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


These notes arise from Hawkes Bay Winemakers' Hot Red Roadshow visiting Wellington in May (as outlined in the syrah article dated 28 May 2006),  plus visits by Craggy Range and C J Pask principals at about the same time.  Setting up blind tastings after these presentations,  I took the opportunity to add in a batch of interesting West Australian cabernet / merlots.  That district has long seemed,  from the distance of New Zealand,  to be the Australian region most closely matching Hawkes Bay and hence Bordeaux in its climate.  Their wines are always received with great interest over here.  A few other cabernet / merlot wines open at the time have also been included.  

Escalation of prices for premium wines:  The galloping price increases for New Zealand wines the makers see as being of premium quality is a worry.  Much dissatisfaction will accrue if we rush into this American-fuelled pursuit of prestige or 'trophy' wines.  There is the vital need to establish a track record for our best wines on the international stage,  as well as the need for proprietors to have a clear-eyed regard to the intrinsic merits of their wine.  It has to be said,  it is quite astonishing how many New Zealand winemakers do not participate in imported wine tastings,  so calibration is difficult.  And as a corollary,  some winemakers do not want to be seen to be charging less than their competitors,  even if the wines are far from comparable.  Having watched the evolution of the New Zealand Bordeaux-blend class since its mid-60s inception (post-Prohibition),  it is now true to say that our very best wines in that class are achieving at a level sometimes comparable with some classed growths in Bordeaux.  There are however far too many winemakers seeking 'me-too' pricing for wines which are not even of good cru bourgeois standard.  The sudden leap to a $60 price-level for a number of Hawkes Bay blends is premature,  in my view,  and much the same can be said for many $40 wines.  

For Hawkes Bay / Bordeaux blends,  it is now possible to buy many very rewarding cru bourgeois wines en primeur from Bordeaux for landed prices far less than some ambitious local winemakers are seeking.  Some can even be bought off-the-shelf from merchants such as The Wine Importer and Peter Maude Fine Wines,  and some have been reviewed on this site.  These wines tend to be very food-friendly,  in the European tradition,  even though the baleful new world influence of excess ripeness and high alcohols is extending even into Europe.  Buying bordeaux does require some research into season and achievement in the district for any given year,  but in reading these notes,  the message has to be:  caveat emptor.  Local pride is understandable,  but too many of our cabernet / merlots still lack the gentleness and mouthfeel to delightfully accompany food.  Too many still lack dry extract and all-permeating ripeness,  and overt acid and excess oak are still all too frequent.  There have been many Bordeaux tastings to tune up on in New Zealand over the last 18 months,  with the arrival of the exciting 2002 and 2003 wines so relevant to us.  The following notes and ratings were prepared with such exercises in mind,  for cabernet / merlot is now an international class.  

Repeated Wines:  It is inevitable that in the course of the tasting year,  New Zealand wines of high repute will be tasted more than once.  Not only are exciting local wines included in other people's tastings more often,  but I am likely to insert them into my blind tastings as reference / calibration points.  Where they are part of worthwhile blind or other comparative tastings,  reviews will be posted afresh,  irrespective of the doubling-up.  For example,  in this batch,  two reviews are included of an important Hawkes Bay blend released during the year,  2004 Craggy Range Merlot Sophia.  There are several reasons why one might do this.  Firstly,  for those who cellar wines,  it is acutely interesting to know of progress reports,  and how a wine is looking year by year.  Secondly,  despite assumptions to the contrary in some places,  not only are tasters fallible,  but also wines look remarkably different according to the company they are seen in on any given day (as was first pointed out convincingly by the late Harry Waugh).  These different takes on a wine (in blind tastings,  note) are also of active interest to the real enthusiast.  My practice will be to score the wine and write the notes completely anew,  as they seem to me in the new tasting.  However,  at the secretarial phase of actually getting the hand-writing onto the website,  if I have previously completed a web-search etc for details,  the administration line in my format will repeat the earlier one,  simply to save time.  Fresh notes will run the risk of looking silly from time to time,  but this approach is more honestly analytical.  And,  wines are not static things,  even under screwcap.


2002  Alpha Domus The Aviator [ Cabernets / Merlot / Malbec ]
2004  Askerne Cabernet / Merlot / Franc Reserve
2004  Askerne Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet
2002  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Franc Irongate
2002  Babich The Patriarch [ Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec ]
2004  Black Barn Vineyards Hawkes Bay Reserve
2004  Church Rd Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve Series
2000  Church Rd Tom [ Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec ]
2002  Church Rd Tom [ pre-release sample]
2004  Clearview Enigma [ Merlot blend ]
2005  Coopers Creek Merlot
2004  Craggy Range Cabernets / Merlot The Quarry
2004  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels
2004  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia
2004  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia
2004  Esk Valley Merlot  / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label
2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
2004  Forrest Cabernet Sauvignon John Forrest Collection
2004  Gunn Estate Cabernet / Merlot Woolshed
2001  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon
2000  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon
2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Leston
  2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Scotsdale
1998  Howard Park [ Cabernets / Merlot – Picture Label ]
2003  Laroche Merlot
2003  MadFish Cabernet / Merlot / Franc
2004  Miro Cabernet / Merlot Archipelago
2004  Miro Cabernet / Merlot / Franc / Malbec
2005  Mt Riley Merlot
2004  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration
2004  Pask Merlot Declaration
2004  Sacred Hill Cabernet / Merlot Helmsman
2004  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone
2004  Squawking Magpie Cabernet Sauvignon The Nest
2004  TerraVin Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec J
2005  Tohu Merlot
2002  Villa Maria Cabernet / Merlot Reserve
2004  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Cellar Selection
2004  Villa Maria Merlot Private Bin
2003  Wishart Merlot / Cabernet Te Puriri
2004  Wishart Ranchman’s Red
2002  Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
2004  Xabregas Cabernet Sauvignon Show Reserve

2004  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $60   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 92%,  CF 7,  CS 1;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in oak cuves;  20 months in 70% new French oak;  release date 1 June ’06;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  great density,  and a fresher hue than The Quarry,  superb.  Bouquet on this wine is back to the obviously violets and merlot-dominant St Emilion / Pomerol style of Craggy's Gimblett Merlot,  but a little quieter at this stage.  It is more oaky than that wine,  but as with most of these top Craggy reds in 2004,  the oak handling is exemplary,  well matching the richness of the fruit.  Bouquet complexity should develop in bottle.  The actual freshness and intensity of berry is stunning.  Palate is in one sense merely a more oaky version of the Gimblett wine,  designed for a longer cellar life.  With its percentage of cabernets,  continuing the French analogy,  this wine will be a marvellous foil for 2003 and 2005 St Emilions and Pomerols,  in future comparative tastings.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Craggy Range Merlot Gimblett Gravels   19  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.7%;  $26   [ cork;  Me 87%, CS 5,  CF 5,  Ma 3;  part fermented in open oak cuves;  17 months in 50% new French oak;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  fresh and lovely.  If you've ever wondered why people talk about violets in the bouquet of good merlot,  and think it's all tosh,  just try this wine.  The florals on bouquet are simply sensational,  perfect violets,  backed by soft warm ripe black plummy fruit.  Palate is like velvet,  great fruit, subtle oak,  no winemaking infelicities,  just near-perfect fragrant pure merlot of some depth and weight and Pomerol style.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 04/06

2004  Craggy Range Merlot Sophia   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.9%;  $60   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 92%,  CF 7,  CS 1,  hand-harvested @ 2.5 t/ac;  100% de-stemmed;  20 months in 70% new French oak;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a sensational depth of hue,  the deepest in this set of cabernet / merlots.  Bouquet is as deep rich and complex as any of the merlot blends,  but is not as exquisitely pure and varietal / floral as the Gimblett Gravels Merlot.  It is more aromatic on the oak.  Palate likewise shows some of the redcurrant berry of the cabernet franc,  which with the oak makes the wine firmer and a little more Medoc-like.  In this tasting it seemed closest in style to the Esk 2002 Reserve.  It is an example of a fully international ‘Hawkes Bay blend’ illustrating the Bordeaux blend analogy superbly.  It will cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/06

2002  Esk Valley Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $50   [ screwcap;  Me 55%,  Ma 25,  CS 20;  MLF in barrel;  19 months in French oak;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  the hue scarcely affected by the two years extra time compared with most in the blind tasting.  This is another red with excellent floral components,  in this case not as purely merlot as the straight merlots.  Instead,  there is a complex interaction of merlot violets and plums with cabernet cassis and even blueberries plus some cooler red currants.  This produces a bouquet like a rich St Emilion with significant cabernet sauvignon,  such as Figeac,  but more modern.  Palate shows more oak again than the two Craggy Merlots,  but the fruit is rich enough for it to marry in superbly.  There is a little charry and dark chocolate / mocha on the late palate,  a nod to the modern style.  This very rich wine is totally international in quality,  and will cellar 5 – 20 years.  I see it has judged consistently in these notes,  highlighting the merits of screwcap.  This will be a great wine to assess screwcap performance over the 20-year or more lifetime of the wine.  GK 05/06

2002  Villa Maria Cabernet / Merlot Reserve   18 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $41   [ screwcap;  CS 46%,  Me 41,  Ma 13;  18 months in new French and US oak 80% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a similar density but a fresher hue than Craggy’s The Quarry.  In this blind tasting,  the similarity of style to the Craggy is staggering.  The fruit is a little weightier,  VA is lower,  and oak maybe fractionally greater,  but in varietal definition and palate richness,  this too is a great New Zealand red in the Bordeaux / Medoc style.  For those still hanging on to the idea New Zealand reds don’t keep (a notion that was never true for honestly made reds of appropriate dry extract and true ripeness),  it is noteworthy that this 2002 wine looks younger than the 2004 Craggy.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 04/06

2002  Alpha Domus The Aviator [ Cabernets / Merlot / Malbec ]   18 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 38,  Me 24, CF 20,  Ma 18;  cold soak and cuvaison up to 30 days for some fractions;  MLF and 23 months in French oak 75% new,  temperature controlled;  released October 2006;  www.alphadomus.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  not as rich as the top wines.  This wine too shows an astonishingly Bordeaux-like complexity on bouquet,  with similar nuances of fruit,  tobacco and cedary oak as ‘02 Tom,  but with a little more complexity and purity.  The ratio of fruit to oak in this vintage of Aviator is more favourably balanced to the fruit than the 2000,  and the tobacco-y complexity is greater.  Like Tom,  there is a trace of brett,  but that merely adds to its astonishing Bordeaux-like complexity.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2002  Church Rd Tom [ pre-release sample]   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels & Tuki Tuki Valley,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $135   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 47,  CS 44,  Ma 9,  hand-harvested;  3 – 4 week cuvaison;  12 months in French oak 50% new,  plus 6 more months in oak;  released October 2006 and subsequently offered @ $100 – 105 several retailers;  not on Church Road website;  http://www.pernod-ricard-nz.com/Pages/wines/our_wines/tom_2002.html ]
Ruby and velvet,  clearly older and lighter than most of the ‘04s,  more the weight of the Gunn Woolshed blend.  Bouquet is astonishingly complex,  a total Bordeaux look-alike,  with complex berry embracing cassis,  redcurrant and red and black plums.  There is also tobacco complexity varying from light to dark in hue,  plus potentially cedary oak,  and a little brett.  Palate too shows all these features,  remarkably integrated,  soft and forward for its age,  in the style of a 10-year-old St Emilion.  This is a food wine !  Complexity of flavour goes a long way to concealing that the wine is still lacking real concentration,  though one can overlook that for the scoring.  But greater dry extract is needed to have this wine justify its price tag.  The time-honoured way of achieving this is via an even lower cropping rate than that alluded to on the website.  This is the first edition of Tom to measure up to the man it honours – which is exciting – but its pricing and packaging appeals to baser values than love of wine.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Villa Maria Merlot / Cabernet Cellar Selection   18 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $25   [ screwcap;  Me 70%,  CS 17,  Ma 13;  hand-harvested,  100% de-stemmed;  22 months in French oak 40% new;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  but not the density and weight of the ’02 Reserve wine or the Craggys in this batch.  Bouquet however is every bit as delightful.  Like the Craggy Gimblett Merlot,  it is not so serious and oak-influenced,  but in many ways it is the better for that,  allowing the fruit to shine through.  In mouth the clarity of cassis and the beauty of the merlot black plum is marvellous.  With the lighter oak,  the wine is all one could ask of a top cru bourgeois or even a lesser classed growth.  It won't cellar as long as the more expensive reserve wines,  since it is not quite as rich,  but it is at least as delightful.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  VALUE  GK 04/06

2004  Xabregas Cabernet Sauvignon Show Reserve   18 ½  ()
Mt Barker,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $36   [ cork;  DFB;  made at the Porongurup contract winery,  using Ganimede Italian fermenters which cycle the juice over the skins using the CO2 produced in fermentation.  Their reputation is to produce more colour and a softer and more aromatic wine - www.porongurup-winery.com.au;   Xabregas is the volume label of Traolach;  www.xabregas.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  as rich as the other top wines,  but older than the 2002 Esk.  Bouquet is intriguing,  different,  clearly floral on a very fragrant berry style even more like a traditional St Emilion.  There are  fragrant red currant qualities suggesting cabernet franc,  as well as cassis,  all in appropriate oak,  and glory be,  no euc.  Palate is aromatic,  good berry and fruit again distinctive in its fragrance,  with some charry dark chocolate oak on the rich later palate.  This is a lovely rich modern Bordeaux style,  but one wouldn't pick it as straight cabernet sauvignon.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Craggy Range Cabernets / Merlot The Quarry   18 +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.4%;  $60   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 81%,  Me 14,  CF 5;  100% de-stemmed;  fermented in oak cuves;  21 months in 100% new French oak;  release date 1 June ’06;  www.craggyrange.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  denser and more oak-influenced than the Gimblett Merlot.  Initially poured,  bouquet on this wine is slightly aggressive and disorganised,  the oak more apparent than real.  Decanted and aerated it quickly opens up,  to be more complex than the Gimblett Merlot,  more Medoc to the Merlot's Pomerol.  The wine needs considerably more time in bottle to marry up.  It shows enhanced aromatic spice both from the percentage of cabernet,  the longer time in more (100%) new oak,  and higher VA than either the Gimblett Merlot or Sophia.  Notwithstanding all the cabernet,  the violets of merlot are apparent in this bouquet too,  and the cassis of perfectly ripe cabernet,  plus potential cigar box from new oak.  By perfectly ripe,  I mean all the cassis and plums complexity of a fine Medoc in a good year,  with no thought of leafy or stalky undertones.  Palate shows great richness of fruit,  clearly more oak than the Gimblett Merlot,  yet the wine is light on the finish,  inviting another sip.  Only the perceptible VA lets it down a bit.  Though tending oaky,  this wine will make an interesting Medoc running-mate for future Bordeaux 2003 and 2005 tastings.  Cellar 10 – 25 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Gunn Estate Cabernet / Merlot Woolshed   18 +  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ screwcap;  18 months in French oak;  part of Sacred Hill group,  but not on that website,  no dedicated website;  www.hawkesbaywines.com/gunnestate ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  not as dense as the top wines,  and older than most of the ‘04s.  Bouquet is a rich mix of berry and oak characters,  with dark plum and more charry / dark chocolate oak complexities.  Palate is very flavourful,  not as rich as the Esk Reserve,  but long with the cassis / cabernet component more prominent in this claret-styled red.  The oak is relatively subtle despite the bouquet,  and there is a hint of stalks shifting it a little towards the Medoc in character.  Cellar 5 – 15 years.  GK 05/06

2002  Babich The Patriarch [ Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec ]   18  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $59   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 62,  Me 19,  Ma 19,  hand-harvested;  extended cuvaison;  17 months in French and American oak;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  astonishingly youthful,  younger than the ‘04 Sophia.  And freshly opened,  the price to pay for such an undeveloped colour is a reductive veil,  needing splashy decanting several times to aerate the wine.  It opens to a darkly plummy rich bouquet,  some violets florals,  heavy cassis,  great purity of berry.  Palate is in one way rich,  yet with a certain leanness to the fine-grained fruit which is reminiscent of some better Margaux chateaux.  The oak tastes very fine-grained and new,  delightfully in the background.  I think this wine will emerge from its cocoon,  and in five years may earn the gold medal rating the fruit quality and seriousness deserves.  Just a little more oxygen in the system would have transformed it.  Cellar 5 – 20 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Esk Valley Merlot  / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec Black Label   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels mainly,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.5%;  $23   [ screwcap;  11 months in oak;  www.eskvalley.co.nz ]
Ruby.  Bouquet is soft,  ripe and plummy,  with delightful berry complexity,  plus an attractive deeply floral component.  Palate has the same kind of round plummy fruit as the ‘02 Esk Reserve,  but without the concentration or the oak complexity.  Alongside some of the cabernet-dominant wines the plumpness of fruit is delightful.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Forrest Cabernet Sauvignon John Forrest Collection   18  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14.3%;  $50   [ screwcap;  DFB;  no wine info on website;  www.johnforrest.co.nz ]
Ruby carmine and velvet,  deeper than the Syrah Collection,  but not as rich as the top wines in the class.  Bouquet is quite dramatically cassis,  with aromatic potentially cedary oak giving the whole wine the immediate impression of a high-cabernet Medoc red,  except it is much more oaky.  Palate is essence of ripe cabernet sauvignon,  with a good weight of cassisy berry,  so rich it scarcely has any sign of a cabernet doughnut palate – surely there is some merlot in this ?  It is too oaky,  though – a pity,  given the fruit quality.  The concentration will allow this wine to be cellared for 10 – 20 years,  which may allow the excess oak to marry away.  GK 05/06

2000  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon   18  ()
Margaret River & Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:   – %;  $86   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 100%,  old vines;  21 months in French oak 100% new;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  one of the lighter.  Bouquet is a little minty on this wine,  below which is fragrant but browning cassis,  tending one-dimensional.  Palate is cassis and suggestions of blueberry as if there were some shiraz in the wine,  the oak marrying up well and the palate much less acid than some of the younger wines from this label.  It would look a little simple in a 2000 Bordeaux tasting,  but this is pleasing Australian cabernet avoiding excessive euc’y characters.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2001  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon   17 ½ +  ()
Great Southern & Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $90   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 97%,  Me 2,  CF 1,  old vines;  23 months in French oak 100% new;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than many,  even allowing for age.  Bouquet is fragrantly aromatic on cassis and new oak,  in a style reminiscent of Pauillac except there is a hint of mint.  Palate is very dry,  good cassis going a little brown,  but rather more oak than is ideal.  Acid balance is harder than many New Zealand equivalents,  presumably due to some added,  but the enthusiasm for oak is matched by many local,  separating them from most Bordeaux.  A clearly varietal wine,  but not the balance and subtlety of the top examples.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Leston   17 ½ +  ()
Margaret River,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14.5%;  $41   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  ‘harvested according to flavour with little regard for analytical data’,  aerative fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  balance  1-year;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a good colour,  one of the deepest.  Bouquet is a beautiful violets and cassis modern Bordeaux-like aroma,  the whole colour and style of the wine initially like the Craggy Sophia,  but more cabernet.  Palate loses the analogy though,  for whereas the New Zealand wine has the plump fruit and natural acid reminiscent of real Bordeaux,  this wine in mouth seems noticeably acid presumably from acid adjustment,  and hence a little hard.  Thus a very promising wine on bouquet slides back to silver medal level.  Australian cabernets have traditionally cellared well,  but the ‘01 Howard Park straight cabernet raises doubts about these wines for the longer term.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Pask Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec Declaration   17 ½ +  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ ProCork;  DFB;  CS 55%,  Me 30,  Ma 15;  machine harvested;  tail-end BF in 100% new oak 70% French,  30 US;  followed by c. 18 months in barrel;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  but lacking the density of the top wines,  implying a cropping rate more akin to the Villa Cellar Selection.  Bouquet is first and foremost oaky,  with a smokey blueberry and cassis character which in the blind tasting can be confused with syrah.  On closer examination,  there is plenty of berry,  but all aromatic and slightly smokey / bacony (+ve) from the oak.  Palate assembles all these components into a slightly austere claret style,  austere not only on the oak but also from intrinsically less concentrated fruit.  [ Concentration and hence cellar-worthiness of our premium Hawkes Bay blends is becoming a key issue,  now producers of premium wines are playing leapfrog with each other on pricing.  Even traditionally good-value producers such as Babich have suddenly jumped to $60.]  I would doubt the dry extract on this wine matches the Craggy or Villa reserve-level wines.  Aftertaste is attractive on cassis and lots of fragrant oak.  This will become cedary with age over the next 5 – 15 years,  but will run out of fruit sooner than the competing wines.  GK 04/06

2004  Askerne Cabernet / Merlot / Franc Reserve   17 ½  ()
Havelock district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $30   [ cork;  CS 50%,  Me 35,  CF 15;  hand-picked;  10 months in French oak 60% new;  www.askerne.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  older than the Forrest Collection wine.  Bouquet is older too,  with a clear cassis component but all browning a little relative to the vibrant Forrest,  with hints of dark pipe tobacco,  in somewhat older oak.  Palate continues with good cassisy and richly plummy fruit,  all too oaky in the near-ubiquitous New Zealand fashion,  mouth-filling and long-flavoured,  but let down slightly by a hint of stalk on the finish.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2002  Babich Cabernet / Merlot / Franc Irongate   17 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $33   [ cork;  DFB;  CS 46,  Me 45,  CF 9,  hand-harvested;  extended cuvaison;  16 months in French oak some new;  www.babichwines.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  one of the lightest,  not the concentration of the top wines.  Bouquet on this wine is fragrant with cassis and some florals,  plus subtle oak – though there is a hint of stalks too.  Palate is clearly lighter than the top wines,  not the concentration,  slightly acid,  some old oak,  but good flavours reminiscent of a lean Medoc.  Aftertaste is long and fresh,  the cassis lingering on subtle oak.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2003  Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon Scotsdale   17 ½  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $41   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  ‘harvested according to flavour with little regard for analytical data’;  seen as an example of cooler climate WA cabernet;  aerative fermentation,  extended cuvaison;  18 months in French oak 75% new,  balance  1-year;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  close to the Leston.  Bouquet is complex cassis and cabernet,  with the same hint of stalks that Pichon-Lalande sometimes has,  on fragrant oak.  Palate however again lets the wine down,  in this case not only for being acid but also from slight capsicum notes reflecting a proportion of markedly less ripe cabernet fruit.  These wines look to have such good fruit on bouquet,  but then appear to be undermined in the winery by too much attention to pH and acid numbers – technology overriding taste,  despite the reference to picking on flavour.  Thus they end up tasting manipulated,  alongside good Bordeaux or Hawkes Bay cabernet.  Cellar 5 –12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Askerne Merlot / Malbec / Cabernet   17 +  ()
Havelock district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $20   [ cork;  Me 38%,  Ma 27,  CS 20,  CF 15,  hand-picked;  9 months in French oak of varying ages;  www.askerne.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  less oak-influenced than the Reserve wine.  Bouquet is clean,  very ripe to perhaps over-ripe merlot in an anonymous darkly plummy way,  showing a good ratio of fruit to oak.  Palate is clearly merlot-dominant at this stage,  showing a soft dark plummy flavour suggesting Pomerol.  If this wine generates some floral complexity on bouquet as it ages,  to more clearly pinpoint the merlot / malbec dominance,  it could score more highly in two or three years.  It is not as rich as the Reserve,  though.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Church Rd Cabernet Sauvignon Cuve Series   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $35   [ cork;  hand-picked;  c. 3 weeks cuvaison;  18 months in French oak,  55% new;  available ex winery,  and occasionally in on-licences;  cuve refers to the 18-tonne French oak fermentation vessels (cuve,  no accent) in which this series of wines is made,  fermentation in wood being considered to add quality;  www.pernod-ricard-nz.com/Pages/wines/our_wines/church_cs_cabs_2004.html ]
Ruby and velvet.  Initially opened,  this wine is not giving much away.  It opens gradually to an austere clean cabernet sauvignon style,  tight cassis,  potentially fragrant oak,  a hint of future tobacco.  Palate however is seriously austere.  Even though there is richness in one sense,  there is also a lack of ripeness / generosity of flavour,  and some stalks and noticeable acid.  Very tight wine which may blossom,  but I have doubts.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  in its style.  GK 05/06

2004  Pask Merlot Declaration   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $55   [ ProCork;  DFB;  Me 100;  machine harvested;  tail-end BF in 100% new oak 75% French,  25 US;  followed by c. 18 months in barrel;  www.cjpask.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some velvet,  older and lighter than the other high-rating ‘04s.  This wine smells of toasty oak more than berry,  with the varietal character pretty well obliterated.  There are vanillin and caramel notes in the oak,  highlighting the US component more than in the cabernet wines.  The nett result is a fruity wine in the rich Irvine style of merlot,  praised in Australia and America maybe,  but not elsewhere.  Palate is soft,  rich and chocolatey-round,  in an oaky style that is popular but non-varietal,  and can be made in pretty well any warmer climate.  Aftertaste is sweet clean oak.  If you want to know about the precise varietal character and beauty of merlot as expressed in a critical climate such as Bordeaux,  which Hawkes Bay can match very closely,  check out the ’04 Craggy Gimblett example.  Like pinot noir,  merlot's floral charm is lost in hotter climates.  The Pask Merlot will cellar 5 – 15 years,  but won't blossom.  Applying the concept 'Declaration' to this wine raises an interesting marketing question.  My hunch is that by spreading the tag 'Declaration' across all the major winestyles the firm makes,  Pask have diluted the concept down to everybody else’s ‘Reserve’,  which becomes ho-hum.  Better I think to make the hard call,  and nominate one wine per vintage selected among all the candidate varieties,  and declare that to be the firm’s greatest achievement for the year – the Declaration wine.  GK 04/06

2004  Sacred Hill Cabernet / Merlot Helmsman   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  hand-picked;  the top level of Sacred Hill reds;  18 months in French oak;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is reticent initially,  tending veiled,  opening with air to a charry dark chocolate and coffee overlay,  on dark leathery fruit.  The oak artefact rather drowns the fruit quality,  in the modern style.  Palate is rich in one sense,  but also awkward as if slightly salty,  slightly minty,  and much too much dark chocolate.  I suspect the fruit is over-ripe,  losing varietal beauty,  and has been made aromatic with excess oak.  Be interesting to see how it turns out:  modernists will like it.  Cellar 5 – 15 years,  to maybe fine down,  and let the berry emerge.  GK 05/06

2004  Sacred Hill Merlot Brokenstone   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $60   [ screwcap;  DFB;  hand-picked;  the top level of Sacred Hill reds;  French oak;  www.sacredhill.com ]
Ruby and velvet,  some carmine.  A mixed bouquet,  with some attractive plummy notes,  and some lesser,   slightly leathery / bretty / older cooperage,  all  a bit old-fashioned.  Palate shows good plummy fruit,  dark bottled plums,  considerable richness and some chocolate – more milk than dark as in Helmsman,  and all softer than that wine.  This may come together in bottle and improve on its ranking here,  but I doubt it will match the exquisite varietal purity and character of the 2002 of this label.  Like the Helmsman,  this year’s seems somewhat over-ripe and over-worked,  losing the specific varietal character which the reference wine (’04 Craggy Merlot Gimblett Gravels) shows so well.  Cellar 5 – 12 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Villa Maria Merlot Private Bin   17  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $18   [ screwcap;  Me 70%,  CS 17,  Ma 13;  100% de-stemmed;  16 months in French and US oak presumably older;  www.villamaria.co.nz ]
Ruby,  with slight carmine and velvet.  Bouquet is supple and juicy,  and surprisingly blueberry-like,  as well as plummy – red plums rather than black ones.  Palate is likewise soft,  ripe and round,  easy and accessible,  beautifully balanced but not very complex.  It is a more popular presentation of merlot,  against the Craggy Gimblett classical Pomerol style.  Cellar 5 – 10 years.  GK 04/06

2004  Black Barn Vineyards Hawkes Bay Reserve   16 ½ +  ()
Havelock district,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.8%;  $45   [ plastic closure;  CF 34%,  CS 32,  Me 22,  Ma 22;  24 months in French oak;  the firm’s top wine;  www.blackbarn.com ]
Ruby.  A developed bouquet,  with fair red fruits and berry offset by some VA and a little oxidation,  so that varietal expression is obscured.  Bouquet contains a suggestion of mint or even euc,  too.  Palate continues in the same vein,  somewhat stewed berryfruit in fair balance to oak,  all long flavoured but in a lighter style.  For earlier drinking,  and cellar 3 – 8 years only.  Plastic closures at this price point are inappropriate.  GK 05/06

2002  Wynns Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon   16 ½ +  ()
Coonawarra,  South Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $26   [ cork;  DFB;  16 months French and American oak some new;  www.wynns.com.au ]
Ruby and velvet,  by far the oldest of these 2002 reds.  Bouquet is a surprise,  being remarkably bretty as well as showing browning cassis in abundance.  Palate is the same,  clear-cut cassis and cabernet profile,  good fruit weight and acid balance,  and very winey indeed due to the brett.  This will be marvellous with food,  and can be cellared for 5 – 12 years or so.  However,  its long-term cellar performance will be compromised by the brett level.  Some would score it ‘no award’ on that factor.  Don’t serve this to winemakers at dinner,  for many will find this level of brett offensive.  Consumers generally love it.  GK 07/06

2000  Church Rd Tom [ Merlot / Cabernet / Malbec ]   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels & Tuki Tuki Valley,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $105   [ cork;  DFB;  Me 55,  CS 40,  Ma 5,  hand-harvested;  3 – 4 week cuvaison;  18 months in French oak some new,  released June 2004;  not on Church Road website;  a Montana group wine;  http://www.pernod-ricard-nz.com/Pages/wines/our_wines/tom_2000.html ]
Older ruby,  old for its age,  the second lightest.  Bouquet is fragrant but also old for its age,  with browning cassis,  dark tobacco and attractive oak,  plus subtle complexity notes of leather,  VA,  oxidation and brett.  Palate is leaner than the bouquet promises,  acid higher than desirable,  but the flavours in total are Bordeaux-like,  but 15 – 20 year-old wine rather than six.  More a short-term cellar prospect,  3 – 5 years.  GK 05/06

1998  Howard Park [ Cabernets / Merlot – Picture Label ]   16 ½  ()
Margaret River & Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $90   [ cork;  CS 75%, CF 13,  Me 12;  24 months in French oak;  seen as the best wine of the vintage,  but obscurely / not labelled,  the painting and words Howard Park alone on the ‘front’ label;  not on website;  www.howardparkwines.com.au ]
Old ruby,  some garnet,  the lightest in the May set.  Bouquet is Bordeaux in style,  but old for its age,  having already lost clear cassis character in its brown berry and fragrant almost cedary oak,  plus some brett complexity.  Palate is very oaky,  browning plums going pruney,  giving fair fruit,  but quite old-fashioned,  slightly salty and acid,  ageing rapidly by Bordeaux or even Hawkes Bay standards.  It is still in style in a fading leathery way,  but it looks very old,  alongside the set of 1986 Bordeaux I have on my tasting table at the moment.  Not much cellar potential left in this,  though it has the fruit to hold.  Cellar 1 – 5 years.  GK 05/06

2004  Squawking Magpie Cabernet Sauvignon The Nest   16 ½  ()
Gimblett Gravels,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 100%,  hand-picked;  20 months in French oak mostly new;  www.squawkingmagpie.co.nz ]
Ruby and velvet,  one of the deepest.  Initial impressions are of VA and oak,  below which is rich dark plummy fruit.  Palate shows charry oak and dark chocolate flavours in quite rich fruit,  seemingly too over-ripened for clear varietal character,  but all very much in the modern garagiste (show-pony ?) style.  In its lifted aromas and rich flavours,  many will find this an attractive wine,  and it does finish neatly,  not as oaky as the bouquet promises.  Maybe I am being too hard on it,  but I am not so keen on artefact-dominated wines.  There is a classical appeal in more demure styles,  where the exact berryfruit character dominates.  Has the fruit to cellar 5 – 10 years,  and mellow out to be more attractive.  GK 05/06

2004  TerraVin Cabernet / Merlot / Malbec J   16 +  ()
Wairau Valley,  Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13%;  $45   [ screwcap;  DFB;  CS 85%,  Me 10,  Ma 5;  wild yeast fermentation;  18 months in French oak 60% new;  neither fined nor filtered;  www.terravin.co.nz ]
Ruby,  carmine and velvet,  a great colour.  Bouquet however is eccentric,  with noticeable VA combined with dried herbes giving an almost mint sauce smell.  One can see the wine is rich,  but there is no obvious fruit on bouquet,  apart from a medicinal cassis undertone (and some brett).  Palate is very rich in an austerely-flavoured way,  and one can only conclude this wine is made from physiologically immature berries ripened to raisins,  thus preserving the herbes flavours.  Trying to make a premium cabernet sauvignon-dominant wine in Marlborough is unwise,  as Montana demonstrated abundantly in the late 70s / early 80s.  Despite the VA,  this will cellar 5 – 15 years on the richness,  and the high-quality French oak will develop cedary qualities.  The flavours however are a long way from good Bordeaux.  GK 05/06

2004  Clearview Enigma [ Merlot blend ]   16  ()
Te Awanga,  Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  14%;  $40   [ supercritical cork;  Me 80%,  Ma 10,  CF 5,  CS 5;  15 months in mostly new French oak;  formerly released as ‘Reserve Merlot’;  www.clearviewestate.co.nz ]
Ruby,  some carmine and velvet.  Initially opened,  this red is a little veiled and reductive,  and benefits from splashy decanting.  It opens to mixed red fruits,  red plums and red currants,  lightly oaked.  Palate is odd,  for though the fruit now shows some blueberry character,  there is also a salty / seaweed and acid note that is less winey / appealing.  An interesting lighter kind of red,  minor Bordeaux / Fronsac or similar in its style and flavour.  Cellar 3 – 8 years.  GK 05/06

2005  Coopers Creek Merlot   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $16   [ screwcap;  not much factual info on website;  www.cooperscreek.co.nz ]
Bright carmine,  ruby and velvet.  Bouquet is infantile,  unknit,  plummy / berryfruit juice and oak in a roto-fermenter style.  Palate has good physical fruit,  but is lesser in flavour,  completely raw,  with a slightly grubby suggestion of lesser / very old cooperage.  More a supermarket red than serious varietal,  but even so is suffering from premature release.  Will cellar for several years,  in its style.  GK 04/06

2004  Miro Cabernet / Merlot / Franc / Malbec   16  ()
New Zealand:  12.9%;  $44   [ plastic foam;  DFB;  CS 40%,  Me 36,  CF 20,  Ma 4;  18 months in French oak some new;  www.mirovineyard.co.nz ]
Ruby,  quite light in this company.  Bouquet is light and leafy with pretty red fruits,  approximating a light year of a lighter red of the northern Medoc such as Ch. Potensac.  Palate picks up the leafyness,  giving it an  austere red currants and red plum flavour,  slightly acid,  but at least subtly oaked to match the relative lightness.  This is a simple refreshing claret style,  for those attuned to lesser Bordeaux,  rather than Australian cabernet / merlots.  It will be good with food,  if cellared 3 – 5 years.  Pricing is a problem though:  Bordeaux of much more ripeness and substance than this can be acquired for significantly less money,  quite readily in Auckland.  And the closure is inappropriate,  at the price.  GK 04/06

2003  Wishart Merlot / Cabernet Te Puriri   16  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ screwcap;  Me 70%,  CF 30;  10 months French & US oak;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  a suggestion of velvet.  Bouquet is moderately fruity in a non-varietal,  bretty,  but winey way,  on older oak.  Palate shows reasonable concentration of berry,  in an old-fashioned generic Bordeaux approach,  non-varietal,  but quite rich QDR,  slightly acid and hence seeming very dry.  Cellar 5 – 8 years to soften,  in its style.  GK 05/06

2004  Miro Cabernet / Merlot Archipelago   15  ()
Waiheke Island,  Auckland district,  New Zealand:  13%;  $27   [ screwcap;  cepage presumably similar to the senior Miro blend;  9 months in older French and American oak;  second wine of the vineyard;  www.mirovineyard.co.nz ]
Light ruby.  Bouquet is pale but clean leafy red fruits,  in the same minor Bordeaux style as the main blend,  but clearly lesser.  Palate is austere red fruits,  leafy and stalky / green notes,  remarkably close to a modest year of a minor satellite St Emilion,  over-cropped and under-ripened,  but thankfully not over-oaked,  and it is dry.  OK as fresh lightweight QDR claret style,  and it is winey.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 04/06

2005  Tohu Merlot   15  ()
Gisborne,  New Zealand:  13%;  $19   [ screwcap;  partial BF and 6 months in French oak;  www.tohuwines.co.nz ]
Light ruby,  more a pinot colour.  Bouquet is unusual,  with strawberry fruit suggesting pinot,  but also with a leafy / cassisy undertone raising a question mark in the blind tasting.  Palate is clearer,  a light fragrant scarcely oaked watery red in a Loire Valley cabernet franc style.  It is pleasant as an acid light QDR,  though possibly not bone dry,  maybe 3 g/L.  Cellar 1 – 3 years only.  GK 05/06

2003  MadFish Cabernet / Merlot / Franc   14 ½  ()
Great Southern,  Western Australia,  Australia:  14%;  $20   [ screwcap;  12 months in French oak;  ’03 not on website,  but label is seen as ‘easy-drinking’;  www.madfishwines.com.au ]
Ruby.  This wine opens modestly,  with under-ripe red fruits rather clogged by a reductive tendency.  A good jug to jug aeration is called for.  Breathed,  it retains an under-ripe note,  with indeterminate fruit in very old oak,  all tending euc'y.  Palate is straightforward fleshy QDR in a cabernet style,  dry,  acid on the tail.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 05/06

2004  Wishart Ranchman’s Red   14 ½  ()
Hawkes Bay,  New Zealand:   – %;  $11   [ screwcap;  not on website;  www.wishartwinery.co.nz ]
Ruby,  similar to the Te Puriri,  fractionally older.  Bouquet on this one is also in a generic merlot / cabernet / Bordeaux style,  some red fruits,  but less clean than Te Puriri.  Palate shows reasonable fruit,  and mellow old oak and bretty flavours,  all very old-fashioned and more acid than that wine.  QDR,  not worth cellaring.  GK 05/06

2005  Mt Riley Merlot   13 ½  ()
Marlborough,  New Zealand:  13.5%;  $18   [ screwcap;  Me 90%,  Ma 10;  11 months in American and French oak,  some new;  RS 3 g/L;  www.mountriley.co.nz ]
Bright ruby.  Another simple predominantly stainless steel supermarket red,  I would think,  suggesting roto-fermenter or similar technology.  Bouquet and palate are juicy light red fruits reminiscent of biting a Gala apple,  but also stalky,  unwiney and acid,  in a QDR / bag in a box (from a cold climate) / drink-now style.  Not quite dry either [ later confirmed ],  but clean and wholesome.  Not worth cellaring.  GK 04/06

2003  Laroche Merlot   12 ½  ()
d’Oc Vin de Pays ,  France:  13.5%;  $20   [ screwcap;  hard-to-use website;  www.larochewines.com ]
Tired ruby.  Bouquet is an old-fashioned,  oxidised,  tending skunky and unclean red,  and the palate while showing plenty of ripe fruit is both bretty and grubby.  Distressingly ordinary,  but it is dry,  and wholesome enough as QDR.  GK 04/06