t/ac;  vinified @ Mangere;  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation;  c. 22 months in French and American oak 61% new;  Catalogue:  a dense nose with considerable depth, featuring small red and black berries, floral violet, vanillin and cedar-briary spice notes. This wine is highly seductive as great Merlot should be; the palate is highly refined with textural tannins and creamy supportive oak, and features tightness, balance and length. Optimum cellaring 2010-2017;  Awards:  5 Stars @ Winestate 2008, Gold @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008, Trophy for  NZ Red Bordeaux Varietals Over £10 @ Decanter World Wine Awards UK 2008;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than 2005 Tom.  Bouquet changes greatly with breathing,  becoming sweet and floral and showing good technical purity,  with a wonderful interplay between musk-rose and dark tobacco notes,  plus cedary oak.  In mouth the berryfruit is marrying into the oak,  quite a lot of development (who said red wines don’t develop under screwcap ?),  total east-bank Bordeaux in acid balance and gentleness.  This wine now sits alongside the 2005 Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve handsomely,  and shows the softer east-bank side of the Bordeaux equation relative to the Church Road’s Medoc.  It has come forward a good deal since my last review in 2007,  and I like it more.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Esk Valley Merlot Black Label   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me 90%,  CS 5,  Ma 5,  all de-stemmed;  11 months in mostly French oak,  some new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  a full bodied and serious red wine … a small addition of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon have provided structure and complexity to the final blend. Cellar with  confidence till at least 2015;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  nearly some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is delightful,  another face of real merlot,  a suggestion of violets in a clear dusky floral dimension,  gorgeous bottled black doris plums,  light oak.  Palate is still a little hessian on a new French oak component,  but the ratio of fruit to oak is potentially delightful.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me , CS,  Ma,  all de-stemmed; inoculated ferments;  12 months in mostly French oak,  some new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  full bodied, complex and very age worthy, potentially the best yet under this label;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely colour.  This is another wine to show nearly violets floral complexity and lovely cassis,  in a good depth of fresh berry.  The ratio of berryfruit to oak is excellent.  Palate is cassis and plums,  and again at this stage one would think cabernet sauvignon the dominant variety,  beautiful ripeness,  gentle acid and tannins all beautifully balanced.  The Black Label wines from Esk Valley are not as concentrated as the Reserves naturally enough,  but they are made with similar care.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Merlot EV (Exceptional Vintage)   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $75   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  all de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 – 16 months in French oak;  Catalogue:  concentrated, ripe blackberry and Christmas cake characters. Warm and rich on the palate with mocha flavours and fine, supple tannins on the finish;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby,  but softly plush.  Bouquet is understated but striking,  being fragrant in the way classed Beaune can be.  This is eminently reasonable,  merlot having long been compared with (and in age,  confused with) pinot noir,  before elephantine American demands for what constitutes wine quality became de rigueur.  Perhaps I should say in parentheses that Sileni chief winemaker Grant Edmonds’ view of the world is dramatically a polar opposite from the thought ‘bigger is better’.  Often I have wished for more grunt in his wines,  but even that is a trap,  for the bigger a wine,  the less food-friendly it is likely to be.  Both the top Sileni wines and Grant’s personal label RedMetal can be deceptive,  and critics must be careful,  particularly with a wine like this.  After all,  Grant is in effect saying:  I have put every effort into this wine,  and in my view it is a $75 bottle.  And in bouquet,  it is,  showing a red roses quality of merlot specific varietal quality which is totally St Emilion.  Oaking is attractively subtle and winey,  when compared with a wine such as the Pask Merlot Declaration.  In mouth though,  it is still just a bit light.  Whereas the apparently light The Terraces wine is in fact surprisingly long and sustained on palate,  this Merlot while good (and richer than The Triangle wine) is not really rich enough for the price,  I feel.  Sileni still regard their cropping rate of 2.5 – 3 kg / vine as “low”,  whereas The Terraces is more like 1 kg.  Comparison with the exemplary 2007 Craggy Range Merlots,  where the cropping rate is also c. 1 kg / vine for Sophia,  and maybe 1.5 for The Gimblett Gravels wine,  is instructive at this point too.  All that said,  however,  this EV is going to be delightful with food.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc Jewelstone   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $38   [ cork;  CS 45%,  Me 31,  CF 20,  PV 4,  hand-harvested at low yields;  inoculated yeast,  cuvaison up to 30 days;  c. 15 months in French oak 73% new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  …berry and dark chocolate aromas. The palate is rich with good structure. The Cabernet provides the wine’s backbone and depth on the palate. The Cabernet Franc gives fragrant red currant aromas with fine tannins and the Merlot lends soft aromas and good mid palate. The Petit Verdot has vibrant fruit cake aromas and muscular tannins;  Awards:  Gold @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  Bouquet is darkly plummy,  very ripe to over-ripe,  lacking the freshness and excitement that comes from floral notes at perfect ripeness.  Palate is sumptuous on its fat black texture,  but again is lacking in vibrancy.  This is a wine to illustrate the view previously expressed in these pages,  that unthinkable though it would have been 20 years ago,  the Gimblett Gravels in some years will produce over-ripe fruit which takes our wines uncomfortably close to Australian styles.  For me the descriptor ‘chocolate’ lately much used as a positive attribute in wine by winemakers and wine-writers alike is a symptom of the growing Americanisation of wine taste and popular appreciation – where size,  depth of colour and its associated (almost obligatory) over-ripeness and lushness prevail,  and freshness is lesser.  This Mission wine is moving in that direction,  but beautiful oaking and natural acid help differentiate it from overseas examples.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Church Road Merlot / Cabernet   18  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle 63%,  Gimblett Gravels 22,  Tuki Tuki Valley 15,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Me 57%,  CS 30,  Ma  5,  Sy 6,  CF 2;  cuvaison varies for variety,  up to 28 days;  MLF and 12 months in French and Hungarian oak 30% new;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  a core of rich black fruits, and subtle violet and lavender floral notes. Barrel maturation has provided complimentary oak complexities of cedar and chocolate. The palate is medium bodied and supple with good length;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Since the 2005 vintage,  this standard Merlot / Cabernet from Church Road has been one of the style leaders in the sub-$25 Hawkes Bay blends – particularly when it is promoted at $15.  For me it is becoming a problem wine,  demanding rigorous blind tastings,  simply because I like its unpretentious cru bourgeois styling so much.  This 2007 is the best yet,  a wine of total stylistic integrity and varietal purity and charm.  It exhibits attractive ripeness,  and enough clean oak to shape the wine without dominating it.  It might not be quite as rich and soft as the Wild Rock 2007,  but it is purer,  and wonderfully floral.  It is nearly as rich as the Esk Valley Black Label blend.  The addition of a dash of syrah moves the wine a little closer to the distinctive Hawkes Bay blend concept I have discussed earlier on this site,  yet it retains total Bordeaux analogy.  When you think that this wine may be regularly available for $15 on promotion at supermarkets over the next 15 months or so,  I do not know why we cannot export truckloads of such an accessible and exceptional Bordeaux-like blend to Europe.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  [ Craggy Range group ] Wild Rock Merlot / Malbec Gravel Pit Red   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $21   [ screwcap;  Me 79%,  Ma 11,  CS 7,  CF 3,  50%  hand-picked @ 3 t/ac,  all de-stemmed;  14 months in French oak 15% new;  RS 2 g/L; fined and filtered;  Catalogue:  Aromatically profuse with dollops of black doris plum and blackberry, laced with cedar, dark chocolate and thyme. The palate is thick with fine soft tannins that meld with abundant, ripe fruit. Balanced acidity provides the structure to match the flavour intensity. Our best yet;  www.wildrockwine.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour.  Bouquet is berry-dominant,  but not showing quite the depth of elevage and oak complexity of the top wines.  There is beautiful ripeness and richness of darkest bottled black plums,  with some dark tobacco complexities.  Palate likewise is more succulent and berry-dominant,  not the tannin structure of the top wines,  but the quality of fruit in this $21 wine makes all too apparent the wonderful fruit resources and superb viticulture the Craggy Range group have available to them.  Who could have believed just 10 years ago that a Hawkes Bay blend of this quality would be available in a company's cheapest price-bracket ?  This is a perfect exhibition wine to demonstrate what Bordeaux blend fruit should taste like when properly ripened at an appropriate cropping rate,  an assessment made easier by the relative lack of oak complexity.  So many of the wines in this exhibition lack the ripeness needed for international quality,  including sad to say a number of the more expensive.  Cellar this Gravel Pit Red 5 – 12 years,  even if it is made to be scoffed tonight.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Merlot The Triangle Estate Selection series   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  100% de-stemmed;  MLF in tank;  14 months in barrel 85% French,  15 American;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  … plum, dark berry and liquorice flavours, with hints of dark chocolate on the finish. Soft and velvety tannins provide the backbone for a rich wine that will cellar comfortably for a decade;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby.  These 2007 merlots from Hawkes Bay are very good.  This one is so fragrant there is almost a jujube quality to it,  but let's say red roses and red and black plums,  with a hint of spice which is almost confuseable with ripe syrah.  Palate is still firm,  good plummy flavours,  gentle oak,  all in attractive balance and though not a low cropping rate,  the wine is more substantial than many from Sileni.  This is the best Triangle Merlot so far.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Corbans Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Private Bin   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  website way behind,  latest 2004 (which was 66% Me,  all French oak 30% new for 11 months;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.corbans.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  surprisingly fresh for its vintage.  Sometimes colours skewed to youth bespeak reduction,  but not this one.  The first impression on bouquet is left-bank claret,  with deep cassis,  dark bottled plums,  and quiet new oak.  In mouth it is rich,  but tending austere,  just like several high-cabernet cru bourgeois St Estephes in a good vintage.  This is an intriguingly different Hawkes Bay blend,  which needs several more years to even start to open.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels The Nest   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me,  CS,  Ma,  hand-picked;  some BF,  French oak;  website malfunctioning;  Catalogue:  huge concentration, a firm structure with intense fruit characteristics;  Awards:  94/100 Bob Campbell Gourmet Traveller,  Gold @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2006,  Gold @ Royal Easter Show 2007;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than 2005 Tom.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  showing a lot of cedary oak but with good berryfruit to support it.  Palate has cassis and plummy fruit browning a little,  all soft and warm,  and mellow despite the oak.  This is a somewhat different kind of Hawkes Bay blend,  more new world in its oakiness,  but the quality of oak is sufficient to not intrude too much.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Estate   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels and close by,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 46%,  CS 39,  CF 12,  Ma 3,  all destemmed;  MLF and 15 months in French and American oak some new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  aromas of red fruits and spice. The palate bursts with rich black plum, cassis and spice. The wine has a long and smooth finish with supple tannins and fine acidity giving the wine elegance and length;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby.  This Estate label is totally in style with their Reserve,  a wonderfully fragrant wine with new oak and American oak playing a larger part than in the two sister wineries Esk Valley and Villa Maria,  yet the wine is not austere.  Palate has the same cassisy and plummy flavours as the Reserve,  remarkably so,  but as the price would suggest,  the wine is not as concentrated.  Tasting it alongside the similarly-priced Esk Valley Black Label blend is a great insight into more and less American oak influence on an essentially similar weight and quality of fruit.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Corbans Merlot / Cabernet Private Bin   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  website way behind,  latest 2004 (which was 66% Me,  all French oak 30% new for 11 months);  Catalogue:  a rich, intense wine. Luscious black doris plum aromas with hints of savoury oak are complemented by soft, silky tannins and ripe fruit flavours;  www.corbans.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  Like the Wild Rock wine,  this bouquet does not show the complexity of elevage evident in the top examples,  but the volume of berryfruit is impressive.  On palate there is some marrying-up still needed,  and a suggestion of dark olives as if there were malbec,  but the volume of berry and the aromatic and potentially tobacco-y flavours are impressive for the price range.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Pask Merlot Gimblett Road   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  some cold soak;  c. 14 months in French & American oak;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  …aromas of fragrant fruits and floral notes.  Ripe fruits, firm tannins and lovely texture is the makeup of this Merlot. Fine oak supports intense plum fruits which will age well;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is really fragrant,  with the soft roses floral quality merlot can show when not over-ripe or over-oaked,  on ripe red fruits.  This is a pretty wine in the best sense,  contrasting with a more substantial one like the Church Road Cuve model.  Palate is still firm and youthful,  red plums more than black,  not particularly concentrated but what is there is good, and appropriately oaked at about the level of the Vidal Estate wine – that is,  still more than some.  This will cellar attractively,  and be soft and food-friendly in a couple of years.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Glazebrook   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels 89%,  Ngatarawa Triangle 11,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Me 70%,  CS 30,  hand-harvested from 14-year-old vines;  inoculated and fermentation / cuvaison to 21 days;   MLF and c. 12 months in French oak 50% new;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  expresses the character of premium Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grown on deep gravels in the warmest vineyard sites of Hawke’s Bay;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Both colour and bouquet on this wine suggest a real turnaround at Ngatarawa,  where all too often the wines have been leafy and light,  as if overcropped and hence under-ripened.  This smells ripe and plump,  with an immediate Bordeaux suggestion to it,  the interaction of cassis and plum and cedar,  with a hint of dark tobacco.  Palate is not quite as good,  but it is still youthful,  with good cassis enriched with dark plum.  If this label is this good in 2007,  then 2007 Alwyn should really be something to look forward to.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Syrah / Malbec The Chatterer   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Me 83%,  Sy 7,  Ma 7,  CS 3;  some BF,  French oak;  Catalogue:  Fresh vibrant flavours of blackcurrant and Plum … huge concentration, a firm structure with intense fruit characteristics. Will cellar well for up to 10 years;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is appealing,  reflecting the synergy that temperate-climate merlot fully ripe can find with matching syrah.  There are clear wallflower floral notes on attractive cassis,  not smelling at all oaky.  Palate is not quite so enchanting,  not quite the body hoped for from the bouquet,  but  ripe berry and plum in attractive balance with oak.  Squawking Magpie are moving towards subtler winestyles nowadays,  when compared with the earlier more oaky ones.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  with interest.  GK 07/09

2006  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon/ Cabernet Franc Te Kahu   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ cork;  DFB;   Me 58%,  CS 22,  CF 15,  Ma 5,  hand-harvested @ 2.8 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in s/s;  18 months in French oak 51% new;  fined and filtered;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is soft,  sweetly floral,  enticing,  and clearly varietal,  all the qualities sought in reputable cru bourgeois-level Bordeaux blends,  but not always found.  There is good cassisy berryfruit and red and black plums,  and tobacco-y oak.  Palate is clearly lighter than the other Craggy Range wines,  but it still shows the firm’s attention to detail in keeping a total bordeaux style,  with fragrant ripe fruit,  gentle older oak,  and all clearly food-friendly and appealing.  Te Kahu was going to be an export-only label,  but wine markets are retrenching overseas as well.  It is now also being marketed in New Zealand,  where it is seen as an entry wine to Craggy's premium Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend series.  Cellar 3 – 8 years or so.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Moana Park Merlot Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Tribute   17 ½  ()
Dartmoor Valley % Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  inexplicably,  previous vintages are not on the website,  but assuming is similar to 2008:  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  some cold-soak,  inoculated yeasts;  18 months in French oak,  some new;  not filtered;  Catalogue:  lifted berry fruit reminiscent of Dark Cherry, cooked Plums and Blackberry. A rich and concentrated brambly style with wonderful depth of flavour on the palate showing ripe dark fruit with a lifted spiciness and perfumed cedar notes. The wine is silky smooth with great length and ripe tannins;  Awards:  5 Stars @ Winestate,  4.5 Stars Michael Cooper;  www.moanapark.co.nz ]
Rich ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is distinctive on this wine,  showing a peppermint lift on red fruits and chocolate,  all attractive but a bit irregular,  unless one likes a lot of artefact in one’s wine.  Palate is very youthful,  and sets the mind speculating.  Why is there a stalky thread,  when most of the flavours are delightfully red even black fruits ?  And do I really want cooperage-derived mocha / chocolate notes in my wine ?  It is not traditional,  and has only come into fashion with the Americanisation of wine taste.  Yet the whole thing really is quite attractive,  or will be.  With a little more care in sorting the fruit to exclude under-ripe berries,  and less ostentatious oak,  this would rate well.  Be fun to see how it marries up,  so the score allows for that.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Salvare Merlot   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  de-stemmed;  c.12 months in oak;  Catalogue:  hints of dark berries on the nose (boysenberry, blackberry). On the palate it is rich and has a fruitcake character that lingers on the finish;  Awards:  Bronze @ Air New Zealand 2008,  Bronze @ Royal Easter Show 2009;  www.salvare.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is delightfully fragrant on this wine,  with suggestions of the floral qualities that merlot can show in viticultural districts perfectly suited to it.  Here fragrant oak melds with these floral qualities,  and coupled with good berry makes the wine smell delicious – though there are reminders of syrah also.  Palate is akin to the Vidal Estate Merlot / Cabernet,  good berry and oak right through,  oak noticeable but not too assertive,  the flavours all lingering attractively.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Clearview Estate Winery  [CS / CF / Me ]  Old Olive Block   17 +  ()
Te Awanga & Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $39   [ supercritical cork;  CS 48%,  CF 25,  Me 14,  Ma 13,  hand-harvested from vines up to 20 years age on the home vineyard;  3 days cold-soak,  some wild yeast,  cuvaison extending to 28 days;  c. 17 months in mostly French oak;  Catalogue:  From one of our best ever vintages … a wonderful nose and the palate is generous, warm and spicy with complex flavours of cassis and plum. Savoury cedar oak and long soft tannins finish this wine beautifully. Age to 12 years;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet shows clear violets florals in a fresh and fragrant Medoc / Hawkes Bay blended style,  with a lot of cassis.  Palate is a little less than the bouquet promises,  lean and firm,  high cassis,  closely reminiscent of some northern Medoc cru bourgeois wines,  sufficient ripeness but a little austere.  Leave this for three years to soften,  cellar 5 – 12 years.  For a cabernets-dominant wine,  ripeness is good for the Te Awanga coastal zone.  [ Later,  the benison of a Gimblett Gravels component revealed on referring to the website. ]  GK 07/09

2007  Clearview Estate Cabernet Franc Winery Reserve   17 +  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ supercritical cork;  CF 91%,  Me 7,  Ma 2,  hand-harvested;  15 months in mostly new French oak;  Catalogue:  The great vintage of 2007 has produced an intense floral wine with plum, spice and rich cassis flavours supported by strong mocha oak and fine long tannins … to 2016;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  Initially opened,  the wine is reductive and needs a good splashy decanting or two.  It opens into an old-fashioned wine,  too heavy and oaky to respect the subtle floral and berry beauty of cabernet franc,  but none-the-less rich.  Palate is more black fruits than red,  again too weighty and over-ripe to optimise the variety,  but it is a good big cabernet / merlot style.  It shows none of the leafyness so often bedevilling the Te Awanga wines,  so the 2007 vintage was certainly superb in that sub-district.  Score is breathed.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Matariki Cabernet / Merlot   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $27   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 57%,  Me 28,  CF 10,  Sy 5,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments,  varying cuvaisons according to variety;  some MLFs in barrel,  21 months in French oak 20% new;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  classic ripe blackcurrant and plum aromas underlain by spicy oak aromas. On the palate the wine shows ripe fruit characters, integrated tannins and good balance leading to a full and satisfying finish;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is ripe cassis and dark plums,  with good oak,  promising.  Palate is a little less,  the oak tending excessive for the weight of the fruit,  but the plummy flavours linger well,  all the same.  An attractive and representative Hawkes Bay claret blend needing to soften.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  [ Paritua Vineyards Merlot / Cabernet ] Stone Paddock Scarlet   17 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Me 37%,  CS 35,  CF 16, Ma 12;  de-stemmed,  some cold-soak;  no elevage info;  Catalogue: … intense blackberry and black currant aromas combined with alluring hints of truffle and cedar notes. The oak influence is subtle and provides spicy notes and great structure. This stunning vintage exceeded all expectations giving the finished wine full flavours and great balance;  www.paritua.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet is fragrant,  with a mix of berry types and shaping cedary oak.  Palate is reasonably rich,  still quite fresh and youthful,  with cassis and plummy qualities not as darkly ripe as many Gimblett Gravels wines,  more red plums with their fragrance.  Aftertaste is long,  youthful and shows potential.  Cellar 5 – 10 years or so.  GK 07/09

2006  Trinity Hill [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Gimblett Gravels The Gimblett   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ supercritical cork;  DFB;  Me 57%,  CS 17,  PV 15,  CF 6,  Ma  5,  hand-picked at c. 2.6 t/ac,  de-stemmed;  average vine age 11 years; c.28 days cuvaison;  18 months in 'predominantly' French oak 40% new;  Catalogue:  a multi-layered wine with seamless texture and a long, floral finish. A wonderful warm plummy, chocolaty, licorice aroma and flavours, with violet notes, are complemented by a medium to full-bodied wine with structure that will ensure that the wine can age well for another 5 years;  Awards:  Gold & Trophy, Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is a little different from most of the merlot / cabernets in this bracket,  the wine showing a fragrant bush honey nose on mainly red berries.  Palate has a good length of berry,  but the flavours tend to the austere side,  not exactly stalky but not enough ripeness and generosity to be charming,  as yet.  It is intriguing how 2005 and 2006 varied from place to place and producer to producer in Hawkes Bay,  quite by chance of localised rainfall.  This wine is lesser than the very attractive 2005 of this label from Trinity,  yet in their syrah vineyards Trinity elected not to make a 2005 Homage,  opting for 2006.  Cellar 5 – 8 years,  to soften.  GK 07/09

2006  Clearview Estate Winery [ Me / CF / CS ] Enigma   17  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ supercritical cork;  Me 76%,  CF 9,  CS 8,  Ma 7,  hand-picked;  17 months in mostly new French oak;  Catalogue: … this seductive and sensuous red wine. A blend of 4 grape varieties from our best parcels, exhibiting the flavours of plum, sweet spicy cassis, mint and earthy violets combined with long fine-grained tannins and sweet oak;  Awards:  Gold & Trophy, New Zealand International Wine Show 2008;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet is very fragrant on this wine due to both fruit ripeness and brett,  making the wine European in style.  Aromas include bottled plums and some chocolate hints.  Palate is softer and fuller than the Old Olive Block,  as the cepage would suggest,  with the richness more as for the cabernet franc but the oak less.  The balance of flavours here is soft and pleasing,  the brett minor,  but the whole wine is a little ‘cool’.  The wine is not quite as ripe as Te Kahu,  for example.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 7/09  GK 07/09

2006  Squawking Magpie Merlot Gimblett Gravels The Nest   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me,  hand-harvested;  some BF,  French oak;  Catalogue:  huge concentration, a firm structure with intense fruit characteristics. This wine will cellar for up to 20 years;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some age showing.  Bouquet is fragrant and sweetly varietal,  some red rose aromas on red and blackcurrants and bottled plums,  plus cedary oak.  It is tending forward for its age.  Palate is more oaky than the bouquet,  and there is not quite the fruit to make it a convincing new-world interpretation of a St Emilion approach,  so it ends up sitting closer to the Pask Declaration.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Road   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  CS 50%,  Me 35,  Ma 15;  c. 14 months in French and American oak;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  Ripe fully flavoured fruit is traditionally warm fermented and then aged in oak for softening, complexing and completing this wine. The strength of Cabernet is partnered with supple Merlot and fragrant Malbec … aromas of blackcurrants and fine sweet oak. An intense well extracted red. Brambly fruits combine with firm tannin … Bottle development will enhance this wine by offering leathery notes as well as softening;  Awards:  5 Stars & Best Buy, Cuisine Sept. 2007, Silver @ Chicago World Wine Championships 2007;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant and sweet on a suggestion of violets and dark roses,  plus cassis,  ripe plums and lightly cedary oak.  Flavour shows a little more oak and a trace of stalk,  but the berryfruit is fresh and attractive,  medium richness,  all attractively balanced as a medium-term wine.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Merlot Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.6%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  Me 95%,  CF 5;  up to 30 days cuvaison;  MLF in tank,  13 months in French oak 25% new;  RS ‘dry';  Catalogue:  The nose shows very ripe Merlot flavours. The oak is subtle and unobtrusive. There is nice intensity on the front palate with very good tannins that are quite grippy at bottling but which will soften with time. The wine is harmonious showing balance and softness that only comes from fruit from a top vintage;  Awards:  Silver @ New Zealand International Wine Show 2008, Silver @ Liquorland Top 100 2008;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  Amidst rather many under-ripe wines,  even from an excellent vintage such as 2007 in Hawkes Bay,  it is sad to find some examples which are over-ripe.  Maybe 20 years ago,  we could not have conceived of this in a New Zealand Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blend,  but the viticultural world has changed,  more certainly than the climate has.  This wine is blackly plummy and almost blackberry on bouquet,  but a plum you are a little dubious about biting into,  for fear it will be over-ripe and messy.  Palate is opulent,  but the florals and some of the freshness have gone,  so the flavours are thick,  dark,  chocolatey and overdone,  like some of those Irvine Merlots from South Australia –  but in this case with natural acid.  Plenty of people will like this soft rich Australian / Californian-styled wine very much,  but the opportunity for a lovely fragrant gently aromatic and Bordeaux-like wine has been lost.  This is more commercial.  Cellar 3 – 8  years.  GK 07/09

2005  Babich [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Patriarch   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ 48 mm supercritical cork;  DFB;  Me 70%,  CS 30,  hand-harvested;  some cold-soak,  extended cuvaison;  21 months in French and American barriques,  some new;  sold out in New Zealand;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  surprisingly developed for its age.  On bouquet this is an European / traditional merchant-St Emilion kind of wine,  with complex berry and a little brett in browning cassis.  Flavour is ripe,  cassisy and plummy but browning already,  all slightly savoury.  It is a little richer and softer than 2006 Patriarch,  and is attractive drinking in its forward way.  Like the Alpha Domus Aviator,  intrinsic quality and hence the price / quality ratio is out of kilter with either recent practice in Bordeaux,  or current achievements with Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends in the Bay.  It is more a short-term cellar wine,  3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Pask Merlot Declaration   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ ProCork (a plastic-filmed natural cork);  CS 48%,  Me 35,  Ma 17,  machine-harvested,  de-stemmed;  some cold-soak,  main batch cuvaison to 28 days,  some partial BF;  c.18 months in French and American oak;   Catalogue:  complexity, velvet texture and natural density … intense, concentrated plum, spice and sweet oak aromas … ripe fruit, wonderful vibrancy and the ability to age well. Integrated oak, fine tannins in abundance and weighty plummy fruit;  Awards:  Silver @ [London] International Wine Challenge 2008,  Silver @ Chicago World Wine Championships 2007;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet is oaky first,  and then there are good red fruits.  The question is,  how will the balance be on tongue ?  In my view,  there is not enough of the red plummy fruit for the weight of cedary oak,  so the wine is gawky,  and not food-friendly.  Oak just does not go with food,  and gives the wine a slightly salty (loosely speaking) quality,  on all the phenolics and tannins.  But a lot of people do like oak,  and it is good-quality oak,  so the score is a compromise.  Cellar 3 – 8 years – any longer and there is a danger of the wine going varnishy.  GK 07/09

2005  Squawking Magpie Merlot / Cabernet Gimblett Gravels SQM   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  Me 72%,  CS 13,  CF 12,  Ma 3;  some BF,  French oak;  Catalogue:  a layered fragrant nose redolent of ripe plum and cassis with lifted vanilla, cedar and tobacco notes. The palate has a rich velvet texture with excellent structure, ripe black fruits and cassis flavours with a long full finish. Great cellaring wine for up to 10 years;  Awards:  94/100 Bob Campbell Gourmet Traveller, Gold @ Liquorland Top 100 2008, Silver @ Royal Easter Show 2008;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  This is more the older kind of Squawking Magpie,  showing a lot of oak on bouquet,  with the varietal quality pretty well drowned,  so with age there is now a slightly tawny port-like quality.  There have been Chilean reds like this too.  In mouth there is good fruit,  both plummy and cassisy berry,  and the balance is better.  Total style is still not good for New Zealand however,  being too close to older Australian or Chilean.  A wine for those liking oak,  to cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Matariki [ Hawkes Bay blend ] Quintology   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.6%;  $50   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 41%,  CS 30,  Ma 12,  CF 10,  Sy 7,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments,  cuvaison for some components to 28 days;  MLF completed in barrel and 19 months in ‘predominantly’ French and some US oak,  55% new;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  an intense aroma of ripe blackberries and dark plums intermingled with spice and soft cedary oak. Skilled blending of the 5 varieties delivers a wine with elegant integration of the fruit and oak. A delicious velvety tannin approach leads through to a rich full palate and a complex lingering finish;  Awards:  90-95 points, Neal Martin for Robert Parker;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some development.  Bouquet is delightfully fragrant and claret-styled,  nearly floral,  some cassis,  red and black plums,  some black pepper,  but it is not a rich wine.  Palate confirms the lighter impression,  being quite modestly-fruited.  The flavour is attractive though,  with reasonable ripeness just escaping leafiness,  and some oak complexity.  The nett impression does suggest too generous a cropping rate – I was hoping for more substance in the firm’s top-of-the-range wine in a mostly good vintage like 2005.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Merlot Cellar Selection   16 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 81%,  CF 10,  Ma 9;  website lacks detail;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  aromas of plum and dark berry fruit. Silky tannins give it a soft finish for early drinkability and the depth of fruit gives it the ability to cellar for 4-5 years;  Awards:  Pure Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is sweet and ripe at the red fruits level,  nearly some raspberry,  clearly red currants,  bottled red plums,  gentle oak,  all undemonstrative.  Flavours are not quite so good,  a little austere note like sucking on the (red) plum stones,  but reasonable body and flesh,  subtly oaked.  This wine shows a pretty side of merlot,  in a food-friendly way.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Merlot Vineyard Selection   16 ½ +  ()
SW of Havelock North,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $22   [ screwcap;  around 15 days cuvaison;  MLF in tank,  13 months in French oak 25% new;  RS 1 g/L;  Catalogue:  a Merlot with ripe cherry and dark berry aromas. The oak is in harmony and not dominating, due to the overriding fruit intensity. The character is different to other Hawke’s Bay Merlot wines;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  Bouquet shows plummy fruit and some oak,  all with a degree of development a little surprising in a 2007 wine.  Palate is firm and oaky,  the wine tending hard and short even though quite rich.  Leave for a couple of years to soften,  then cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Alpha Domus [ Cabernets / Merlot / Malbec ] Aviator [ preview ]   16 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $65   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 36%,  CF 27,  Me 23,  Ma 14,  hand-harvested;  cuvaison up to 30 days for some components;  MLF and 17 months in French oak up to 75% new,  temperature controlled;  RS < 1 g/L;  450 cases;  release date Nov 2009;  Catalogue:  An intense aroma of red fruits, spice, leather, cedar, and cigar box notes, complemented by fine oak ... chocolate, spices … sweet fruit, a full, silky texture and firm structure. Slightly drying tannins will fade with time to integrate with intense fruit flavours … a harmonious wine which will age with grace;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet is intriguing,  the first thought being an aromatic close to capers,  which raises worrying doubts about ‘herbes’ of one kind or another.  There is cassis and quite good plummy fruit more red than black,  plus cedary oak.  Given the vintage,  confusion on bouquet,  therefore.  Palate shows a peppery note in reasonable body,  and blind one surmises the wine is a light Crozes-Hermitage-styled syrah.  Wrong.  As a Bordeaux blend the wine is clean and fragrant,  but lacking in the ripeness needed for an optimal interpretation of cabernet / merlot.  Interesting,  until one sees the price.  More tasting of the wines of the world needed here.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Clearview Estate Winery [ Malbec / Cabernet  ] Two Pinnacles   16 ½  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ supercritical cork;  Ma 85%,  CS 15,  all hand-picked;  17 months in mostly French oak some new;  not filtered;  Catalogue:  warm and generous on the palate with lifted fragrant fruits of plums and violets. A power packed wine with deep damson hues and dense layers of spice and oak … will age wonderfully for 8-10 years;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is very fragrant,  but not quite for the right reasons.  There are suggestions of that green olive / stalky character both malbec and pinotage display when under-ripe,  mixed in with red fruits and subtle oak.  Palate is similar,  a fair weight of red plummy fruit,  but with a leafy underpinning.  It is pure though,  and the oak use is attractive.  Cellar 3 – 10 years in its style.  GK 07/09

2007  Ash Ridge Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   16 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $32   [ screwcap;  CS 46%,  CF 23,  Me 22,  Ma 9,  hand-picked;  14 months in French oak,  none new;  not filtered;  80 cases;  Catalogue:  a seriously robust wine with wonderful aromas reminiscent of raspberry, cassis, blackcurrant and toasty oak. On the palate the wine displays a full bodied richness with ripe smooth tannins and lifted notes of cassis, chocolate, fruitcake and leather;  www.ashridgewines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet shows a very cedary,  almost pink pine (an alpine native conifer) kind of oak too prominent at this stage as if American,  but below is lovely ripe cassisy and darkly plummy fruit.  In  mouth (leaving  aside the oak) the wine is so cassisy and aromatic it can be confused with syrah,  but the balance of the wine is firm young Pauillac,  darkly plummy,  too oaky but richer than the standard 2006.  This is an intriguing cabernet-dominant blend,  which will be interesting to follow in cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Babich [ Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec / Merlot ] The Patriarch   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ 48 mm supercritical cork;  DFB;  CS 75%,  Ma 16,  CF 9,  hand-harvested;  some cold-soak,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French barriques,  some new;  Catalogue:  Sweet dark fruits, cigar box and underlying quality oak bound from the glass. The palate is complex and generous with a spicy fruit cake, chocolate and blackberry entry that is layered with leather and tar notes. The experience doesn’t stop as the generous palate develops a gorgeous fine cocoa and leather finish that lingers seamlessly;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some development for its age.  Bouquet gets off to a bad start with trace VA,  behind which is reasonable berry in a plummy lightly peppery wine,  and a little brett.  Palate is evolved for its age,  quite rustic,  not really the fruit to carry the oak,  so not a long-term cellar wine.  Regrettably this is another expensive wine without the intrinsic ripeness and therefore quality to justify the price.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ ProCork (a plastic-filmed natural cork);  CS 48%,  Me 35,  Ma 17,  machine-harvested,  de-stemmed;  some partial BF;  c.18 months in French and American oak;   Catalogue:  Dense purple / red in colour with aromas of berry fruits, spice and toasty fruitcake. Intense, rich berry flavours and spice and cassis characters are supported by fine tannins. Sweet oak provides backbone and balance;  Awards:  Gold @ Hawkes Bay A & P 2008,  Gold @ Chicago World Wine Championships 2007, Gold @ Royal Easter Show 2007, Silver @ Decanter World Wine Awards 2008;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  quite deep.  Bouquet is oak first and foremost,  in the older Pask style.  Wine should be about grapes first,  I believe.  There are red fruits too,  but not enough to justify the extraordinary amount of oak.  This wine will go varnishy with time,  and is simply ugly with food,  already.  The sad thing is,  wines like this win gold medals,  simply because wine judgings are primarily new world affairs,  and new world wine judges don't think enough about the ultimate role of wine – to accompany food.  And,  equally,  wine judges fatigue more quickly than most acknowledge,  and then oaky wines stand out and seem positive in big lineups,  with pressure of time.  So it is all a bit sad,  and the nett result of a gold medal for a wine like this is,  inappropriate wine styles are held up to the new world industry,  including its young and starting winemakers,  as a kind of model to strive for.  

So what of the wine,  then,  specifically.  Bouquet is clean cedary oak on berryfruit in which cassis and plums are detectable.  In mouth it is quite rich,  but the oak really does dominate,  even with all the excuses in the world.  Wines like Mouton Rothschild famous for their new oak use are at best also saturated with berryfruit to a degree rarely encountered,  which enables them to carry the oak in a balanced way.  This wine does not achieve that,  and is out of balance.  It is not so suited therefore to future 2005 Bordeaux / rest of world comparative reviews.  A wine for oakniks only,  to cellar 5 – 12 years (noting the caveat re varnish).  GK 07/09

2005  Wishart [ Merlot / Malbec ] Legend   16 +  ()
Bay View,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.4%;  $35   [ cork;  Me 56%,  Ma 19,  CF 18,  Sy 7,  hand-picked,  de-stemmed;  20 months in barrel,  some new;  lightly fined and filtered;  Catalogue:  a slight nuance of coffee in behind the fragrant spices and dark fruits. An immediate fleshiness and a rich texture flow through the palate. Supple yet bold tannins give structure which indicates good potential for aging;  Awards:  Silver @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2007;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  old for age.  Bouquet is maturing light Bordeaux-styled red,  attractively fragrant,  tending rustic on some brett.  Palate is fully mature,  red plums more than cassis,  pleasant ripe fruit,  cedary oak,  easy drinking.  Cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Ash Ridge Wines Cabernet / Merlot   16 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.8%;  $28   [ screwcap;  CS 42,  CF 26,  Me 26,  Ma 6,  hand-picked;  15 months in American oak none new;  Catalogue:  This wine exhibits ripe blackcurrant and dark fruit on the nose with nuances of subtle oak. It has a very approachable palate, with dark red fruits and spice accompanied by nicely integrated sweet vanillin and soft silky tannins;  www.ashridgewines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  lightish.  The light fragrant bouquet creates interest in the blind line-up – is the wine pinot noir (after the colour) or merlot ?  This is a reasonable subject for confusion in lighter merlots.  Palate shows red currants,  red cherries and stewed red plums,  plus fragrant oak all attractively balanced.  The tannin in the wine tips one towards a claret blend,  medium weight,  though the style of the wine highlights what cabernet franc could be like in New Zealand,  if handled as carefully as this slightly oaky blend.  This is beguiling and different wine in the Hawkes Bay context,  but a little stalky,  needing more ripeness.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Babich Merlot Winemakers Reserve   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;   Me 100%,  hand-harvested;  7 days cold-soak,  20 days cuvaison in total (counting soak);  13 months in French oak some new;  Catalogue:  Warm bouquet suggesting blueberry, plum and vanilla with a hint of chocolate and spicy oak. On the palate we find more fruit and spice and a savoury earthiness. A touch of cocoa lingers. Structurally the wine is fullish, even and dense with pleasingly fine and coating tannins, with a long finish;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Bouquet is lightish,  more fragrant than floral,  suggestions of red currants,  red plums and even raspberry,  at the blind stage making one hope it might be sympathetically-handled cabernet franc.  Palate is simpler than that,  however,  red more than black plums,  moderate ripeness,  pleasant light oak,  but all a bit austere and lacking in concentration to be satisfying.  Another wine to suggest over-cropping.  More a sound QDR merlot,  to cellar 3 – 8 years only.  GK 07/09

2005  Pask Malbec Declaration   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $50   [ ProCork (a plastic-filmed natural cork);  DFB;  Ma 100%;  partial BF – ‘Tail end of ferment was completed in fine new oak adding complexity and fragrance’,  16 months in barrel (understood to include American as well as French) all new;  Catalogue:  intense, fragrant, mulberry fruit aromas. An elegant spicy Malbec displaying vibrant colour, aroma and flavour. Sensitive oak handling compliments warm fruits, fine tannin and harmonious structure;  Awards:  Gold @ Tri-Nations Wine Challenge 2008, Silver @ Royal Easter Show 2007;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is overwhelmingly oaky,  to a level where one thinks of sawing or chopping macrocarpa.  Below that,  a long way below,  is maturing red fruits,  bottled red plums I guess,  it is hard to tell.  Palate is better than the bouquet,  the oak in one sense more apparent than real,  so at this stage the wine is reasonably smooth.  But as outlined in the review for the Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration,  this wine is out of balance,  and equally unsuited to food.  I have commented previously that I believe the Pask Declaration label would mean more if restricted to one application per vintage.  Then it would be exciting each year to see which wine Kate Radburnd and Russell Wiggins really thought the pick of the crop.  In contrast,  labelling a wine like this Declaration simply devalues the whole concept.  The question of gold medals for wines like this is discussed elsewhere.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  in its style.  GK 07/09

2007  Moana Park Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Selection   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $15   [ screwcap;  Me,  Ma,  CS;  no info on website,  16 months in French oak;  not filtered;  Catalogue:  lifted notes of ripe cherries, plums, chocolate and violets. The palate is rich, ripe and full bodied with soft supple tannin and shows bouquet reminiscent of blackberry, fruitcake, mulberry and cedar with complex notes of spice;  Awards:  5 Stars, Winestate,  Silver @ Romeo Bragato Wine Awards 2008;  www.moanapark.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet shows a good depth of fragrant and nearly floral berry,  red stewed plums and custard,  the latter vanillin from oak.  In mouth it is not so good,  being unknit and tending stalky,  though quite rich.  I wonder if some of the wine is stainless steel,  and some of the oak is chips.  Good as far as it goes though,  just lacking the magic that (I assume) full oak elevage brings.  Will be better in a year or so,  and cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Paritua Red The Paritua Collection   16 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ cork;  CS,  Me,  CF,  Ma,  hand-picked;  French oak 60% new;  not on website;  Catalogue: Complex aromas of kirsch, blackberry and black plum with fine cedary notes and hints of black olive. The palate is firm, with deeply concentrated blackberry and currant providing balance to the minerality and fine grained tannins;  www.paritua.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  quite dense.  Initially opened,  the wine is both massive and reductive,  and needs jug to jug splashy decanting several times.  The reduction has taken the shine off the berry,  but there is then rich cassis and dark plum on bouquet,  with oak.  Palate likewise is clogged,  but the fruit continues rich with the oak at a maximum or beyond for subtlety.  Clearly intended as a ripe and serious wine,  but also worryingly flawed.  It may resolve itself in cellar over 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   16 +  ()
Moteo 60%,  Gimblett Gravels 40,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  CS 85%,  CF 8,  Me 7,  up to 35 days cuvaison;  MLF in tank,  13 months in French oak 20% new;  RS 1.2 g/L; fined and filtered;  Catalogue:  rich aromas of cassis and tobacco. The palate is medium to full-bodied with nice acidity and a fine structure. The tannins are ripe and the flavours mature. This is a classic ripe Cabernet that has good palate weight. It is a wine with structure that is well balanced; having the potential to age gracefully for five to ten years;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  These Mission Reserve 2007s are curious big wines.  If the merlot is over-ripe,  this cabernet is both over-ripe and under-ripe,  as if a mix of fruit.  Despite the dark colour,  there are clear leafy notes in mixed berry on bouquet.  Palate is rich,  but exactly the same character is pervasive in stalky cassis,  and blackly plummy fruit.  Considering the Reserve Merlot and this wine,  you can't help feeling a selective blending of the various components would have suited each other better than single varietals.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  hopefully to resolve its uncoordinated / awkward style and merit re-rating.  GK 07/09

2006  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Alwyn   16 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle & Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $65   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 70%,  CS 30,  hand-harvested @ c. 2.5 t/ac,  inoculated ferments,  cuvaison to c.23 days;  14 months in French oak averaging 42% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  Catalogue:  Very low cropping older vines are the key to this wine’s ripe flavours and concentration;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  developed for its age.  Bouquet shows another wine in the Entre Deux Mers / Bordeaux pattern,  a district characterised by what Steven Spurrier calls the green-tinged cabernet / merlot style.  When this character is sweet,  I call it leafy,  whereas cooler or harder examples are more stalky.  This one is leafy.  In mouth the analogy continues precisely,  soft merlot-dominant wine,  but all the fruit clearly leafy and under-ripe,  fragrant but not rewarding.  Some very sophisticated oak handling has gone into this wine,  and both tobacco and cedary notes will develop,  but ultimately the wine will remain simple because the magic of physiological maturity is simply not evident in the fruit.  Both cropping rate and provenance would suggest the wine should be otherwise,  so a mystery.  It is awfully expensive,  therefore.  Winemakers must be tasting selected reference wines of France regularly,  if they are to appropriately calibrate both their taste and their price expectations.  Nowhere does this apply more than to ‘flagship’ wines.  Cellar 3 – 8 years in its cool style.  GK 07/09

2004  Babich Cabernet / Merlot Irongate   16  ()
New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ supercritical cork;  DFB;  CS 46%,  Me 45,  CF 9,  extended cuvaison;  French oak,  some new;  Catalogue:  brimming with rich blackberry and blueberry fruits, cassis, a hint of vanilla and cedar. The palate is generous with a soft sweet fruit entry, cigar box complexity, seamless oak integration with a hint cocoa and a long finish;  Awards:  4 Stars Michael Cooper’s Buyers Guide to New Zealand
Wine 2009;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  old for its age.  Bouquet shows an older kind of New Zealand red,  the level of ripeness close to Entre Deux Mers with a leafy thread,  the fruits red more than black,  the whole wine a little leathery as if there were a little oxidation of some components.  Palate is much more oaky than most Entre Deux Mers wines would be,  mature or even old berry flavours,  some tobacco,  all tending under-ripe and a little saline and short,  even though reasonably rich.  Fully mature,  cellar only a year or three.  GK 07/09

2008  Ngatarawa Merlot Silks   16  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;   Me 100%;  c. 12 months in oak;  RS not stated;  Catalogue:  highlights the ripe fruit characteristics of Hawke’s Bay Merlot;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and carmine.  Initially opened,  the wine is reductive,  and needs a good decanting.  Breathed it smells of simple nearly plummy berry fruit.  Palate shows better ripeness than some of the Silks range wines over the last few years,  giving pleasant berry and plummy flavours only slightly leafy,  without much oak complexity but some stalk in the tail.  Straightforward merlot dry red,  to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Abbey Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Cardinal   16  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS;   no info on website;  Catalogue:  Spicy, prune and Christmas pudding characters with hints of medicinal liquorice-allsorts type flavour combined with saucy fruit and solid tannins. Good length of flavour and satisfying;  www.abbeycellars.com ]
Ruby,  developed for its age.  Bouquet is clean,  lean,  but fragrant,  a wine where leafy under-ripeness grades into redcurrant aromas,  to give a flattering initial impression of quality.  In mouth the leafyness is confirmed,  with light red fruits underpinned by stalkyness and light oak.  In its cool Loire Valley almost cabernet franc style,  this is pleasantly fragrant quaffing red wine,  but again,  it is not the future.  Cellar 1 – 3 years as QDR.  GK 07/09

2007  Moana Park Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Tribute   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  CS,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  some cold-soak;  foot-crushed;  inoculated ferment;  some MLF in barrel,  French and American oak,  some new;  not filtered;  Catalogue:  lifted dark brooding notes reminiscent of Blackcurrants, Blackberry, Cassis and cedar. The palate is rich and full displaying earthy notes with leather and berry fruit, the mid palate tannins are supple and ripe, with the wine finishing tight, showing further cellaring will reward;  Awards:  5 Stars, Winestate;  www.moanapark.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is on the cool side for modern Hawkes Bay cabernet sauvignon interpretations (particularly in an excellent year like 2007),  the first impression being a touch of methoxypyrazine and peppery cassis.  There is some berryfruit and new oak too.  Palate is time travel really,  more the average of our cabernets in the 1980s,  simply not enough ripeness in the vineyard.  As such it is clean,  fragrant,  and well-made,  in a style which still has some followers.  It's just not the future.  Changes in vineyard practice and cropping rate seem needed here.  5-stars is inexplicable.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  in its style.  GK 07/09

2006  Abbey Cellars [ Merlot / Cabernet ] Graduate   16  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me,  CS;   no info on website;  Catalogue:  Ripe, rich and meaty with a complex, layered palate of mace, chocolate and aromatic dried herbs, Satisfying and warm on the finish with excellent length of flavour;  www.abbeycellars.com ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet shows red currant and red plum characters at a ripeness level that includes a suggestion of leafyness,  the whole wine therefore being totally like a modest Entre Deux Mers.  Palate follows exactly,  fair fruit but all on the stalky side,  happily not too oaky (which would exacerbate the stalk),  all developing more rapidly than the age would suggest.  Cellar 2 – 5 years to soften maybe,  in its cool tending austere style.  GK 07/09

2005  Alpha Domus Merlot The Pilot   15 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 92%,  CS 6,  Ma 2,  hand and machine-harvested @ 4.8 t/ac,  de-stemmed,  some whole berries;  24 hours cold-soak,  c. 12 days cuvaison;  7 months in French oak;  RS < 2 g/L;  Catalogue:  an inviting aroma of  plum, raspberry, cherry and hints of black olive. … French oak contributes vanillin, licorice and savoury notes. A supple and well balanced wine showing plum, red berries and hints of leather. Integrated spicy oak is supported by sweet, supple tannins;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  old for its age.  Bouquet and total style in this wine is Entre Deux Mers,  showing leafy red fruits in older oak.  In mouth,  the analogy is vivid,  the touch of leaf almost refreshing in red currant and red plum fruit,  not over-oaked.  This is attractive light but inconsequential claret-styled QDR,  which it would be nice to pay $10 for,  to cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Bridge Pa Vineyard Merlot Zillah   15 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $36   [ supercritical cork;  Me,  CF,  Sy,  hand-picked;  oak,  some new;  Catalogue:  a breadth of aromas including rich fruit and spice, and lifted floral notes. The long complex palate is full bodied, smooth and intense with berry and black plum combining with spicy oak and an intriguing earthiness. A beautifully balanced multi layered wine supported by ripe tannins and rounded acidity;  Awards:  Top 12 New Zealand Merlot, Gourmet Traveller;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Developed ruby.  Bouquet is fragrant in a clean light oak-influenced (some American ?) and berried red.  There is almost a thought of leafy raspberry and black olives,  which made me wonder if the wine were pinotage,  at the blind stage.  Palate is on the light side for the amount of oak flavour,  the fruit is not quite ripe enough for merlot interest,  but it is pleasant QDR.  It is not priced as one however,  and neither is it a cellar wine,  beyond 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Crossroads Winery Merlot Hawkes Bay   15 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  DFB;  Me,  CS,  CF,  variously from Fernhill,  Gimblett Gravels and cooler Mangatahi Valley;  12 months in French oak;  vexing website;  Catalogue:  a greater concentration of flavour and substance of tannin than in recent years. Dried tobacco leaf, cassis and black Doris plum notes … rich ripe fruit in an excellent vintage. In the mouth full bodied and soft, but very well formed tannins;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is lightly peppery and almost raspberry,  fragrant,  but more a big rosé depth of fruit than dry red.  Palate offers a little more,  being light,  juicy,  softly red-berried and scarcely oaked,  and it is dry.  Pleasant easy QDR to cellar 3 – 5 years.  Score is more for the gentle redfruits ripeness and easy nature.  GK 07/09

2005  Abbey Cellars Cabernets / Merlot   15 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CF,  Me,  CS,  Ma;  no info on website;  Catalogue:  rich raspberry liquorice aromas with ripe berryfruit flavours and a warm, easy weight on the palate. Slippery tannins combine with an earthy, savoury character on the finish;  www.abbeycellars.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is light and fragrant,  red fruits with a thought of raspberry as well as redcurrant and red plum,  tip-toeing towards Chinon except the wine is a bit too oaky.  Palate brings up a leafy quality rather much,  but the redcurrant fruit is pleasant,  and the oaking nearly subtle enough to reveal the character of the dominant grape – cabernet franc.  Interesting light wine needing more ripeness and less oak,  to cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/09

2004  Alpha Domus [ Merlot / Cabernet ] The Navigator   15 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ cork;  Me 42%,  CS 30,  CF 20,  Ma 8,  mostly  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed,  some cold-soak,  20 months in 70% French and American oak,  40% new;  Catalogue:  A complex aroma of ripe berryfruits, plums, violet, licorice and hints of leather. Influences of sweet vanilla and toast result from oak barrel maturation. Plum and blackberry are supported by clove and spicy notes. Game and leathery characters add complexity. The ripe fruit, sweet oak and firm tannins create a robust, complex wine with excellent length;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet,  old for age.  First impression on bouquet is oak,  with fading red fruit behind it.  Palate reveals the berryfruit more,  redcurrant more than cassis,  red plums not black,  but all too leafy and oaky,  reflecting what a cool and,  for many producers,  modest year the 2004 vintage was.  Now another old-style oaky QDR,  not worth cellaring.  GK 07/09

2007  Babich Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Lone Tree   15  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $15   [ screwcap;  Me 52%,  CS 48;  some oak;  Catalogue:  Brambly/ blackberry notes from the Cabernet mingle on the nose with the softer plum, boysenberry aromas of Merlot. The palate is of medium weight and round with upfront sweet fruit. The fruit lingers on the finish over a savoury background with light cedar oak notes;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is uncannily like some MRIA wines,  presumably reflecting a simple stainless steel and chip approach to red winemaking.  But in contrast to some of the modest wines here,  this one smells reasonably ripe,  showing red currants and red plums plus some carbonic maceration notes.  Palate is clean,  fruity in a  simple stainless steel way,  and dry,  but very plain.  Cellar 2 – 5 years,  as QDR.  GK 07/09

2006  Lime Rock Merlot   14 ½  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  Me dominant,  CF,  hand-picked;  vineyard 250 m,  north-facing;  French oak;  Catalogue:  vibrant red colour with aromas and flavours of sweet boysenberries, dried herbs, chocolate and fragrant spice, along with well structured tannins on the palate;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Light red,  rosé depth.  In the same way that merlot and pinot noir from the Loire Valley can be very hard to distinguish,  so in the blind tasting could this fragrant pale red be identified as pinot noir.  It smells of redcurrants and tastes of them too – redcurrant jelly and a little leaf,  slightly acid.  Oak is exquisitely subtle to match the light flavour profile.  This is pretty and charming,  quite extraordinary wine for New Zealand,  totally Loire in approach,  but I cannot mark it highly.  If it were labelled Rosé – Cabernet Franc,  it might be more successful.  It could be a worthwhile goal,  and create a more positive vibe in customers to market this as a sophisticated dry (2 – 4 g/L) rosé.  And cabernet-family rosés tend to be more satisfying than pinot noir-derived ones,  so that would be a plus for the portfolio too.  The present label and style interpretation is too out-of-line.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 07/09

2004  Alpha Domus Merlot / Cabernet The Pilot   14  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ cork;  Me 41%,  CS 34,  Ma 15,  CF 10,  machine and hand-harvested,  de-stemmed,  some cold-soak,  inoculated ferments,  cuvaison up to 21 days;  16 months in French and American oak,  15% new;  RS <2 g/L;  Catalogue:  A complex aroma of ripe berryfruits, plums, violet, licorice and hints of leather. Influences of sweet vanilla and toast result from oak barrel maturation. Plum and blackberry are supported by clove and spicy notes. Game and leathery characters add complexity. The ripe fruit, sweet oak and firm tannins create a robust, complex wine with excellent length;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Garnet and ruby,  old for its age.  Bouquet is old-fashioned New Zealand red,  with some methoxypyrazine suggestions in stalky fading red fruits,  redcurrants more than cassis,  and browning red plums.  Palate is fully mature and distinctly leafy,  some acid showing which the oak exacerbates.  There is still some fruit but as it fades the oak is becoming awkward.  QDR,  not worth cellaring.  GK 07/09

2007  Clearview Estate Winery [ Merlot / Malbec ] Cape Kidnappers   14  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Me 76%,  Ma 18,  CF 6,  hand-harvested;  cuvaison up to 28 days for some components;  12 – 13 months in French and American oak;  Catalogue:  a cooler ferment for lively fruit pickup and a fuller mouth feel … to 2012;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Initially opened,  the wine is very reductive.  It needs vigorously splashy jug to jug decanting,  10 times.  It then reveals pleasantly ripe and darkly plummy fruit,  with little complexity.  In mouth,  the heavy notes of reduction persist,  but the fruit is remarkably rich and ripe – 2007 was a great vintage in the Te Awanga wine zone.  Oak is subtle,  and there are some toasty notes,  I think – it is hard to tell.  An opportunity missed here,  sadly.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  but a long shot if it will blossom.  GK 07/09

Pinot Noir
2007  Lime Rock Pinot Noir White Knuckle Hill   17 ½  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $40   [ screwcap;  vineyard up to 250 m on limestone,  north-facing;  hand-picked;  French oak;  website being re-built;  Catalogue:  A rich intense wine from an excellent season, the White Knuckle Hill Pinot Noir 2007 is the finest wine to come from the Lime Rock vineyard. The ripest grapes are handpicked first from shallow limestone soils at the tops of the hills, similar to Burgundy.  … intense, complex aromas and flavours of bright boysenberry and dark red black doris plum fruit and savoury hints. Awards: Silver @ Easter Show 2009, Gold @ Australian Small Winemakers 2008, Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a deep colour for pinot noir.  Bouquet is intensely floral red roses and other flowers,  on clear-cut strawberry,  red  cherry,  and bottled red even blackish plums.  The quality of florals is almost syrah,  yet it is also clearly dark pinot – there is no pepper at all.  Palate is rich,  skinsy as if the wine (like the colour) were saignée,  a little tannic maybe but explicitly varietal in a premier cru southern Burgundy style.  It finishes well given its bold approach,  on a long ripe faintly stalky aftertaste.  This is one of the best pinot noirs to come from Hawkes Bay so far,  and certainly gives pause for thought to those who have said Hawkes Bay is too far north for quality pinot.  The cooler but still low-rainfall and sometimes calcareous low hill-country adjoining Waipawa and Waipukurau must contain many sites of interest to pinotphiles.  Cellar 3 – 10 years,  to soften those tannins.  GK 07/09

2007  Lime Rock Pinot Noir   17 +  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  vineyard 250 m on limestone,  north-facing;  hand-picked; all de-stemmed,  cold-soak;  French oak;  website being re-built;  Catalogue:  berry size was small and even, giving deep colour. … Rich, complex aromas and flavours of fresh dark plums, cherries and enticing sweet caramelised rhubarb along with smoky tones are found. Minerality is showing from the limestone along with great structure and length. Awards: Silver @ Australian Small Winemakers 2008,  Bronze @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Good pinot noir ruby,  about the maximum for the variety.  Bouquet is quietly varietal,  almost a suggestion of boronia florals astonishing so far north,  in buddleia and red rose notes,  but all tending latent rather than real,  as yet.  Palate is limpid red cherry pinot,  totally at a good Beaune cru level of fruit definition.  Oak handling is beautiful.  This wine is gentler and more elegant than the Knuckle Hill,  at this stage.  With these two 2007 wines,  Lime Rock’s determination to make quality pinot noir in Hawkes Bay has come to fruition.  If there has been a significant change in vineyard practice for these 2007s,  it is spot on,  and increasing vine age can only augment that.  The quality of the 2007 season may be the determining factor,  however,  since the vintage was not a hot one,  and was dry.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Vidal Pinot Noir Reserve Hawkes Bay Stopbank   16 ½ +  ()
Maraekakaho 20 km W of Hastings,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested,  single vineyard;  100% de-stemmed,  some wild yeasts,  cuvaison including lengthy cold-soak up to 28 days;  MLF and 10 months French oak some new;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  Lifted cherry aromas and spice give way to a palate of dark berries, spice and earthy flavours. This finely textured wine will further soften with time and is expected to cellar for at least five years from vintage date;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby,  redder than the Aspire.  Bouquet is close to the Aspire in its pink and red floral qualities,  and berry notes of redcurrants,  reddest rhubarb (+ve) and red cherries.  Palate is a little ‘sweeter’ and softer than that wine however,  lovely Beaune-district red fruits spreading in the mouth,  simple in one sense but genuinely varietal.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Sileni Pinot Noir EV (Exceptional Vintage)   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork;  hand-picked;  MLF and 10 months in barrel;  Catalogue:  Our icon wines are only produced in outstanding vintages. A rich and concentrated red with classic black cherry and dark berry characters on the nose and palate. Fine, silky tannins and immaculate balance …cellar for five years or more.  Awards: Gold @ Japan Wine Challenge;  Silver @ New Zealand International Wine Show;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Maturing pinot noir ruby,  redder than the 2005 Lime Rock.  This is a more rustic and evolved wine,  like the 2005 Lime Rock developing into a soft round red which is burgundian – in the sense Hunter Valley ‘Burgundy’ (from shiraz) was classically in a gentle pinot-like style on palate.  Bouquet and palate show browning fruits with a touch of compost and brett (as burgundy used to / still does on occasion),  quite rich,  soft,  mouthfilling,  more oaky than the Lime Rock,  a trace of stalk.  The winemaking is overtaking the variety here,  but it will mellow for several years yet,  and be very food-friendly.  Price is over to you.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Matariki Pinot Noir Aspire   16 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  up to 10 days cold-soak,  MLF and 8 months in barrel;  Catalogue:  A vibrant bouquet of cherries and strawberries leads in to a warm and generous fruit driven palate. Spice and earthy, savoury notes add complexity to this softly structured approachable Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir. Awards: Bronze @ Air New Zealand 2008, 4 Stars @ Cuisine Magazine 2008;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is light and sweetly floral,  nearly a cherry-pie (heliotrope – the flower) note,  as well as English roses,  leading to redcurrants and nearly red cherry.  Palate is attractively fruited within this light style,  subtly oaked,  red currant jelly flavours and a suggestion of red cherry,  plus a hint of leaf.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Lime Rock Pinot Noir   15 ½ +  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $26   [ screwcap;  vineyard 250 m on limestone,  north-facing;  hand-picked; all de-stemmed,  cold-soak;  French oak 1 and 2 -years;  website being re-built;  Catalogue:  Small ripe berries and low yields give concentrated flavours to this second Pinot Noir from our small vineyard. … the aroma and concentrated flavours of plums and spice with integrated oak and savoury characters. Awards: Bronze, Romeo Bragato 2007;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Drab ruby and garnet,  older but weightier than the 2006.  Freshly opened,  there is a curious cooperage-related bottle-stink,  which demands a splashy decanting.  Bouquet is then mature oaky but round red inclining to pinot noir in style,  leading to a riper and richer palate than the 2006.  It shows indeterminate red fruits and rather stalky tannins – reminiscent of cool-year burgundy,  but not very varietal.  Fully mature,  cellar a year or two only.  Pleasant food wine.  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Pinot Noir The Plateau   15 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  MLF and 10 months in barrel;  Catalogue:  A very New World style with typically varietal black cherry aromas along with dark berry and cherry flavours backed up with ripe, smooth tannins and a long finish. A food-friendly style that will benefit from cellaring for up to six years;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby.  Bouquet is light and pure,  faintly floral in a buddleia way,  but not the volume of sweet florals some of the other 2007s show.  Below the florals there is red currant jelly,  light red cherry and nearly red plum.  Palate is firm tending austere,  suggestions of sucking on plum stones (red-skinned,  yellow-fleshed),  but reasonable fruit,  and not exactly stalky or leafy.  The wine is varietal,  but not the charm of some of the other pinot examples here.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Lime Rock Pinot Noir   15  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $28   [ screwcap;  vineyard 250 m on limestone,  north-facing;  hand-picked; all de-stemmed,  cold-soak;  French oak 1 and 2 -years;  website being re-built;  Catalogue:  ripe cherries, plums and spice, with savoury tones and fine silky tannins. From the limestone we find minerality gives character and length to our wines;  Awards:  Bronze, Romeo Bragato 2007;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Pinot noir ruby and garnet,  old for age.  Bouquet is quite strong and varietal,  but in a weaker warm-climate style,  with some of the fragrance due to leafyness.  Palate illustrates that even more,  lightest red currants,  and hints of browning strawberry flavours,  like a wet year in southernmost Burgundy,  finishing stalky and tasting chaptalised.  Cellar a year or two only.  GK 07/09

Syrah = Shiraz
2007  Church Road Syrah Reserve   19 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle 55%,  Gimblett Gravels 45,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $36   [ cork;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top oak and s/s vessels,  up to 4 weeks cuvaison,  controlled aeration (syrah is sulphide-prone);  c. 12 months in burgundy barrels c. 53% new,  c. 600 cases (as 12s);  Catalogue:  not in;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a gorgeous colour.  Bouquet optimises syrah as grown on the Hill of Hermitage,  precise wallflower and dianthus florals,  perfect pepper ripened to black pepper,  fragrant cassis and a deep underpinning of bottled black doris plums,  all made more aromatic by quality oak.  Palate likewise shows beautiful ripeness,  and great body,  length and style totally capturing the intrinsic beauty of syrah.  This is in the top handful of syrahs so far made in New Zealand,  an absolute challenger to top-flight Hermitage.  The market has recognised both that and the fair price – 600-odd cases sold out rapidly.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels Block 14   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%;  hand-harvested @ 2.7 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation in open-top fermenters;  17 months in French oak 42% new;  RS <2 g/L;  Catalogue:  An array of characters such as lavender, black pepper, black cherry and spices combine for an intense and complex bouquet. The palate possesses fine layers of tannin with a ripe mid-palate texture which envelops the rich dark fruits, providing a long generous finish;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is softer and more sweetly floral than some of these top-level wines,  more soft wallflower notes akin to Te Mata’s Bullnose Syrah.  In mouth the magical thing about this Block 14 Syrah is the florality which suffuses the palate,  like a good Cote de Nuits pinot noir.  This is by far the subtlest and ‘sweetest’ Block 14 yet,  and at 13.5% shows the greater beauty that can be achieved with full physiological maturity achieved at lower alcohols.  The whole palate follows this pinot noir-like thought,  yet with beautiful ripe black pepper adding spice.  This is an understated Cote Rotie-styled wine perfectly shaped for the English / European market,  where it might win more friends than the burlier Le Sol.  By the same token,  it may be overlooked in Australia and America.  A wine to rejoice in,  the moreso since Craggy have for the 2007 re-priced Block 14 back to $30.  In the first draft of the Hot Reds I had it as Value at $38 !  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Syrah Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 98%,  Vi 2;  over half 13-year-old vines,  bunch-thinned;  cuvaison extending to 35 days;  MLF in tank;  6 – 8 months in French and American oak c.23% new,  the American oak subtle 3-years air-dried made by a French-owned cooper;  this wine a barrel-selection;  Catalogue:  a black pepper nose and also shows small fruit aromas such as dark berries with spicy undertones with a definite floral lift from the Viognier. The palate is rich and full-bodied with fine soft tannins. The wine has great finesse and structure with a powerful mid palate and a very long finish;  Awards:  Pure Elite Gold @ Air New Zealand 2008, Blue-Gold @ Sydney International Wine Awards 2009;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet shows the soft ripe florality of syrah handled in a northern Rhone style,  almost violets as well as wallflower,  deep aromatic cassis and berry,  not as much oak as some wines here.  Palate deepens the cassis to slightly chocolatey bottled black doris plum,  the fruit not quite as magically complex as the Church Road due to sur-maturité,  but still showing classic syrah varietal characters without too much over-ripeness,  and highly aromatic.  This is another wonderful syrah,  at the ripest end of the optimal ripening spectrum compared with others here,  another wine to highlight the great future for this variety in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 07/09

2006  Esk Valley Estate Syrah Black Label   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested @ 24+ degrees Brix,  all de-stemmed;  mostly wild yeast,  warm-fermented in concrete open-top vessels,  c. 30 days cuvaison;  MLF and c. 20 months in French oak 30% new;  RS <1g/L;  Catalogue:  very fragrant exhibiting characteristics of plums, dark fruits, pepper, camphor and sandalwood and can be cellared with confidence for at least 8 years. Awards: Top 5 in class, Winestate 2008;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not quite as deep as the top wines.  Bouquet on this wine is as explicitly floral varietal as the Church Road,  clear dianthus and wallflower on cassis and black fruits.  Palate is not quite as rich as that wine or the  Mission Syrah Reserve,  but is even more varietal,  with beautiful black peppercorn spice.  It is rounder than the Villa – not quite so fresh.  This wine is really starting to sing.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Esk Valley Syrah Reserve [ preview ]   18 ½  ()
Cornerstone Vineyard,  Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $65   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from vines planted in 1996,  de-stemmed;  total wild-yeast and wild-malo fermentation,  no enzyme,  no tannin,  and cuvaison extending to 35 days;  MLF and c.21 months in French oak 25% new,  with 2-weekly lees stirring but no racking;  total production < 300 cases,  release date late 2009;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This is a gentler wine than the 2006 Reserve wine,  the initial impression being blueberries,  softness and florality like the Craggy Range Block 14.  In mouth,  there is likewise a total Cote Rotie-like presentation of syrah,  the emphasis on florality and suppleness,  much less stern than the young wines of Hermitage can be,  and which the Church Road Reserve shows to perfection.  The fruit richness is superb,  a rich backbone of cassis plus bottled black doris plum and black pepper,  and more oak at this stage than the Block 14.  I suspect this gloriously traditional and ‘natural’ wine will score higher in a year or two.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Vidal Syrah Reserve   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested @ c.2.5 t/ac,  all de-stemmed;  cold soak,  wild yeast initially,  cuvaison up to 25 days;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 24% new;  RS nil; minimal filtration;  Catalogue:  Showing typical pepper, spice, black fruits and floral notes this wine is well-balanced with fine acidity, exhibiting supple tannins and a long, concentrated finish. This wine is expected to age gracefully and develop complexities over the next 10 years at least;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet here is a little more traditional,  the oak being an equal part of the volume,  whereas my top wines have allowed the beauty of the grape to speak more eloquently.  Even so there is some rose-like florality in good cassis,  and ripe black pepper on both bouquet and palate.  The ratio of fruit is still very good in mouth,  the whole wine rich and not too dominated by oak,  and in the blind tasting the wine is still clearly varietal.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Syrah Jewelstone   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $45   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 2 tonnes / acre;  cuvaison in the order of 5 weeks,  MLF in tank;  13 months in French oak 50% new;  c. 375 cases;  Catalogue:  … heightened dark berry aromas. These aromas are not overtly peppery, a sign of perfect maturity. The palate is full-bodied with fine soft tannins that are truly ripe and provide to the wine a beautiful texture. The wine has great finesse with good intensity and a long generous finish;  Awards:  Gold, Top 100, Sydney International Wine Awards 2009;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  dense.  Bouquet is ripe and ‘fat’,  showing rich plummy and cassisy fruit made aromatic by quite a lot of oak.  In the blind tasting,  I wondered whether it might be a Pask Declaration,  in the way the mind wanders on some wines.  The fruit in mouth is terrific,  in keeping with the bouquet,  but not immediately varietal.  This is one of those wry occasions where I have marked the lesser ‘Reserve’ wine more highly than the premium one,  because it is more explicitly varietal.  This wine is more sophisticated,  but has lost something in greater ripeness and more oak handling and alcohol.  Like the Esk Reserve,  this view may well change with evolution in bottle,  so cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels predominantly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3,  hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  up to 30 days cuvaison;  MLF and c. 18 months in French and American oak c. 40% new,  on light lees;  minimal filtration;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  densely packed with ripe blueberry, red plum and peppery spice aromas, underpinned by an aromatic violet lift. The palate is medium bodied in style with a juicy texture, finishing with silky rich tannins. A wine styled for approachability but that will benefit from some bottle age. Optimum Cellaring 2010-2014 Awards:  Trophy & Gold – Royal Easter Show Wine Awards 2009;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not quite as dense as the Reserve.  Bouquet is much more floral and fragrant than the Reserve,  at the blind stage making one wonder about viognier in the wine.  The floral component includes carnations,  on clear cassis and bottled black doris plum.  Again there is a suggestion of hessian in the French oak,  but the berry is much more dominant in this wine.  Palate is beautifully varietal,  bursting fresh cassis,  lots of complex berry flavours,  good length and depth,  plus black pepper to spice the wine.  It is just a little more acid than some of the top wines,  but attractively so – some of the ’07 syrahs are quite soft.  This will be one to look out for,  on promotion.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Vidal Syrah Estate   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels mainly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  MLF and c. 16 months in oak;  RS nil;  Catalogue:  Black pepper, spice, violet and cherry aromas lead into a palate showing intensity and purity of fruit. This Hawkes Bay Syrah is defined, balanced and well-supported with fine-grained tannins. … will cellar well for at least five years;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  brighter and less oak-affected than the Reserve.  Bouquet is delightfully varietal,  explicit dianthus and wallflower florals and almost roses,  clear pepper,  attractive cassis,  great purity.  In mouth the wine is not as rich as the Reserve,  but the varietal character is still exciting,  on a slightly fresher finish with much less oak.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Mission Syrah [‘Special’ Future Release – preview ]   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.8%;  $ –    [ cork;  cuvaison c. 35 days;  c. 14 months in 100% new French oak;  MLF in tank;  marketing being decided now,  more expensive than Jewelstone,  release latest ’09 / early 2010;  Catalogue:  not in;  not on website yet;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  rich,  not as bright as some examples,  suggesting more oak involvement.  Bouquet is deep and dark,  with dark chocolate notes on rich plummy fruit,  confuseable with some big McLaren Vale syrahs,  except this is not so alcoholic [ later,  or seemed so ].  Flavours are ‘Black Forest Gateau’,  blackest cherry and blackboy plums,  wonderfully rich indeed and succulent,  a winestyle which many will rate very highly.  Looking at it from a classical Hermitage standpoint,  personally I think it is tending over-ripe,  losing florality and varietal precision and moving towards premium Australian shiraz / syrah,  or a Napa one.  But it is not over-oaky and is beautifully made in its chocolate-barrel way.  There is still some black peppercorn spice.  This is a wine on the scale of Craggy Range’s Le Sol (though perhaps bolder than the 2007),  or Penfolds RWT.  I am sure it will find favour in America.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 07/09

2007  [ Corbans ] Cottage Block Syrah   18  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;   a single-vineyard Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted;  all de-stemmed,  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top oak and s/s vessels,  up to 31 days cuvaison,   MLF and c. 24 months in burgundy barrels c. 40% new,  balance 1-year;  no fining or filtering;  Catalogue:  not in; background @ www.corbans.co.nz,  leads to detail @;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com//tastingnotes.php? ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deep.  Bouquet is the most piquant of the top syrahs,  both in its darkly floral qualities,  and also the suggestion of white pepper in the black.  There is great aromatic cassis,  which expands in the mouth to a highly varietal wine firmer than some,  but not exactly the authority of the Church Road.  One could draw an analogy with St Joseph.  Some oak is reinforcing the pepper,  but the wine is not as oaky as the Vidal Reserve for example.  This is an elegant,  lighter-bodied wine,  complementing the other top wines nicely and highlighting the diversity of style syrah is developing within the Hawkes Bay region.  It follows on nicely from  the 2006 Cottage Block,  which showed white pepper almost to a fault – loosely speaking (it is pretty delicious).  Each of these top syrahs was unequivocally varietal in the blind tasting of 134 wines – no mean achievement for them,  since the nose does fatigue with such a large number of samples.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 07/09

2007  [ Craggy Range group ] Wild Rock Syrah Angels Dust   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels mainly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.2%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy 96%,  Ma 2,  Vi 2,  hand-picked @ 3.3 t/ac;  12 months in French oak 25% new;  RS 2.5 g/L;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.wildrockwine.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is a more petite affair than the Craggy Range Block 14 wine,  but similar elements are all there:  dianthus florality,  cassis berry,  and good fruit.  In mouth,  this wine does not have the oak tannin structure of some of the more highly-rated wines,  but the flavours are long and aromatic on good berry fruit,  and all quite European in its styling.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Squawking Magpie Syrah Gimblett Gravels The Stoned Crow   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  no wine info on website;  Catalogue:  Aged in new French oak, this wine is dark and concentrated showing peppery and toasty oak characters. This wine is seamless, has supple tannins, with a smooth firm and spicy finish;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is a clean pure and cassisy berry,  fragrant but not exactly floral,  attractive.  Palate brings up oak (but much less than formerly characterised Squawking Magpie),  which firms the cassis,  with subtle black pepper aromatics revealing the wine is syrah.  This should be much more varietal after three years in cellar,  and may merit re-rating if the oak softens.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2006  [ Corbans ] Cottage Block Syrah   17 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ cork;  a single-vineyard Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted;  all de-stemmed,  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top oak and s/s vessels,  up to 26 days cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  MLF and c. 18 months in burgundy barrels c. 40% new,  balance 1-year;  no fining or filtering;  Catalogue:  exhibits vibrant dark berry violet aromas with distinctive pepper characters. Concentrated, yet elegantly styled, the palate offers a luscious mouthful of sweet berries and spice with smooth, supple tannins. This wine will soften further and develop more savoury notes with 5 - 8 years cellaring;  Awards:  Gold @ Royal Easter Show 2008;  background @ www.corbans.co.nz,  leads to detail @;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com//tastingnotes.php? ]
Ruby and velvet.  This bottle is consistent with the last one,  showing vivid white pepper on cassis.  There are  carnations / dianthus florals too,  but they are nearly swamped by the white pepper.  Palate is amply cassisy,  dramatically syrah,  but nearly a caricature of the variety – in a style you can't help liking (for cool-climate people).  The 2007 is consistent with this,  but fleshes it out more ripely and attractively.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Squawking Magpie Syrah The Chatterer   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  no wine info on website;  Catalogue:  Dark and concentrated showing peppery and toasty oak characters, this wine has supple tannins with a firm, smooth and spicy finish;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Good fresh ruby,  not the depth of The Stoned Crow.  Bouquet is pinpoint syrah,  beautifully floral,  showing clear cassis and white and black pepper.  Palate follows through well,  good ripeness,  gentle tannins,  clear black pepper,  already easy drinking though it will cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Matariki Syrah Aspire   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  2 days cold soak;  inoculated yeast,  total cuvaison c. 17 days,  MLF in tank;  17 months in French oak 15% new;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  a deep red colour with purple hues and classic black pepper aromas, floral and ripe blackberry characters with subtle cedary oak adding complexity. A powerfully intense wine with complex blackberry, chocolate and black pepper flavours, soft approachable tannins and a rich and full finish with good length;  Awards:  Silver @ Liquorland Top 100 2008;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is clearly fragrant,  including signature syrah florals such as carnations augmented by white pepper,  all slightly ‘cooler’ than some of the wines.  Palate is akin to the wines on the gentler slopes above the steep faces of Cote Rotie,  the syrahs labelled Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodanniennes,  which tend to be lighter crisper and more fragrant than the AOC slopes,  but still attractively syrah.  Needs to soften a year or two,  but great to see this label picking up speed.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 96% and Vi 4,  de-stemmed and co-fermented in closed s/s fermenters;  extended cuvaison,  MLF in tank;  c.14 months in new and older French and American oak;  1 g/L RS;  Catalogue:  a spicy, savoury wine with black pepper and blackberry nuances;  Awards:  94/100 @ WBM magazine Australia,  4.5 Stars by Michael Cooper,  Silver @ NZ International Wine Show 2008;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is fragrantly cassisy,  floral,  and delicately peppery,  clearly syrah.  Palate is completely in keeping,  medium weight aromatic red fruits,  with some florals right into the flavour and also a suggestion of raspberry.  It is more Cote Rotie in styling,  not a big wine but attractively pure,  and clearly varietal.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Corbans Syrah Private Bin   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels & Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  2007 not on website,  if like 2005 is hand-picked,  100% de-stemmed;  cuvaison extending to 20 days for some components;  MLF and 12 months in French oak 30% new on light lees;  Catalogue:  … a rich, intense wine. Lifted aromas of dark cherry are complimented by hints of smoky spice, while the palate is soft and fleshy with dark fruit flavours and savoury tannins. … up to five years cellaring;  background @ www.corbans.co.nz,  leads to detail @;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com//tastingnotes.php? ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This wine needs a good splashy decanting to clear slight reduction.  Bouquet is then fruity,  berry-rich and plummy,  smelling plump alongside some of the middling wines around it.  There are suggestions of soft wallflower florals and black pepper too,  once the wine is well breathed.  Palate is soft,  rich and juicy,  clear-cut syrah,  an easily accessible wine like Wyndham Estate Shiraz Bin 555,  but the Corbans is much more aromatic and drier.  Put aside three years to resolve the light reduction,  then cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Ash Ridge Wines Syrah Cardoness Vineyard   17 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.7%;  $28   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 100% hand-picked;  whole-berry ferment;  12 months in French oak,  none new;  140 cases;  Catalogue:  It displays wonderful aromas of dark berry fruits, an intense palate of blackberry flavours interwoven with fine tannins, and a lingering finish of spice and chocolate;  www.ashridgewines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is attractively fragrant,  nearly some dianthus floral notes on light spice / pepper and red fruits.  Palate is ripe,  not a big wine,  but clear cassis,  some dark plum,  a suggestion of black pepper,  subtle oak.  The finish is a little lean,  but the total approach fits in with an appellation like St Joseph very well.  This wine displays lovely physiological maturity at a classical French low alcohol – how was that achieved,  I wonder.  And what a pleasure to have a syrah in the classical Northern Rhone style,  no new oak,  allowing the variety to speak so eloquently.  On both scores,  we need more wines like this,  made for beauty,  not to win medals.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Villa Maria Syrah Reserve   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested @ around 3.5 t/ac,  all de-stemmed;   MLF and 20 months in French oak 56% new;  minimal fining and filtration;  RS nil;  Catalogue: … dark, broody notes of pepper and liquorice, with hints of violets and small red berries. The palate shows refined extract and complex textures with a robe of powdery tannins encasing concentrated varietal Syrah characters.  A serious New Zealand Syrah, this wine will reward maturation in the bottle. Anticipated maturity 2014-2017;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  dense.  After the marvellous 2006 Reserve Syrah wine,  the 2007 is to first sight something of a let-down.  Bouquet is nearly mute as if threshold reduction,  there is some hessian French oak,  and there is some cassis when one looks closely.  Palate is rich but oaky,  some pepper and plum,  and very dry indeed.  My notes included the word ‘sulky’.  Need to look at this in a couple of years,  for its not singing right now.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Syrah The Peak   17  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ screwcap;  harvested from vines with ‘Low crop loads at around 2.5 – 3 kg / vine’,  de-stemmed;  16 months in French and American barriques;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  Rich black plum and spice characters with soft, supple tannins;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby,  more pinot noir in weight.  Initially poured the wine seems overtly oaky,  with a mint suggestion.  With air the bouquet becomes sweetly red grapes,  more merlot than syrah I thought at the blind stage,  with fragrant yet subtle new oak.  Palate is in this ultra-subtle minimal cuvaison virtually free-run approach that characterises (bedevils ?) Sileni reds,  so assuming the style being aimed for is premium Cote Rotie,  one is tempted to think it hasn't got enough extraction of phenolics and flavour to be clearly varietal.  But on reflection the concentration in the delicate fruit is pretty good,  and as a soft round red more pinot than syrah,  it could be scored highly.  It will certainly be marvellous with food.  But wine is a place for ideals,  and I would like the wine to be more explicitly varietal,  as well as beautifully made,  so the score is a compromise.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2008  Mission Syrah Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.3%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3,  from mainly 14-year-old vines,  bunch-thinned;  cuvaison > 20 days;  c.8 months in French oak 5% new;  this wine a barrel-selection;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is fresh and floral,  not quite the depth of wallflower florals as the 2007 but clearly varietal and attractive on cassisy berry.  Palate follows similarly,  fresher and more plummy than its predecessor,  not so varietal,  more in modern Crozes-Hermitage style with more white pepper than black in the plummy fruit.  Needs to soften a year or two,  then will be attractive drinking over a 3 – 8 years cellar life.  GK 07/09

2007  Bridge Pa Vineyard Syrah Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $36   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  18 months in American and French oak,  some new;  Catalogue:  intense and supple Northern Rhone syrah that exhibits violets, black plums, black cracked pepper and tobacco notes, with an underlying earthiness;  Awards:  Gold @ Royal Easter Show 2009;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is first and foremost American oak,  no doubt accounting for its gold medal,  behind which is attractive clean berry,  and some wallflower florals and black pepper.  Palate is light and soft for the vintage,  pleasantly ripe cassis and plum of reasonable berry concentration,  finishing softly on clean new oak.  A ‘popular’ presentation of the variety,  accessible,  but excessively oaky.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Pask Syrah Declaration   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ ProCork (a plastic-filmed natural cork);  machine-harvested;  all de-stemmed;  some cold soak;  some BF in new oak;  > 3 weeks cuvaison;  14 months in “new” French oak;  Catalogue:  truly expressive, ripe clean fruit … with aromas of intense spice and pepper. Complex oak and intense peppery fruit notes combine. A powerful, elegant attractive Syrah, with subtle underlying fragrance. Awards:  Pure Gold @ Air New Zealand 2008; Gold @ Liquorland Top 100 2008, Silver @ Wine Style Asia Awards 2008;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Initially opened,  the wine is a little reductive,  and needs a good splashy decanting several times.  Bouquet is then more in the dark chocolate and oak style which tiptoes towards Australia,  and though there is good berry below,  the beauty of the variety is compromised.  Reductive notes carrying over into the oak make the wine seem hard in mouth at this stage,  even though it is rich.  This is another big wine not singing in the way the more highly-pointed wines do.  Put aside for three years,  and re-evaluate,  and if appropriate cellar 5 – 12 years.  As mentioned elsewhere,  it is ‘interesting / worrying’ to see gold medals listed for wines like this – seduction by oak again,  but they simply are not food-friendly.  GK 07/09

2007  Moana Park Syrah / Viognier Vineyard Tribute   16 ½ +  ()
Dartmoor Valley % Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy co-fermented with a little Vi;  French oak;  Catalogue:   lifted floral notes underpinned by a dark berry and cassis with pepper, cedar and savoury mushroom. The palate displays soft yet firm and supple tannin structure, with complex spice notes of dried herbs and gamey notes, with cassis and nutmeg. A wine which will reward with further cellaring;  Awards:  5 Stars, Winestate;  www.moanapark.co.nz ]
Ruby.  This is another wine that needs a good splashy decanting,  to then reveal a fragrant and floral well-berried syrah in which (once one knows the label) it is easy to imagine the viognier blossomy lift.  Palate is lesser,  a little short and hard so far,  but also plummy and peppery.  Perhaps there is a stainless steel component in this wine,  yet to soften.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Salvare Syrah   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap; c.12 months in oak;  Catalogue:  The aroma is a mix of spice and licorice and the palate full of rich berry fruit and spicy fruitcake;  Awards:  Silver @ Royal Easter Show 2009;  www.salvare.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is reserved on opening,  and benefits from a splashy decanting.  It becomes a light fragrant aromatic red,  rather like valpolicella with a dash of white pepper.  Palate shows good round berryfruit richer and softer than the 2006.  Pleasant vaguely varietal red,  to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  90% de-stemmed and crushed,  10% whole-bunch;  some cold-soak;  MLF and c.12 months in new and 1-year French oak;  RS <1 g/L;  Catalogue:  an aromatic and spicy aroma. The fragrant aromatic fruit is supported by fine oak. Typical black pepper along with some floral fragrance describes this dense highly structured Syrah;  Awards:  Pure Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008,  Silver @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  Bouquet is fragrant,  slightly floral and spicy red berries,  clearly bottled red plums but not quite cassis,  light oak.  Palate is less clearly syrah,  quite soft,  a hint of raspberry and pepper,  almost a suggestion of shiraz in style,  all attractively balanced for a medium-weight more straightforward wine,  not bone-dry.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Babich Syrah Winemakers Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5;  12 months in French and American oak perhaps 20% new;  Catalogue:  … this stunning wine. The nose is lifted with sweet ripe dark fruits, notably blueberry, complemented by a savoury earthy mushroom character. The dark fruits carry through to the palate with mouth-watering savoury / black pepper notes. Sweet notes of oregano and tarragon persist with fine tannins adding to a lengthy and powerful wine;  Awards:  Silver @ NZ International Wine Show 2008;  Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is fragrant and berry-rich,  showing a little spice and mixed pepper in cassis and bottled plum,  but not communicating too well yet.  Palate is not quite as good,  almost a touch of saline reminding of MRIA wines,  but good juicy berry with some plum and black pepper,  plus subtle oak.  Lacks excitement as syrah,  but is still clearly varietal.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Ngatarawa Syrah Glazebrook   16 ½  ()
Moteo district 83% & Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $27   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested from 4-year vines,  de-stemmed;  3 days cold-soak,  c. 14 days cuvaison;  MLF and 14 months in French oak 10% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  Catalogue:  shows the perfumed nose, supple body and fine tannins that typifies Hawke’s Bay Syrah;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Initially opened the wine is a little reductive,  and needs a good splashy decanting.  It opens to a simple syrah aroma at about the level of commercial Crozes-Hermitage,  showing indeterminate red fruits.  Palate has fair berry,  faint pepper,  gentle older oak,  and is pleasantly mouth-filling in a straightforward way.  The score is well-aerated.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Matariki Syrah   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked;  de-stemmed;  some cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  cuvaison c 21 days;  MLF in tank;  18 months in French oak 56% new;  RS ‘dry’;  light fining and filtering;  Catalogue:  an attractive bouquet of lifted spice and floral aromas. The palate is generous and vibrant with dark cherry, cassis and violets balanced with finely integrated French oak characters. This wine shows pure, expressive varietal characters and lovely length;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  light in this category.  Bouquet is in the ‘pretty’ category (+ve),  with both carnation florals and white pepper attractive,  in red fruits more than black.  Palate is perfectly pro rata,  lighter and ‘cooler’ than ideal,  a little acid and stalky,  another reminiscent of the hills above the Cote Rotie zone,  that is,  not easily achieving AOC ripeness.  White pepper runs right through to the finish,  not stalky exactly but tending skinny.  Cellar 3 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Paritua Vineyards Syrah The Paritua Collection   16 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ screwcap;  not on website,  hand-picked;  French oak 50% new;  Catalogue:  Opulent aromas of blueberry, guava and black cherry with hints of black pepper and spice on the nose. The palate is enhanced with flavours of Black Doris plum and blackberry with a sweet raspberry finish. … fine grained tannins and great structure;  www.paritua.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is in an older style reminiscent of Australia in the 60s and 70s,  with both some reduction and at another stage some oxidation accounting for the old-for-age colour.  Palate shows reasonable red plummy fruit and developed aromatic flavours,  but little of the charm the variety can show in New Zealand.  Sound / straightforward tending rustic red wine to cellar 3 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Bridge Pa Vineyard Syrah Louis   16 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $49   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  perhaps 18 months in American oak,  most new;  Catalogue:  displays the classic Bridge Pa Vineyard aromas of perfumed violet and black fruit. The palate is full bodied and smooth featuring berries, black cracked pepper and an earthy undertone;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  showing surprising development relative to the 2007 Reserve.  Bouquet is quite complex on American oak and slightly oxidised berry,  the wine having something in common with the 2007 Paritua.  Again the charm of the variety has been substantially lost.  In mouth,  there is rich berry but the oak continues excessive,  making the wine more angular than the 2006 Cottage Block.  Less new oak would be good,  even if the present approach has ‘popular’ appeal.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.1%;  $25   [ cork;  machine-picked;  14 months in French oak 25% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  second syrah from all home-owned vineyards;  Catalogue:  A fruit expressive Syrah, lively and concentrated, firm yet poised … the aromas lift with blueberry and red fruit, completed by characteristic black olive, licorice and spice and saddle-leather notes. The concentration begins at the very front palate, adds depth and flesh to the mid palate before moving seamlessly into the long, restrained, rounded tannins of the finish;  Awards:  Bronze @ Romeo Bragato 2008,  Bronze @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby.  This bouquet is more in the European ‘winey’ style than specifically varietal,  though there is some white pepper on browning red fruits.  Palate follows on well,  straightforward red plums,  some pepper making the wine a little more varietal now,  light oak,  old for its age,  pleasant drinking.  Cellar 3 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Salvare Syrah   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  c.12 months in oak;  Catalogue:  floral/spicy aromas, a warm spicy palate and a soft dry finish;  Awards:  Silver @ Royal Easter Show 2008,  Bronze @ Air New Zealand 2007;  www.salvare.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is simple red fruits at much the same ripeness and concentration as the Trinity Hawkes Bay,  or perhaps a touch more cassis and a clearer hint of pepper.  Palate confirms that,  a light clean simply varietal syrah of no great concentration,  subtly oaked including some American (I think),  easy drinking already.  Cellar 3 – 6 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Wishart Syrah Alluvion   16  ()
Bay View,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ cork;  12 months in barrel,  some new;  Catalogue:  … classic white pepper notes along with violets, cedar and red plums. The palate is refined with fine powdery tannins and balanced acidity;  Awards:  4 Stars, Gourmet Traveller Magazine 2008;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and garnet.  Bouquet is more that of a mature wine,  to first impression reminding more of pinot noir or grenache than syrah.  Palate reveals some fruit,  lightest black pepper and a little brett,  to produce a medium-bodied firm wine which is European in style.  Scored more as pleasant ‘winey’ wine,  more for drinking,  not very varietal.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Trinity Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Sy 95%,  Vi 5,  de-stemmed;  c.20 days cuvaison;  10 months in French and American oak little new;  RS 2 g/L;  Catalogue: … warm, spicy …. blackberry, spice and peppery nuances of Syrah have combined to produce a complex, fruit dominant wine. The sensitive oak aging has added a further dimension without being obvious. Richness and soft, ripe tannins make this eminently drinkable. Awards:  Gold @ London International Wine Challenge 2008;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is light,  clean,  fragrant simple red fruits and faintest pepper,  almost like a stainless steel wine.  Palate shows a little more fruit,  red currants and red plums,  flavours reminding that Trinity Hill initially labelled this easy-drinking interpretation of syrah as shiraz,  implying it was designed to be more a familiar drinking red wine than a varietal.  As such it is ripe enough,  not much oaked,  carefully made,  perhaps even a gram or two of residual sugar to help the popularity side [ later – confirmed ],  to cellar 2 – 6 years.  

But it really is time someone made some down-to-earth comments about the ludicrous opinions / results emanating from the London International Wine Challenge,  which too many people in places like New Zealand regard as holy writ,  simply because it is from “overseas”.  One can hardly blame wine companies using these results for marketing,  but consumers need to think for themselves.  Older people can cast their minds back to the phase when it was de rigueur for winemakers to quote gold medals from Ljubljana as the ultimate seal of approval,  overlooking the fact that most anything could (and did) get a gold medal at that venue.  Likewise in Australia not so long ago,  it was a commonplace tactic,  that if a wine company entered its wines in enough wine shows,  given the plethora of regional and local shows over there,  sooner or later you would land a gold medal for advertising purposes.  A similar situation is developing in New Zealand,  so the thought does arise that there are only two judgings that really matter.  

One real problem for an emerging wine country like New Zealand is that for new producers,  and producers who do not taste the wines of the world very much,  their ideas about desirable wine style may be as shaky as the consumers.  So results from judgings like the London International Wine Challenge can in fact do enormous harm,  where inconsequential wines are held up as some kind of  model.  Both consumers and producers can be duped.  In this particular case,  that latter (specifically) hazard does not arise.  This wine was made by Warren Gibson and John Hancock,  two of the most experienced and respected syrah producers in the country,  winemakers with highly-regarded and well-travelled palates,  and who produce the outstanding Homage Syrah ($100) as well.  They would hardly be likely to bottle gold-medal wine under their $20 entry-level label,  complete with residual sugar – note.  Thus the gold-medal certificate from London is more a good joke,  telling us much more about the standard of judging there than the wine.  As  always therefore,  caveat emptor,  when it comes to judging results.  And that applies to wine reviews such as these reviews too.  The goal for the consumer must be,  to find a wine judging or reviewer who is first consistent (not easy),  and then suits your individual palate.  GK 07/09

2007  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection   15 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $20   [ screwcap;  French and American oak,  minimal info on website;  Catalogue:  … red berry fruit and cracked pepper characters. This wine has fine tannins and a soft finish providing great drinkability as a young wine, but also has the fruit and backbone to cellar comfortably;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrantly light red fruits with just a thought of palest rose florals,  light oak.  Palate is another in the highly finessed but too often vanishingly light Sileni style,  beautifully handled but how one wishes for more ripeness,  more fruit and more substance.  This wine really is tending leafy,  with only faint varietal expression,  and a  touch of white pepper.  QDR syrah,  to cellar 2 – 4 years.  [ Confusingly,  whereas Villa Maria’s Cellar Selection is a clearly distinct level above their basic Private Bin range,  for Sileni their Cellar Selection is the basic range.]  GK 07/09

2007  Moana Park Syrah Vineyard Selection   15 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $15   [ screwcap;  regrettably previous vintages not on website,  but assuming is similar 2008,  is de-stemmed,  up to 30 days cuvaison;  no details on oak;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.moanapark.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  Initially opened,  this wine is tending reductive,  and it too needs a splashy decanting.  Once breathed,  bouquet is dark red fruits inclining to currant and plum.  Palate is robust berry,  vaguely raspberry flavours,  the wine tending oaky and tannic.  Nett result is pleasant-enough quite big dry red,  a little pepper to suggest the syrah maybe,  but tending plain.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Wishart Syrah Te Puriri   15 ½  ()
Bay View,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.4%;  $20   [ cork;  hand-picked;  part carbonic maceration,  balance de-stemmed;  12 months in barrel;  Catalogue:  … lifted, fragrant black pepper and floral aromas which lead to a medium weight palate that shows black cherry, black currant and earthy, savoury complexity typical of a Hawkes Bay Syrah;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Light ruby.  Bouquet is curious,  like a minor Spanish wine,  but with a suggestion of mint and raw oak.  Sussing the variety blind is near impossible due to the American oak (as chips ?),  but there is some pepper.  Palate is light,  fragrant,  a little acid,  pinot noir weight but peppery and too oaky,  though the wine is clean.  The lack of varietal flavour means it is more QDR,  to cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/09

2005  Bridge Pa Syrah Hawkes Bay   15 ½  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $32   [ supercritical cork;  hand-picked;  9 months in French and American oak,  some new;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.bridgepa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  old for its age.  Bouquet is fragrant though including just a hint of oxidation,  on red fruits and white pepper.  Palate is leaner but lightly varietal,  red currants and red plums,  white pepper again but a touch of stalkyness too.  More ripeness needed here.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Babich Syrah Gimblett Gravels   15 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  some months in French and American oak;  Catalogue:  a brooding nose of red fruit, violets, white pepper, spice, vanilla and cedar show this wine will continue to impress over the years to follow. Integrated raspberry, cherry and spice characters dominate the palate, supported by quality oak and fine tannins providing good weight and length;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet.  Bouquet is slightly spicy but indeterminate red fruits,  perhaps a suggestion of cassis since I thought it cabernet / merlot at the blind stage,  pleasantly fragrant.  Palate however has a foggy note to it,  marcy / stalky in an MRIA way,  not quite pure,  but there is reasonable berry fruit all gently ‘oaked’.  Finish comes back to that earlier suggestion of stalks.  I wonder if this MRIA / near-saline character is added tannin ?  A straightforward light syrah to cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve Elms Vineyard   15  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 6-year old vines;  12 months in French;  vexing website;  Catalogue:  [ nothing on the actual winestyle ];  Awards:  Elite Gold & Trophy @ Air New Zealand 2008,  Gold @ Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008,  Silver @ New Zealand International Wine Show 2008;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Freshly opened,  the wine is seriously reductive.  It needs the jug to jug treatment 10 times.  Well-aired,  it still shows some of the coarse boysenberry uber-fruity notes associated with reduction,  but in mouth it is rich and soft,  more boysenberry in the Australian shiraz style,  even a hint of mint,  than any interpretation of syrah we need in New Zealand.  All a pity,  since the concentration of fruit and the quality and subtle use of oak all seem promising.  Not worth cellaring,  unless you (and potential dinner guests) are insensitive to sulphur.  Otherwise 5 – 12 years.  As noted in the introductory text,  wines like this highlight an issue in wine evaluation in New Zealand which the industry needs to face up to.  There has to be a worry when wines this reductive are currently receiving silver and gold medals in New Zealand.  They can never blossom,  especially when bottled under screwcap.  Australia went through this phase in the late 1960s and early 1970s,  with too many judges not recognising reduction.  The work of the Australian Wine Research Institute,  and of the (then) Roseworthy wine group of the University of Adelaide helped enormously in this respect,  and it is to be hoped that the new research links being forged between the industry and the University of Auckland will produce similar results,  once it is acknowledged there is an issue.  GK 07/09

2007  [ Paritua Vineyards ] Stone Paddock Syrah   15  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $23   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  whole-bunch fermentation;  10 months in French oak 20% new;  Catalogue: … aromas of sweet berries and floral notes. The palate is velvety smooth with hints of mocha and smoky oak … lovely soft and elegant fruit …;  www.paritua.com ]
Ruby.  Freshly opened,  the wine is reductive,  and demands repeated splashy decanting.  Thus breathed it is another in this bracket to show straightforward shiraz-like syrah with reminders of the MRIA,  and no charm.  Palate is still a little soured by reduction,  but there is simple berry,  with some stalks.  More a QDR syrah to cellar 2 – 4 years.  Score is well-ventilated.  GK 07/09

2007  Alpha Domus Syrah   14 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy machine-harvested;  short cold-soak,  c. 14 days cuvaison;  7 months in French oak;  Catalogue:  A fruit-driven Syrah with aromas of liquorice, black pepper, plum and floral notes. Medium bodied with flavours of dark red fruits, chocolate and savoury tones. French oak imparts spice and vanilla. Soft supple tannins and a lingering finish;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  This wine benefits from a splashy decanting,  to reveal a bouquet that is somewhat different in this bracket.  There are some redcurrant-like red fruits,  and a linalool / riesling-like aroma which slides into being leafy.  Palate confirms marginal ripeness,  red currants and a hint of raspberry,  all tending stalky,  slightly bretty,  and lightly oaked.  More a QDR syrah (but not priced as one),  which would cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Crossroads Winery Syrah Hawkes Bay   13  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.2%;  $20   [ screwcap;  machine-picked; not on website,  if like 2006 is 14 months in French oak 25% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  third syrah from all home-owned vineyards;  Catalogue:  not in;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  This wine is in the same rich dark boysenberry-reductive style as the Elms Reserve wine from the same vineyard,  but is even more reductive.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 07/09

All other red wines, blends etc
2007  Church Road Marzemino Cuve Series Limited Release   17 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  (not on website,  if like the 2005) 18 months in French oak 55% new;  Catalogue:  the Marzemino grape originates from Northern Italy. Grown in Hawkes Bay it produces supple wines with dense colour, rich berryfruit, fragrant floral notes and an appealing rusticity which sets it apart;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  very deep indeed.  Bouquet is unusually distinctive,  redolent of pink English tea roses,  quite extraordinary.  There are dark berry characters too,  almost best side of bottled tamarillos,  deeply red but a bit odd.  Palate is velvety rich,  flavours somewhat akin to montepulciano,  but the floral notes creeping right through,  again most unusual.  The wine has been little-affected by oak,  giving a focussed taste of the variety.  It fits in with the syrahs in the tasting quite well,  but is ‘exotic’.  Even in the latest edition of her Encyclopedia,  Jancis Robinson casts little light on the variety,  beyond confirming it is strictly of Italian origin and is “interesting”.  The above notes certainly agree with that,  though she may have been speaking of its history more than its taste.  Additional info @:  http://terroir.winelibrary.com/2007/02/24/marzemino-mozarts-favorite/,  including the observation that marzemino ‘often is said to smell of wild berries, violets, and asian plums.’  Cellaring potential unknown,  but the wine is rich enough and sufficiently reminiscent of montepulciano to cellar 5 – 8 years at least.  GK 07/09

2007  Trinity Hill Tempranillo Gimblett Gravels   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ supercritical cork;  DFB;  Te 91%,  Ma 9,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed;  short cuvaison;  9 months in French and American oak some new;  Trinity consider 2007 an exceptional vintage for the variety,  the first red to be harvested;  Catalogue:  Wild raspberries, cherries and pepper aromas are evident. The palate has medium weight and an elegant, but firm texture. This wine should age well for another 5-6 years;  Awards:  Blue-Gold @ Sydney Top 100 2009,  Gold & Trophy @ Air New Zealand 2008;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Limpid ruby.  This wine needs a good splashy decanting a couple of times,  whereupon it reveals the lovely fragrant,  nearly floral,  and gently aromatic almost pinot noir-like character of tempranillo.  It fits amongst the Cote Rotie-styled syrahs beautifully,  as the variety should.  This is much the best presentation of the variety so far in New Zealand.  Palate is fragrant,  aromatic,  not too oaky,  in this example almost suggesting light stalkyness,  like some fragrant syrahs.  What I like about this interpretation is,  it has been handled like syrah or pinot noir,  and not pushed into an oaky cabernet format.  This wine points to the future of tempranillo in New Zealand – exciting.  Just a little more ripeness would be great.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2007  Crossroads Winery [ not-revealed blend ] Talisman   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  cepage not revealed –  see text;  12 months in mostly French oak some new,  a little American;  RS ‘dry’;  Catalogue:  a stunning array of fruit and savoury characters. The primary aromas of black currants and berries are matched by perfectly balanced savoury elements of spice and mushroom. The mid-palate is packed with plum and violet flavours, and a hint of licorice. Fine tannins contribute to the lingering, complex finish;  Awards:  Gold & Trophy, Hawke’s Bay A&P 2008,  Pure Silver @ Air New Zealand 2008, Silver @ New Zealand International Wine Show 2008;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Dense ruby,  carmine and velvet.  After the splendid colour,  it is a disappointment to find the bouquet is reductive.  This needs splashy jug to jug treatment several times.  So how can that be,  you ask,  why am I criticising a wine that is said to be a gold medal wine,  a Trophy wine etc etc.  Firstly,  gold medals have never been a guide to wine pleasure at table,  simply because as discussed elsewhere in this report,  wines that are too oaky for food are highly likely to be awarded gold medals.  For reduction,  there is no getting around the fact that many keen wine consumers are more sensitive to reduced sulphurs and their related even more complex and smelly compounds than some wine judges.  

One insuperable problem of any judging procedure is that maybe 30 or 40 wines may be poured out into their glasses many minutes,  sometimes even up to an hour,  before judging.  And if the wine is # 29 in the line-up,  more time passes until the judge reaches and assesses that wine.  All the while the sample is breathing.  And,  not much talked about,  at the same time the judge is fatiguing,  particularly if judges refuse to assess bouquets as a separate exercise before tasting.  So assessing faults in wine is a fraught process,  and the judging process is not an ideal venue in which this can happen.  For all the above reasons,  one finds results like this.  Judgings are simply a guide to wine quality,  as are wine commentators.  There are good and lesser examples of each.  You the consumer must make the effort to assess which results from which place suit your palate best.  And it is always worth remembering,  very few wines,  reds obviously but white too,  do not benefit from decanting.  

So,  back to the 2007 Talisman.  Once ventilated,  the wine shows rich ripe to over-ripe fruit with ‘black’ overtones,  in which darkest plum but also some cassis can be seen.  There is also a less-ripe component,  slightly stalky,  as if the triage were not rigorous enough.  Total oak is quite light relative to the fruit weight,  and there is no doubt this is serious red in a Cahors-like style.  Normally,  it would be worth putting some aside for five years to re-evaluate,  and see if the wine resolves the reduction,  but this one is under screwcap.  Much is made of the ‘not revealed’ blend comprising this wine.  The company has said at one stage that there 6 or so varieties in Talisman,  and that the wine inclines to Bordeaux in style.  But they have also said that the composition varies from year to year,  and they have implied that syrah is now part of the blend – as one would hope !  So it seems that nowadays Talisman is based on malbec (as suggested by Michael Cooper),  merlot,  cabernet sauvignon,  syrah,  cabernet franc,  and maybe a couple of oddments like chambourcin (still grown in Bordeaux,  and deeply-flavoured when conservatively cropped – though if the wine were exported,  including the latter now runs the risk of upsetting the EEC rules on grapes that are not 100% vinifera) and / or pinotage.  Talisman was previously a wine of its time,  not living up to the hoopla,  but latterly it more closely reflects contemporary goals in ripening and can be taken more seriously.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe,  if you’ll risk the screwcap / reduction.  Scoring here is well breathed,  and allowing (like the Villa Maria Reserve Syrah) that it might  improve,  since the concentration is excellent.  GK 07/09

2006  Babich Pinotage Winemakers Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ supercritical cork;  100% pinotage;  9 months in American oak 15% new;  Catalogue:  A lifted candied nose of jubes, chocolate and vanilla, leather and spice. The palate is soft and generous with plum and berry fruits, supported with leather, spice and game, wrapped in quality oak that aids in a persistent length with fine tannins;  Awards:  4 Stars Michael Coopers’ Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wine 2009;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is complex in one sense,  tending European and winey and showing the curious raspberry and black olives character of pinotage delightfully,  along with a little brett complexity.  Palate is on the ‘cool’ side though,  just a little leafy though the tannins are soft and there seems to be old oak only.  Babich advise this is the last of the line for this label – the market simply does not want pinotage.  Sad in a way –  I have cellared better years of this label since Babich’s inaugural release (to great excitement,  given the ubiquitous hybrid red wines then) in 1970.  At that point there had been one or two good ones from Corbans,  and an equal number of skinny ones from Montana and a few others.  But certainly it is a grape lacking charm,  despite the protestations of South Africans habituated to it,  and Babich’s Gimblett Gravels site for this wine can be put to much better use.  Top-grafting to syrah was mentioned.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 07/09

2006  Matariki Sangiovese   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sa 86%,  CS 14,  de-stemmed;  inoculated fermentation;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 70% new;  Catalogue:  Vibrant bouquet of red berries, spice and dried fruits. A delicious Sangiovese showing typical ‘Chianti’ characters of cranberries, plums and chocolate. The palate is full and concentrated with great structure and a fresh and lively finish;  www.matarikiwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  pinot noir weight.  Bouquet is clean,  fragrant,  tending oaky,  but once the wine is no longer blind,  it sits fairly happily in the more traditional light-hued chianti class,  attractively aromatic.  Palate too is varietal in a light tending stalky way,  though the oak is excessive for the weight of fruit.  Sangiovese varietal character has not been compromised by the cabernet sauvignon addition,  surprisingly.  Be good to see how this variety looks in New Zealand with more ripeness and concentration,  and less new oak.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 07/09

2008  Trinity Hill Montepulciano Hawkes Bay   15 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.8%;  $20   [ screwcap;  Mo 90%,  Me 10,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed but not crushed;  short cuvaison;  some in old oak 5 months,  balance s/s;  RS 4 g/L;  sixth vintage of montepulciano;  Catalogue: a fresh fruity, soft wine made to be enjoyed while young …spicy blackcurrant, cherries and plum aromas and flavours are evident. The wine shows soft tannins and good acidity;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is fruity and juicy as if there were a maceration carbonique component to this wine,  with intensely fragrant notes which are somewhere between floral and leafy.  Palate is even more like (minor)  beaujolais,  with a clear stalky note on raspberry-red fruits.  Like the Hawkes Bay Syrah,  this seems mostly a simple stainless steel wine,  and not bone dry.  Montepulciano does need the ripeness to be a bit sultry though,  so this is more QDR lacking ripeness,  to cellar 2 – 4 years only.  Achieving physiological maturity in grapes is a complex business.  One would think the heat summation on the Gravels better than Waiheke Island,  yet this wine does not display the ripeness and completeness of the exciting 2008 Weeping Sands Montepulciano.  Curiously,  the clearly under-ripe Trinity Hill has won a gold medal in New Zealand … a matter discussed in the Introduction.  GK 07/09