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

You have to hand it to Te Mata.  For more than 30 years now,  they have stuck to their vision of fine Hawke's Bay reds and whites with a tenacity that is admirable,  even enviable.  The key to that vision was John Buck's European experience in the early 60s,  and his falling in love with both Bordeaux reds and white Burgundy.  That experience coupled with certain key wines made by Tom McDonald allowed him to see clearly what Hawke's Bay could do,  in climatic and taste terms.  For many years,  this vision set him totally apart from other New Zealand winemakers.

In setting one's palate in Bordeaux in the 1960s,  and consolidating it in the 1970s,  the only problem perhaps was the timing.  That decade did include the remarkable 1961 wines,  but even then,  they may not have been the stock-in-trade of a young person's tasting experience,  for it was a small vintage.  1962,  1964 and 1966 all produced some beautifully fragrant wines,  but with odd exceptions such as 1966 Ch Palmer,  the wines though physiologically mature and showing good fruit ripeness,  were tending lighter in body.  The remaining vintages were average to dire,  and the 1970s also showed a preponderance of lesser vintages.  

So it is possible therefore that the wines upon which John Buck set his palate where the lean and more fragrant claret styles of the day.  This would certainly correlate with the style established for Coleraine and Awatea in the 80s and 90s,  where apart from the 1982 and 1983 vintages,  the wines were tending lean.  This was not so evident at the time,  for the New Zealand wine industry as a whole was only very slowly emerging from a long interlude of favouring quantity over quality in wine,  amidst a population little versed in the taste of quality vinifera reds.  The exceptions were rare,  occasional early 1960s Mission Estate Cabernet,  1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon,  1970 Nobilo Cabernet Sauvignon to a degree.  

The key to great Bordeaux,  however,  is concentration,  as well as aroma and flavour.  The best wines have an extraordinary power without weight,  and despite the richness,  finesse and freshness prevail.  These attributes can be measured to a degree,  or at least indexed,  by the dry extract figure.  Conversely,  at a certain point in Te Mata's evolution,  they retained the well-known Richard Smart as their viticultural consultant,  and it seems fair to surmise that this step produced mixed results.  Richard is keen on the commercial approach to grape growing,  and optimising commercial wine quality relative to somewhat more generous cropping rates than fine wine demands.  There is a world of difference between optimising commercial wine,  and commercialising optimal wines.  

Production viticulturists like to debunk the notion that there is any correlation between yield and quality,  but usually that is because the parameters sought differ.  By both its publicity and its pricing Te Mata seek to make great wine,  not good wine.  Hawkes Bay is not the Napa Valley,  where climate and sites allow somewhat higher cropping rates which still produce great wines.  Hawkes Bay is so close climatically to Bordeaux that cropping guidelines for the latter can be taken as gospel.  All the evidence there is that around 40 hl/ha = 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac is a good working figure,  and that it is only in exceptional years such as 1982 and 1990 may crops rise towards 60 hl/ha = 7.5 t/ha = 3 t/ac figure.  The appellation controlée laws reflect this,  in their imperfect way.  It is unbelievable the extent to which the wine literature does not correlate wine quality with dry extract,  but I should be very surprised indeed if the relationship were not exact.  This is a topic crying out for world-class research in New Zealand,  if and only if a world-class tasting panel could be assembled.

For an aspiring fine wine producer such as Te Mata,  however,  fruit quality must be accompanied by wine quality.  It is not enough to smell and taste correct,  the wine must have mouthfeel,  length and persistence.  The best index of this is dry extract.  It is in this area that Te Mata has sometimes fallen short.  The wines are beautifully made,  they are stylistically correct,  but in many years they lack the substance,  the stuffing,  of great Bordeaux.  The implication is that cropping rate is on average greater than French grand cru cropping rates.

It is hard to get a clear conclusion on the quality of the 2010 harvest in Hawke's Bay.  My impression is that the wines are lighter than the best 2009s,  but sometimes with enhanced aromatics.  Many report it is more a merlot or syrah year than a cabernet sauvignon year.  The Te Mata 2010s fit reasonably well into that interpretation,  though their vineyards are not on the Gimblett Gravels.

The other thing that needs to be said in reporting on,  and thinking about,  the Te Mata releases is:  these people are past-masters at marketing.  In Wellington,  the 2012 Te Mata new releases tasting attracted about 125 people.  In the simplest terms,  no other winery in New Zealand has the cachet to attract that number.  And to casual inspection,  many of those who came seemed to be almost adoring of the brand,  so quizzical examination of or questioning about the wines was not the first priority.

Te Mata,  naturally enough,  foster this totally,  and very cleverly.  For example, in "showcasing" the 2010 red releases,  they showed them against the lighter years of 2006 and 2008,  with the goal of highlighting how excellent the 2010s were.  The thought was even offered that the 2010s were the best wines yet from the firm.  Likewise,  the PR material quotes heavily from the most gushing wine reviews – which abound – so it is very hard for the customers to see the wines dispassionately.

Meanwhile,  however,  the New Zealand scene has changed since the 1980s and 1990s.  There are now other winemakers out there who have tasted as widely as the Te Mata team,  and every year the pressure will be more intense for Te Mata wines to measure up in objective terms.  All this can only rebound in consumers'  favour,  as we mature sufficiently as a wine-country to have a more clearly focussed and analytical wine press.  

If these remarks should seem a little negative,  when they are intended merely to introduce a note of reality,  I have for many years now used the good years of Te Mata wines as yardsticks in blind evaluation tastings.  In terms of purity,  balance,  and use of oak and other detail,  a winery has to be good to be better than Te Mata.  They therefore provide good calibration points in blind tastings.  Increasingly those who are matching and sometimes surpassing them are offering wines with greater richness and dry extract,  and better-focussed ripeness.  The goal therefore is to retain the florality of the wine (which Te Mata are so good at),  yet on the one hand avoid any hints of leafyness,  or worse stalkyness,  and at the same time enhance the fruit weight and length of the wine in mouth,  without introducing over-ripeness and loss of precision and freshness.  The next ten years are going to be very exciting indeed in Hawkes Bay as Te Mata is challenged by the emerging ultra-thoughtful and committed winemakers in firms such as Sacred Hill,  Esk Valley,  Church Road and Craggy Range.

And just to add further spice to the prospect of the next ten exciting years of red wine in Hawke's Bay,  there is the prospect of subtle climatic warming,  lifting the average of Hawke's Bay weather ever closer to the parameters for a very good year in Bordeaux.  It follows therefore that great years such as 2009 in Hawkes Bay have more and more chance of matching excellent years such as 2005,  2009 and 2010 in Bordeaux.  Future comparative tastings along these lines offer a tantalising prospect.  But how many are preparing for them ?

On the pricing front,  Te Mata are now very canny with their pricing.  For a long time they were out in front,  and looking very expensive.  As chardonnay became less popular in response to silly fashions (one is tempted to say,  led by the Auckland social scene,  and reflected in its magazines) Elston became cheaper for example,  so that it still sold out.  It is now about the price it was at the turn of the century.  With the economic squeeze of the last few years,  they edged back prices across the board,  which was appreciated.  Clever people.  This year,  where they judge the wine will wear it,  prices are up 10% or so,  but not for all.  Nowadays,  it is much easier for customers to scan the market for offers,  which there certainly will be.


2010  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston
Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2011  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest
Pinot Gris
2010  Te Mata Viognier Zara
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
  2010  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea
2008  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea
2006  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea
2010  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine
2008  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine
2007  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine
2006  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2010  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
From the Cellar. Older wines.

2010  Te Mata Chardonnay Elston   18 ½ +  ()
Havelock North district mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $36   [ supercritical 'cork';  hand-harvested;  100% BF,  MLF,  LA and c.11 months in French oak c. 50% new;  pH 3.3,  <2 g/L residual;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemon,  almost iridescent,  spectacular.  Bouquet is a delight,  the purest of varietal chardonnay augmented by skilled barrel-fermentation,  lees-autolysis,  and restraint.  Palate introduces a vanillin suggestion,  chalky,  mealy and citrus notes,  and good length.  Fruit lingers delightfully in mouth,  rich in pale stonefruits,  the oak-handling being exemplary.  This is chardonnay in a classical white Burgundy style fit to persuade even the most bigotted anti-chardonnay person that the grape has great merit,  especially with food.  It is not the richest or weightiest chardonnay around (for a finely-wrought specimen,  check the Easter Show Trophy Chardonnay 2009 Brightwater Rutherford),  but the Elston is still lovely alongside.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/12

Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
2011  Te Mata Sauvignon Blanc Cape Crest   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $31   [ supercritical cork;  cepage varies round SB 85%,  Se 11 and sauvignon gris 4,  hand-harvested,  de-stemmed,  brief skin-contact;  low-solids juice 100% BF,  LA and c. 8 months in French oak c. 30% new;  pH 3.3,  RS < 2 g/L;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Lemon-green,  a shimmering lovely colour.  Bouquet is strong,  complex,  assertive,  clearly oak-handled sauvignon blanc with much lees influence,  and a degree of complexity suggesting wild yeasts and somewhere a stray barrel of MLF.  Winemaker Peter Cowley advises both the latter are unlikely and certainly not intended.  As in earlier vintages,  this distinctive bouquet has hints of Castrol GTX to it,  in a positive way.  Palate extends the bouquet,  the wine more clearly sauvignon now,  the extended barrel work producing lovely brioche / sally lunn (un-iced) flavours which round out the sauvignon.  The model for this wine is Pavillon Blanc,  a lofty goal,  but it certainly is totally modern Graves Blanc in style,  and at a 'classed' level.  It needs a little more richness / dry extract to challenge the finest Bordeaux examples.  Cellar 2 – 10 years,  and longer if you like old whites.  GK 03/12

2010  Te Mata Viognier Zara   18  ()
Woodthorpe district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $31   [ supercritical ‘cork’;  hand-harvested;  c. 70% of the wine BF in French oak third-year or older,  plus 9 months LA and batonnage on gross lees,  balance s/s;  pH 3.7,  <2 g/L residual;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Rich lemon,  a little deeper than expected.  Bouquet is fragrant,  nearly floral in the sense of Burmese yellow honeysuckle,  a suggestion of stonefruit including apricot,  a little oaky.  Palate is dry,  shorter than desired for fine viognier,  but correct as far as it goes.  While I get the impression Te Mata are taking more care with the ripeness of their viognier crop in the last few years,  the wine still lacks authority.  I think it needs further reduction in the cropping-rate to give better physiological / flavour ripeness still,  and importantly,  better dry extract and mouth-feel,  if it is to compete at the highest level.  A subtle MLF component would help the texture.  The Passage Rock 2009 is ahead on texture,  side by side.  Cellar 1 – 3 years.  GK 03/12

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2007  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine   18 ½ +  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $72   [ cork;  hand-harvested CS 52%,  Me 34,  CF 14;  extended cuvaison;  average vine age 20 + years;  20 months in French oak 75% new;  pH 3.54,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  still some carmine,  much younger than the 2006 Coleraine.  Bouquet shows a degree of fruit ripeness which is remarkably soft and plummy (and floral too),  leading to a palate richness unmatched by the 2006,  2008 or 2010.  The whole wine is still on the primary side of the line,  relative to the 2006.  Palate length and weight are very pleasing,  illustrating a fine Coleraine.  The alternate years have been good for Te Mata lately – what will 2011 bring,  I wonder.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 03/12

2010  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine   18  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $84   [ cork;  hand-harvested CS 53%,  Me 28,  CF 19;  extended cuvaison;  average vine age 22 + years;  19 months in French oak c.75% new;  pH 3.60,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not a rich wine,  but good.  Bouquet is sweetly fragrant,  clearly modelled on the Margaux style of Bordeaux,  darkest roses and even violets in the floral component,  clear cassis,  a mix of red and dark berry fruits including plum.  Bouquet is very fresh,  and on palate that translates into a lighter wine than the best Hawke's Bay 2009s (or 2007 Coleraine,  for example),  but there is a Bordeaux balance and precision to the flavour which is beguiling.  Oak handling shows the customary Te Mata restraint.  This wine reminds that the primary goal of claret is to be food-friendly,  rather than immediately impressive or a block-buster.  Even so,  it is considerably lighter than I imagine the better second,  third and fourth growth 2010 Bordeaux will be.  It would be great if Te Mata bit the bullet on cropping rates,  for although a wine like this is beautiful,  there is always the old adage that a good big 'un will beat a good little 'un.  The dry extract on a wine like the 2009 Church Road Cabernet / Merlot Reserve is so much greater than 2010 Coleraine.  That is what this wine needs if it is to compete at the highest level.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  maybe longer.  GK 03/12

2008  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine   18  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork;  hand-harvested CS 52%,  Me 34,  CF 14;  extended cuvaison;  average vine age 20 + years;  20 months in French oak 75% new;  pH 3.58,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  deeper than 2010 Coleraine.  This wine has put on weight since I saw it last,  with the bouquet pouring forth a dramatic volume of cabernets aroma.  The cabernets here (combined) are a greater percentage than the 2010 Coleraine,  giving an even more cassisy aromatic to the bouquet.  Palate is very youthful,  perhaps not quite the suppleness of the 2010 Coleraine,  some cabernet edge,  stronger oak handling than the 2010.  In one sense this seems a more powerful wine than the 2010 Coleraine,  so the question could be whether one prefers force or seduction.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/12

2008  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea   17 ½ +  ()
Havelock North district mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ cork;  CS 44%,  Me 33%,  CF 16,  PV 7,  hand-harvested;  c. 20 months in French oak 40% new;  pH 3.57,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as deep as 2008 Coleraine,  but deeper than the 2010 Awatea.  This was the surprise wine on the night,  looking awfully good in the initial lineup,  clearly the best of the Awateas.  There is vibrant cassis on bouquet,  tending to a quite rich cassisy and black doris palate,  slightly edgy.  It is slightly more stalky than 2008 Coleraine,  but really,  this is one of the good Awateas,  where  the price differential at release makes it a compelling buy.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/12

2006  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Coleraine   17 ½  ()
Havelock Hills,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $72   [ cork;  hand-harvested CS 43%,  Me 49,  CF 8;  extended cuvaison;  average vine age c.20 years;  20 months in French oak 75% new;  pH 3.59,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a touch of garnet showing,  the change in hue from the 2008 being much greater than 2010 to 2008.  Bouquet is quite different from the still-very-primary 2008 and 2010 wines.  There is clear secondary complexity creeping in here,  with cedary and tobacco-y notes evident on slightly browning cassis and plum fruit.  Palate builds the berry component,  there is an attractive mellowness,  but the fruit weight is tending light,  so the oak shows a little.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 03/12

2006  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea   17  ()
Havelock North district mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ cork;  CS 36%,  Me 38%,  CF 15,  PV 11,  hand-harvested;  c. 20 months in French oak 40% new;  pH 3.60,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a similar touch of garnet showing to the 2006 Coleraine,  the wine lighter though.  Bouquet picks up on that,  a touch of weedyness in the tobacco taking it to Entre Deux Mers,  more minor Bordeaux.  Palate shows browning cassis and plum,  better fruit than the bouquet suggested,  the oak potentially cedary,  all finishing a little lean.  Nonetheless the wine is fragrant and food-friendly.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 03/12

2010  Te Mata [ Cabernets / Merlot ] Awatea   16 ½ +  ()
Havelock North district mostly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $36   [ cork;  CS 42%,  Me 40%,  CF 17,  PV 6,  hand-harvested;  c. 18 months in French oak 40% new;  pH 3.52,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  the lightest of the wines.  Bouquet is light relative to the field,  seeming unforthcoming and lacking ripeness and generosity.  There are intriguing hints of salvia blossom,  though I'm not sure if that is totally positive.  Palate is more revealing,  a much less ripe wine than 2010 Coleraine,  giving the impression they opened the gates a bit wide here in the selection process,  to let in a greater volume of wine.  The result is a green hard note in red fruits,  as in many lesser bourgeois crus.  Otherwise the wine is pure and carefully made in the Te Mata style.  It looks the least Awatea for some years,  however.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 03/12

Syrah = Shiraz
2009  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 ½ +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  3 clones of syrah hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 months in French oak 35 – 40% new;  pH 3.55;  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  slightly more depth than the 2010.  Bouquet is rich,  clear-cut wallflower florality and darkest roses,  deep cassis and black doris plums,  a suggestion of vanilla wafers,  wonderful varietal purity.  Palate is concentrated,  youthful,  darkest plum,  cassis and hints of black pepper,  long and satisfying.  This is lovely syrah in a finessed style,  not as oaky as some Villa Maria (for example) Reserve examples,  and the better for it.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 03/12

2010  Te Mata Syrah Bullnose   18 +  ()
Ngatarawa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ cork;  3 clones of syrah hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  extended cuvaison;  15 months in French oak 35 – 40% new;  pH 3.67,  RS nil;  www.temata.co.nz ]
Ruby, some carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is beautifully floral in the manner which Bullnose is becoming famous for,  a precise Cote Rotie look-alike in the style of the best Cuilleron wines.  There are suggestions of wallflowers as well as red roses,  but scarcely any cracked black peppercorn,  in cassis and red plum.  Palate changes that,  a peppery note now,  less body than hoped,  certainly not the tactile richness of the 2009 Bullnose,  but still a highly varietal and pretty reading of syrah,  which will be great with food.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 03/12