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

Geoff Kelly  MSc (Hons)


#   Scope of the report
#   THE 2013 HOT RED WINE EXPO                    
#   Introduction and participants
#   Basis for selecting the wines
#   Further reflections on wine quality
#   Pricing & Labelling
#   Introduction and participants
#   Some impressions of the red wines
#   Value,  and some French foils
#   New Zealand wine reviewing
#   Introduction
#   El Nino and La Nina
#   Growing Degree Days
#   Location Map Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle
#   Is warmer better ?
#   Climate Research Recommendation
#   Comments sought re the vintage chart
#   HAWKES BAY VINTAGE CHART 2000 –  2013          
#   Cellar potential for the wines
#   Acknowledgements
#   References

Scope of this report:   The annual Hawkes Bay Hot Red Expo in New Zealand is organised by Hawkes Bay WineGrowers Incorporated.  I attended the 2012 Hot Red Expo in Wellington,  and prepared a quite detailed report and introduction.  As a result of subsequent commitments,  that report was (regrettably) not published.  This review therefore presents some further thoughts arising from the 2013 event,  and follows it with the 2012 introductory text as the basis for a review of both events.  There is thus some overlap.  All the wines are presented together,  classified by winestyle in the usual way.  The year a wine was tasted can be identified in the initials at the close of each individual review.  In both years,  some French wines have been included in the blind tastings and then the reviews,  to better calibrate the evaluation of the New Zealand wines.  


Introduction and those participating:  For this year's event in Wellington on 19 June,  19 wineries (from Hawkes Bay's perhaps 80 wineries) presented their wines.  

Alpha Domus
Babich Wines
Black Barn Vineyards                                        
Church Road Winery
Clearview Estate
Coopers Creek
Elephant Hill
Esk Valley
Lime Rock Wines
Mills Reef Winery
Mission Estate Winery                              
Ngatarawa Wines
Pask Winery
Rod McDonald Wines
Sileni Estates
Te Awa
Trinity Hill
Vidal Estate
Villa Maria

This is fewer than some earlier years.  Crossroads Winery and Maimai Creek chose to go to Auckland only.  Craggy Range and Sacred Hill did not participate at all this year,  and were sorely missed.  It would be a sad state of affairs if the Hot Red Expo slipped into non-viability.  This trend reflects in a contrarian way the astonishing manner in which wine has on the one hand become everyday in New Zealand,  picked up at the supermarket like milk.  People can't be bothered going out to an event like this with a small entry fee.  But it also reflects an emerging fact that fewer and fewer members of the public are acutely interested in wine per se,  or passionate about it in a catholic sense.  Everywhere,  patronage at tastings is down,  compared with 25 years ago.  There are no queues for gold-medal wines in wineshops any more.  

It was good therefore to see the remarkable turn-out to the trade first-half of the presentation,  approximately 120 people.  Then about another 135 people came to the public session in the evening,  so the room seemed pretty busy throughout.  It is always intriguing to see the make-up of the participants,  and to note how many who express an interest in wine do not in fact participate in tastings like this.  In general attendees seemed to be keenly interested both in the range of wines before them,  and for some stalls,  with the opportunity to talk to winemakers directly.  It is a pleasure to record that the obvious shortcomings of the 2012 event were corrected,  and the WineGrowers this year generously provided snack-food throughout.

Basis for selecting wines:   Two factors determine the wines reported on here.  Firstly I take away all wines to be assembled into a blind tasting,  where they may be seen more accurately and objectively away from the beguiling influence of the winemaker,  and the chatter of the crowd.  I can only carry 60 XL5 glass samples easily,  so that sets the upper limit.  Secondly,  each year I give a tasting seminar to the Oenology Course at Lincoln University.  These alternate Bordeaux grapes as they relate to New Zealand reds,  and Northern Rhone reds,  meaning syrah.  I use the Hawkes Bay Hot Reds as the ideal forum in which to identify which wines to use for Lincoln.  Accordingly I try to collect all the cabernet / merlots one year (2012 in this instance),  and the next year all the syrahs.  This year I also sampled the viogniers,  since I talk about them with respect to syrah as part of the Lincoln presentation.   The present report being in fact a combining of two years,  the broader coverage now achieved has some merits.  

Additionally,  to help with quality control,  objectivity, and countering parochialism (one of three key failings in New Zealand winewriting),  last year I was able to compare some newly-imported affordable 2009 Bordeaux reds with the Hawkes Bay wines.  This year thanks to a Glengarry tasting on exactly the same day as the Hot Reds,  I was able to add some syrahs from the highly-regarded young Northern Rhone producer Yves Cuilleron directly into the fully-blind tasting.  These were not so affordable and thus not quite so directly comparable with the New Zealand wines,  but they still provided good quality control.  Almost in the same time span,  I was also able to compare some viogniers from the same producer.  His viogniers are quite exceptional,  and provide a much-needed frame of reference for viognier evaluation,  for this variety is not being assessed or judged accurately in New Zealand.  These wines are all included here,  for interest and reference.

Further reflections on wine quality:   The 2013 Hawkes Bay Hot Red wines presentation made one reflect that the New Zealand wine industry runs a formidable good-news-only public relations machine.  And it is true that in less than a generation,  the leading New Zealand winemakers are achieving wonderful things,  by world standards.  Sadly however,  these leaders are few.  For the wine market as a whole,  it can be argued that consumers are ill-served.  There are still far too many plain,  under-ripe or faulty  wines,  as if New Zealand were still a protected wine market as prior to 1980,  when wine-drinkers were ripped-off by the New Zealand wine industry to a degree which is hard to imagine in the less oppressively regulated society of today.  

Both Hot Red tastings demonstrated once again that too many New Zealand winemakers still make little effort to taste international benchmark wines,  or even good examples of commercial international wines.  Some of the wines offered here at fancy prices are unbelievably under-ripe,  or thin,  or both.  Some were even faulty.  In the case of the cabernet / merlots,  where there are over 5000 individual proprietors in Bordeaux,  sometimes far better wines can be secured at matching or better prices from Bordeaux,  via discriminating merchants such as The Wine Importer,  Kumeu,  for example.  

And it's not only the winemakers:  Too many of the poor wines in the event Catalogue have unrealistically praising reviews included from biddable New Zealand winewriters who likewise do not taste widely enough.  Further comment on this side of things in the 2012 introductory section,  below.  And from the consumer's point of view,  another compelling reason for winemakers to be more aware of overseas practice is price.  They would find to their horror that in a poor vintage,  French winemakers may offer their wines at lower prices.  No chance of that in New Zealand,  with the poor vintage 2012 wines in general being offered at the same price as ripe-year 2009s and 2010s.  People who do not cellar wines,  and in particular buy the good years to tide them over the poor years,  are short-sighted beyond belief.  Any of the better cabernet / merlots or syrahs reported on in this review will cellar for 10 years,  and the best considerably longer.  Guidelines are indicated in the reviews.

When it comes to syrah varietal expression specifically,  the sad fact is that again,  too many New Zealand winemakers are still not optimising the unique and wonderful climatic advantage we have in New Zealand to achieve precise varietal character in our grapes and wines.  We have such a potential advantage over Australia,  in this respect.  But far too many examples can be found of winemakers (and winewriters) enthusing about mocha,  chocolate,  cocoa and similar attributes in their wines –  as if these were positive,  whereas in the New Zealand climate they are almost always artefacts,  and undesirable artefacts at that,  beloved only by winewriters from hot countries making unsubtle wines.  They are the product of over-ripening combined with imposing excess winemaking artifice on the wines in elevation,  rather than optimising varietal beauty in the vineyard,  and picking at the correct point for maximum varietal expression in a cool-temperate or temperate viticultural climate.  I discuss the latter aspect in detail in my 'Ripening Curve for Syrah',  published in The World of Fine Wine,  London,  in 2011.

Pricing & Labelling:   Not only are some wine names becoming simply too long,  with too much qualifying information in the name proper,  rather than elsewhere on the label,  but there is an unfortunate trend currently to inflate the name of the wine via verbiage,  and then inflate the price too.  Examples are Church Road,  where the former workmanlike concept of the Reserve wine at $37 (but often discounted) has now become Grand Reserve,  and the price has jumped to $50.  At Vidals,  the former Reserve wines at $56 have now escalated to a Legacy Series,  with the price in some cases $70 per bottle.  Syrah might be the excitement of the moment among wine people,  but that quality is not yet widely appreciated.  Where the market is only slowly learning that this is a versatile and delicious grape with food,  and that these qualities are enhanced by time in cellar,  surely it would be wiser to grow the market,  rather than extract every last cent out of smaller number of consumers.  

And the "trophy wine" pricing phenomenon of California is starting too,  with four wines at least already in three figures – none of them shown:  Craggy Range Syrah Le Sol,  Trinity Hill Syrah Homage,  Mission Estate Syrah Huchet,  plus Church Road Tom.  There are others in the wings.  These wines follow the unfortunate lead made by certain pinot producers.  I believe the whole move is misconceived,  a venture catering to the less-desirable snob-values face of wine.  In New Zealand a more egalitarian approach to quality wine would help the industry retain respect from the everyday consumer.  Pricing can still reflect extra effort and cost (grapes grown and cropped to yield one tonne per acre for Homage,  for example),  without going to pretentious levels.  The sad fact is,  once these trophy prices start,  a kind of competitive rot and price leap-frogging sets in amongst even the most normally level-headed winemakers.  The consumer can easily become disenchanted with this approach.  And incidentally,  if our top red wines are not exhibited in formats like the Hot Red Expo,  how can winemakers expect consumer interest and national pride in these wines to grow – let alone the desire to own a few ?

But then again,  perhaps it is not as simple as I,  from a non-commercial viewpoint,  would like to think.  Geoff Wilson consults to the Gimblett Gravels WineGrowers Association,  and has direct experience of the marvellous initiative they pursued,  in presenting a mix of Gimblett Gravels top Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends and recognised classed Bordeaux in a blind tasting for the London wine press.  He notes that export will be critically important to the successful production of quality red wines in New Zealand,  simply because the local market is not big enough or keen enough to support the expense involved in producing realistic quantities of absolute quality wines such as the four above.  His experience has been that unless the wines carry a significant price tag,  they are less likely to be taken seriously overseas.  The overseas markets,  and especially the more status-conscious ones,  want to be convinced that they are tasting something that the New Zealand market itself regards as truly exceptional.  That concept rules out wines priced to the maker's vanity,  where in fact they don't sell significantly in New Zealand at all.  As the 1855 Classification for Bordeaux has long since confirmed,  price in the primary and secondary market-place is the simplest Index for this complex quality evaluation.  

All food for thought:  we winelovers may just have to grit our teeth in New Zealand,  for our top wines are definitely to be encouraged to the hilt.  We have a very special climate for quality red wine production,  matched by few places in the world.  As I wrote in 2008 in summarising the evolution of the cabernet / merlot class in New Zealand,  our best wines even then were truly competitive with middling classed growths from Bordeaux.  Once we use oak in a subtler way,  and optimise our dry extract readings further,  they will be even more competitive.  The same applies to our top syrah,  relative to the famous names from Hermitage and Cote Rotie.  And we have so much more prospect of matching those wines stylistically than the Australians do,  which is a source of enormous encouragement.  While preparing this report,  I was by chance able to taste the top Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends listed here with eight 2009 classed growths from the Medoc – a great vintage.  This experience again confirmed my proposition.  As noted elsewhere in this report,  what also follows is,  there is absolutely no case for proprietors of lesser wines to coat-tail their prices on the few great wines.  We need a perceptive and forthright wine press to guard against that.


Much of the introductory material below this point was prepared for last year's review.  I have however updated the content where appropriate,  and added 2013 and further amendments to the vintage chart.  

Introduction and those participating:   The annual Hawkes Bay WineGrowers Hot Red Wine Expo is one of the most exciting events in the New Zealand wine tasting calendar.  This ninth presentation of the Expo (now diluted with whites,  unwisely in my view) in Wellington on 12 June was accompanied by a bitter southerly.  It nonetheless attracted a very eager crowd of 135 people for the afternoon trade session.  The public evening tasting brought in 90 more people,  the smaller number a reflection of the weather.  The organisers did not present the Expo in Christchurch this year,  but the Auckland Expo followed on 31 July.    

It is a pleasure to record the A5 Catalogue booklets with non-shiny paper are a vast improvement on earlier formats,  offering both room to write and a suitable substrate to write on.  The glaring deficiency now is the random allocation of the stalls around the room,  so that much time is wasted trying to remember where winery Q is placed,  when visiting and re-visiting to check each point.  Surely in the interest of the patrons they must be sequenced alphabetically,  to match the Catalogue (thankfully alphabetical).  The reasons given for not so doing are spurious (that winery A then has first bite at all the visitors),  and can in any case be solved simply by sequencing the A - Z layout clockwise / anticlockwise in alternate years.  The other poor planning detail this year was forcing all the participants out into the (appalling) weather between the trade and public sessions,  for many wished to carry straight on.  Surely stall proprietors can survive on snacks (provided,  in fact),  till the session ends at the relatively early hour of 9 PM ?

Hawkes Bay WineGrowers do not clearly list who their members are,  strangely.  There are perhaps 80 Hawkes Bay wineries listed on the Hawkes Bay page of the New Zealand WineGrowers website,  but of them only 21 elected to come to Wellington.  

Alluviale and Dada
Alpha Domus
Babich Wines
Church Road Winery                                        
Clearview Estate
Coopers Creek
Craggy Range Winery
Crossroads Winery
Cypress Wines
Elephant Hill
Esk Valley
Lime Rock Wines                                      
Mills Reef Winery
Mission Estate Winery
Ngatarawa Wines
Pask Winery
Sacred Hill
Sileni Estates
Trinity Hill
Vidal Estate
Villa Maria

The vagueness as to the number of wineries in Hawkes Bay arises from several causes.  Some are absentee proprietors,  where the grapes all go elsewhere – for example Oyster Bay is a notional winery within the Delegats group in Auckland,  yet both are listed.  The wines are never seen in the present forum.  Others are outfits one has never heard of,  some presumably making the mass of invented labels all-too-often with wine made strictly to a price,  increasingly populating supermarkets shelves.  Some of the other absentees are likely to be quirky small wineries,  whose produce may be sold more on hyperbole or romance to a band of the faithful,  rather than on any intrinsic merit.  Their wines may therefore not stand up to competitive scrutiny,  so their non-participation is understandable and less serious.  

More acutely missed are proprietors such as the rapidly-emerging Black Barn,  where exciting wines have been made in recent years.  They were expected in Wellington,  but did not materialise.  Some wineries prefer not to cooperate with the Hawkes Bay regional grouping,  and put most of their efforts into private promotions,  or trade shows with their distributor.  There is after all a limit to how many of these events any winery can participate in.  Those who came to Wellington are listed.  Some of the better-known people who were not present include:  Beach House,  Bridge Pa,  Bilancia,  Brookfields,  Crab Farm,  Matariki Wines,  Morton Estate,  Newton-Forrest Estate,  Paritua,  Squawking Magpie,  Stonecroft,  Te Awa,  Te Mata,  Unison Vineyard and Wishart Estate.  The Hot Reds sampling is indicative rather than fully representative,  therefore.  

Unfortunately I missed the 2011 Expo through injury,  and thus missed the opportunity to report at length on some of the marvellous 2009 wines.  A number of proprietors however were keen to say that their best wines of 2010 are just as good,  some even suggesting they are better.  There is now no doubt that 2009 was the warmer year,  when cabernet excelled.  Perhaps slightly less heat-demanding varieties such as merlot and syrah may have done as well in 2010.  It will be exciting to contemplate these claims later,  when more leisurely comparative evaluations will best decide the issue.

In a short restorative break,  I sampled a few whites.  The exciting minor variety viognier seems to be receiving thoughtful attention from one or two proprietors,  particularly with respect to the palate enhancement a careful MLF component can contribute.  The outstanding white for me (amongst very few,  I emphasise) was the Clearview Chardonnay Endeavour,  the later palate of the wine being truly sensational.  Whether the pricing ($250) will result in backlash for the winery as a whole is an open question.  

Some impressions of the red wines:   For the reds,  the overwhelming impression amongst the leading wineries is of the infinitely greater attention being paid these days to evenness of ripening in the vineyard,  and the concentration of appropriate flavours.  At last our best wines are moving towards European norms for dry extract.  The ever-present wail of earlier decades,  why do New Zealand wines not keep,  no longer applies to our leading practitioners.  All these factors are a function not only of increasing winemaker skills,  but also of the colossal strides in viticultural management in the last 15 years.  These qualitative improvements are most apparent in wineries where proprietors and winemakers are known to actively taste the wines of the world,  are familiar with them,  and seek to match them.  

Sadly,  there is also good evidence that too many wineries still do not follow these disciplines,  do not taste widely,  and are thus are still producing old-style wines.  They are a carry-over,  reflecting the New Zealand isolationist approach to imports and world wine qualities of yesteryear.  Sadly too,  study of the quoted accolades in the Catalogue shows far too many New Zealand wine judgings and wine commentators are still endorsing their variously stalky and under-ripe wines,  not to mention reductive ones.  In the long run,  this state of affairs does not further the interests of New Zealand wine.  Nor does it further the interests of New Zealand consumers,  for though wineries may be reluctant to learn from tastings,  they seem quick to adopt the higher pricings of the leading wines,  being unaware I guess that their wines don't measure up.

The other step forward is some progress towards the goal of more subtle oaking,  again at least in the best wineries.  For far too long the New World has been obsessed with oak,  and the heroic / raucous approach to red winemaking.  We have been negatively influenced by Australia in this respect.  Such wines are simply not food-friendly.  Now we have New Zealand winemakers with the tasting ability,  experience and vision to base their winemaking on personal tasting experience of the truly great wines of the world.  Couple this perception with the advances in viticulture,  and the best New  Zealand red wines have an exhilarating future ahead of them,  for the climatic reasons outlined in previous articles.  As with Bordeaux,  however,  where there are 80 or so pre-eminent wines and more than 5,000 hangers-on,  so in New Zealand there will be a few who excel,  and many also-rans,  on present evidence.  At this stage,  pricing does not yet sufficiently reflect that.  Too much New Zealand wine is simply too expensive,  for what you get.

Value,  and some French foils:   While working on the 2012 Hot Red wines,  and brooding about the poor value some of them offered,  Paul Mitchell called into town with a selection from his latest shipment of 2009 minor bordeaux reds – the full range an astonishing 45 chateaux extending in price from $17 to $50 per 750 ml bottle.  And they were all documented in his June 2012 Newsletter available (at the time) on his website.   What a delight,  for among such wines in such a good year one could expect to find the ripe fruit some of the local wines still lack.  And this indeed proved to be the case.  Further,  they provide yet further confirmatory evidence that so many of our red wines are still under-fruited and over-oaked,  despite some progress as noted above.  For good reds in most years,  once yields rise much above 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac,  the plants have increasing difficulty in ripening such a crop,  and the resulting wines not only taste leafy / stalky / green / acid,  but lack dry extract as well.  It is no coincidence that 'grand cru' cropping rates average little more than 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac,  and some are less.  These French wines are not grands crus,  many are far from that level,  yet most of them still explicitly show what the claret style should be like in terms of fruit / oak balance,  though admittedly from a good year.  One can only conclude some of our people never taste such wine.  They also show that the dramatic renaissance in progressive cru bourgeois and other small chateaux of the Bordeaux district is something we in New Zealand ignore at our peril,  particularly when our climates are so aligned.

Yet when it comes to pricing,  because our best wines in good years are now so absolutely good they can enter into honest blind competition not only with these minor wines of Bordeaux (of which there are thousands),  but also more importantly with some of the better classed growths,  some of the New Zealand leaders are now setting their prices close to en primeur pricing for pretty serious classed growth clarets.  Likewise with syrahs.  Wine like Sacred Hill's Helmsman and Ngatarawa's Alwyn are now pushing $70,  several top-flight syrahs such as Craggy Range's Le Sol and Trinity Hill's Syrah have broached $100,  and Pernod-Ricard's top red is around $150 in 2013.  You can get pretty distinguished bordeaux or Northern Rhone wines at that money,  particularly in the case of Bordeaux if you are prepared to buy en primeur.  

There are three immediate corollaries.  If our leading proprietors wish to set near-French prices for their good years,  the wines must be of comparable quality.  Not taste,  but quality,  in their own style.  The best of our wines are.  It is up to wine reviewers to accurately indicate which are and which aren't,  further comment below.  Secondly,  New Zealand producers must be prepared to reduce prices in the lesser years,  as the French do.  It is noteworthy that the absolute leaders in New Zealand already decline to make their premium label(s) in the lesser years,  so that is an alternative approach to the quality factor which means that pricing proposition needs qualifying,  but the principle remains.  Thirdly,  there is no case at all for second-rate wine producers to me-too / piggyback on the pricing of the leaders.  Consumers need to be firm about this,  and  reject the blandishments of such producers and the soft winewriters who go along with them.  It will be obvious from perusal of the marks and the prices recorded in this report where there is a reality gap between achievement and price.  For consumers as well as winemakers,  becoming familiar with the wines of the world,  and understanding the kind of standards being achieved by the new generation of sometimes small but keen producers in Bordeaux (and elsewhere) is essential.  Paul Mitchell (for example) does us all a great favour in his (generally) eagle-eyed selection of great values from France.

But in setting their prices,  our winemakers must constantly have an eye on the horizon.  As I write,  2009 Guigal Cotes du Rhone is being offered via Glengarry merchants for $20.  This is perhaps the finest commercial red wine in the world,  it is never less than a helluva good drink,  it is ripe and winey and full of berries,  because of its appropriate oaking it accompanies food superlatively,  and the better years cellar for 20 years – notwithstanding the blinkered nonsense American consumerist winewriters say about it.  So why wouldn't you buy cases at that price,  and luxuriate in it all year round ?  There are some pretty terrible wines in this review asking more than $20 – and $30 too.  Are proprietors thinking about this at all,  or do they think we still have a protectionist market where the customer is merely somebody to be exploited ?

I have added in the French wines,  with as much production detail as I can secure,  for two good reasons.  Firstly so that winemakers who think they can ignore such matters can see just what is normal practice and achievements for affordable or quality French wine complying with AOC regulations,  in a winestyle of absolute and immediate quality and price relevance to Hawkes Bay producers.  Not all of them are good or praiseworthy,  but as a set,  they illuminate the New Zealand wines greatly.  Note they are all of good years.  And secondly,  to guard against one of the three great deficiencies in New Zealand winewriting,  namely parochialism.

New Zealand wine reviewing:   In the context of a Hot Red Wine Expo,  and encouraging winemakers to seek world standards for their red wines,  it is only fair to comment that deficiencies in wine perception in New Zealand are exacerbated by there being far too many winewriters habituated to writing in the most fulsome terms about far too many of the wines.  Few if any make any attempt at all to identify for consumers,  what not to buy.  As was also apparent in the Convivium review of 2010 Hawkes Bay syrah achievements a few days later,  one can only conclude that far too many New Zealand winemakers and winewriters alike will not pay to go to tastings to educate their palates.  By the same token,  far too many winewriters will offer nothing but praise,  for fear of curtailing their flow of gratis samples.  This helps nobody,  in the long run.

It therefore follows on naturally from thinking about wine quality beyond New Zealand shores,  as we must if we are to report meaningfully on New Zealand wines in the wider scheme of things,  that in these reviews I from time to time draw attention to occasions where I think a wine has been excessively praised,  where my review is more modest.  There are several components to this.  The first is the consumer is so easily mislead,  but curiously,  nobody ever says so.  The second is the actual appraisal of the wine.  New Zealand winewriting is bedevilled by parochialism,  manifest most clearly in an inability to recognise inappropriate ripeness in reds particularly,  but this also applies to white wines – notably chardonnay.  As in Australia,  New Zealand winewriters also turn a blind eye to quite inappropriate use of oak.  At a more technical level,  much more thought is needed in the assessment of reduced sulphurs in the wine,  which particularly impair its aroma and hence beauty,  and then there is the issue of appropriate dry extract.  Too many commercial New Zealand wines still fall short on the latter point,  with respect to norms for European wines.  These are key issues,  and have been for decades,  yet too many winewriters appear unable to recognise these factors,  talk about them,  and adjust their rankings appropriately.  Too many totally ignore them.  In particular the number of New Zealand winewriters blind to sulphide impairment in wines is both astonishing and depressing.  Much the same charges can be laid against the more commercial wine judgings.  The consumer is simply mislead.

There has been enormous progress in New Zealand wine since the 1970s and '80s when most of our reds were laughable,  and the quality of wine-reviewing was lamentable,  but the problems identified in the previous paragraph remain widespread.  Just because the British winepress is (in general) behind the play on correctly identifying wine faults,  and our winemakers then trumpet their praising reviews so brashly,  does not mean New Zealand winewriters should also turn a blind eye to wine faults.  We don't need to copy a bad model.  The informed wine world is much more attentive to these matters now.  It does not help the evolution of New Zealand wine in the longer term to have winemakers lulled into thinking their wines are near-perfect,  via permissive reviews by local winewriters.  There is an urgent need to strive for a more informed and informing approach to winewriting in New Zealand.  Correcting misperceptions and misinterpretations,  and constantly seeking a less parochial interpretation of wine via palate training with international wines known and agreed to be of quality,  is the corollary.  That is the rationale behind including some wines from Bordeaux in last year's Hot Reds,  and for the 2013 wines both some Northern Rhone syrahs and some viogniers


Introduction:   I presented a general introduction and overview of the Hawkes Bay viticultural district in an August review of the 2009 Hot Red Expo,  and updated it August 2010.  The former is the more complete for descriptive text.  Mostly that content is not repeated here,  but the vintage chart was updated for 2010 and has now been considerably revised,  enlarged and extended to 2013,  below.  I must emphasise the ratings for the vintages 2010 – 2013 are in an active state of flux,  and will be reassessed by participants repeatedly.  The views offered in the tabulation are merely a starting point.

It astonishes me just how often one is reminded that New Zealand is still an extraordinarily young wine country.  So much that one takes for granted in wine books,  magazines and now websites from overseas is simply missing here.  Take vintage info.  Naturally enough at this point in my review of the district's wines in 2013,  I want to know about recent vintages.  One would think the website of Hawkes Bay WineGrowers,  the organisers of this excellent tasting,  would be the first place to turn to.  Their website says:  Everything you want to know about Hawke's Bay wines is here.  Yet not only can you not readily find even the members of the organisation,  but there is nothing on the subject of the vintages,  absolutely nothing.  Extraordinary.  And a quick check through a few wineries' websites shows that pattern is the norm.  Why,  I wonder ... what could be more central to an interest in wine than the quality of (at least) recent vintages ?  Or is it that the PR side of the industry would have us believe that every vintage is great in its own way ?  Caveat emptor.

On the information side,  the exceptions are Te Mata Estate,  who so often have provided a lead in wine awareness,  innovation and production in latterday Hawkes Bay,  and more recently Craggy Range.  Though not immediately apparent (home ➞ Wine Reviews ➞ scroll to foot ➞ Vintage Reports),  the Te Mata site has at least a word or two initially and increasingly more words in later years for every vintage since 1979,  through to 2013.  This is a great contribution,  unmatched for length in New Zealand.  It is naturally enough slanted to the firm's wines.  When these people care about something,  they do it wonderfully well.  Witness the 55mm dated corks in Coleraine almost since inception,  yet still almost without parallel in Australasia.  Craggy Range too has set out to document their wines pretty thoroughly since their 2001 start.  They are more forthcoming and analytical with some detail than Te Mata,  who are regrettably secretive about some more technical aspects of their practice.  Both these sources have been used extensively.  What a happy choice too,  one in traditional Hawkes Bay,  one on the Gimblett Gravels.  

Behind the PR front of the industry,  which while all too often superficial is in some sectors nothing if not assiduous,  it is a sad commentary on the continuing shallowness of the New Zealand wine industry that so few New Zealand wineries provide retrospective information on their website.  In Hawkes Bay,  beyond Te Mata and Craggy Range,  Church Road goes back 10 or so years,  and the Villa Group 5 years or so.  I have not checked every winery,  but in general,  few do even that.  One can only conclude that too many proprietors are not actually interested in wine per se,  do not participate in vertical tastings,  and,  caring less if the customer wishes to do so for their wines,  have no thought to document the wines for them.  Their primary concern seems to be more the commercial side of the enterprise,  sadly,  and in the here and now only.  The best results in wine arise where there is an on-going genuine passion for wine per se,  and this passion is reinforced with technology.  

Any winery wishing to be taken seriously in New Zealand's wine future would be wise to take a leaf out of Te Mata's and Craggy Range's approach,  and document every vintage of every wine they have made on their website.

Likewise,  in assessing the quality of a vintage,  one has to assess the quality of the winery too.  Not all New Zealand wineries actually set out to excel,  despite the PR (again).  Excel in wine means having the inclination and ability to try to match old-world models for quality,  and their new world analogues.  Note the word 'match',  not replicate.  Since cellaring wine is what interests wine enthusiasts most,  red wines are my underlying theme in this discussion.  Some winemakers actually believe that they make the best example of var. X in New Zealand ,  as if that were a legitimate goal,  and the end of the matter.  World standards are seen as irrelevant.  Many proprietors do not even bother to attend tastings of the international yardstick wines,  to see how that variety performs overseas,  so the chances of them making anything which is of international wine standard are remote.  You only need to taste their wines,  to see that.  

In contrast,  wineries such as Craggy Range,  Sacred Hill and the Villa Maria group (and select others) for their top-tier wines set out from the very beginning to grow,  ripen and crop their grapes at yields strictly in accordance with AOC grand cru practice.  Accordingly (when not over-oaked) the best of their wines already can be enjoyably compared with international yardsticks,  without necessarily being confuseable with them.  The concept of 'international quality' allows for difference and diversity.  But it has to be conceded in this discussion,  some wineries seek only to excel in commercial terms.  Sometimes that can be achieved more by persistence of glossy advertising than the quality of viticulture or wine.  There are glaring examples.

El Nino and La Nina:   Another factor very relevant to wine quality in Hawkes Bay particularly is The Southern Oscillation Index and its expression as an El Nino or La Nina weather pattern each year .  The Index can vary short-term (this 2013 summer) as well as in longer several-years cycles,  so deciding what phase any given part of a year is in is difficult.  In general,  El Nino years produce predominant southwesterly winds and cooler temperatures,  which paradoxically means dryer conditions and sometimes warmer temperatures in the easterly winegrowing districts of Hawkes Bay behind the axial ranges.  These dryer conditions should be conducive to the best vintages,  but it doesn't always work out that way.  Conversely,  La Nina years tend to bring northeasterly on-shore weather systems,  which though warmer also may bring higher humidity.  Disease pressure therefore increases.  In 'lucky' La Nina years though,  the Huiarau / East Cape ranges provide some topographic protection from these adverse effects.  Assessing the significance of the Index in any given year is far from black and white.  The best vintages this century have not all been in El Nino phases for the critical February to April months.

As noted in introducing a vintage chart in 2010,  any attempt to summarise the vintage for a district is subject to infinite exceptions,  both in the geography of a district as large as Hawkes Bay,  and for example where a winemaker / viticulturist halves the crop load in a cool or damp year,  or dramatically opens up the canopy,  in pursuit of excellence.  Given that cabernet sauvignon is at its most magical in climates only slightly but significantly warmer than marginal for the variety,  namely places such as Hawkes Bay and Bordeaux where the variety can retain all its floral and fragrant cassisy aromas while still achieving full physiological maturity,  then if the global warming trend thus far is sustained,  the North Island of New Zealand in general and Hawkes Bay in particular has much to look forward to in its Bordeaux blends class.  

These vintage notes do not consider the southern Hawkes Bay districts with their pioneering pinot noir producers.  And if there is one vineyard in Hawkes Bay that needs its own 'appellation',  that is the The Terraces malbec-dominated vineyard of Esk Valley,  at Bay View.  It is a law unto itself,  in terms of climatic interpretation.  Met data now available suggests it is the hottest vineyard in Hawkes Bay,  and therefore possibly New Zealand.  It is no longer a surprise that they almost alone can ripen malbec to international standards for the grape.  Here the statement:  'only made in exceptional years' has weight,  so reference to it is now added in to the vintage chart,  as a kind of (tangential) index.  To fully ripen malbec in Hawkes Bay is always an achievement.  Likewise,  Sacred Hill's great Riflemans Chardonnay from the Dartmoor Valley is only released when it excels,  and it is now added in,  as an index of white wine potential for the season.  It too is tangential,  the vineyard being located in a cooler valley outside the main grape-growing area.  Please note that the numerical ratings for the vintage as a whole are designed to give an idea of the year.  They do not apply to wines as such,  for the simple reason that in poor years conscientious winemakers,  those who produce the kind of wine one would wish to cellar,  simply do not produce their premium labels.  So there is no such thing as a Riflemans Chardonnay that rates 3 out of 10.  In the text alongside each year,  the numbers are used more loosely.  In assessing the success of a vintage,  my stance below is more inclined to the absolute quality of the kind of wines people cellar,  rather than simply the commercial success of the vintage.  Yet one has to bear in mind that even in lesser years,  there may be the odd exceptional wine worth cellaring.  

One intriguing factor that has emerged in the vintage weather pattern in the last 14 years or so is the repeating sequence of bigger years followed by more elegant ones.  Which winestyle one prefers is a matter of preference and to a degree geographic background.  The United Kingdom market for example has traditionally liked a subtler winestyle,  whereas in red wines the American and Australian markets want richer heavier wines (in general).  The recent pattern caters for both.  1998 was a very warm ripe rich year with dense wines,  whereas the best 1999s were much more refined.  2000 at best was richer,  2001 much lighter but not without merit.  2003 and 2004 stand apart somewhat,  then 2005 has richer wines (at best),  with 2006 clearly more aromatic and fresher.  2007 and 2008 repeat that pattern,  and 2009 and 2010 illustrate it to perfection.  2011 and 2012 stand apart,  like 2003 and 2004.  Intriguing,  and yet another illustration of the complex tapestry of wines which will in the future flow from Hawkes Bay,  when varieties are more precisely fitted to their optimal sites.

Growing Degree Days – GDD:  Growing degrees can be for the day,  or any defined period.  For the season,  they are generally defined as the sum for the growing season to which the daily mean temperature exceeds the arbitrary threshold (for useful Vitis vinifera vine growth) of 10 degrees C.  For our temperate climate,  I use an eight-month growing season,  September to April inclusive.  This reflects reality in a non-continental climate.  In practical quality wine terms,  a heat summation for the growing season below c.1150 degrees is a cool climate (Champagne,  Mosel Valley),  below 1250 is cool-temperate (Burgundy),  below 1400 – 1450 is temperate (Bordeaux,  the Northern Rhone except the strict Hermitage AOC zone 1450),  and above say 1500 degrees C. is grading to warm-climate regions such as the Barossa Valley c.1650,  or hotter.  These steps are to a degree arbitrary,  refining for our districts the original Winkler classification which was developed in a warm-climate and more continental milieu.  Fine wine in the sense of florality and beauty is a product of the cool and temperate regions.  New Zealand's great and unusual strength is that all its viticultural districts fall into these cooler and temperate categories.  Only in hot years do parts of Hawkes Bay just tiptoe out of the temperate zone.  Bordeaux is the same.  In such years some of the wines are described as having a Barossa or (traditional) Napa Valley quality.

One difficulty in preparing any kind of vintage report for the wine industry is the extraordinary facility with words that winemakers and marketers have,  coupled with (in some quarters) a measure of secretiveness,  and the belief that the winery knows best.  For some vineyards,  no matter what adverse events happen in the growing season,  proprietors manage to invent reasons to present the notion that for the particular vineyard in question,  the wines are again exceptional.  This partisan advocacy reaches quite laughable levels in some instances.  

For this report,  however,  there is a measure of change.  I have spent some time compiling comparative temperature and rainfall data for 10 met stations spanning the main viticultural districts in the Bay.  This has been possible thanks to a new,  facilitating and helpful breed of wine firm,  and winemakers who are happy to share factual data as opposed to carefully-shaped interpretations,  and secondly some of the data in question is now available in the semi-public domain,  via websites such as:  www.harvestnz.com and www.hortplus.com/product/weather-station-network.  Access is limited,  in some cases.  So instead of floundering in the traditional material from wineries along the lines of:  skilful timing and immaculate viticulture allowed us to harvest our crop in perfect condition before / after a certain rain event,  I can now say (for example) that for the difficult 2011 harvest,  total rainfall in the critical March and April months of c.350 mm in the Gimblett Gravels zone is 10 times that for the same period in the favourable 2010 vintage.  This is helpful info,  for those of us who cellar wine,  and must de facto put us on guard in evaluating the wines of the wetter year.  Accordingly,  some numbers have been introduced into the tabulation,  to provide factual substance as well as researched opinion.  Total rainfall for the season is less important than its timing.  Rain cold and chill in the mid-November to early December period may upset flowering and fruit set,  for example.  Though it is not that simple.  A smaller crop may lead to a higher-quality final wine.  

I have adopted a season of September to April inclusive for the growing degree days (GDD) to the base 10 summation,  that is 8 months.  The traditional 7-month approach derives from the northern hemisphere.  In general that reflects the greater continentality of their viticultural zones,  coupled with greater warmth where the approach originated (California,  Amerine and Winkler).  Eight months suits us better in New Zealand,  reflecting the plant's reality.  Some very technical commentators go out of their way to mock the GDD approach,  but it is an idea which has found wide favour for all sorts of agricultural crops,  it is simple,  widespread in its use,  and easily comprehended.  Why complicate things.

Settled weather is important for flowering success,  but the critical period for rain is the last two months of the harvest season,  March and April,  so that number has been weighted into the Vintage Chart summaries too.  Rainfall does not appear to vary predictably on the Heretaunga Plains,  but it is often distributed patchwise in some seasons,  as illustrated dramatically in 2005.  There is a localised drier zone dipping below 800mm extending from Hastings / Havelock North NNE to the coast between Napier and Clive (see Location Map).  There are local smaller drier patches further inland too.  Most of the important viticultural zone is well below 1000mm:  this is the great strength of the Hawkes Bay viticultural district.  I have however focussed on the March / April rainfall for the notes in the Chart.  For each year therefore,  I have averaged the Gimblett Gravels,  Bridge Pa Triangle and Havelock North totals,  and called it an "indication" representative of the whole Hawkes Bay viticultural area,  to minimise that patch-wise effect.  Data becomes skimpy for earlier years,  and one or two substitutions have been made.

     Location Map for the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle wine districts:

Referring to the Location Map for the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle wine districts in Hawkes Bay,  for the purposes of this discussion it is appealing to regard the Bridge Pa area generally including the former Ngatarawa Triangle (now no more logically called the Bridge Pa Triangle) as the core district for Hawkes Bay viticulture.  It is well removed from the cooling (negative) influence of the coast and its thermoregulation from the ocean and cooling shoreline breezes.  Likewise it is not in the cooler peripheral zones up the river valleys opening out onto the Heretaunga Plains,  it is not in the driest zone from Hastings City to the sea,  and it is not in the warmest zone nearer Napier.  Thanks to helpful wineries,  I now have specific climatic info for the Triangle for the 8 seasons from 2011 / 2012 back to 2005 / 2006.  Likewise there is exactly matching data from the Gimblett Gravels,  also back to the 2005 / 2006 season.  This interval is long enough to provide a suggestive picture of these two key areas,  since the range of weather within those years includes cool years through to what many say is the best red-wine vintage in a generation.  Numbers have been rounded to 5s,  to slightly reduce the impression of spurious accuracy.

And the numbers available do cast some light on warmth in various parts of the Bay.  There has been intermittent squabbling between the Gimblett Gravels proprietors (and their proactive WineGrowers Association),  and viticulturists / winemakers in the rest of the Bay,  as to whether the Gravels are warmer than the other districts,  and therefore the warmest viticultural zone in the Bay (leaving aside odd vineyards,  e.g. The Terraces in certain seasons).  There has been an unquestioning assumption that warmer is better,  which unqualified,  is simply foolhardy.  The Gimblett Gravels concept is very young,  the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association having only been formed in 2001,  so the length of information available is short.  

The numbers do show that the Gimblett Gravels for the eight years under review are fractionally warmer than the Bridge Pa Triangle,  for example,  but the difference is minor,  only 34 degree days per annum.  For those eight years,  the Gravels average 1360 degree days,  the Triangle 1326.  The Gravels are clearly not warmer than several locations closer to Napier and westwards.  More surprisingly,  the Triangle emerges as markedly drier than the Gravels in rainfall,  which raises interesting questions.  The apparent warmth of the Gravels (earlier bud-burst for example) may be more a function of the more freely-draining soil type (on which the zone is based) than actual temperature.  Interestingly,  the Havelock North zone is only fractionally cooler too,  but again drier.  Places closer to Napier show greater heat summations than any of these three,  and Esk Valley's The Terraces vineyard appears to be the warmest of all,  at least 10% warmer than the Gravels.  Conversely,  sites in the Dartmoor Valley may be nearly 10% cooler than the Gravels / Triangle zones.  This would explain both the excellence of the chardonnays in favoured seasons,  and the skinnyness of some of the reds.  But I must emphasise the base available for study,  8 years,  is too short for more than indicating possible trends.  Note these numbers derive from data-loggers,  not official met stations.  They may be refined with greater grower participation.  Going through the information manually,  there are occasional drop-outs etc,  where I have had to insert a number by eye.  Some of the Triangle numbers look low,  for example,  but one is in the hands of machines.  Te Mata probably have the longest run of information for the Triangle,  but declined to participate in this site-specific review.  

The variation within vintage warmth over the last 8 years is large.  Within the Bridge Pa Triangle there is a range from c.1120 degree days (a Marlborough number) to 1435,  averaging 1326 in those 8 years,  and within the Gimblett Gravels from 1170 to 1470,  averaging 1360.  It is extraordinarily difficult to find authoritative degree ratings for France within the timespan of a review like this,  but both web evidence and taste evidence suggest that good but not-too-hot vintages in both Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone have GDD totals in the order of 1250 – 1400 degree days.  The Hermitage AOC zone is at the upper limit at 1450,  but is so delimited by topography the figure is hardly representative.  Because the wines tend to be so 'fragile',  and perfect ripeness is less frequently attained,  I assume Cote Rotie (and Condrieu) must be less,  perhaps 1300 to 1400.  The parallel with the recent GDD figures for the main red wine zones of Hawkes Bay is therefore breathtaking,  and explains perfectly why cabernet sauvignon ripens to international standards only in our warmest years,  whereas merlot (to a degree) and syrah (particularly) are more flexible.  

Such a range of growing degree days within the district offers wonderful scope for a diversity of wine styles,  some varieties better one year,  some better another.  In particular they illustrate how unusually suited the district is to merlot-dominant Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends,  a concept I first wrote about and advocated specifically in National Business Review 26 June 1987.  That insight was mocked,  at the time.  It is now agreed that both merlot and syrah require a lower achieved degree day total per season than cabernet sauvignon,  to achieve perfect floral and aromatic physiological complexity and maturity (note that wording excludes shiraz).

Is warmer better ?   Before anybody assumes that being warmer is better in viticulture,  there is a need to pause,  and think no further than mainstream Australia.  In previous discussions on this website,  I have already pointed out that the Gimblett Gravels may well be too warm in some seasons for fine chardonnay and fine merlot,  and I have repeatedly commented on the reciprocal of that proposition,  that the Bridge Pa Triangle is noteworthy for its more floral,  fragrant and generally Northern-Rhone like syrahs.  Both Te Mata's wine from the Bullnose vineyard,  and the Church Road standard and Reserve syrahs from their Redstone vineyard illustrate the point in their good years.  Church Road are also using some fruit from the Triangle to finesse their Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends.  In parallel,  Sacred Hill has already convincingly shown that in the warmer years their much cooler Riflemans vineyard site in the Dartmoor Valley adjoining the Tutaekuri River is much more appropriate for fine complex fragrant chardonnay than much of the Gravels.  Craggy Range and Trinity Hill have unwittingly confirmed this thought with some big beefy alcoholic Gravels chardonnays in earlier days.  

This inherent diversity in the vineyard districts of Hawkes Bay will ultimately give it a marketing advantage comparable only with the magic of the Bordeaux district.  Hawkes Bay too will have its Haut-Medoc and Medoc equivalents,  versus St Emilion or Entre Deux Mers,  but bearing names currently evolving.  I cannot over-emphasise how important this will be to wine perception and wine tourism in the district,  once winemakers as a whole embrace the concept of strength in diversity,  and promote that.  Such an approach is much more important than bickering about the here and now,  or the secretiveness rather than cooperation some wineries display.  

It is a matter for rejoicing that the best cabernet sauvignon in most years is more likely to come from the warmer Gimblett Gravels,  whereas the most subtle and beautiful syrahs,  and merlots with cabernet franc (the St Emilion model) may come from other nearby zones,  but only when the vines are cropped at a rate appropriate to a grand cru level of ripeness,  concentration,  aroma and flavour.  Traditionally much of the Bridge Pa Triangle (for example) has not been conservatively cropped,  as the Ngatarawa wines have unwittingly displayed,  so this proposition awaits further illumination.  The corollary also follows,  that if the Gimblett Gravels now have a greater chance in X years out of 10 of producing world-class cabernet sauvignon,  then other zones in the Bay can look forward to their place in the sun (to mix a metaphor) given global warming.  And likewise it follows,  in exceptional years,  other zones such as Havelock North will (and do) produce exceptional cabernet-based reds in the current hottest years,  and thus may well produce the best Hawkes Bay blends in those years,  when the Gimblett Gavels wines are unsubtly over-ripe (Australia again) and therefore lesser.  And it follows that no matter how appropriate the climatic zone or site is,  if the vines are over-cropped in a temperate climate,  the grapes will not achieve appropriate physiological maturity for the winestyle sought,  when the wine is judged to international standards.  Some of the Babich wines in this report appear to display these attributes,  but I do not have numbers

Climate Research Recommendation:   since not all wineries are entirely forthcoming with data,  this raises the further doubt that the location of data-loggers and quoting of information may not always be totally objective.  In terms of recognising,  defining and optimising the future great diversity apparent in the Hawkes Bay viticultural zone,  which will be such a future strength in wine marketing and wine tourism,  I strongly recommend that Hawkes Bay WineGrowers vigorously initiate a 20-year (minimum) programme in consultation with the Eastern Institute of Technology Wine Group and the Meteorological Service or HortPlus to secure objective weather data from all the main sub-districts within Hawkes Bay.  The key requirement would be disinterested oversight of the project long-term by EIT staff,  and on-going documentation.  The zones to be documented clearly include the Bridge Pa Triangle,  the Gimblett Gravels,  the Havelock North district,  the classical Taradale area,  and Bayview / The Terraces,  then certain of the cooler areas such as the Dartmoor Valley terraces,  Haumoana / Te Awanga ,  Maraekakaho,  etc.  How many and where depends on budget.  The project needs a planning meeting convened by WineGrowers,  with involvement of as many wineries in the region as possible.  The long-term benefits in terms of understanding the district objectively and better fitting varieties to microclimate and site would be immense.  

Comments sought re the vintage chart:  The goal for the vintage ratings chart is to reflect the weather as it affects wine quality in the main viticultural zones of Hawkes Bay.  The coolest zone,  Waipawa to the south,  is nearly 200 degree days cooler than the main areas,  and as noted the valleys feeding into the main Hawkes Bay block,  such as the Dartmoor Valley,  appear to be around 100 degree days cooler per annum,  so one picture does not cover everybody.  Input,  comments and criticisms for revising the chart progressively are requested,  since vintage conditions do vary considerably within the district,  as much as winemaker's views.  The chart can only be a guide:  it will not be accurate for everywhere and everybody.  Address near the foot of website home page,  under Feedback:


 8 + – 9 +  
A remarkably good long summer,  and not unduly hot.  El Nino early summer,  La Nina later didn't help the rainfall total.  Triangle 1435 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1410 GDD.  March / April rain indication 115mm good but not ideal.  Winemakers nonetheless are hopeful this may be the best season for reds yet (and uniformly across all districts),  in the current (meaning post-Prohibition) era.  Riflemans and The Terraces both made.  Some reports of delayed physiological maturity and syrahs and cabernets running out of warmth,  though alcohols tending high.  Present levels of winemaker enthusiasm mean it is too early to say if the (at best) fine wines of 2009 and 2010 will in fact be surpassed.  Tasting will (in time) tell.
20121 –3Tending El Nino in April only.  Triangle 1120 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1170 GDD,  March / April rain indication 235.  Initially settled but late flowering with some rain,  wet January,  some respite till 60 mm 19 & 20 March initiated wet phase till 11 April,  then dryish till 30 mm 9 – 10 May.  An extraordinary year,  the worst in 20 years,  the persistent cold and lateness of the season (veraison two weeks late) having many growers in despair well into March.  But ultimately a vintage in two halves,  virtually all the whites cold and rain-affected,  yet because cooler than 2011,  less disease pressure for some producers on the critical chardonnay crop,  chance of reasonably good low-alcohol chardonnays locally.  A few merlots picked in March due to incipient rot,  very modest.  Later March rain did not help,  some fruit abandoned at this point.  Then late second week April an El Nino turnaround,  some syrahs may surprise – more likely those from Gimblett Gravels.  Insufficient warmth in system for cabernet blends,  however,  as bad as 2003.  Picking of reds continued into May – but many light and green-tinged wines.  No Riflemans or The Terraces.  At this stage winemakers are so relieved by the dry April,  the reports may be too favourable – the data-loggers do say the coldest season in many years,  with one station reporting a GDD of 1050,  a Waipara number.  Smaller crop than 2011.  Cellar purchases unlikely.
20114 – 6The clearest La Nina season this century,  warm but very difficult,  the wettest season in recent years,  requiring great attention to detail in the viticulture.  Triangle 1390 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1360 GDD,  March / April rain indication 270 mm.  Dry spring and flowering till 25 mm 15 Dec,  most flowering done by then,  large crops.  January wet,  c. 175 mm,  February dryish,  20 mm 6 March,  50 mm 21 & 22 Mar,  because warm too,  disease pressure made acutely difficult for chardonnay.  If whites not in by 21 March,  disease pressure – some fruit left on vines.  Nonetheless,  remarkable sauvignon blanc reported (maybe 8 +) by Te Mata,  Sacred Hill have made their Graves-styled Sauvage,  and Craggy Range have some very good wines.  April initially better,  enough warmth for many reds (even including possibly cabernet sauvignon on best sites) to achieve fair physiological maturity,  then 90 mm 25 – 27 April more or less terminated season.  Lighter reds therefore,  but some fragrant and pleasing wines.  Church Road will have a McDonald Cabernet Sauvignon.  Villa Maria initially dubious they would have any Reserve reds;  finally one Reserve Syrah emerged.  No The Terraces.  No Riflemans,  either.  A vintage where critical tasting will be essential before buying a case of pretty well anything.
20107 – 9El Nino Jan to mid-April,  then La Nina.  Triangle 1245 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1245 GDD,  March / April rain indication 55 mm.  Light frost 7 & 20 Oct,  flowering looking good till 70 mm 3 – 5 Dec. impaired some vars.  Further 60 mm rain 31 Jan & 1 Feb despite El Nino,  so February not ideal,  season late.  Temperatures in places below average.  Then astonishing improvement / dry season March and April into May,  some very good whites and the best chardonnay outstanding (inc. Riflemans,  maybe 9 +) and gewurz like 2004,  others merely adequate.  Reds not comparable with Auckland district to north,  but small crops led to some promising merlot and syrah including many Reserve wines.  Some cabernets fell short,  best Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends will be merlot-dominant probably (Villa Maria may run counter).  No The Terraces.  Syrah now seems the outstanding red,  the best matching 'grand cru' Hermitage,  the required cellar variety for the vintage.  Best perhaps 9 +,  at least for the most careful viticulturists,  but in a crisper more aromatic style than 2009 (just like the Northern Rhone).  Not all Hawkes Bay blends released yet,  so this may change.  As with both Bordeaux and the Northern Rhone in France,  comparisons between 2009 and 2010,  and between the two countries likewise,  will be rewarding for many years.
20098 – 10A La Nina vintage.  Triangle 1355 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1410 GDD,  March / April rain indication 60 mm.  20 mm rain 27 Nov in flowering.  Variable summer,  growing degree days above average and rainfall below.  Wet patch totalling 50 mm starting 28 Feb.,  local hassles for chardonnay but 7 – 9 overall.  Riflemans made.  March coolish,  merlots looking good to great but some initial doubts about cabernet.  Then April dry apart from 15 mm 20 April,  near-ideal for reds,  little doubt (till 2013) that for the best producers 2009 produced the best cabernet sauvignon ever with wonderful richness and ripeness,  and that the best Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends exceed those of 2007.  Tom perhaps even fractionally over-ripe.  The Terraces made.  Some fine syrahs made,  but if goal is the French model,  some over-ripeness.  Some winemakers prefer their 2010 syrah.  As always,  hard to generalise,  much depended on the quality of viticulture,  and the yields sought.  No doubt though the best cabernet-dominant Hawkes Bay blends are required buying for any thoughtful and long-term Hawkes Bay cellar.  Syrah likewise.  Comparisons with Bordeaux and Northern Rhone 2009 and 2010s to look forward to.
20085 – 7Clear La Nina season.  Triangle 1340 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1430 GDD,  March / April rain indication 175 mm.  Frost 4 Oct,  varying impact,  then settled flowering,  temperatures average for season,  rainfall below average initially,  but then increasing.  Easterlies dominant = humidity.  So a difficult vintage,  uneven ripening and conflicting reports,  achieving good cabernet difficult,  on average merlots better physiological maturity – and occasional good ones.  Syrah quality localised,  white pepper rather than black,  Craggy Le Sol for example lighter and more aromatic,  better,  some think.  No Homage,  however.  For reds generally,  lighter wines,  few Reserve / top tier reds due to green notes in cabernets.  No Rifleman's Chardonnay from Dartmoor Valley.  Perhaps like '05 & '06 will be occasional notable exceptions,  for example 2008 said to be better for Te Awanga district reds than 2007,  but a difficult red wine zone in any case.
20077 – 9A weak El Nino season.  Triangle 1380 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1385 GDD,  March / April rain indication 75 mm.  Some frost 10 Oct.  Average temperatures but very dry Jan to April (driest 10 years),  near-perfect for many sites,  with full physiological maturity achievable at attractive (13.5%) alcohols in many appropriately-cropped reds.   The Terraces not made,  though climatic data OK.  Syrahs soft and rich,  but perhaps not as aromatic as best '05 / '06.  Fine whites too,  chardonnays among best of decade,  Riflemans made.  Vintage now challenged / surpassed (for some) by 2009 (and 2013 maybe) as the best red wine vintage of decade.  Later tastings reveal that Church Road excelled in their 2007 Reserves including Tom (exceptional),  and several other wineries have produced top wines which will match Second or Third-Growth Bordeaux,  or 'grand cru' northern Rhone.  Trinity Homage '07 matches la Chapelle in best years of '80s,  and La Collina highly rated.  An exciting vintage for Hawkes Bay,  but Trinity Hill rate 2006 higher (intriguing,  and counter-intuitive given the high March / April rainfall).
20066 – 8La Nina vintage.  Triangle 1340 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1470 GDD,  March / April rain indication 195 mm.  55 mm 27 – 29 Nov,  in flowering,  then dryish till 55 mm in the March 21 to 26 period.  One of warmest years of decade,  rainfall above average too but localised / unpredictable though March and April,  as in 2005.  Triangle March / April is 135mm vs Gravels nearly twice that. Then 85 mm starting 28 April finished the season.  Results variable,  some fine chardonnays including Church Road and Riflemans.  Some very good reds e.g. Church Road & Villa Maria Reserves may surpass 2005 in Hawkes Bay blends.  The Terraces made.  The best syrahs in an Hermitage style,  not Cote Rotie,  and include Trinity Hill Homage,  not made in 2005,  and Esk Valley.  Excellence of 2007 has now taken attention away from 2006.  Many reds fractionally lighter than best 2005s,  though described as fragrant,  ripe and stylish.  Which is better of 2006 and 2005 depends entirely on the winery / location,  so scores the same.  A London blind tasting (p.5) later ranked 2006 Sacred Hill Helmsman # 4 in a batch of 2005 Bordeaux (fine year,  including first growths) and Gimblett Gravels wines.
20056 – 8 +El Nino dominant.  Longlands 1355 GDD,  Gimblett Gravels 1375 GDD,  March / April rain indication (substituting Longlands for Triangle) 150 mm.  Some frost early,  21 Oct.  40 mm rain late flowering 4 & 5 Dec.  Very dry coolish summer throughout till mid-May,  except for c.50 mm 18 March (up to 80 mm near Roy's Hill).  Best wines excellent,  but patch-wise March rain significantly raised botrytis issues and reduced final quality for some growers,  despite dry subsequently.  No Homage,  for example.  April dry unlike 2006,  and the top reds and particularly cabernet-dominant from selected wineries inc. Church Road and Craggy Range are very good.  A Bordeaux / Medoc-like Coleraine too.  The Terraces not made.  Best syrahs aromatic and very fragrant,  a fine Bullnose suggesting Cote-Rotie.  Critical selection needed for cellaring.  Some good whites this year,  including Riflemans Chardonnay.  My score more for better wines – an overlooked vintage,  in my view.
20044 – 6Highly erratic,  but April El Nino set in.  March / April rain indication (using Twyford,  Longlands and Havelock North) 60 mm.  Difficult flowering,  35 mm rain 26 & 27 Nov,  35 for 10 & 11 Dec.  Second coolest vintage of decade,  February both cold and wet with 40 mm rain 16 Feb,  then March dry,  leading to good Indian summer through April.  In general,  too late and cool for cabernets.  Best Gimblett Gravels reds fragrant and attractive if not over-oaked,  but red fruits more than black.  Beyond Gravels,  many leafy reds developing too rapidly.  Conversely,   The Terraces was made,  and many stunning whites,  marvellous / benchmark chardonnays including exceptional Riflemans (9 +) and gewurzs !
20032 – 4El Nino vintage.  For many growers,  severe and widespread frost 5 Oct. destroyed newly-budded shoots especially chardonnay,  meaning inevitably a very late season for resprouted shoots.  The coolish,  mainly dryish but difficult season did not help make up lost time.  Small crops,  but then humid periods following 25 mm March 12,  15 mm 7 April,  led to frequent rot.  Some reasonable medium-weight red wines,  virtually no Reserve wines anywhere.  Craggy Range declassified more than 60% of crop.
20027 – 9La Nina changing to El Nino March.  Modest early season and 45 mm rain 9 & 10 Dec at late flowering,  65 mm 18 Dec,  damp early summer,  105 mm Feb 13 & 14,  40 mm 14 & 15 March,  bleak prospects,  then miraculous Indian autumn (apart from 25 mm 26 April no significant rain till end May) gave best quality and quantity vintage since 1998,  but high alcohols – referred to locally by some as the Californian vintage.  At best very good reds,  but some too big.  The Terraces made.  Not the technical knowledge then as now,  but the best cellaring well.  Riflemans Chardonnay made.  Some whites also too big.
20013 – 5La Nina vintage.  Widespread frost 19 Nov and cool flowering generally led to reduced crops,  difficult summer,  coolest year of decade.  Some settled spells March allowed some fine chardonnays to be made,  including a long-lived Riflemans.  20 mm rain 3 April and 30 mm 12 April cooled soils and raised botrytis pressure,  uneven ripening,  mostly lean red wines,  now fully mature or fading.  Where very small crops / exceptional viticulture,  occasional growers such as Trinity Hill produced well-ripened wines.
20006 – 8 +La Nina vintage.  Promising  spring apart from 80 mm rain 28/9 Nov. at early flowering  Some good chardonnays made in March,  including Riflemans and exceptional Clearview Reserve and Elston.  For reds,  as in Bordeaux,  not a perfectly dry season,  but a settled summer / autumn except for 70 mm rain 8 - 10 April.  Where viticulture good and cropping rates were conservative,  a plentiful and stylish vintage with good wines.  Reasonable alcohols,  and Bordeaux style in the best blends too – so much so that 2000 Te Mata Coleraine was in 2003 judged in the top 10 reds at VinExpo,  in Bordeaux !  The Terraces made.  Score given is more for the better cellar wines.

Cellar potential for the wines:   Among the wines reviewed below there are some exciting prospects for the cellar.  The best will provide great pleasure over the next 10 – 15 years,  and the best of them will cellar for considerably longer than that.  For example,  the famous 1965 McWilliams Cabernet Sauvignon was still an interesting bottle 40 years later – I presented my last one in a 1966 Bordeaux Library Tasting in Hawkes Bay 5 years ago.  The best of these latterday wines are so much better-made than that wine,  and with more harmonious blends,  and corks are better (or screwcap) so they should live longer.  2009 Church Road Tom is certainly a 40-year wine,  and longer.  The 2009 Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends should be represented in all discriminating New Zealand red wine cellars.  They will be the basis for extremely enlightening tastings in comparison with the already-famous 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux vintages.  And there will be some merlot-dominant 2010 blends and 2010 syrahs which are just as good,  possibly better in the sense of more aromatic.  

Likewise 2009 and 2010 are highly regarded in the Northern Rhone,  and with all the evidence being that some of the Hawkes Bay 2010 syrahs will be as good as the 2009s,  again fabulous future tastings can be assembled by those with the foresight to cellar the wines now.  In all three districts the pattern is the same,  the 2009s being richer,  rounder,  riper,  and more 'modern',  the 2010s a little more crisply classical,  aromatic and not quite so fat.  If both years of syrah look marvellous in both countries,  a key point of concern is whether the 2010 Hawkes Bay cabernet-dominant blends will be ripe enough to match the 2010 Bordeaux.  My first impression is,  no,  but there will be exceptions.  An estimate for the cellar life of each wine is given in the reviews below.  Please note I like old wine,  whereas a younger generation is totally habituated to wines which I regard as not yet mature,  let alone old.  My cellar estimates refer to temperate central New Zealand,  or temperature-controlled cellars,  not ambient Auckland,  Gisborne or Hawkes Bay – for example.

Acknowledgements:   In both years I very much appreciated all proprietors being happy for me to take away a sufficiently-sized sample to allow subsequent formal blind-tasting and re-tasting,  and later tasting back against the draft report once printed out.  I thought this particularly generous this year,  when there had been no payback last year.  This procedure though time-consuming makes a great difference to the quality and objectivity of the reviews now offered.  I am also particularly appreciative of Pernod-Ricard's generosity in making 2009 Tom available for the 2013 tasting,  so that it might be seen in context,  and vice-versa.

Several people in the Bay helped me with detail and perspective for the climate thoughts and the vintage table,  and were patient with emails and phone calls to check the latest thought,  irrespective of whether they participated in the Hot Red Roadshow.  Please note they do not necessarily agree with this review,  which is occasionally opinionated.  Sincere thanks to:  Alwyn Corban of Ngatarawa Winery,  Chris Scott of Church Road,  Geoff Wilson of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association,  Gordon Russell of Esk Valley Estate,  John Hancock of Trinity Hill,  Lisa Daysh of Bridge Pa Vineyards,  Nick Picone of Villa Maria,  Tony Bish of Sacred Hill,  and Warren Gibson of Bilancia,  amongst others.  I particularly appreciated help from Dr Kathleen Kozyniak,  senior climate and air scientist for the Hawkes Bay Regional Council,  and Lesley Hodson-Kersey of HortPlus,  both of whom went out of their way to provide information.  Likewise,  Alastair Morris of Regional Wines & Spirits,  Wellington,  and Peter Kelly of Catalyst IT,  Wellington,  contributed essential technical assistance for the Location Map.

References:  These take the form of links in the text.


Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and related blends
Pinot Gris
2011  Babich Family Estates Viognier Fernhill
2012  Clearview Viognier Haumoana
2011  Coopers Creek Viognier Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards
2011  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote
2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote
2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote
2011  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets
2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets
2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets
2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige
2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige
2008  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige
2012  Pask Viognier Gimblett Road
2010  Trinity Hill Noble Viognier Gimblett Gravels
2011  Trinity Hill Viognier Gimblett Gravels
2010  Villa Maria Viognier Omahu Gravels Single Vineyard
Sweet / Sticky
All other white wines, blends, etc.
Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2010  Alluviale Merlot / Cabernet Franc
2008  Alpha Domus Merlot / Cabernets / Malbec The Navigator
2010  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec The Patriarch
2010  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec The Patriarch
2011  Babich Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc Irongate
2010  Babich Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc Irongate
2011  Babich Merlot Winemakers' Reserve
2009  Ch Bernadotte
2012  Black Barn Vineyards Merlot Reserve
2009  Ch le Bourdieu
2009  Ch Les Caleches de Lanessan
2009  Ch Chadenne
2009  Ch Charmail
2009  Ch de Francs Les Cerisiers
2009  Ch Haut-Maurac
2009  Church Road [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Tom
2009  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon McDonald Series
2009  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve
2011  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
2009  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series
2009  Clearview Cabernet / Merlot The Basket Press
2009  Clearview Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve
2009  Clearview Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Enigma
2010  Coopers Creek Cabernet / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Select Vineyards
2011  Coopers Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Select Vineyards
2010  Coopers Creek Malbec Select Vineyards Saint John
2009  Ch Cote de Baleau
2009  Dom. de Courteillac
2010  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernets / Malbec Te Kahu
2010  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels
2010  Crossroads Cabernet Franc Winemakers Collection
2011  Cypress Merlot
2009  Dada 2  
2009  Elephant Hill Merlot
2009  Elephant Hill Merlot
2011  Elephant Hill Merlot / Malbec Hieronymus
2010  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec
2011  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Winemakers Reserve
2010  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Winemakers Reserve
2009  Ch de Gironville
2009  Ch Haura
2009  Ch  Jean Faux
2009  Ch Le Thil
2010  Lime Rock Cabernet Franc
2009  Ch de Lugagnac
2010  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth
2009  Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth
2009  Mills Reef Cabernets / Merlot Elspeth
2009  Mills Reef Merlot Elspeth
2011  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone Antoine
2009  Mission Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2009  Mission Estate Cabernets / Merlot Jewelstone
2010  Mission Estate Merlot / Cabernet Franc Jewelstone
2010  Mission Estate Merlot Reserve
2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Glazebrook
2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn Winemakers Reserve
2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Winemakers Reserve Alwyn
2009  Ngatarawa Merlot Stables Reserve
2007  Pask Cabernet  / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2009  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Road
  2009  Ch de Retout
2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Quarter Acre Merlot / Malbec
2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Te Awanga Merlot
2009  Sacred Hill Cabernets / Merlot Helmsman
2009  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2010  Sacred Hill Merlot / Cabernet Halo
2009  Sileni Estate Merlot / Cabernet Franc The Plains
2010  Sileni Estate Merlot The Triangle
2009  Ch Tauzinat L'Hermitage
2010  Te Awa Cabernet / Merlot
2009  Ch Tertre du Courban
2008  Trinity Hill Cabernet / Merlot The Gimblett
2010  Trinity Hill Merlot Hawkes Bay
2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series
2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series
2010  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Reserve Series
2011  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Reserve Series
2009  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Reserve
2009  Villa Maria Malbec Gimblett Gravels Reserve
2007  Villa Maria Merlot Gimblett Gravels Reserve
Cabernet / Shiraz
Pinot Noir
Syrah = Shiraz
2012  Alpha Domus Syrah The Barnstormer
2011  Alpha Domus Syrah The Barnstormer
2011  Babich Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2010  Babich Syrah Winemakers' Reserve
2012  Black Barn Vineyards Syrah
2010  [ Ngatarawa ] Glazebrook Syrah New Zealand
2011  Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve
2010  Church Road Syrah McDonald Series
2010  Church Road Syrah Reserve
2010  Clearview Syrah Cape Kidnappers
2009  Clearview Syrah Reserve
2012  Coopers Creek Syrah
2012  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards
2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards
2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve
2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve
2010  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon (10% viognier)
2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon (10% viognier)
2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie La Madiniere
2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie La Madiniere
2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Terres Sombres
2006  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Terres Sombres
2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph L'Amarybelle
2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Pierres Seches
2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Serines
2009  Cypress Terraces Syrah
2012  Elephant Hill Syrah
2009  Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve
2010  Esk Valley Syrah Gimblett Gravels Winemakers Reserve
2010  Esk Valley Syrah Gimblett Gravels Winemakers Reserve
2011  Esk Valley Syrah Hawkes Bay Selection
2011  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2010  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth
2011  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth Trust Vineyard
2012  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve
2010  Mills Reef Syrah Trust Vineyard Elspeth
2010  Mission Estate Syrah Jewelstone
2009  Mission Estate Syrah Jewelstone
2011  Mission Estate Syrah Reserve
2010  Ngatarawa Syrah Glazebrook Black Label
2009  Pask Syrah Declaration
2010  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road
2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Quarter Acre Syrah
2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Te Awanga Syrah
2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Two Gates Syrah
2012  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection
2011  Te Awa Syrah
2011  Te Awa Syrah Left-Field
2011  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels
2011  Trinity Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay [ White Label ]
2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series
2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series
2010  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve Series
2009  Vidal Syrah Reserve Series
2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Cellar Selection
2011  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve
2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve
2009  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve
Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre & related blends
All other red wines, blends etc
2012  Black Barn Vineyards Montepulciano
2010  Crossroads Talisman
2009  Crossroads Talisman
From the Cellar. Older wines.

2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote   18 ½ +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $92   [ cork;  hand-picked from sites above Chavanay,  all BF on low-solids in older oak 2 – 5 years,  100% MLF plus LA,  batonnage and 9 months in barrel,  c.1800 cases;  July offer $69 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  in the middle for hue but the straw increasing.  Of the nine wines,  this 2009 Petite Cote has the most clear-cut varietal bouquet,  simply because La Petite Cote does not have so much new oak.  Bouquet is orange-ripe apricots and mandarins with clear-cut yellow honeysuckle and orange blossom,  beautiful.  Palate is at a peak of development,  the rich ripe apricots fully expressed,  still relative freshness,  but in a year's time it will be just a little faded.  Tasting this wine,  but in truth all nine of the Cuilleron viogniers,  is a vivid reminder that even the best New Zealand viogniers exhibit only a fraction of this magical intensity of honeysuckle,  apricots and citrus,  yet this is nominally the least in his Condrieu range.  Oak is totally subservient,  body is chardonnay weight,  the finish is bone dry.  Lovely wine,  time to be finishing while at its peak,  but will hold a year or two.  GK 06/13

2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets   18 ½ +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $124   [ cork;  made from older vines (sometimes labelled Vieilles Vignes) all hand-picked with a little sur-maturité from steeper slopes above Chavanay,  low-solids juice wild-yeast-fermented and 100% MLF in barrel,  with up to 30% new oak,  plus 10 months lees autolysis and batonnage in barrel;  1500 cases;  July offer $99 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  clearly towards the lemon end in hue,  these 2009 wines are phenomenal.  Bouquet is really strong on this wine,  almost too strong due to the new oak amplifying the viognier,  so there is just a whisper of cape-ivy edge to the yellow honeysuckle,  quickly passing to fresh apricots and new oak.  Palate shows fabulous varietal fruit,  again fully orange-ripe apricots and some canned too,  closely related to the 2009 Petite Cote but richer and more oaky,  so in one sense less explicitly varietal.  The new oak does extend the later palate.  Pretty special wine,  and one can understand anyone who rates it higher than the 2009 Petite Cote,  since it is richer and in one sense more complex.  My view is this level of oak detracts somewhat.  Again,  at a peak of development right now,  bone dry finish,  but will hold a year or two.  GK 06/13

2011  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote   18 ½  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $92   [ cork;  hand-picked from sites above Chavanay,  all BF on low-solids in older oak 2 – 5 years,  100% MLF plus LA,  batonnage and 9 months in barrel,  c.2150 cases;  July offer $69 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
The most clearly lemon hue in the set.  Bouquet is much the freshest in the nine,  much cooler than the 2009 Petite Cote,  Lisbon lemon blossom more than yellow honeysuckle,  a hint of jasmine,  clear fresh apricots at a yellow-only stage of ripeness.  Palate is lighter and fresher than the 2009 Petite Cote,  and much less oaky than Les Chaillets.  This 2011 and the 2009 Petite Cote pretty well span the desirable varietal characters of viognier.   A little cooler than this,  and the wine grades into the more anonymous best New Zealand renderings of the variety.  But even then the actual palate here is so much more saturated with apricots,  the apparent richness and texture augmented by the MLF fermentation so many of our wineries are reluctant to deploy (honourable exceptions Villa Maria and Church Road).  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  These two wines are essential study wines for any local winemaker wishing to make worthwhile viognier in New Zealand.  GK 06/13

2011  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets   18 ½  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $125   [ cork;  made from older vines (sometimes labelled Vieilles Vignes) all hand-picked with a little sur-maturité from steeper slopes above Chavanay,  low-solids juice wild-yeast-fermented and 100% MLF in barrel,  with up to 30% new oak,  plus 10 months lees autolysis and batonnage in barrel;  1580 cases;  July offer $99 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  the second most lemon.  Bouquet here is a youthful fresher face of the 2009,  but not the depth of varietal expression.  The apricots here are only yellow ripe,  the honeysuckle blossom is joined by Lisbon lemon blossom,  and like the 2009 Chaillets the oak is much more noticeable than the Petite Cote,  with a percentage new.  Palate is much fresher than the 2009,  again less ripe apricots,  but a fresher and more youthful wine which some would prefer,  beautiful acid balance,  high-quality oak,  but again the oak a little noticeable.  Cellar 2 – 4 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige   18 +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13.5%;  $164   [ cork;  hand-picked from a top lieu-dit in Condrieu,  from even older vines on a steep granite slope,  all barrel-fermented with a much higher percentage new,  plus MLF,  LA and batonnage,  in barrel up to 18 months;  c.340 cases;  July offer $125 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  deepening a little,  in the middle for freshness of hue.  On bouquet this is immediately a deeper richer much more serious wine,  until one realises that this is more the vanillin of new oak speaking,  and to an extent it is displacing the honeysuckle and apricots of the actual variety.  In mouth the quality of the fully-ripe apricots fruit is remarkable,  but there is a lot of high-quality oak too.  The acid balance is softening slightly,  and you feel the wine is absolutely at a peak.  It is a richer wine than the Petite Cote,  the quality of the lees-autolysis and MLF augmentation is very good indeed,  so many will automatically rate this wine much higher.  That is understandable.  In this report,  I am simply rating wines with more explicit varietal quality higher.  At a peak,  will hold on the barrel-work but lose freshness.  Hold a year or two.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige   18 +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $170   [ cork;  hand-picked from a top lieu-dit in Condrieu,  from even older vines on a steep granite slope,  all barrel-fermented with a much higher percentage new,  plus MLF,  LA and batonnage,  in barrel up to 18 months;  c.330 cases;  July offer $125 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  hard to separate in hue from the 2009.  This is far and away the best 2010 of the group,  the only one to smell ripe and varietally explicit with no detractions.  The oak is very apparent here,  the year has made a big difference to the 2009,  but there are clear ripe apricots behind it.  There are yellow honeysuckle notes,  as well as vanilla from oak.  Palate likewise is the only 2010 to reflect the vintages accurately,  a little cooler and more aromatic than the 2009,  apricots not so orange,  but the quality and amount of oak again prominent.  This is fresher than the 2009 but not quite so varietally exact,  so they are about equal,  just climatic variants on elegant winemaking.  Cellar a couple of years.  GK 06/13

2010  Trinity Hill Noble Viognier Gimblett Gravels   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  sequentially hand-harvested;  BF in French oak,  plus a further 5 or so months LA in barrel;  RS 132 g/L;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Lemon-gold.  Bouquet is wonderfully clean and ripe,  in a winestyle where undesirable complications are frequent.  It is nectary and honeyed,  showing ample clean botrytis,  but not completely convincing in its varietal quality.  There are hints of canned apricots and fresh mandarins,  only.  On palate,  the reason is perhaps the wine seems to include some less-ripe berries,  just a hint of leafyness,  which refreshes the wine nicely and provides a neat finish against the sugar,  but also subtracts from the specific ripe-fruit (dried apricots) character it should show to be totally international botrytised viognier in quality.  As food wine,  it works very well indeed.  The nett achievement does not really deserve gold medal,  if judged strictly as botrytised viognier.  As a botrytised wine in general,  yes,  for it is technically excellent.  The Catalogue lists a swag of gold medals and equivalent rankings,  but none of the 'authorities' quoted are likely to have specific understanding of viognier the grape,  and its exact varietal qualities when ideally ripe and botrytised.  Cuilleron is again a reference point for this winestyle – Ayguets.  Hold a year or two only,  probably,  before the fruit flavours fade and the phenolics show.  GK 06/13

2008  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Vertige   18  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $167   [ cork;  hand-picked from a top lieu-dit in Condrieu,  from even older vines on a steep granite slope,  all barrel-fermented with a much higher percentage new,  plus MLF,  LA and batonnage,  in barrel up to 18 months;  c.250 cases;  July offer $125 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw grading to straw,  the second deepest wine.  Bouquet is a little different here,  a clear cool-climate note with thoughts of cape ivy again,  as well as yellow honeysuckle,  so just a hint of stalks.  In mouth it is clearly a small-scale Vertige against the 2009 or 2010,  the thought of stalks is now more a reality,  higher acid,  yet the explicit quality of apricotty fruit is still noteworthy and the wine has to score well.  The level of new oak again detracts.  There are some reminders of the Clonakilla Viognier here,  from Canberra.  At a peak,  though will hold because the stalks freshen the wine.  Perhaps it was unwise to make a Vertige in this vintage ?  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu Les Chaillets   17 ½ +  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $121   [ cork;  made from older vines (sometimes labelled Vieilles Vignes) all hand-picked with a little sur-maturité from steeper slopes above Chavanay,  low-solids juice wild-yeast-fermented and 100% MLF in barrel,  with up to 30% new oak,  plus 10 months lees autolysis and batonnage in barrel;  1500 cases;  July offer $94 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Lemonstraw,  in the middle.  Bouquet was not singing on this wine,  not so much floral as a hint of honeycomb in clear apricot fruit,  as if 2010 were a hotter year than 2009 – which in general is the wrong way round.  Palate shows rich fruit,  canned rather than fresh apricots,  a suggestion of dried Turkish apricots,  so the whole thing ends up not so eloquent and elegant,  instead a bit phenolic with an oaky tail.  Still clearly varietal though particularly on the finish,  and would be good with appropriate foods.  Hold a year or two.  GK 06/13

2010  Villa Maria Viognier Omahu Gravels Single Vineyard    17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 3.7 t/ha (1.5 t/ac),  100% de-stemmed,  3 hours cold-soak,  100% barrel-fermented in French oak 43% new,  53% of the wine both wild yeast fermentations and completed MLF,  10 months on full lees with weekly batonnage,  sterile-filtered;  pH 3.8,  RS 1.7 g/L;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Good lemon.  I do not have this alongside the 2011 Cellar Selection from the same firm and vineyard reported on recently,  but my impression from memory is that the present wine shows more sophistication of winemaking,  but not quite such delightful freshness of varietal fruit character.  In that it resembles the Australian champion viognier Virgilius from Yalumba.  Here the first impression is more lemon and apricot tart,  a clear impression of short pastry (+ve) from the sophisticated lees-autolysis and barrel-fermentation,  with not quite the yellow honeysuckle florals and fresh apricot needed to make viognier great.  The quantity of fruit on palate is however good,  showing clear suggestions of apricot flavour and admirable barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis,  and MLF components all adding texture,  body,  and complexity – including oak to a max.  'Dry' finish.  Fully mature as viognier,  will hold but not improve so the firm needs to quit stock on this short-lived (in bottle) variety now,  since the oak is starting to intrude.  Hold a year or two only.  This wine is nearly as good as the least of the Cuilleron viogniers (Condrieu),  which is no mean achievement.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Condrieu La Petite Cote   17 ½  ()
Condrieu,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  14%;  $88   [ cork;  hand-picked from sites above Chavanay,  all BF on low-solids in older oak 2 – 5 years,  100% MLF plus LA,  batonnage and 9 months in barrel,  c.2000 cases;  July offer $69 @ Glengarry;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Full straw,  much the deepest / oldest in the set,  again not how it should be.  Bouquet shows clear over-ripe apricots and over-ripe mandarin fruit notes on bouquet,  smelling a fat flavoursome wine.  Palate however does not sit as happily as the other wines,  almost dried apricots flavours,  a suggestion of stalks which doesn't make sense with the bouquet,  a clumsier wine all through.  There is still plenty of varietal character by New Zealand viognier standards,  and even the least of these wines is going to be very good indeed with food.  Hence the scores,  notwithstanding not total praise in the texts.  Fully mature already,  I'd say.  GK 06/13

2011  Trinity Hill Viognier Gimblett Gravels   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Vi 91%,  marsanne 9;  hand-picked;  whole-bunch pressed to French oak including more puncheons nowadays,  100% BF including some wild yeast fermentations;  significant lees ageing in barrel,  and some MLF,  to add body,  texture and minerality;  pH 3.49,  RS 2.6 g/L;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet shows elegant barrel-ferment and lees-autolysis on pale varietal fruit,  close to the Coopers Creek in style but slightly more varietal.  Palate seems fractionally richer,  more oak than the Coopers but less than the Villa,  light suggestions of canned apricots.  Finish is near-dry,  but slightly phenolic.  Hold a year or two only.  GK 06/13

2011  Coopers Creek Viognier Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards   16 ½ +  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  fermentation started in tank,  completed in 1-year-old French oak;  4 months in barrel on lees;  nil MLF (some previous vintages have had some);  pH 3.66,  RS 4 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  This viognier too,  like the Villa Omahu,  shows overt winemaking complexity,  particularly lees-autolysis,  on bouquet.  It reminds of freshly-baked apple sponge.  Actual varietal quality on bouquet is light,  but the winemaking is great.  Palate is not as rich as the Villa,  nor as complex,  with much less barrel influence,  but there is slightly clearer pale canned apricots (under-ripe) fruit,  with the lees-autolysis adding attractively.  Elegant 'dry' finish.  Immaculate winemaking perhaps lacking an MLF component and enhancement,  but the fruit lacking varietal depth.  Hold a year or two only.  GK 06/13

2011  Babich Family Estates Viognier Fernhill   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  small % BF in older French oak,  balance s/s;  several months LA and stirring,  no MLF or wild yeast;  RS 2.8 g/L;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Lemon.  Initially opened,  the wine is tending reductive,  and needs splashy decanting.  It breathes off to a palely varietal bouquet,  just a little rank in a variety needing sweet floral enchantment to be good.  Palate like the Coopers hints at under-ripe canned apricots,  but with markedly less winemaking complexity and texture enhancement.  'Dry' finish.  The reviews in the Catalogue are misleading.  Hold a year or two only.  GK 06/13

2012  Clearview Viognier Haumoana   15 +  ()
Haumoana,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $37   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  cool fermentation in s/s with aromatic yeast;  no MLF;  RS 5.5 g/L;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Pale lemon.  Bouquet is light,  just hinting at the florals and under-ripe apricots of lesser viognier.  Palate shows little sign of barrel-ferment,  lees-autolysis or other winemaking enhancement,  some near-neutral fruit,  slightly phenolic,  near-dry to the finish.  Not convincing as a varietal wine,  lacks physiological ripeness as one would expect at Haumoana,  but (apart from price) clean and sound as an alternative dry white.  Will hold a year or two.  GK 06/13

2012  Pask Viognier Gimblett Road   13 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $25   [ screwcap;  some BF and LA,  mostly s/s;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Palest lemon,  the lightest colour in the viogniers.  Bouquet is neutral,  clean,  reasonably fresh,  but it shows no sign of varietal character or grape physiological maturity.  If the given alcohol of 12° is correct,  flavour development at such low Brix could not be expected,  going on Australasian experience elsewhere.  Flavour is narrow,  short and tart,  stalky and too acid.  Not worth holding.  These lesser wines illustrate dramatically why the Cuilleron viogniers in this review are relevant to us in New Zealand.  GK 06/13

Cabernet, Merlot, and related blends
2009  Church Road [ Cabernet / Merlot ] Tom   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels 97.5%,  Bridge Pa Triangle 2.5,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.4%;  $150   [ 48mm cork;  CS 58%,  Me 42;  all hand-picked,  the dominant cabernet @ 5.1 t/ha (minutely over 2 t/ac),  absolutely a serious classed-growth cropping rate,  but the merlot at a surprising 9.6 t/ha (3.8 t/ac),  and hand-sorted from on-average 12-year old vines;  100% de-stemmed,  crushed,  no cold soak,  inoculated fermentation mostly in oak cuves,  a fraction in s/s,  cuvaison up to 5 weeks for the CS components,  less for Me,  no BF or lees work;  21 months in all-French oak c.81% new,  balance 1-year,  successive rackings to clarify and aerate;  not fined or filtered;  RS <1 g/L;  450 cases;  price will vary around given figure;  release date 1 July 2013;  [ post-publication addition ] as of 1 August 2013 the wine is effectively sold out at source – a very heartening message to those seeking to produce truly first-class / international-calibre wines in New Zealand;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  scarcely carmine,  remarkably deep and dense,  much deeper than the McDonald Series Merlot or even 2009 Ch Leoville-Barton.  This is such a big wine,  it benefits greatly from decanting and air.  That is not a euphemism for it being reductive,  merely to say it smells much better the next day,  rather than freshly opened.  The degree of ripeness here is pushing the limits for temperate-climate varietal beauty,  rather like 2003 Ch Pavie or some of the 2009 Bordeaux,  but once breathed,  it is just on the right side of the line.  It is not floral,  but it is fragrant,  burstingly-ripe black plums-in-the-sun fragrant.  Delving deep,  one could just say there is cassis,  but it is touch and go,  the wine lacking the freshness imperative to vibrant cassis expression.  Cabernet sauvignon as such is therefore almost invisible in the bouquet.  These fruit components on bouquet are framed by appropriate cedary oak.  

In mouth,  the wine is showing some sur-maturité,  clearly moreso than the even richer 2009 Ch Montrose,  with suggestions of the chocolate so loved by hot-climate (and other) winewriters who know no better,  but there are also black cherries and bottled black doris plums,  alcohol,  and fragrant oak.  It is so ripe it would almost go with black forest gateau,  so by classical Medoc standards it is over-ripe and unsubtle.  It is however also velvety and wondrously rich,  and the year was hot,  so while one can wish for more restraint,  and better cabernet expression with greater florality,  that is,  slightly earlier picking,  people not immersed in classical Bordeaux are going to love this wine.  For those who think South Australia and the Napa Valley make the best cabernets in the world,  this is a wine to seek out.  Likewise for those who swear that New Zealand cannot ripen cabernet.

Whether or not 2009 Tom is the best yet,  as the winery claims,  or simply the biggest Tom yet,  depends totally on your frame of reference,  therefore.  I can imagine this wine being demonstrably better,  and the even bigger 2009 Ch Montrose tasted with it a little later shows how.  On a smaller scale,  the 2011 McDonald Merlot right alongside also shows how,  and that is 'only' a merlot.  Perhaps the 2010 Tom will be such a wine,  if the Church Road team were able to coax the cabernet to appropriate / perfect ripeness [ 1 August:  No ].  Meanwhile,  this is compelling New Zealand wine,  representing one climatic extreme but not necessarily the most desirable one.  It must be the richest cabernet / merlot ever made in New Zealand,  to cellar 10 – 30 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 06/13

2009  Sacred Hill Cabernets / Merlot Helmsman   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $85   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 47%, CF 28,  Me 25,  hand-picked from 9 year old vines @  just under 2.5 t/ac;  cuvaison approx 38 days;  no BF;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  RS < 0.2 g/L;  250 cases;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour,  in the top quarter for weight and depth.  Bouquet is exciting,  absolutely of classed Medoc standard (particularly since some of them are now over-oaked,  pandering to new world 'taste' …),  a combination of dark red rose florality and cassis aromatics,  rich,  youthful.  Palate is firm,  clearly cabernet sauvignon-dominant,  lean in one sense and aromatic,  but with potential tobacco and cedary notes to evolve.  There is also the subtlest trace of sur-maturité flavours,  chocolate etc so sought by the media (and judges),  but not a part of classic Bordeaux.  With global warming,  this may have to be accepted,  I guess.  Though a little oaky,  and not quite as rich as the Church Road Reserve,  the structure of this wine is classic – it will cellar for 10 – 20 years.  Price escalation a concern.  GK 06/12

2009  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Me 94%,  Ma 6;  fermented in oak cuves = vats,  a premium approach from Bordeaux;  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French oak 42% new;  not fined or filtered;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top quarter for weight of colour amongst the Hawkes Bay blends.  Initially opened,  the wine is warm and inviting,  a little oaky.  It breathes up to lovely cassisy bottled black doris berry and fruit,  with potentially cedary oak.  It is fully ripe but not over-ripe,  showing the floral highlights of the variety.  Palate is soft and very accessible,  with excellent concentration and ripeness.  This is what merlot should be like.  It is a great pity some of the producers of the too many miserable New Zealand offerings labelled merlot do not taste more widely,  and register how inadequate their wines are alongside a wine like this,  which from time to time is available at $20 (though the RRP is higher).  Perhaps this wine is a little fleshy and obvious in style,  perhaps it is not intended for long keeping,  but it is delicious in a slightly oaky way.  These McDonald Series wines are the old Cuve Series,  moved upmarket with a new simpler name and a higher price.  In the reprehensible way big companies like Pernod-Ricard can so easily do,  this series of wines is sometimes being offered to supermarkets and big chains at a discounted price which means they can be retailed for LESS than individual-proprietor wine merchants can buy them wholesale.  This is an offensive practice.  So at times these wines can be had for $20 – $22,  against the RRP of $33,  and at such times are compelling VALUE.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels 72% & Bridge Pa Triangle 28,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ cork;  CS 51%,  Me 49,  mostly hand-picked at c.2.5 t/ac from (on average) 12-year old vines;  cuvaison extended to 35 days for some components;  MLF and 20 months in 100% French oak c.50% new,  balance 1-year,  with no BF or lees stirring,  just racking;  not fined or filtered;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Rich ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest colour in the Hawkes Bay blends.  Bouquet is eloquent cassis and potentially cedary oak,  in a fragrant classed growth Medoc styling.  Like Helmsman it is on the oaky side now,  but the total wine achievement in Bordeaux terms is exhilarating.  On palate the cassis melds with bottled black doris plum fruit and oak to produce a long aromatic profile hinting at one of the Leovilles.  It is a fatter wine than the Villa Reserve.  This too is a glorious Hawkes Bay blend to cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Villa Maria Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 75%,  Me 25,  hand-harvested @ around 2.4 t/ac;  vinified @ Mangere,  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation,  6 weeks cuvaison for the CS,  up to 4 weeks for the Me;  MLF and 20 months in 100% French oak 3-years air-dried and 40% new;  RS nil;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in depth.  Bouquet is understated cassis,  pure and clean,  less oaky and slightly leaner than the top Church Road wines,  and harder to assess.  In mouth the purity and focus of the wine is impressive,  there is great ripeness of cassis,  and much less oak and a subtler approach than the Villa Maria Reserves of yesteryear,  or the top 2009 Church Road or Sacred Hill reds.  An easy wine to overlook,  but this will  I suspect be very rewarding in cellar,  over 10 – 20 years.  A great (and exciting) Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blend,  the specs above highly encouraging and showing refinement over earlier vintages,  a wine fully of classed growth standard.  GK 06/12

2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  CS 76,  Me 24,  hand-picked,  all de-stemmed;  cuvaison varies up to 30 days;  20 months in French oak 50% new;  RS <1 g/L;  minimal fining and filtration;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  more clearly carmine alongside 2009 Tom,  and nearly as deep.  Bouquet here is a much more vibrant expression of the Bordeaux (meaning Medoc,  since the wine lists cabernet first) wine style than 2009 Tom,  as the colour alone would suggest.  Bouquet shows clear cassis as well as rich ripe plum,  and there is a freshness to the wine on bouquet 2009 Tom lacks.  On palate the wine is rich,  yet it lacks the remarkable palate weight and presence of Tom.  The flavours of cabernet sauvignon (cassis), as well as merlot (dark plums) are both beautifully expressed,  however,  the oak handling is as good as Tom (though still overt alongside some 2009 classed-growth Bordeaux),  and the alcohol at 13.5% is wonderfully lower,  refreshing the wine.  This is a great achievement in a year like 2009.  In choosing between the wines,  it is very much an issue of Napa vs Bordeaux analogies.  Both will give much pleasure in cellar for many years to come,  the Vidal for 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/13

2011  Church Road Merlot McDonald Series   18 ½  ()
Tukituki Valley 67%,  Gimblett Gravels 31% & Bridge Pa Triangle 2%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Me 100%;  all destemmed,  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  18 – 20 months in French oak 33% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  coarse-filtered only;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a lovely deep colour.  Bouquet is totally textbook merlot,  beautifully deep sweet floral notes reminiscent of violets on rich dark bottled black doris plums,  all framed in cedary oak.  Palate is exactly the same,  a thought of darkest pipe tobacco too,  remarkable,  almost perfect temperate-climate physiological maturity for the variety,  the oak beautifully done,  all in the background.  This is a remarkable evocation of a quality Pomerol winestyle from Hawkes Bay,  at a fraction the price.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Church Road Cabernet Sauvignon McDonald Series   18 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 62%,  Gimblett Gravels 38%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ screwcap;  CS 93%,  CF 5,  Ma 2;  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  MLF in barrel;  18 months in French oak 35% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well up in the top quarter for density.  Bouquet is shy at first opening,  the berry fruit hiding behind oak,  but it slowly opens to reveal rich cassis and dark plum nuances.  Palate shows the gorgeous ripeness of the best 2009s,  with a plumpness and richness which is beguiling.  It is not as rich as the Cabernet / Merlot Reserve 2009 from the same stable,  which reflects the Bridge Pa Triangle component in the fruit,  but the oak is less too so it is attractively balanced.  It forms an admirable running mate for the McDonald Merlot,  the present wine being sterner as befits high cabernet sauvignon.  The ripeness achieved in this wine predominantly from the Bridge Pa Triangle tends to confirm the statement made in relation to the Ngatarawa wines,  that their long history of stalky reds reflects over-cropping,  not location per se.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  VALUE on special.  GK 06/12

2010  Trinity Hill Merlot Hawkes Bay   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Me 87%,  CS 7,  CF  6,  hand-picked at c. 2.75 t/ac;  elevage c.12 months in French oak some new but some wine stays in s/s;  RS 1.5 g/L;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top third for weight of colour.  This is an enchanting wine.  Blind it has a fresh berry character and less oak influence than the McDonald Merlot,  instead smelling of blueberries – rich and saliva-inducing.  In mouth the blueberry continues,  and one pretty confidently identifies the wine as syrah,  blind.  But once revealed,  I'm happy to enthuse about the wine as a merlot-dominant Pomerol-styled blend,  with a wonderful presence of fruit and perfect ripeness.  It is not quite so fat as the McDonald,  and total acid seems a little higher,  but it should cellar well.  With merlot such a devalued concept thanks to Australian commercial-label efforts with this variety (so totally unsuited to their climate) but also because of many poor New Zealand ones too,  these are two affordable merlots to rejoice in.  The subtlety of the oak handling highlights the varietal character beautifully.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  VALUE  GK 06/12

2007  Villa Maria Merlot Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Me 93%,  Ma 7,  hand-harvested @ c. 6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac;  vinified @ Mangere;  100% de-stemmed;  s/s fermentation;  up to 28 days cuvaison in s/s,  MLF in barrel;  c. 20 months in 100% French oak 3 years air-dried and 75% new;  coarse filter only;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  remarkably fresh for the year,  and rich and dark,  the third deepest Hawkes Bay blend.  Bouquet is rich and dark too,  tending oaky as so many Reserve wines are,  but nonetheless exciting.  If it weren't so oaky,  one could imagine violets here,  as befits merlot,  but I guess the floral impression is more vanillin from the oak.  Berry richness is great in mouth,  the fruit is surprisingly cassisy as if there were a percentage of cabernet sauvignon [confusion with the malbec ?],  lots of dark plums,  some spice from the oak.  The oak clearly lets the wine down at this stage,  if any kind of Bordeaux analogy be the goal,  but the new world loves this approach.  A serious wine from a very good year,  to cellar 5 – 10 years,  perhaps longer if that oak marries away.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Chadenne   18 +  ()
Fronsac,  Bordeaux,  France:  15%;  $40   [ cork (50 mm);  Me 92%,  CS 8,  cropped at c. 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac,  planted at up to 7000 vines / ha,  av. vine age 30 – 35 years,  underlying limestones;  cuvaison to 28 days;  18 months in oak up to 50% new;  an up-and-coming Fronsac winery;  www.chateauchadenne.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour,  the deepest of the French batch.  Bouquet is clearly reputable bordeaux at a cru bourgeois level,  a lovely richness of clean fruit,  plum mostly which fits the cepage,  some new oak.  Palate shows very good ripeness without being cocoa-y,  good richness without being heavy,  a robust young wine with a lot of grape tannins even more than oak,  but still tasting good – the tannins should condense naturally in cellar.  A good illustration of the year,  and showing a richness and ripeness of fruit implying a conservative cropping rate some New Zealand winemakers could study with benefit.  The alcohol is high,  very modern,  but surprisingly well-hidden.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Mills Reef Merlot Elspeth   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  4 days cold soak followed by conventional open-top fermentation and c.4 weeks cuvaison;  16 months in French oak 35% new,  balance 1-year;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  an attractive fresh colour just below midway in depth.  It is a little while since I saw any Mills Reef wines,  particularly in a good blind tasting.  The bouquet here suggests a change of approach,  much more emphasis on the berry fruit,  less oak.  This is the most floral of the top wines,  real violets and red roses,  lovely.  Behind that are red and black plummy aromas.  Palate is not as rich as the top wines,  but the fruit ripeness and soft tannins are  elegant.  The continuing subtlety of the oak on palate is thrilling,  the wine being remarkably St Emilion in style.  The harmony of finish is a delight,  though it needs more richness.  Nonetheless,  it will give much pleasure at table.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Winemakers Reserve Alwyn   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 60% & Gimblett Gravels 40%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork;  Me 76%,  CS 24,  hand-harvested @ c.6.25 t/ha (2.5 t/ac),  inoculated ferments,  cuvaison to about 3 weeks;  12 months in French oak 37% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  lighter than the top two,  older in hue than the McDonald Merlot.  The Alwyn blend has not always lived up to the winemaker's aspirations for it,  with some years characterised by under-ripeness / over-cropping,  but here is an Alwyn more worthy of consideration for cellaring.  Bouquet shows very ripe fruit,  more plums than cassis like the same-year Tom,  but the richness of bouquet is less.  Palate confirms that,  but the wine is still comparable with good cru bourgeois,  and a worthwhile improvement on many predecessors.  Most New Zealand reds won't be as rich as the phenomenal 2009 Tom.  There is a freshness in this plummy and cedary slightly oaky palate which bespeaks a tobacco component,  but you couldn't call it leafy.  Attractive wine which will become food-friendly as it mellows.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2011  Coopers Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Select Vineyards   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  CS 100% hand-harvested;  12 months in French oak some new;  RS 3.5 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little deeper than the McDonald Merlot of the same year.  Bouquet is fresh and fragrant,  clearly cassis and some dark plums,  but not as concentrated as the top wines.  In mouth,  the palate is tending narrow,  illustrating the perils of cabernet sauvignon on its own,  and there is not quite the plumpness cabernet sauvignon needs to be compelling.  But as an example of temperate-climate cabernet sauvignon alone it is pretty good.  It is riper than the better-year 2010 Patriarch,  for example.  Oak handling here shows the restraint becoming more evident in the better New Zealand red wines generally.  This is a very welcome development,  which will help make the wines much more food-friendly.  The winemaker refers to Bordeaux practice in the elevation of this wine,  but retaining a little sugar to sweeten the finish would be unthinkable there.  It is no doubt commercially successful at this level where only the sensitive pick it up,  but it will be debatable,  particularly in the claret winestyle.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Ch  Jean Faux   18  ()
Dordogne / near St Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.7%;  $38   [ cork (50 mm);  Me 80%,  CF 20,  average age 25 years planted @ 7400 vines / ha,  cropped @ < 5 t/ha = 2 t/ac;  Stephane Derenoncourt consults since 2003;  cold-soak,  cuvaison to 30 days,  oxygenation;  MLF in barrel; 12 – 14 months in French oak 40% new,  fined and filtered;  the wine Bordeaux Superieur;  www.chateaujeanfaux.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is clean and sweet plummy merlot,  some suggestions of a hot year in the plums,  just a touch of cocoa,  attractive.  Palate shows good fruit on clean oak including new,  the berry characters including hints of cassis and mixed ripeness yet not stalky as such,  the wine shows pleasing richness,  balance and freshness.  Quite a sturdy wine,  finer-grain than the Chadenne though.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Le Thil   18  ()
Graves / Pessac-Leognan,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.7%;  $39.50   [ cork;  Me 81%,  CS 19,  hand-picked at c.5.6 t/ha (2.3 t/ac),  12 months in barrel,  30% new;  not fined,  lightest filtering if needed;  www.smith-haut-lafitte.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest.  Bouquet is wonderfully warm and ripe,  and clearly cabernet dominant in a mixed tasting,  very ripe cassis and dark plum,  some new oak and some older,  just a hint of leather.  Palate seems even riper,  yet it retains its Bordeaux character clearly.  There is both big berry fruit and big tannin,  the finish a little drying at this stage.  A rich wine which will fine down in cellar over 5 – 25 + years.  For example,  some of the 1982 cru bourgeois I recommended in a series of three National Business Review articles May – Sept 1985 are still in delightful fully-mature condition today.  GK 06/12

2009  Villa Maria Malbec Gimblett Gravels Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Ma 100%,  40% hand-picked;  28 days cuvaison in s/s,  MLF in barrel;  20 months in French three-year seasoned oak 65% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the deepest and darkest colour,  sensational.  Bouquet however is on the heavy side,  densely plummy and oaky,  but not singing.  Even with a lot of air,  it remains reserved.  In mouth the wine is very rich,  but coarsely textured alongside the top merlots and cabernets.  Unusually for New Zealand malbec,  the wine is fully ripe.  Oaking is good.  Reinterpreted a little later (and thus more aired) alongside an Argentinean malbec,  it becomes pretty impressive.  Villa Maria have produced the real thing with this variety before,  the 2002 Omahu Reserve I think,  so a repeat is certainly welcome.  The coincidence of correct ripening with only the warmest years needs noting by those thinking of expanding malbec production.  With time in cellar,  it should assimilate its broodyness,  and become more communicative.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Winemakers Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Me 73%,  Ma 14,  CS 13,  all hand-harvested @ c.1.9 t/ac from vines 18 – 20 years old,  and de-stemmed;  some wild-yeast;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 50% new;  RS <1 g/L;  minimal filtration;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  minutely deeper than the standard wine,  around midway in depth of colour.  In the blind lineup I rated this wine and its junior sibling much the same in nett achievement,  the difference being this wine is smoother and more integrated,  but also more oaky – detracting a little.  The malbec gives the berry an exotic red-fruited lift hinting at raspberry,  but happily there are scarcely any stalky afterthoughts as is common with New Zealand malbec.  Weight of fruit in mouth is satisfying,  and cellar potential looks greater than the junior blend.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Mission Estate Cabernets / Merlot Jewelstone   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $39   [ cork;  CS 54%,  Me 39,  CF 7,  hand-harvested at c.5.5 t/ha = 2.2. t/ac,  CS component 16 years + age;  inoculated yeast,  cuvaison up to 37 days;  c. 18 months in French oak significant part new;  RS nil;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  well above halfway in depth.  Bouquet is very fragrant and ripe,  so fragrant one wonders if there is some VA enhancing it.  The berryfruit is both cassisy and even more dark plums,  and quite oaky.  Palate shows a velvety richness of fruit,  the oak still prominent,  flavours long, the lifted bouquet more esters than VA as such.  This wine is more 'juicy' than the top Church Road wine,  but should marry up well and score more highly later.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Craggy Range Merlot / Cabernets / Malbec Te Kahu   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ cork;  DFB;   Me 80%,  CS 8,  CF 8,  Ma 4,  15% of crop hand-harvested @ just under 6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in s/s;  13 months in French oak 28% new;  fined and filtered;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is classically claret,  real Bordeaux berry softness plus appealing complexity with suggestions of tobacco,  potentially cedary oak,  totally enticing.  Palate shows the same elegance and balance of components.  This is clearly a wine made by somebody who loves the Bordeaux style,  and has the taste perception and know-how to achieve it in an affordable and smaller-scale wine just as convincingly as the company's more expensive offerings.  This wine wins marks for its winey-ness and drinking appeal,  something it is easy to forget as one gets bogged down in assessing more technical parameters.  Oak handling is excellent,  particularly noteworthy,  would that more proprietors studied those numbers.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  VALUE  GK 06/12

2011  Mission Estate Cabernet / Merlot Jewelstone Antoine   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $50   [ cork;  CS 51%,  Me 28,  CF 21,  hand-harvested at around 5.5 t/ha (2.3 t/ac);  inoculated yeast,  total cuvaison up to 5 weeks;  c.18 months in French oak some new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  The wine opens reductive,  and needs splashy pouring from jug to jug half a dozen times.  It opens up to a remarkably complex Bordeaux winestyle,  Entre-Deux-Mers perhaps,  achieving a seamless harmony of the constituent varieties which is unusual in New Zealand.  Palate is velvety in a much lighter way than Tom,  with a degree of plummy ripeness unexpected for the year,  and the oak is subordinate,  very well done.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  but ventilate it well on opening.  GK 06/13

2010  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Reserve Series   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  Me 79%,  CS 16,  CF 3,  Ma 2;  cuvaison up to 30 days for some components;  MLF and up to 18 months in French oak 30% new;  RS nil;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is fragrant in an oaky way,  merlot dominant,  subtly floral with a question mark on stalks,  understated.  Palate equivocates on the stalks,  but there is rich berryfruit and more moderate oaking than the bouquet implied,  so the stalkyness is not accentuated unduly.  Could be interesting in cellar 5 – 15 years,  once it loses some oak.  GK 06/12

2009  Vidal Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  CS 76%,  Me 24,  hand-picked @ c.6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac,  all de-stemmed;  cuvaison varies from var. to var. up to 35 days;  20 months in French oak 50% new;  RS nil;  minimal filtration;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great hue,  midway in density.  Bouquet is fresh cassis with nearly floral overtones,  but the vanillin of new oak is overlapping with the latter component.  Palate is just as fresh,  not as rich as hoped and rather much new oak,  lacking the plummy depth of the top wines,  but with great purity and good length.  This should cellar well,  perhaps to surprise,  for 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch de Gironville   17 ½ +  ()
Macau,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $30   [ cork;  Me 45%,  CS 45, PV 10,  average vine age 30 years, some mechanical harvesting;  up to 28 days cuvaison,  some MLF in barrel;  up to 14 months in ultrafine grain French and Hungarian oak,  some lees work;  cru bourgeois,  Haut-Medoc;  better info @ www.biturica.com;  www.chateau-de-gironville.fr ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour,  the third deepest.  This wine will divide the customers,  the modernists loving its toasty-going-on-chocolate and mocha oak characters,  while classicists will regret such overt imposition of the winemaker's views on the natural expression of the fruit.  In mouth the fruit ripeness is lush,  the tannins soft (possibly there is a barrel-ferment component here),  some new oak,  good richness,  a wine designed to seduce.  The alcohol is higher than the number given.  Despite the softness it should cellar pretty well,  5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2008  Trinity Hill Cabernet / Merlot The Gimblett   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $30   [ supercritical cork;  CS 43,  Me 41%,  PV 7,  Ma 6,  CF 3,  hand-picked at c.6.5 t/ha = 2.6 t/ac;  average vine age c.13 years;  extended cuvaison perhaps 28 days;  20 months in 'predominantly' French oak 35% new for 20 months;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  above midway in depth.  Always good to know this label is in the tasting,  for in its good years it is one of the unsung fine wines of New Zealand.  Sadly,  the 2009 has sold out,  so the more modest 2008 vintage was on show.  Freshly opened the wine is a bit reserved.  It opens to a representative plummy Hawkes Bay blend.  In mouth it has more to say,  ripe cassis and dark bottled black doris plums,  the oak marrying away nicely,  good richness and ripeness for the year,  a little lean.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Clearview Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Enigma   17 ½  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $59   [ supercritical cork;  Me 77%,  Ma 15,  CS 8,  hand-picked;  28 days cuvaison;  c.17 months in mostly new French oak,  some American;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top quarter for depth of colour.  Bouquet shows plenty of berry and fruit,  and some new oak,  slightly clouded by a little entrained sulphur in an earlier Bordeaux style.  Fruit richness is good,  some cassis in dark bottled omega plums,  oak firming the wine but not excessive,  the length of palate impressive.  Being Te Awanga fruit,  total acid is slightly higher than some of the Gimblett Gravels wines,  leading to a certain austerity.  Comparison with the Ch de Retout is intriguing,  at half the price.  I imagine this will bury its sulphur over seven years or so,  and look better later.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Esk Valley Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $24   [ screwcap;  Me 74%,  CS 13,  Ma 13,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated ferments;  12 months in mostly French oak, 25%  new;  RS nil;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  around midway in depth of colour among the Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends.  Bouquet is very youthful,  lots of berry and fruit including some of the obvious / unsubtle berry of malbec.  Palate is so youthful as to have a raw edge,  but the volume of fruit promises a nicely smoothed-out future,  with berry dominant to oak.  It lacks oak seduction alongside some of the Reserve wines,  but in its robust way (the malbec) it should give pleasure.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Sileni Estate Merlot The Triangle   17 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  100% de-stemmed;  MLF in tank;  14 months in barrel 85% French,  15 American;  RS <1 g/L;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Ruby,  well under midway in depth and freshness of colour.  Right from first opening,  the floral qualities on bouquet,  violets mainly,  are sensational.  Smelling violets in merlot is much talked about,  but much less commonly encountered.  Below that there are silky red fruits,  and subtlest oak.  In mouth this is really elegant merlot,  beautifully varietal and subtly oaked in a soft plummy Pomerol way,  not a big wine (slimmer than the Mills Reef Merlot Elspeth for example) but one which will give much pleasure.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Me 66%,  CS 12,  CF 11,  hand-picked from mostly 9 year old vines @ just under 2.5 t/ac;  de-stemmed,  not crushed;  open-vat cuvaison approx 30 days;  16 months in French oak c.50% new,  no BF;  RS < 0.2 g/L;  300 cases;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top half-dozen for depth of colour.  Bouquet is infantile,  almost estery,  reeking of that appalling contemporary term "puppy fat",  totally unknit.  Not an enviable position trying to assess a wine like this.  Turning in desperation to the impressions in mouth,  the oak is high-quality,  potentially fragrant,  and not overdone (happily,  a former trait of this maker).  The fruit is essence of bottled black doris plums,  but the two haven't come together yet.  Going on the track record of this label,  the wine should look much better in the next couple of years,  since it has the fruit richness.  It may well become a gold-medal wine,  but I'm sitting on the fence for now.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  for it is rich in relation to its neighbours.  GK 06/12

2009  Mills Reef Cabernets / Merlot Elspeth   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  CS 52%,  Me 48,  hand-picked;  4 days cold soak;  CS longer cuvaison than the Me;  16 months in French oak 32% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good colour well above halfway in the cabernet / merlots and related wines.  Bouquet is rich and ripe,  berried almost to the point of being juicy,  suggestions of blackberries and blueberries which at the blind stage put one in mind of syrah.  Palate has good berry,  but like the junior Esk Valley blend,  it is not as integrated and sophisticated as the top wines,  a certain simplicity showing despite the good fruit.  As for the Merlot,  I like the reduced oak influence in these latter-day Elspeths,  though the wine is still oaky alongside the minor Bordeaux.  Could surprise in cellar,  3 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec The Patriarch   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ 48 mm supercritical cork; CS 64%,  Me 23,  Ma 13 (detail of blend varies each year,  to optimise wine),  hand-harvested;  detail along lines of cropped @ c.6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison from 15 days to 22 for the CS;  13 months in all-French small oak 40% new;  egg-white fined and filtered;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  on a par with the Coopers Creek for weight,  but the hue different.  Bouquet is clean and fresh,  obvious cassis,  but even on bouquet a worry that it is not quite rich enough or ripe enough – quite the opposite of 2009 Tom,  for example.  In mouth this is remarkably Bordeaux-like wine,  the malbec well-hidden with scarcely any tell-tale stalky streaks,  the tannins somewhat riper than the bouquet suggested,  the whole thing like a good bourgeois cru from the Medoc but in a less-than-ideal vintage.  It lacks the concentration to be of classed growth standard,  it would be better without the malbec,  but even so it is harmonious wine,  which will cellar 5 – 15 years.  The replete comments in the Hot Red Catalogue illustrate the remarkable extent to which New Zealand commentators are unfamiliar with international standards for ripeness in Bordeaux blends – and does a wine judging in China really count,  other than to mislead the suggestible ?  This is exactly why I included the affordable Bordeaux blends with the Hot Reds last year.  GK 06/13

2009  Ch le Bourdieu   17 ½  ()
Valeyrac,  northern Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $26   [ cork;  CS 50%,  Me 50,  cropped @ c.6.25 t/ha = 2.5 t/ac,  machine harvest plus hand-sorting;  12 months in barrel;  cru bourgeois,  Haut-Medoc,  c. 20,000 cases;  www.lebourdieu.fr ]
Ruby,  the third to lightest.  Bouquet is clean,  firm,  suggestions of cassis and plums,  some oak.  Palate shows good even ripeness of berry,  not a big wine,  and some newish oak firming it.  An easy wine to underestimate,  for there is more finesse here than some show.  The parity between this wine and Craggy Range's Te Kahu in style and price is astonishing.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Cote de Baleau   17 ½  ()
Saint Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  Me 70%,  CF 15, CS 15,  average vine age c.35 years,  hand-harvesting;  4 days cold-soak,  up to 30 days cuvaison;  MLF and up to 18 months in 50% new French oak;  3300 cases;  proprietors website erratic,  alternative info @ www.thewinecellarinsider.com;  ww.lesgrandesmurailles.fr/cote_baleau.html ]
Ruby and velvet,  right in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet is mixed here,  some toasty new oak for the modernists,  and good plummy berry with an edge to it.  In mouth that edge includes a suggestion of a fresh stalky quality,  so this is another wine suggesting mixed ripeness in the must,  which in a hot year adds complexity.  There is good berry,  the oak is very firm,  and the flavours average out to not reflect a hot-year wine.  Good robust cru bourgeois,  a pity it is the dearest.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Haura   17 ½  ()
Graves,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $30   [ cork;  2009 wine is CS 60,  Me 40,  all hand-picked;  up to 25 days cuvaison,  12 months in French oak 33% new;  formerly a sweet white wine vineyard (Cerons),  but since Prof Denis Dubourdieu took over in 2002,  much of the vineyard has been replanted to CS 53%,  Me 47 @ 7100 vines / ha;  moving to organic status;  Graves rouge;  www.denisdubourdieu.fr ]
Ruby,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is clean,  fair berry more plum than cassis,  a savoury herbes quality to it but otherwise ripe (on bouquet).  In mouth the herbes quality is a little more noticeable,  yet you couldn't say the wine was stalky.  It just adds freshness and tough tannic complexity to a balanced berry / oak palate which is clearly bordeaux.  Once one knows the ID (in the blind tasting),  it seems classical elegant Graves,  leaner than the best east-bank wines here,  but the berry richness is still deceptively good.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Tauzinat L'Hermitage   17 ½  ()
Saint Emilion,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $34   [ cork (50 mm);  Me 85%,  CF 15,  planted @ 6000 vines / ha,  average vine age c.30 years,  calcareous underlying materials,  hand-harvesting and sorting;  extended cuvaison;  up to 15 months in 33% new French oak;  same owners as Ch Taillefer,  Denis Dubourdieu consults;  www.chateautaillefer.com ]
Ruby,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is more 'classic' than the top two wines,  an attractive cassis and plum quality and the finest oak in the batch of 12 French wines,  real suggestions of potential cedar.  Palate however shows quite an austere structure,  you would swear it had significant cabernet sauvignon as well as cabernet franc in the cepage.  It is leaner among the French than first thought,  but not at all so alongside the Hawkes Bay wines.  Very reputable cru bourgeois not showing hot year attributes at all,  to cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec The Patriarch   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ supercritical cork;  CS 64%,  Me 23,  Ma 13,  hand-harvested @ c.6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  cuvaison from 15 days to 22 for the CS;  13 months in all-French small oak c.40% new;  egg-white fined and filtered;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  right in the middle for depth of colour.  Bouquet is beautifully floral and fragrant,  with thoughts of reddest roses and maybe violets in cassisy berry,  clearly reminiscent of the Medoc.  Palate is less,  some austerity and leanness,  high cabernet,  high-quality oak but rather noticeable due to the lean fruit,  yet the berry is ripe,  without stalkyness.  This is a classically-styled northernmost Medoc of not the ripest year,  to cellar 5 – 12 years.  Alongside the second wine of the cru bourgeois Ch Lanessan however,  it illustrates that all too often we still crop too heavily for final quality in New Zealand reds.  GK 06/12

2010  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Me 86%,  CF 14,  30% hand-harvested @ c. 7.5 t/ha = 3 t/ac;  13 months in French oak 28% new;  RS nil;  fined and filtered;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  in the lighter third.  Bouquet shows great purity and expression / precision of floral and plummy merlot fruit,  with light aromatic oak framing the berry.  Palate is soft,  ripe,  and clearly varietal,  but not as concentrated as one might hope,  or some earlier years of this label were.  The total wine style is attractive though,  and as with other proprietors,  how great it is to finally be seeing some diminution in the ratio of new oak,  after so many years of lone voices bewailing the fact we are obsessed with new oak in New Zealand.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Mills Reef Cabernet Sauvignon Elspeth   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  hand-picked;  4 days cold soak,  c.4 weeks cuvaison;  16 months in French oak 27% new,  balance 1-year;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than most 2009s.  Bouquet is neat and tight,  more in the black tea and cassis approach of leaner cabernets,  firmed by oak.  As the bouquet hints,  palate is not as expansive as the Church Road wines,  but within the cassis and black tea there is more fruit than one supposes,  and less and better oak than used to characterise the Elspeth range.  Total acid is up slightly,  so there are similarities with Patriarch.  There are reminders of some smaller classed Margaux clarets here,  except the wine is oakier.  The glowing accolades in the Catalogue yet again illustrate how unrelated New Zealand red wine assessment is to world standards.  Why must we make the same mistakes (over-egging the jingoism,  even if the grape-physiology is usually the opposite pole) as Australia ?  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Mills Reef Cabernet / Merlot Elspeth   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $38   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 56%,  Me 39,  CF 5,  hand-harvested @ conservative cropping rates,  100% de-stemmed;  c.6 days cold-soak,  then inoculated,  total cuvaison c.23 days;  16 months in French oak varying from 30 – 47% new for various parcels;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is fragrant and quite strong,  just a trace of leaf in cassis,  plum and clearly vanillin oak,  a suggestion of dark tobacco,  attractive.  In mouth that hint of leaf on bouquet betrays the wine,  ripeness being less than ideal,  the oak a little smoky,  yet the nett impression being winey and refreshing.  Ripe enough to cellar well,  in its cooler-year style,  5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Ch Bernadotte   17 +  ()
Saint-Sauveur,  Haut-Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $45   [ cork;  CS 50,  Me 44%,  CF 4,  PV 2,  hand-picked and hand-sorted;  yield usually below 50 hl/ha;  up to 16 months in French oak,  typically 30% new,  both parameters varying with vintage;  formerly same ownership as Pichon-Lalande,  then Roederer Group,  now Hong Kong;  www.chateau-bernadotte.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some of the 2009s,  midway in depth.  Bouquet is less focussed than one would hope an Haut-Medoc wine to be.  There is good fruit but with a hot-year leathery note to the berry,  and just a hint of subliminal brett,  maybe.  Palate shows more suggestions of cabernet sauvignon,  quite hard grape tannins as yet,  and a lot of oak as well.  This will be a firm claret,  a bit stolid,  but plenty of fruit develop on and soften in cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Les Caleches de Lanessan   17 +  ()
Cussac,  Haut-Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $26   [ supercritical cork;  parent vineyard CS 60%,  Me 35,  PV 4,  CF 1,  average age c.30 years,  this wine CS 45%,  Me 50,  PV 3,  CF 2,  average age 20 years;  30% of the wine is aged in second year oak,  implication the balance s/s;  Les Caleches de Lanessan is the second wine of Ch Lanessan,  production this label about 7500 cases,  parent wine is cru bourgeois superieur,  Haut-Medoc;  www.lanessan.com ]
Ruby,  the second to lightest colour.  Bouquet is lighter than the top wines too,  clear berry characters,  some aromatics,  attractive ripeness yet not smelling hot-year at all.  Palate is a little less,  some tannin to lose,  a hint of austerity,  and less fruit richness than the best examples.  Even so,  once this wine softens in bottle,  it could rate more highly.  It shows great typicité,  and is phenomenal for a second wine from a cru bourgeois.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch de Retout   17 +  ()
Cussac,  Haut-Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  CS 68%,  Me 25,  PV 7,  average age 30 years,  planted 6666 / ha,  mostly machine-picked but hand-sorted,  moving to organic status;  temperature-controlled s/s fermentation vats;  up to 5 weeks cuvaison;  12 months in French oak 28% new;  cru bourgeois,  Haut-Medoc;  www.chateau-du-retout.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest.  Bouquet here is more sophisticated than some of the higher-scored wines,  a clearcut cassis component bespeaking cabernet sauvignon,  good fruit,  some new oak.  Palate does not quite live up to the bouquet,  good richness but a slightly stalky streak in the cassis,  a mixture of grape flavours implying uneven ripeness.  On the other hand,  it also in a hot year means more complexity.  Clearly Medoc,  and once it loses some tannin,  should give pleasure.  Cellar 8 – 20 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Clearview Cabernet / Merlot The Basket Press   17  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $160   [ supercritical cork;  CS 100%,  hand-picked;  'nearly three years' in 100% new French oak;  limited production of the order of 50 cases;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  in the lightest quarter for colour density.  Bouquet is dominated by smokey oak,  with some plummy fruit below.  Palate is oaky,  smoky,  about the same fruit weight as Alluviale but indeterminate as to variety,  attractively ripe underneath the oak.  The oak is high-quality,  and when you taste the wine alongside others in this range,  it has had a lot of effort and polish put into it.  The style however is more lean Ribera del Duero than Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends.  I prefer wines to speak more clearly of their variety.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  For $30,  the Ch de Retout has more cassisy berryfruit,  and a more appropriate new oak ratio.  At this price level,  however,  New Zealand wines tend to be assessed on criteria other than wine quality – the less-pleasant side of wine.  GK 06/12

2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernets Alwyn Winemakers Reserve   17  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle & Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $75   [ cork;  Me 76%,  CS 24,  hand-harvested @ c.6.25 t/ha = c.2.5 t/ac,  inoculated ferments,  cuvaison to c.23 days;  MLF and 16 months in French oak averaging 37% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than some 2009s,  in the top quarter for depth.  Bouquet has an unusual aromatic perhaps oak-related character on cassisy berry,  all smelling ripe and attractive,  with nearly a floral component.  Palate is lesser,  less fruit than the $23 Ch de Laugagnac for example,  with a certain austerity and hardness from the oak,  which may soften in cellar.  Again,  extraordinary accolades in the Catalogue.  Cellar 5 – 12 years,  but price escalation for this label relative to the apparent grapes per bottle is severe.  GK 06/12

2010  Coopers Creek Malbec Select Vineyards Saint John   17  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $28   [ screwcap;  a year in barrel;  sterile-filtered but not fined;  RS 4 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby and carmine,  some velvet,  below midway in depth.  In the blind line-up,  this is a fleshy and obvious wine,  making one think of Wyndham,  stainless steel,  chips and residual sugar.  Once one knows the variety,  it makes a great comparison with the Villa Reserve offering of the same variety.  The latter is an intensely serious wine,  whereas this is somewhat lighter and more consumerist.  It is not as ripe as the Villa wine,  but it is better than one would predict for a malbec not grown on the Gimblett Gravels.  An interesting lightly-oaked alternative New Zealand presentation of the variety,  perhaps not bone dry [ confirmed ],  to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/12

2012  Black Barn Vineyards Merlot Reserve   17  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.4%;  $60   [ supercritical cork;  Me 100%,  13 years old;  the firm’s top wine,  aged in French puncheons 50% new even in this lesser year;  not on website;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Good ruby.  It has long been noticeable that while cassis is a descriptor for good cabernet sauvignon (and good syrah),  nonetheless the nett winestyle shown by good temperate-climate syrah properly ripened is much closer on palate to merlot than cabernet sauvignon.  This Black Barn Merlot is a perfect illustration,  in the blind tasting being clearly 'syrah',  slightly floral,  slightly white pepper,  indeterminate fruit.  Palate shows acceptable ripeness for the difficult year,  and subtle oaking matching the lack of power in the fruit.  Pleasing small-scale wine to cellar 3 – 8 years,  but expensive.  GK 06/13

2010  Coopers Creek Cabernet / Merlot Gimblett Gravels Select Vineyards   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ screwcap;  CS 55%,  Me 45,  hand-harvested;  12 months in French oak 45% new;  RS 3 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Benefits from decanting,  to become clean and fragrant with red fruits dominant,  not clearly varietal,  medium weight.  Palate is almost juicy in one sense,  red currants and red plums,  not much sign of cabernet sauvignon,  attractively subtle oak and smoothed tannins (from the residual),  a small-scale fragrant blend to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Mission Estate Merlot / Cabernet Franc Jewelstone   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.2%;  $39   [ cork;   Me 81,  CF 11,  Sy 8,   harvested at c.5.5 t/ha = 2.2 t/ac;  no cold-soak,  inoculated yeast,  extended cuvaison up to 36 days;  c. 18 months in French oak new and one-year;  210 cases only;  designed strictly as a reciprocal or sister wine to the cabernet sauvignon-dominant Jewelstone blend,  left-bank vs right Bordeaux analogy;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  well below midway.  Bouquet is light clean plummy merlot,  subtly oaked.  Palate initially seems a little less,  the ripeness level hovering just above stalky,  the oak subtle though,  the flavours simple.  Later,  the fruit richness is greater than the initial impression conveyed,  so the evaluation of this wine changes as one tastes it.  Could surprise in cellar 5 – 12 years,  and rate a little more highly.  GK 06/12

2009  Dom. de Courteillac   17  ()
Entre-Deux-Mers,  Bordeaux,  France:  14.5%;  $27.50   [ cork;  2009 is Me 70%,  CS 15,  CF 15;  14 – 16 months in French oak 33% new;  12,000 cases;  oenologist Stephane Derenoncourt consults;  Bordeaux Superieur,  brief profile on website given;  www.thewinecellarinsider.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the lighter wines.  I have a soft spot for this old-style wine,  so representative of the better reds of its district.  Bouquet is classical Entre-Deux-Mers,  softish plummy merlot,  older oak,  good berry fruit.  Palate is plummy berry,  a hint of stalks,  slight leather,  again older oak,  all plump and well-constituted as generic Bordeaux.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch de Lugagnac   17  ()
Entre-Deux-Mers,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $23   [ cork;  Me 50,  CS 50,  cropped at c. 6 t/ha = 2.4 t/ac;  Bordeaux Superieur,  not much info on the website;  c. 9000 cases;  www.chateaudelugagnac.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  midway in depth,  older than most.  Bouquet has a most particular note to it,  an aromatic like the condiment balsam (crushed needles of a spruce) on slightly leathery and plummy fruit.  Palate shows fair fruit,  furry tannins,  plainish older oak,  straightforward minor claret yet with lovely fruit relative to many of the Hawkes Bay reds,  to cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Quarter Acre Merlot / Malbec   16 ½ +  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Me,  Ma,  CF 2%,  hand-picked organically-grown grapes low-cropped;  time in oak but details not available;  website irritatingly slow to load,  and not informative once achieved;  www.rmwines.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet has rather much oak vanillin and an almost 'custard' quality on the fruit which while not unpleasant is also not compelling.  Palate shows light clean red fruits,  the soft oak pervasive,  the malbec surprisingly ripe and not intruding negatively,  given the less than ideal year.  Different,  but soft and pleasantly winey in a small-scale way,  and will be more food-friendly in a couple of years.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Ngatarawa Merlot / Cabernet Glazebrook   16 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 55% & Gimblett Gravels 45,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Me 55%,  CS 45,  hand-harvested from 10 – 16 year-old vines;  inoculated fermentation,  cuvaison c.21 days;   MLF and c.12 months in French oak 33% new;  33 1-year,  balance older;  RS <1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  Bouquet is quiet and fine-grained,  darkly cassisy with bottled black doris suggestions,  even a thought of the Margaux commune.  Palate is lesser,  fair berry and fruit but suggestions of mixed ripeness in the cassis,  just a hint of stalks,  all subtly oaked.  Attractive in its way,  and interesting alongside the 2009 Alwyn,  to see the ripeness levels differentiated.  Both need more ripeness yet,  however,  notwithstanding the welcome addition in recent years of Gimblett Gravels fruit to the traditionally lean Ngatarawa red wine style.  Incidentally,  Bridge Pa Triangle wines do not need to be lean and under-ripe,  as the Church Road McDonald Series Cabernet in this tasting (or Te Mata's Bullnose Syrah) shows.  Ngatarawa's traditional style is more a function of an inappropriate cropping rate for fine wine,  I suspect.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Te Awa Cabernet / Merlot   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  no factual info in the Catalogue,  not on website;  www.teawa.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  This wine is rather like 2010 Elspeth,  showing pleasing suggestions of cassis and black doris plums with appropriate oak,  but also some of the stalk of imperfect ripeness.  Palate is medium-weight only,  but should round out and hide the stalk with 3 – 8 years in cellar.  GK 06/13

2009  Ch Charmail   16 ½ +  ()
Haut-Medoc,  Bordeaux,  France:  14%;  $45   [ cork;  Me 48%,  CS 30, CF 20,  PV 2,  planted at on average 7700 vines / ha,  average age 30 years,  typically cropped @ 6.5 t/ha (2.6 t/ac);  cold soak 15 days,  cuvaison up to 32 days,  up to 12 months in barrels 35% new;  production of the main wine c. 9500 cases;  www.chateau-charmail.fr ]
Ruby and velvet,  a little below midway in depth.  Bouquet is immediately more austere than most of the other Bordeaux / Hawkes Bay blends,  suggesting higher cabernet sauvignon [ but not so,  on checking ].  There is no shortage of this firmer berry,  and there is tending-leathery oak supporting it,  again all pointing to a hot year.  The whole wine is plainer than those ranked higher,  but not weaker,  so it should cellar well too,  as minor Bordeaux.  All a bit of a puzzle:  Charmail continues to enjoy very positive reviews in the UK,  hence the relatively high price,  yet lately the wine has had a noticeable plain side.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Babich Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Cabernet Franc Irongate   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ supercritical cork;  Me 34,  CS 34,  CF 32,  hand-harvested;  extended cuvaison;  13 months in French oak some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet shows clean and simple berry including blackberry,  with some less ripe notes and unknit oak.  Palate is unintegrated,  the berry and older oak apart,  the flavours including a hint of stalkyness.  The level of fruit is quite good,  so in its more straightforward way it should cellar well for 3 – 8 years.  Yet another wine with bizarre accolades in the Catalogue.  GK 06/12

2011  Elephant Hill Merlot / Malbec Hieronymus   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels & Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  hand-picked but no composition ratio given;  100% de-stemmed;  c.12 days cuvaison;  MLF in unspecified oak;  lack of detail on website;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  medium weight.  The wine opens very oaky,  but breathes up to a slightly leafy but fragrant bouquet,  red fruits mostly.  Palate confirms the bouquet,  under-ripe malbec betraying the wine,  the nett result being cooler-year Bordeaux in style.  Like the Babich Patriarch,  the 5-star reviews quoted in the Catalogue yet again show how acutely we,  as a winemaking nation,  have some distance to go to become generally familiar with appropriate ripeness levels in red wines,  by international standards.  Cellar 3 – 10 years at its level,  for the fruit richness is quite good.  GK 06/13

2010  Alluviale Merlot / Cabernet Franc   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Me 85%,  CF 15,  hand-picked,  sorted;  16 months in all French oak,  some new;  700 cases;  www.alluviale.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  in the top third for depth of colour.  Bouquet is soft,  fragrant and appealing,  reminiscent of a minor St Emilion,  though perhaps with more oak than most – reflecting the new world approach.  Palate is not quite as ripe as the bouquet promises,  a thought of leaf,  but it shows a pleasant balance of berry to oak,  and fair length.  Alongside the Ch Tauzinat L'Hermitage at the same price,  Alluviale has less fruit and more oak.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2011  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Winemakers Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  previous vintages have been of the order Me 55%,  CS 35,  Ma 10;  MLF in barrel;  not on website;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby and some velvet.  Bouquet is sullen,  not explicitly reductive but oaky and lacking charm,  indeterminate fruit.  Palate is hard,  quite rich fruit,  clear cabernet sauvignon now in the merlot,  the malbec tannins maybe contributing to the hard component,  not quite as much oak as the bouquet suggested,  but the whole thing austere.  Could surprise with 5 – 15 years in cellar,  but an expensive experiment.  GK 06/13

2010  Sacred Hill Merlot / Cabernet Halo   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $26   [ screwcap;  Me 87,  CF 7,  CS 6,  Sy trace;  12 months all in oak 20% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  website lacks detail;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  among the lightest in depth.  Bouquet is pure,  delightfully floral,  even a suggestion of violets,  nice berry,  subtly oaked.  Palate is less,  good as far as it goes but lacking length,  concentration and ripeness relative to the top wines,  partly because it is still so young and unknit.  A new world interpretation of lighter Entre-Deux-Mers styles,  to cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/12

2011  Vidal Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon Gimblett Gravels Reserve Series   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $23   [ screwcap;  not on website,  previous vintages have been along the lines of  Me 80%,  CS 15,  CF & Ma 5,  all destemmed;  up to 30 days cuvaison;  MLF and 18 months in French oak 30% new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Lightish ruby.  Bouquet is attractively fragrant red fruits mostly,  with some vanillin oak adding to the aroma.  Palate is unusual,  reminders of youthful Rioja almost (as if still some American oak),  not much depth in the red fruits,  a hint of stalk,  the oak vanilla continuing.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Lime Rock Cabernet Franc   16 +  ()
Waipawa district,  southern Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  CF 100%,  hand-picked;  vineyard 250 m,  north-facing;  older French oak only;  70 cases;  www.limerock.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  light.  Bouquet shows the attractive redfruits / red berry characters of cabernet franc in a light fragrant way,  distinctly different from cabernet sauvignon or merlot,  but hard to put into words.  In this particular example,  aromas of nasturtium flowers,  raspberries and pale tobacco come to mind.  Palate is richer than the bouquet would suggest,  and the gentle oak treatment in older barrels allows the varietal character to speak clearly.  Only just ripe enough,  though,  some stalk to the tail,  but interesting wine which in its elevage respects the variety.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Sileni Estate Merlot / Cabernet Franc The Plains   16 +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Me 75%,  CF 25,  some cuvaison time and MLF in tank;  14 months in barrel 85% French,  15 American,  some new;  fined;  RS <1 g/L;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Lightish ruby,  old for age,  the third to lightest of the Hawkes Bay blends.  This is a wine to make you think.  Bouquet shows a clearly leafy fragrance surprising in such a good year,  but there is also fair fruit,  at an almost redcurrants / cabernet franc level of aroma.  Palate follows exactly,  light berry yet reasonable body,  leafy in flavour,  and dry.  There were 1979 St Emilions like this,  but 2009 in Hawkes Bay was a great year.  A puzzle.  Will cellar several years,  though attractive now.  Sileni's subtle approach to red wines would really suit the fragrant beauty of cabernet franc.  They have made straight examples.  I'd love to see them concentrate on and optimise a franc-dominant wine,  including reducing the cropping rate and aiming for more appropriate ripeness and body.  GK 06/12

2007  Pask Cabernet  / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ screwcap;  CS 40%,  Me 385,  Ma 22,  machine-harvested,  de-stemmed;  5 days cold-soak,  main batch cuvaison to 28 days,  some partial BF;  c.18 months in French and American oak;  RS <1 g/L;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is oaky to a fault,  on berry fruit which is melding with the oak,  losing individuality and varietal expression.  In mouth the fruit though clearly present does not redeem the oak,  despite the wine being clean.  It is on the point of going varnishy,  so cellaring is advised only for oakniks.  My review or at least my conclusions and score made in the review 1/10 now seem woefully inadequate.  I mention the oak level,  but not in the cautionary way I do now.  Wines like this simply do not make an harmonious accompaniment to food.  Will hold for years,  in its style.  GK 06/12

2009  Mission Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   16  ()
Gimblett Gravels 66%,  Bridge Pa Triangle 34,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $26   [ supercritical cork;  CS 85%,  Me 9,  CF 6,  cropped @ 7 t/ha = 2.8 t/ac;  up to 30 days cuvaison;  MLF in tank,  15 months in French oak 12% new;  RS 1.2 g/L;  fined and filtered;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  well above midway in depth.  Bouquet opens quite severely reductive.  With a lot of air it improves to a leathery old-fashioned wine.  Palate has rich dark fruit,  the oak pleasantly in restrained balance,  but the whole thing is marred by entrained sulphide.  It wins some points on richness,  but it is nonetheless a worry that wines like this are reported as being awarded four stars in Cuisine ratings.  Sulphide insensitivity remains a key issue in New Zealand wine assessment and wine-writing.  Scarcely worth cellaring,  sadly,  for 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Te Awanga Merlot   16  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $33   [ screwcap;  the elsewhere irritating website does not work at all for this wine,  no info;  www.rmwines.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  lightish.  Bouquet is a bit oxidised and oaky,  the fruit reminiscent of 10-year-old bottled dark plums (which can in fact be quite pleasant).  Palate is pretty well pro rata,  the fruit ripe but tasting older than its age,  all on the oaky side,  medium weight only.  More QDR than serious tasting wine,  expensive therefore,  cellar 2 – 6 years,  maybe.  GK 06/13

2011  Cypress Merlot   15 ½ +  ()
Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $22   [ screwcap;  website lacks content as yet;  www.cypresswines.co.nz ]
Lightish ruby,  the second to lightest wine in the cab / merlots.  Bouquet is both floral and light red fruits,  very clean,  the subtlest oak to match the fruit lightness,  intriguing.  The bouquet reminds of cabernet franc from the Haut Poitou / Loire districts.  Palate is redcurrant and red plums,  pleasant body in a light way,  perhaps not bone dry to give a little more substance,  but otherwise carefully made,  with great purity.  This wine might be better marketed as serious rosé,  and as such would be sensational.  Food-wise,  it occupies the same slot as pinot noir:  salmon,  veal and so forth.  One could drink a lot of this,  even though it scores modestly as merlot.  Cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Mission Estate Merlot Reserve   15 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $26   [ supercritical cork;  Me 86%,  CF 14,  hand-harvested;  MLF in tank,  13 months in French oak 25% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  old for age.  This is another wine which in the blind tasting comes across as a new world take on the merlot-dominant Entre Deux Mers style.  It is lightly fragrant without being floral,  and vaguely plummy,  stewed red more than black plums.  Palate is a little less,  barely adequate ripeness,  in fact some stalks,  older oak,  straightforward.  QDR in a minor Bordeaux way,  scarcely worth cellaring 2 – 8 years.  The fact wines like this are quoted in the Catalogue as securing gold medals in minor New Zealand wine competitions shows how downright harmful such competitions are,  both in contributing to the evolution of international and quality wine standards in New Zealand,  and in guiding the consumer.  There is a long-standing and desperate need for New Zealand wine judges to be a lot less parochial in their wine tasting and drinking.  GK 06/12

2011  Babich Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Cabernet Franc Irongate   15 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $37   [ cork;  CS 34,  Me 33,  CF 33,  hand-harvested;  extended cuvaison;  14 months in French oak 35% new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  lightish.  Bouquet is remarkably developed for a 2011,  the wine clearly in a minor Bordeaux blended style,  Entre-Deux-Mers again,  tending light.  Palate confirms that lightness,  but there is just sufficient ripeness to avoid obvious stalks,  with merlot seemingly the dominant grape in pleasantly light oak.  Pretty skinny stuff at $37.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Ch Tertre du Courban   15 ½  ()
Entre Deux Mers,  Bordeaux,  France:  13%;  $17   [ plastic closure;  parent vineyard Me 70,  CS 30,  planted @ up to 5000 vines / ha;  a sub-label of Ch La Galante,  not much info on the website,  Bordeaux rouge;  www.la-galante.fr ]
Ruby,  the lightest wine.  In a set of Bordeaux some of which have good vinosity,  this wine smells much simpler,  just berries and a bit of oak,  more like modest New Zealand cabernet / merlot.  Palate shows redcurrant and light plum fruit,  and a clear leafy component,  but otherwise it is clean,  pleasantly fruited,  scarcely oaked,  modestly in style,  but possibly not bone-dry.  It is simply representative minor Bordeaux,  perfectly wholesome.  The point of interest is that it is richer than a number of the more stalky New Zealand wines.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch de Francs Les Cerisiers   15 +  ()
Cotes de Francs,  Bordeaux,  France:  15.5%;  $29.50   [ cork;  Me 72%,  CF 20,  CS 8;  owned Hubert de Bouard (Ch Angelus & La Fleur de Bouard) and Dominique Hebrard (ex Cheval Blanc);  around 4,000 cases;  no website found ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  with Ch Chadenne the deepest of the Bordeaux and Hawkes Bay blends.  This wine is simply uncoordinated.  There is an estery and heavy,  not-finished-fermenting quality to this that is disturbing.  The richness of plummy berry is staggering,  with spirity alcohol and a Rhone-like nutmeggy spice adding interest.  There is new oak too,  so there is good potential for an exciting modern wine,  once (or if) it marries up.  A gamble,  on the present showing,  but the richness makes me very curious.  If it settles down,  will cellar for 20 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Elephant Hill Merlot   15 +  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  MLF and unstated time in new oak,  detail lacking;  'dry';  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  in the lightest third.  Bouquet shows a wine in a modest Entre Deux Mers styling,  vaguely plummy as suits merlot,  but also a suggestion of cardboard and stalkyness.  Palate confirms this interpretation,  a reasonable level of fruit but modest ripeness and flavour,  not over-oaked but rather acid.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/12

2010  Crossroads Cabernet Franc Winemakers Collection   15  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  no info on website;  http://www.crossroadswines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  amongst the lightest wines.  This is another wine in an old-fashioned,  sulphur-entrained,  minor Bordeaux styling of the '60s,  Entre Deux Mers again where merlot is dominant,  and barely ripe.  Nothing to be seen of the beauty of cabernet franc at all.  Simple QDR,  not worth cellaring,  unrealistic at $40.  There is an urgent need for all New Zealand winemakers,  not merely the top half-dozen,  to be frequently tasting the 'standard' wines of the world.  But then,  the same could be said for those who presume to write about,  and judge,  wine.  GK 06/12

2009  Ch Haut-Maurac   15  ()
Saint Yzans,  Bordeaux,  France:  13.5%;  $40   [ cork (50 mm);  CS 60%,  Me 40,  said to be being replanted at densities up to 10,000 vines / ha;  33% new oak;  the least info on the web for all these minor Bordeaux;  biodynamic,  which may correlate with my conclusions – if all the wine is assembled and all bottles are the same,  then many American reviewers are blind to sulphide.  More likely it is several tanks,  varying batches,  ours lesser;  cru bourgeois,  Medoc;  no website found ]
Ruby and velvet,  a good colour,  above midway.  Bouquet is clearly affected by reduction,  simple H2S and some raw meat odours masking the berry.  In mouth there is good rich fruit physically,  but one cannot taste the quality of the fruit due to sulphides.  Oaking is good,  and includes some new,  so this is all a bit sad.  Not worth cellaring for me,  but may bury its sulphur in 10 years,  it is rich enough to cellar 10 – 20 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Ngatarawa Merlot Stables Reserve   14 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Me 100%,  no info;  RS <1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some age,  amongst the lightest.  Bouquet is too old-fashioned,  entrained sulphide,  modest fruit,  exactly what so much shippers St Emilion was like in the '50s and '60s.  Palate shows reasonable fruit,  soft tannins,  suggestions of stalks as well sulphides in the ageing plums,  very much QDR in an old-fashioned claret style.  Not worth cellaring.  One can only shake one's head over four stars reported in the catalogue from Winestate;  consumers are simply being mislead.  GK 06/12

2008  Alpha Domus Merlot / Cabernets / Malbec The Navigator   14 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $29   [ screwcap;  Me 44%,  Ma 24,  CS 19,  CF 13;  12 months in barrel 85% French and 30% new;  RS < 2 g/L;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby,  well below midway in depth.  Bouquet is in the leafy 1980s approach to bordeaux reds from New Zealand,  except merlot was scarcely known then.  Palate shows suggestions of red plums in a stalky chaptalised way,  the wine seemingly not bone dry to conceal the lack of ripe fruit.  Such poor ripeness must bespeak seriously over-cropped fruit.  Expensive QDR at best,  noting that the somewhat similar but richer 2009 Ch Tertre du Courban is $17,  for example.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/12

2009  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Gimblett Road   14 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  CS 45%,  Me 38,  Ma 15;  c.14 months in oak;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  the lightest wine among the cab / merlots.  Bouquet is another in the old-school minor Bordeaux camp,  the fruit obscured by some oxidation,  some entrained sulphur,  and a generally leathery quality.  Palate is a little better,  modest berry in a stalky way,  total acid up a bit .  Surprising for the year,  some pretty ordinary / over-cropped fruit must have gone into this.  QDR,  not worth cellaring,  the four stars quoted from Winestate is beyond belief.  GK 06/12

2011  Babich Merlot Winemakers' Reserve   14  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $30   [ cork;  Me assumed to be 100% and machine-picked;  c.4 weeks cuvaison;  9 months in French oak some new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is austere verging on reductive,  and needs vigorous aeration.  It reluctantly reveals austere red plum fruit and some oak,  but no charm.  Palate is modest,  like a small-scale sulky Entre-Deux-Mers (but with more new oak),  finishing poorly with the acid showing.  Hard to drink.  Needs 3 – 8 years in cellar to maybe soften,  but scarcely worthwhile.  GK 06/13

2009  Elephant Hill Merlot   14  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ screwcap;   Me 100% assumed,  hand-picked;  100% de-stemmed;   MLF in barrel some new;  RS <2 g/L;  www.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  First impressions are VA and oxidation,  with some fruit below.  Flavour shows there was ripe plummy fruit,  but it is prematurely developed with the VA becoming obtrusive.  Not a good wine to exhibit,  QDR,  not a cellar wine.  GK 06/13

2009  Clearview Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve   13 ½  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $49   [ supercritical cork;  no info on website but if like the 2007,  is along the lines CF 91%,  Me 7,  Ma 2,  hand-harvested;  15 months in mostly new French oak;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Older ruby,  among the lighter wines.  Bouquet is hopelessly reductive,  no varietal parameters being evident.  Palate is leathery and sulphury,  irredeemably plain.  Sad,  as the fruit seems to have been ripe.  Not worth cellaring.  There is a sad disconnect between quality perception and price developing in this winery.  From the website: “Reserves are only made in the best years”  GK 06/12

2009  Dada 2  
Gimblett Gravels & Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $70   [ supercritical cork;  Me dominant,  some Sy and CF;  this wine comes from the Alluviale proprietors,  but there is no mention of it on the Alluviale website ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top quarter for richness of colour.  Bouquet is rich and plummy,  berry dominant over oak.  Palate is even richer,  total bottled black doris plums and new oak.  All looks good with this wine until one comes to the aftertaste.  In the blind tasting,  I had this wine tagged:  query Pichia to aftertaste,  though hidden for now by the richness.  When the labels were revealed,  and one learns this is the wine made without sulphur dioxide (an absolute folly,  unwise,  unrealistic and idealistic in this day and age),  I can only say:  I would not cellar this wine;  notwithstanding the excellent fruit,  the risk is too high.  Time will show whether I am right or wrong – say five years.  So over to you.  No score.  GK 06/12

Syrah = Shiraz
2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Cellar Selection   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in open-top vessels,  30 days cuvaison;  MLF and c. 17 months on light lees in French oak 40% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  vibrant,  the second deepest of the syrahs.  Bouquet is exceptionally deep,  rich and concentrated,  not quite so floral as the Jewelstone,  but seemingly a little plusher,  fragrant dark cassis,  richest of bottled black doris plums,  hints of hessian French oak.  This is a remarkable wine.  Palate is vibrant cassis,  as rich as the Jewelstone but slightly fresher in its berry characters,  total acid perhaps slightly higher,  great purity,  subtle oak.  From memory,  this seems a subtler wine than the 2009 Cellar Selection,  where I recollect the oak being a little obtrusive in youth.  Great New Zealand syrah,  which at times should be available at a compelling price (if past experience is any guide).  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% all hand-picked at c.4.4 t / ha = 1.8 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  fermentation in open s/s vats,  extended cuvaison to 42 days some parcels;  MLF and 17 months in 3-years air-dried French oak c.60% new,   minimal fining and filtration;  RS nil;  420 cases only;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a fabulous colour,  the deepest wine in the syrah subset.  Bouquet is yet another stunning variation on the New Zealand syrah theme.  The density and intensity of fragrant cassis is remarkable,  though the floral component on this wine gives way a little to the vanillin of a significant new oak percentage,  alongside the Jewelstone and Cellar Selection Syrahs.  Palate shows a wonderful concentration of berry and fruit,  the oak is not too intrusive (though the greatest of the top three),  and the length of flavour is excellent.  Alongside the Mission wine,  the latter is more varietal due to less new oak.  It would be thrilling to have a case of each of these top three syrahs,  and see how these influences balance out over the 15 year time span these wines are suited to.  One could be miserable and just select the Cellar Selection,  which reconciles the other two.  In truth though,  one needs good supplies of all three,  as well as one or two other top syrahs not in this great Hot Red offering.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Mission Estate Syrah Jewelstone   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $39   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 6.8 t/ha = 2.7 t/ac from 6-year vines;  cuvaison in the order of 4 weeks,  18 months in French oak 40% new;  RS 1 g/L;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the third richest of the syrahs.  Bouquet is a wonderful evocation of the Northern Rhone in one of its most distinguished appellations.  The degree of florality is a great pleasure,  indicating great sensitivity with the oaking.  There are wallflowers and nearly violets,  on dense cassisy berry and darkest plum,  very hard to tell from fine cabernet-dominant Hawkes Bay blends at the blind stage.  Palate shows great precision of fruit ripeness,  all still at the cassis analogy,  yet there is a pepper component ripened through to sweet black pepper only.  Length of palate and neatness of finish are exemplary.  This is a delicious wine,  extraordinarily lightly oaked by New Zealand (but not Northern Rhone) standards,  which will cellar 5 – 15 years,  and be most rewarding.  Mission Estate chief winemaker Paul Mooney has had a great feeling for syrah,  right since his early-in-the-piece 1998 release.  GK 06/12

2011  Church Road Syrah Grand Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $50   [ cork;  not on (tarted-up,  harder to use) website yet,  but 2010 was:  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted,  all de-stemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  c.6 days warm-ferment in open-top oak and concrete vessels,  up to 35 days cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c.18 - 21 months in French oak c.40% new;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  far from the deepest.  Bouquet is sweetly wallflower floral and darkest roses,  on cassis and bottled black doris plummy fruit,  far less oaky than the 2010 Church Road Syrah Reserve (which was a bit of an aberration) and much more in a Rhone idiom.  In mouth this is not as rich as some past Reserves,  the fruit is both lighter and fresher,  but it is a vivid and beautiful expression of floral ripe syrah varietal character.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Te Awanga Syrah   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  100% Sy hand-picked late April @ 6 t/ha = 2.4 t / ac;  100% de-stemmed;  seven days cold-soak,  total 35 days cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  RS nil;  www.rmwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  likewise not the richest syrah.  It is always pleasing when you write up a wine at a certain (high) level,  as in my recent report on the 2013 Easter Show,  and then later in a much bigger blind tasting a couple of months later,  one finds one has allocated the same score to the wine.  On this showing,  it is almost identical in style to the 2011 Church Road Grand Reserve,  highly varietal,  faintly more oak,  a model expression of fine (not necessarily the biggest) New Zealand syrah,  both wines linking with the top Cuilleron Cote Roties astonishingly well.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve   18 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 97.6%,  Vi 2.4,  all hand-picked @ c.7.8 t/ha (3.1 t/ac) from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah all de-stemmed,  2 days cold-soak,  c.10 days ferment,  total cuvaison from 28 to 34 days;  MLF and 9 months in French oak 40% new no American oak;  RS 3 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  midway in depth in the syrahs.  Bouquet for this wine is a bit different,  lighter,  softer,  more floral,  explicitly wallflower,  reminiscent of top years of Bullnose Syrah.  There are even violets in this beautiful cassisy and darkly plummy wine.  Palate is a little smaller than the top three,  yet there is exquisite fragrant cassis character:  the whole character of the wine is fragrant Cote Rotie,  contrasting with the more masculine Hermitage styling of the Villa wines.  Length of fragrant fruit on palate is good,  with suggestions of white and black pepper,  and subtle oak.  Beguiling wine,  just a little more concentration would make this very impressive indeed.  Cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Terres Sombres   18 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $147   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ c. 5.8 t/ha (2.3 t/ac) from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  900 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $115;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  just above midway in depth.  The contrast between Bassenon and Terres Sombres is both subtle yet profound.  All the dark red fruits are there,  and blueberry too,  in a wine of stunning purity and subtle oaking,  but the difference lies in the florals.  Here is dusky deepest red roses and wallflower,  and subtlest black pepper,  with none of the lighter notes pointing to viognier.  On palate the fruit richness and ripeness is slightly greater and the cassis is a little more apparent,  all with slightly more new oak.  The differences are very subtle,  and again this is not a big wine,  but both are simply beautiful.  It is lighter than the top 2010 New Zealand syrahs seen alongside,  but more fragrant,  floral and beautiful.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Hawkes Bay Reserve   18 +  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 97.6%,  Vi 2.4,  all hand-picked @ c.7.8 t/ha (3.1 t/ac) from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah all de-stemmed,  2 days cold-soak,  c.10 days ferment,  total cuvaison from 28 to 34 days;  MLF and 9 months in French oak 40% new no American oak;  RS 3 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  [note date should be 6/13,  technical hitch];  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the dark end of the syrah colours.  Bouquet is another wine remarkably close to the Cuillerons in style,  clear wallflower and violets florality,  clear cassis berry and dark plummy fruit,  subtle oak.  Palate is berry-dominant,  not quite as supple or as richly-fruited as the Te Awanga wine,  but highly varietal and attractive.  Some winewriters have objected to the not-bone-dry finish,  and from a European standpoint that is understandable.  For such glorious varietal expression on bouquet,  however,  and such finesse in oak-handling,  one can forgive a lot.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 07/13

2010  Church Road Syrah Reserve   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 100%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $40   [ cork;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted;  all de-stemmed,  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  warm-fermented in mostly in open-top oak vessels (cuves),  up to 5 weeks cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c. 17 months in fine-grain French oak c.45% new;  not fined or filtered;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  in the top quarter for depth.  Colour suggests this wine has seen more oak than some of the 2010s,  and bouquet and palate confirm that.  Hidden in the soft oak is fragrant cassis and dark bottled plums,  and even a suggestion of the warm chocolate so liked by modern commentators,  but indicative of sur-maturité and more toasty oak than is classical.  Palate is soft rich and ample,  some black pepper now,  possibly trace brett adding savoury complexity.  This is a warm food-friendly more European interpretation of syrah,  alongside the squeaky-clean Villa Reserve,  for example.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Church Road Syrah McDonald Series   18  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested and sorted,  all de-stemmed;  no cold soak,  inoculated yeast,  c.6 days warm-ferment in open-top oak and concrete vessels,  up to 35 days cuvaison,  controlled aeration;  c.17 months in French oak c.42% new;  www.churchroad.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  quite deep.  Freshly opened the oak shows rather much in this syrah,  but giving it some air helps.  It then shows ripe plummy fruit and subtle black pepper spice,  with suggestions of greater ripeness than is ideal for florality.  Palate is rich,  darkly plummy,  quite a lot of potentially cedary oak.  Blind you would think it a 2009 wine,  being hotter-climate in style.  Many will rate this higher than me,  on the ripeness and oak,  but in this review I am rewarding varietal specificity.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $37   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested;  4 days cold-soak,  some wild yeast BF via the Integrale hogshead system,  c.25 days cuvaison;  15 months in puncheons 63% new;  no fining,  light filtration only;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  just a little below midway in depth among the syrahs.  How different the Elspeth wines are nowadays !  The first impression here is of wonderful warm floral dusky rose aromas on ripe plummy fruit,  a quality which could as easily be a fine year of Ch Palmer as a soft Cote Rotie.  Flavours in mouth are more petite than the bouquet promises,  clearcut cassis,  fragrant oak,  some sweet black pepper.  It does not have quite the body of the top four wines,  but is still beautiful wine good for cellaring 3 – 10 years.  This wine too is pointing to Cote Rotie.  GK 06/12

2011  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked @ 2.5 t/ha (1 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  up to 42 days cuvaison;  MLF and 17 months in high-quality 36 months air-dried French oak 50% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the deepest syrahs.  Bouquet shows ripe dark fruits,  black pepper and more apparent oak than the top wines,  without quite the degree of florality which takes those two wines so close to Cote Rotie.  Palate shows a faint streak of something seaweedy,  which once one thinks of it,  one can trace it back into the bouquet,  just taking the shine off this wine slightly.  Fruit weight is good medium cassis and dark plums,  with a firmer finish on the oak.  The wine may just be in an awkward phase – syrah does blossom in its third or fourth year in bottle.  [ Unfortunately I overlooked collecting the 2011 Villa Maria Syrah Cellar Selection,  which might be less oaky.]  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon (10% viognier)   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $115   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 90,  Vi 10,  hand-picked @ c.5.3 t/ha (2.1 t/ac) from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on mixed granite and gneiss soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  700 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $89;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is by far the most floral of the Cote Roties,  with a haunting sweet aroma in which wallflower,  pinks and roses are evident,  plus a freesia-like quality perhaps pointing to the viognier content.  Behind the florals is beautiful cassis and plummy fruit showing good physiological maturity for syrah,  great freshness,  hints of black pepper,  and scarcely a trace of leafyness.  Palate follows perfectly,  black fruits a little more than red,  not a big wine yet a wonderful quality of precision fruit,  and this sensuous florality right through the palate,  all subtly oaked.  The link to the wines of the Cote de Nuits is obvious.  Lovely wine to cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie La Madiniere   18  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $130   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  875 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $99;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  in the middle for depth.  Bouquet needs a good splashy decanting,  but even then does not have quite the pinpoint florality of great Cote Rotie that the top two wines show.  There is the faintest marc-like note,  which raises doubts,  less florality,  and more of a blackberry note.  Palate shows a similar weight of fruit to Terres Sombres,  blueberry is now apparent,  but there also seems to be a hint of stalk.  All very subtle,  these wines are much more alike than different.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Villa Maria Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  2009 vintage not on the bizarre new website (stripped of all the previous invaluable information) but if similar to 2010:  Sy 100% hand-picked @ c.4.35 t/ha (1.75 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  up to 42 days cuvaison;  MLF and 17 months in French oak 60% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fresh for its age,  richer and darker than the 2011 same-label wine.  On bouquet,  the wine benefits from decanting.  If the 2010 McDonald wine hints at a hot year,  this 2009 really demonstrates it.  In terms of my syrah ripening curve,  the berry character here is advanced to blackberry-in-the-sun dominant on a lot of oak.   Palate is even more oaky,  the fruit rich but losing varietal precision,  darkly plummy and blackberry with hints of leather and milk-chocolate,  very ripe indeed.  It is over-ripe for precise syrah.  Nonetheless,  the flavours are long and the finish is sustained on fruit as well as oak.  Could easily be scored higher,  and will be by those liking warmer-climate winestyles.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Vidal Syrah Reserve Series   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  MLF and c. 16 months in oak;  RS nil;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  midway in depth of colour.  Bouquet is fragrant and floral,  another wine with roses and wallflowers even though the fruit is sourced from the Gimblett Gravels.  Below are clear cassisy plums and berry.  Palate is smaller than the wines rated more highly,  but balance to oak is good,  the fruit ripe,  though the acid balance is slightly fresh,  like the Cypress.  This will be good with food.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Craggy Range Syrah Gimblett Gravels   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $32   [ screwcap;  Sy 97%,  Vi 3;  hand-harvested @ 7.5 t/ha = 3 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation in open-top s/s fermenters;  16 months in French oak 25% new;  no fining,  filtered;  RS <2 g/L;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a little above midway in depth.  Bouquet shows exquisite purity,  and clear-cut floral qualities even with a hint of carnations,  but mostly wallflower and dark roses.  Palate is darker than the bouquet suggests,  deeply plummy,  very dry,  surprisingly (delightfully) little oak,  a much subtler winestyle than the earlier Block 14 Syrah (as this wine was earlier labelled).  Black pepper comes in on the later palate,  with just a thought of stalk reflecting the cooler year.  On this showing,  the wine is not quite together yet,  and may merit re-ranking.  It is close to the Mission Jewelstone in its oaking,  but less ripe and rich,  and total acid is up a little.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested @ c.2.6 t/ac,  all de-stemmed;  cold soak,  wild yeast initially,  cuvaison up to 25 days;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 33% new;  RS nil;  minimal fining and filtration;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the same hue exactly as the '09 Reserve Series,  but above midway in depth,  a greater concentration of colour.  This wine smells riper than the Reserve Series,  with blueberry notes in a very clean nearly floral bouquet.  In mouth there is more and riper fruit,  and much more oak than the mid-range wine,  so the nett result is it seems less spicy and varietal (other than oak spice).  It should marry up well,  and many do like this ripe blueberry phase of varietal expression.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/12

2011  Mission Estate Syrah Reserve   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $30   [ supercritical cork;  not on website,  if like 2012:  Sy 100% (though some years have had c.2% Vi);   cuvaison extending to 30 days;  MLF in tank;  6 – 8 months in French oak c.25% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  medium weight.  Benefits from decanting,  to reveal a darkly floral,  cassisy and richly plummy bouquet,  with oak beautifully in the background.  Palate has juicy berry flavours and texture,  cassis,  some black pepper,  total acid slightly higher,  not a big wine but one showing good varietal expression.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2012  Elephant Hill Syrah   17 ½ +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $34   [ screwcap;  includes Gimblett Gravels,  Bridge Pa and Te Awanga fruit;  12 months in French oak 30% new;  ww.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  towards the deeper end in colour.  Bouquet is explicitly floral in this syrah,  all flowers and roses,  some white pepper,  cassisy berry,  clean oak.  In mouth,  the delicacy of the oak handling is a delight,  on a lighter palate weight as would be expected of the year.  The pepper sweetens to nearly black on palate.  This too is elegant wine,  as the proprietor's notes say,  showing how well syrah can perform in a poor year in Hawkes Bay,  given quality viticulture.  A remarkable achievement for the vintage,  scarcely a thought of stalks,  though the proprietors did have to source fruit beyond their cool Te Awanga site.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Serines   17 ½ +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $92   [ 54mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on granitic soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  1300 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $69;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  clearly the deepest colour in the set.  This wine too needs a splashy decanting,  to reveal subdued florals on deep cassis and bottled black doris fruit,  and a hint of black pepper.  Weight of fruit on palate is slightly less than the top two Cote Roties,  but still shows attractive cassis and dark plum flavours,  with the faintest stalk undertone reflecting the cooler year than 2009.  Oak is very subtle.  The wine is highly varietal,  but less magical than the Cote Roties.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Cypress Terraces Syrah   17 ½  ()
Roy's Hill,  SW of Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $42   [ Stelvin Lux;  website lacks content as yet;  Cypress Terraces is the equivalent of their Reserve wine,  against those simply labelled Cypress;  www.cypresswines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  a lighter wine in the syrah group.  Bouquet is fragrant with carnation and rose florals,  white grading to some black pepper,  and cassisy berry.  Palate is distinctly cooler than some of the more highly rated wines,  the total acid up slightly,  the wine more like Cote Rotie in a typical (that is,  sub-optimal) year.  The fruit spectrum is more as red fruits and cassis,  scarcely any dark plum at all,  very Rhone.  There are thoughts of Martinborough here too.  It contrasts vividly with the wines further along the ripening spectrum,  such as the Vidal Legacy.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/12

2010  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Reserve Series   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels mainly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $27   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  all de-stemmed;  MLF and 20 months in oak,  some new;  RS nil;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Initially opened,  the wine is oaky,  but it breathes off quickly to reveal darkly floral syrah still with an oaky edge,  on cassis and dark plummy berry.  Palate has good berryfruit,  but the flavours are rather swamped by oak.  Should marry up and communicate better with time in bottle,  but syrah simply does not the need this kind of oak to reveal its beauty.  Rather the reverse.  Handling more akin to pinot noir is needed,  if we are to match the achievements of the Rhone Valley – which is our climatic imperative.  Australia is irrelevant to our future with syrah,  in fact,  in terms of oak practice their influence has been negative.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Vidal Syrah Gimblett Gravels Legacy Series   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $70   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  cold soak,  wild yeast initially,  cuvaison up to 25 days;  MLF and c.20 months in French oak 33% new;  RS nil;  minimal filtration;  www.vidal.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  clearly older in appearance than the matching Villa wine.  Bouquet gives a first probable answer to that,  smelling as if it either had more new oak,  or longer in oak,  than the Villa Reserve.  Any floral notes are on the back foot therefore,  vanillin from the oak being dominant,  and adding a faint strawberry note to plummy berry.  Palate is rich,  some blackberry hinting at over-ripeness but also some black pepper,  oak not as apparent as feared on bouquet,  good length.  Total acid is up a little,  as if the wine might be refreshed [ not so,  the winemaker advises ].  A big wine,  not as subtle as the top examples.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 06/13

2011  Trinity Hill Syrah Gimblett Gravels   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ supercritical 'cork';  Sy 96%,  Vi 4;  the grapes de-stemmed,  some whole berries;  fairly short cuvaison; c.10 months in French oak of varying ages;  www.trinityhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is lightly plummy,  gently oaked,  suggestions of black pepper attractive.  Palate is only medium-weight as so many of these 2011s are,  but the ripeness is good and even a little over-ripe,  the floral component being subdued.  Aftertaste is fresh,  with a little black pepper adding interest.  The whole wine is 'sweeter' than the Babich 2010,  but remarkably close in all respects to the 2011 Mission Reserve.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Pask Syrah Declaration   17 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $50   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested;  all de-stemmed;  some cold soak;  some BF in new oak;  16 months in new French oak;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  older again than the Vidal Reserve.  The bouquet again confirms why,  a lot of oak and almost a hint of oxidation / forward development,  giving the wine quite an Australian styling in the field of New Zealand syrahs.  In mouth there is very ripe fruit,  no chance of varietal florality here,  nor cassis really,  the descriptors being more blackberry to boysenberry,  much too ripe for varietal precision.  This too is an Australian interpretation of the grape,  and as such scores quite well,  whereas we can produce something so much more beautiful and precise in New Zealand.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Esk Valley Syrah Gimblett Gravels Winemakers Reserve   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  a single-vineyard wine hand-picked from the Cornerstone site,  100% de-stemmed,  fermentation in open vat,  c. 30 days cuvaison;  MLF and 17 months in French oak c.40% new,  no fining,  minimal filtration;  RS nil;  130 cases only;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the richest half-dozen.  Bouquet is awry on this wine,  an awkward combination of factors detracting,  indeed obscuring its other attributes.  Palate has much more to say,  with plummy rich fruit,  and rather a lot of oak,  but let down by an aggressive edge.  This is a mystery,  perhaps the wine is in an ugly phase – this does happen.  It was awarded a gold medal in this year's Easter show,  and that is one of our two shows to be taken seriously.  I will report on this wine again as soon as it crops up in a proper blind tasting.  Meanwhile,  it should cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2011  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth   17 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-picked;  all de-stemmed,  whole berries,  short cold-soak,  some wild-yeast fermentations,  total days cuvaison up to 28 days;  15 months in French oak 53% new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet shows soft vanillin oak in lieu of floral components,  with good red berryfruit below.  Flavour is soft,  the oak being noticeably vanillin and seductive,  with attractive plummy length but not exactly compelling varietal quality.  Initially it seems quite merlot-like,  but some sweet black pepper comes in on the tail.  Cellar 3 – 10 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph L'Amarybelle   17 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $64   [ 50mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on sandy granitic soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  3000 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $49;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the second deepest.  Bouquet is textbook syrah in both the Northern Rhone sense and in ripe years of New Zealand wines like Te Mata Bullnose were oak is restrained,  showing red-rose florals in red and black fruits,  a touch of white pepper,  and just a thought of stalk.  Palate continues that thought,  fair fruit less concentrated than the top wines,  but still some cassis and mixed plum,  the white pepper bespeaking less perfect ripeness as we see in many New Zealand syrahs too.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 06/13

2009  Elephant Hill Syrah Reserve   17  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $24   [ cork;  hand-picked;  100% destemmed,  fermented in oak cuves;  16 months in 100% new French oak;  ww.elephanthill.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  below midway in depth.  Bouquet is less generous on this wine,  some pepper white more than black,  suggestions of cassis,  one wonders if a hint of stalk.  In mouth the wine is firm on cedary oak,  so seems lean.  There is in fact reasonable cassisy fruit,  some plums,  almost a cabernet balance and texture with noticeable oak.  Cellar 3 – 10 years,  for a wine which may cause confusion as to variety in blind tastings.  GK 06/12

2010  Babich Syrah Winemakers' Reserve   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $30   [ supercritical cork;  Sy thought to be 100%;  13 months in French some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Like the 2011 Villa Maria Reserve,  there is a tannic streak in the bouquet just hinting at seaweed,  in otherwise moderately fragrant and varietal syrah.  The floral side is curtailed.  Palate is less concentrated than the top wines,  but still showing suggestions of cassis and dark plum,  some black pepper,  slightly hard tannins from the oak handling,  not quite the charm of some of the syrahs.  Needs to soften in cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 06/13

2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie La Madiniere   17  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $130   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  825 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $99;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is immediately older and leaner in the set,  the whole wine seeming one of a cooler year,  the aroma including a leafy note in red fruits more than black.  Palate is richer and riper than the bouquet supposes,  some flavours of maturity creeping in,  more oak than the Saint-Josephs but not the ripeness of the 2010 Cote Roties.  Maturing faster than I would wish,  cellar 2 – 5 years.  GK 06/13

2011  Mills Reef Syrah Elspeth Trust Vineyard   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  2011 not on website,  if like 2010:  Sy 100% hand-picked;  all de-stemmed,  whole berries,  short cold-soak,  all wild-yeast fermentations,  total days cuvaison up to 31 days;  15 months in hogsheads 45% French oak,  55% American,  of which 2/3 were new;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Ruby,  much the lightest of the syrahs.  This is most unusual wine,  very different from the standard Elspeth Syrah,  the bouquet showing excess vanillin oak and presumably including American [ confirmed ],  which makes the wine almost reminiscent of raspberry and grenache.  Palate is attractive in its own pale right,  with good fruit weight,  soft and juicy,  possibly not bone-dry,  rather attenuated syrah varietal character but pleasant red wine.  Hard to score,  therefore.  Should be an attractive food wine,  and could be interpreted as a Cote Rotie styling – sort-of.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Mission Estate Syrah Jewelstone   16 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $45   [ cork;  hand-harvested @ c. 4 t/ha (1.6 t/ac) from Mission's Mere Rd vineyard;  no cold soak,  total cuvaison in the order of 36 days;  15 months in French hogsheads 40% new;  www.missionestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  richer than the 2011 Reserve.  This wine needs a good splashy decanting,  to reveal dense rich fruit with a clear eucalyptus taint making it very aromatic,  and sufficient to be a bit negative.  Palate is fairly rich,  quite a lot of oak,  but the mint quality increases on palate,  giving a wine reminiscent of some Heathcote shirazes.  Many will like this aromatic quality more than me,  so it is hard to score.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Yves Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Pierres Seches   16 ½ +  ()
Saint-Joseph,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $52   [ 46mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on sandy granitic soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  the name refers to dry stone walls on the terraces;  3450 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $39;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet,  below midway in depth.  The less-perfect ripeness trend evident in L'Amarybelle continues here,  the fruits more red than black,  the suggestion of stalk somewhat greater,  and the sweetness of the florals including also a hint of leaf.  Palate still shows a good volume of fruit at this ripeness level,  and the fruit well apparent since the oak tastes less,  or older,  or both,  and total acid is a little higher.  Thoughts of white pepper occur in the aftertaste.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Ngatarawa Syrah Glazebrook Black Label   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels 52% & Bridge Pa Triangle 48%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  machine-harvested from 8-year vines,  de-stemmed;  3 days cold-soak,  c. 21 days cuvaison;  MLF and 14 months in French oak 33% new;  RS <1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  above midway in richness of colour.  Bouquet is out to one side in the tasting,  showing a European gamey / gutty / savoury complexity with some reduction,  some brett,  and some mixed ripeness,  on red fruits.  Palate continues the theme exactly,  quite rich wine,  but old-fashioned in style and flavour,  like earlier-generation southern Rhones.  Well-decanted and aerated,  it is food-friendly and will have wide appeal,  even though nowadays it would not fare well in technically-informed judgings.  Cellar 3 – 8 years,  decant splashily.  GK 06/12

2010  Esk Valley Syrah Gimblett Gravels Winemakers Reserve   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $60   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested @ 3.7 t/ha (1.5 t/ac),  all de-stemmed;  total cuvaison 30 days;  MLF and c.17 months in French oak c.40% new;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is oaky to a fault,  with a leathery and saline overtone which is more hot-climate Australian shiraz than Rhone syrah.  Grape variety is quite hidden.  Palate is rich,  but the awkward components are still there,  making the wine hard and tannic with saline suggestions,  not at all the subtle beauty syrah can display when not over-ripe and over-oaked.  The wine seems out-of-style for the winemaker and the year.  Has the richness to cellar 5 – 15 years,  to see if it mellows  GK 06/13

2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Quarter Acre Syrah   16 ½  ()
Te Awanga district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $33   [ screwcap;  fruit de-stemmed;  detail not retrievable from malfunctioning website;  www.rmwines.co.nz ]
Good ruby.  Bouquet shows suggestions of wallflower florality on red plum fruit notes,  and some vanillin oak.  Palate is quite rich,  acid up a little,  some stalk as well as oak in the tannins,  white more than black pepper.  Clean wine,  which should gain interest in cellar 3 – 10 years,  but a bit modest now.  GK 06/13

2010  Pask Syrah Gimblett Road   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Sy 100%,  not on website,  if like other years:  mostly de-stemmed,  some whole-bunch;   MLF and c.12 months in older French oak;  www.cjpaskwinery.co.nz ]
Good ruby,  but forward for its age.  Bouquet is unusual,  quite rich berry fruit with an undertone of incense,  presumably oak-derived,  not very varietal.  Palate is not quite as rich,  red as well as black fruits,  some aromatic oak tying in with the bouquet notes,  slightly leathery.  Should mellow in cellar 3 – 8 years into pleasant QDR.  GK 06/13

2011  Esk Valley Syrah Hawkes Bay Selection   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $24   [ screwcap;  Sy 100% hand-harvested,  all de-stemmed;  some wild yeast fermentations,  MLF and c.18 months in French oak c.30% new;  www.esk.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is clean and fragrant,  clear white grading to black pepper with some florality,  on fresh berry and red more than black plum.  Flavours darken up somewhat in mouth,  more black pepper now,  suggestions of cassis,  gentle oak,  slightly stalky and a touch acid,  much lighter and cooler than the lovely 2009 wine under this label.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards   16 ½  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $28   [ screwcap;  Sy 99%,  Vi 1,  all hand-picked from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah de-stemmed,  2 days cold soak,  c.10 months in French oak c. 25% new;  RS 2 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a flush of carmine and velvet,  the second to lightest syrah.  Bouquet is light and clean,  a touch of pepper,  a thought of stalks.  Palate has a little more substance than the bouquet indicates,  some cassis grading to omega plummy fruit,  older oak,  all sound and straightforward,  a little unexciting and reminiscent of straightforward Crozes-Hermitage.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/12

2007  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bassenon (10% viognier)   16 ½  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  12.5%;  $122   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 90,  Vi 10,  hand-picked @ c.5.3 t/ha (2.1 t/ac) from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on mixed granite and gneiss soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  830 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $89;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  the second to lightest of the wines.  Bouquet shows cool floral notes related to pinks / carnations,  on red berries more than black.  There is an intriguing smokey hint,  and perhaps a hint of brett.  Palate is approaching maturity (sooner than one would hope,  have these bottles been stored in ambient Auckland temperatures ?),  fair fruit,  less oak than the 2007 Madiniere,  less stalk than the 2006 wine.  Will hold 2 – 5 years.  GK 06/13

2012  Coopers Creek Syrah Chalk Ridge Select Vineyards   16 +  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $35   [ screwcap;  Sy 99%,  Vi 1,  hand-picked from a hill-slope site with limestone;  syrah de-stemmed;  MLF and 12 months in French oak mostly older,  some one year old;  RS 2.7 g/L;  sterile-filtered to bottle;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Ruby,  not as bright as the standard wine,  implying more oak exposure.  Bouquet is subdued,  showing red fruits rather than black,  and some vanillin oak.  Palate like the standard wine is tending acid,  the main difference being more oak exposure and somewhat more concentration.  It might be a little riper too.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  Mills Reef Syrah Trust Vineyard Elspeth   16 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $45   [ screwcap;  100% hand-harvested from their new close-spaced (1m – but rows wider) vineyard;  destemmed,  6 days cold-soak;  all wild-yeast BF in the 400-litre rotating French oak barrel system,  cuvaison c.24 days;  then 15 months in hogsheads 45% French,  55% American,  some new;  no fining,  light filter only;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Lightish fresh ruby,  the lightest of the syrah set.  Bouquet is fragrant in a light younger-vines way,  with vanillin from oak as apparent as the attenuated varietal qualities,  plus a hint of white pepper.  Palate is red fruits rather than darker cassisy notes,  the whole wine in a lighter style reminiscent of the Collines Rhodaniennes zone,  outside of and upslope and cooler than the Cote Rotie delimited zone.  Attractive,  even pretty as far as it goes,  but tending innocuous alongside the serious wines.  If young vines,  maybe transitional,  but at this stage not meriting the Elspeth label (or price).  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 06/12

2012  Alpha Domus Syrah The Barnstormer   16 +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $29   [ cork;  100% Sy both machine and hand-harvested;  short cold-soak,  c. 21 days cuvaison;  10 months in French oak,  a little new;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet shows remarkable congruence with the lesser Cuillerons,  being clearly floral at the point where you wonder if the wine is stalky,  showing white pepper more than black,  but varietal.  Palate is fairly lightweight,  peppery,  slightly acid,  but still with some fragrant nearly-cassis notes and subtle oak.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2010  [ Ngatarawa ] Glazebrook Syrah New Zealand   16 +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle 48% and Gimblett Gravels 42%,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $35   [ screwcap;  hand-harvested from 8-year-old vines,  de-stemmed; inoculated yeast,  c.21 days total cuvaison;  MLF and 12 months in French oak 33% new;  RS < 1 g/L;  www.ngatarawa.co.nz ]
Ruby.  It's quite a good idea putting New Zealand in the title for this wine,  because the actual winestyle is surprisingly old-European,  showing some oxidation and more brett on pleasantly ripe but non-varietal fruit.  On palate,  there are slightly leathery dark plum qualities and some black pepper making it more clearly varietal.  It would be rejected in an Australasian judging,  but as a wine at table,  it is food-friendly and attractive.  Permissive score.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2006  Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Terres Sombres   16 +  ()
Cote Rotie,  Northern Rhone Valley,  France:  13%;  $151   [ 55mm cork;  Sy 100 hand-picked @ c. 5.8 t/ha (2.3 t/ac) from vines planted at 8 – 10,000 vines / ha,  on darker schist soils;  some whole-bunch,  cuvaison c.21 days;  MLF and c.18 months in barrel;  980 cases;  July offer @ Glengarry $115;  www.cuilleron.com ]
Ruby and garnet,  more maturity than hoped,  the lightest of the colours.  Bouquet is old too,  a wine clearly in maturity,  but as with so many 2006s,  not showing great ripeness (despite Robert Parker's high rating for the vintage).  The pinks florality is quite leafy.  On palate,  there are red fruits more than black,  the oak is a little noticeable in the cooler-year fruit,  the finish short with a touch of stalk and acid despite some richness.  This is pretty well mature,  again some disappointment here.  Will hold 2 – 5 years.  GK 06/13

2012  Coopers Creek Syrah   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $22   [ screwcap;  no info on website;  RS 3 g/L;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Bright lightish ruby.  Bouquet will improves with air to reveal a modest level of ripeness and some of the ersatz red-berry notes of under-ripe pinotage.  In mouth this is a real cool-year wine,  total acid up,  red fruits to the point of raspberry,  some white pepper and some stalks on the palate,  not much oak,  all rather short and brisk.  Should soften in cellar 3 – 6 years,  in its style.  GK 06/13

2011  Alpha Domus Syrah The Barnstormer   15 ½ +  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $29   [ screwcap;  Sy some hand-harvested,  some machine;  short cold-soak,  c. 21 days cuvaison;  6 months in French oak;  RS <2 g/L;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby,  the third to lightest.  Bouquet is light,  illustrating beautifully the cooler end of the syrah ripening curve,  white pepper,  red fruits only,  a thought of stalks.  Palate follows exactly,  lots of white pepper,  red currants and some red plum,  not quite as acid and stalky as expected,  perhaps chaptalised.  Pleasant petite syrah,  as are many in Crozes-Hermitage.  A more conservative cropping rate is needed at Alpha Domus,  if the wines are to be competitive.  Cellar 2 – 6 years.  GK 06/12

2011  Te Awa Syrah   15 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $40   [ screwcap;  not on website,  if like 2010:  handpicked 100% Sy,  destemmed,  wild-yeast fermentation;  20 months in French hogsheads,  presumably some new;  www.teawa.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is light and on the red fruits side of ripeness for syrah,  gently oaked,  not communicating very well.  Palate is likewise marginal for ripeness,  stalky rather than clear-cut pepper,  total acid up a little and the nett impression tending sour.  Has enough constituents to harmonise somewhat in cellar,  3 – 8 years.  GK 06/13

2012  Sileni Syrah Cellar Selection   15 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  11.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  some months in French and American oak;  RS < 2 g/L;  minimal info on website;  www.sileni.co.nz ]
Older ruby.  Bouquet is clean and lightly fragrant,  with just a hint of bush-honey and white pepper,  like a pale Crozes-Hermitage.  Palate is awkward,  green tannins and again red fruits reminiscent of strawberry and raspberry in this difficult year,  acid up.  Should soften in cellar 2 – 6 years,  in its modest style.  GK 06/13

2011  Trinity Hill Syrah Hawkes Bay [ White Label ]   14 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  Sy 96%,  Vi 4,  hand-harvested;  mostly Gimblett Gravels,  destemmed;  limited exposure to older French and American oak;  RS 2.4 g/L;  www.trinityhill.co.nz ]
Ruby.  The wine is a bit reductive,  and needs splashy pouring from jug to jug several times.  It is reluctant to open up however,  remaining closed,  some indeterminate fruit,  some oak.  Palate has quite a good level of non-varietal red fruits,  again some oak,  all slightly acid and bitter to the finish.  At the QDR level,  should mellow with 2 – 6 years in cellar,  dubiously.  Good the firm have abandoned the idea of calling their cheapest syrah 'shiraz' – much better to keep the notion of syrah only in New Zealand.  The awards cited in the Hot Reds Catalogue are a testimony to how often the buying public is totally mislead by supposed experts and judging panels.  GK 06/13

2012  Mills Reef Syrah Reserve    14 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $25   [ screwcap;  website badly out-of-date;  previous vintages have had a little Vi;  French oak 8 months;  www.millsreef.co.nz ]
Lightish ruby.  Bouquet is lightly fragrant with thoughts of red berries,  oak chips,  and maybe some whole bunch / maceration carbonique components – a bit estery.  Palate is clean (apart from the VA),  lightly berryish,  not bone dry (but no RS figure on website),  a simple non-varietal QDR,  rather more than a cellaring wine.  GK 06/13

2009  Clearview Syrah Reserve    14 ½  ()
Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $59   [ supercritical cork;  18 months in French oak some new;  not on website – the website seems so disinterested in wine you find them only at the bottom of the page,  and if present at all sometimes not even the vintage is given;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  just below midway in depth.  Bouquet is old-school Australia in the '60s,  both oxidation and entrained sulphide,  clogged,  so the wine is leathery.  Palate is quite rich,  but leathery rather than any specific fruit analogy,  a hardness from the sulphur and some stalks,  and acid too.  Once again,  for a wine like this to be quoted as securing five stars from Winestate and Cuisine highlights both the enormous problem the consumer has in getting accurate advice,  and the problem we have with insensitivity to and disregard for the negative impact of reduced sulphurs in New Zealand wine assessment.  This cannot help the industry advance as it could,  even if markets such as the UK have traditionally shared these blindspots.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/12

2011  Babich Syrah Gimblett Gravels   14  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $22   [ screwcap;  this vintage not on website,  perhaps 11 months in French oak some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Light ruby,  old for age.  Bouquet is clean but lacking,  lightest red plums with a suggestion of browning,  non-varietal.  Palate is light red fruits at best,  acid,  tending short and stalky and sour,  a little pepper to the tail.  Gives the impression of being made from over-cropped vines unable to ripen the fruit.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 06/13

2010  Clearview Syrah Cape Kidnappers   14  ()
Te Awanga & Bridge Pa Triangle,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $26   [ screwcap;  minimal info on website;  RS <1 g/L;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  old for its age,  amongst the lightest.  Bouquet is simple,  stalky,  minor European in style.  Palate reflects the bouquet,  the fruit under-ripe,  green,  no varietal beauty,  a wine reminiscent of poor shipper's Crozes-Hermitage.  Not worth cellaring.  Incidentally,  it is about time to call a halt on naming wines for Cape Kidnappers.  GK 06/12

2012  Black Barn Vineyards Syrah   14  ()
Havelock North district 85%,  Gimblett Gravels 15,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12%;  $33   [ screwcap;  large % of crop rejected,  to retain fruit only 9 months exposure to oak 11% new;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Ruby.  Bouquet to first sniff is fragrant red fruits in a simple way,  almost as if there were a whole-bunch / maceration carbonique component,  not much oak.  Palate is awkward,  lacking fruit and disjointed on the stalky whole bunch tastes,  acid,  tending sour.  More a QDR than a cellar wine,  but not priced as such.  GK 06/13

2011  Te Awa Syrah Left-Field   13 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  no info,  website badly out-of-date;  www.teawa.com ]
Good ruby.  The wine is reductive,  and needs vigorous ventilation jug to jug.  It then reveals indeterminate red fruits,  again reminding of poor New Zealand pinotage,  all rather drab.  Palate has some fruit,  but acid is up,  and the flavour is low,  with leafy undertones.  Unsuited to cellaring.  The notes in the Hot Red Catalogue reflect a triumph of optimism over reality.  GK 06/13

2011  [ Rod McDonald Wines ] Two Gates Syrah
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $33   [ screwcap;  no info,  not on website;  www.rmwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  The winemaker unwisely brought pre-bottling tank samples to the Wellington presentation,  and they were out of condition by the time of the tasting – VA.  The underlying wine suggests a quality at least comparable with the middle wines in the portfolio,  perhaps better.  Not scored.  GK 06/13

All other red wines, blends etc
2010  Crossroads Talisman   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay (three districts),  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  mostly hand-picked;  cepage not revealed –  see text;  14 months in all-new oak,  French 85%,  balance American;  RS ‘dry’;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine,  in the top quarter for depth of colour.  Initially opened,  the wine is tending heavy.  With air it opens up to a rich oaky soft wine,  with big plummy berry and furry oak.  This year's wine certainly hides its "secret" cepage well,  there being suggestions of merlot,  malbec and syrah dominant,  as well as cabernet and others.  There could even be pinotage,  for there is something different about the blend.  Ripeness is impressive in this wine,  and shows up many of the other reds in this review.  There is a much better ratio of berryfruit to oak here than in the 2009 version,  and given vigorous and splashy decanting,  it can be recommended.  With 10 years in cellar,  and decanting,  it should be the best Talisman yet,  by a large margin.  This time round,  my impressions of the 2009 were not so favourable,  see below.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2009  Crossroads Talisman   16 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay (three districts),  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  mostly hand-picked;  cepage not revealed –  see text;  14 months in all-new oak,  French 85%,  balance American;  RS ‘dry’;  www.crossroadswinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  in the top quarter for richness.  Freshly opened,  the wine has a wayward quality to it which could be attributed to youth.  Given air-time,  it opens to rich oaky red,  the oak rather masking the childish game this winery perseveres with,  of keeping the varieties "secret".  In mouth the oak is clumsy,  the grapes seem to be merlot dominant,  but with flavoursome others like malbec.  The whole thing is rather heavy and lacking charm,  in this set of 63 wines.  Wins points for richness,  though.  Only fair to note I scored it much more highly (18 +) Aug. 2011,  noting that bottle had been open some hours.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 06/12

2012  Black Barn Vineyards Montepulciano   15  ()
Havelock North district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  12.5%;  $39   [ supercritical cork;  hand-picked,  destemmed;  9 months in older French oak only for this modest vintage;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Bright ruby.  Bouquet is reminiscent of under-ripe blackberries,  or even loganberries,  clean and fragrant but maybe stalky – to check on palate.  Palate does indeed show a modest level of ripeness,  total acid definitely up,  fruit richness better than expected,  but the flavours are stalky.  Pretty modest when one thinks of ripe Italian Montepulciano available at half or even a third the price (if one looks),  so as for the Waiheke proprietors of this grape,  there is a reality issue here,  especially in a difficult year.  Cellar 2 – 6 years,  in its style.  GK 06/13