We're still tooling around New Zealand, but will (sadly) be returning home to the post-holiday grind in California. While Ruth and I are here, though, we're enjoying ourselves to the fullest, and like most of our vacations that involves drinking a lot of wine and eating a lot of good food. Luckily we don't know how (and aren't bothering to find out) how to convert Stones to Pounds, so the scales offered in our hotels can't give us meaningful and depressing evidence of how well we are eating.
In any case, here are some more thoughts and wine reviews from one of the wine regions we spent some time exploring last week. The locals were shocked that we'd even attempt to visit eleven wineries in a single day, let alone manage to actually do it. Enjoy the fruits of our labors.
This large crescent-shaped bay on the North Island is an interesting combination of seaside resort-town and wine region. Imagine wineries 30 feet off the beach in San Diego and you'll start getting a feel for the sometimes strange conjunction of suntans, flip-flops, and Cabernet that exists here. Once away from the ocean however, the region quickly gives over to farm country, and to an ancient, deep-gravel riverbed which is quickly becoming a designated growing area known as The Gimblett Gravels. These fast-draining, nutrient-poor soils seem to lend themselves to Bordeaux varietals along with a lot of Syrah.
The Bordeaux varietals are characteristic of their namesake rather than New World style, which is to say that they are mostly medium bodied and express more earth and stone characteristics than fruit. The Syrahs also lean much more towards their old world predecessors with nearly all of them having the weight and style of Cotes do Rhone rather than the inky , rich styles of the Old World heavy-hitters, the Australians, or those made in California. Interestingly, many of the Syrahs have a strong white pepper component that I have begun to associate with cool climate Syrahs from California's central coast.
Like in Martinborough, the last two or three years in Hawkes Bay have been less than stellar vintages, though perhaps they have not been as extremely bad as for Martinborough and Central Otago. The difference between 2002 and 2003/4/5 wines are pretty noticeable among the red wines, with the 02s much more in balance and showing nice ripe fruit while the 2004s especially often showing greenness at levels that I found unappealing. Having said that, I also found that many wines bore traces of over-ripeness, with raisin, stewed prune, and fig characteristics that were equally unappealing in the red wines. There is a sweet spot between these two extremes of greenness and raisin quality that, especially in recent vintages, few winemakers in the area seem to hit, especially with their Cabernet and Merlot-based wines.
2002 Church Road Cabernet Merlot Blend, Hawke's Bay
Opaque ruby in color this wine has a nice nose of dried figs, prunes, and black cherry fruit aromas. In the mouth it is smooth and balanced with good acid and a light tannic structure that supports flavors of black cherry, cassis, vanilla, and toasted oak. While not especially deep or complex, the wine is pleasant, and incredibly easy to drink. 8.5/9
2005 Milton "Te Arai" Chenin Blanc, Gisbourne
Light yellow-gold in the glass this wine smells exactly like beeswax candles. This alluring nose is matched by a bright, racy body in the wine with a smooth weight on the tongue and flavors of lemon zest, crushed stones, and beeswax again in the finish. It lacks a profundity, but is a fairly good local interpretation of the varietal. 8.5
2005 Esk Valley Verdelho, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
The only one made in New Zealand, this wine is colorless in the glass with a nose of fresh roasted peanuts and light floral and yellow fruit characteristics. In the mouth it is tart, with good acid levels, and flavors of orange peel, nut skin, and light, mixed citrus qualities. 8.5
2006 Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Pale, pale gold in color, this wine smells of passionfruit sorbet, and tastes much the same with rich, smooth passionfruit and starfruit flavors on the palate. The wine is balanced and silky, due in part to the judicious influence of oak on the wine. Anyone who thinks Sauvignon Blanc needs to be grassy and minerally to be good should try this wine. 8.5/9
2005 Esk Valley Reserve Chardonnay, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Pale gold in the glass, this wine has a nice nose of mineral and butterscotch aromas. In the mouth it has a lovely texture and weight on the palate with good acid levels and lemon cream, nutty and smoky flavors rounding out the wine on the finish. 9
2004 Crossroads "Destination Series" Pinot Noir, Hawkes Bay
Light garnet in color, this wine has a pleasant nose of cranberry and mixed spice aromas. In the mouth it has good poise and presence with flavors of cranberry and rhubarb with a light herbal quality on the smooth finish, with no trace of tannins. 8.5/9
2003 Crossroads Collections Edition Cabernet Merlot, Gimblett Gravels, Hawke's Bay
Medium garnet in the glass this wine has a rich loamy nose of wet earth, cherry and tobacco aromas. In the mouth it is classic Bordeaux in character with wet stones, violets and sour cherry flavors and just a hint of green pepper that reminds you this is Cabernet. Herbal qualities surface on the nice finish. 9
2000 Crossroads Talisman Proprietary Red Blend, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Dark ruby in the glass, this wine smells of wet leather, pencil shavings and prunes. In the mouth it is soft and dusty in texture with flavors of roasted figs, dried cherries, and hints of cassis that linger in a long finish supported by the smooth light tannins. The exact varietal blend is "secret" but likely includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Syrah. 9
2002 Matariki "Quintology" Red Blend, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a classic Bordeaux nose of pencil shavings and wet earth. In the mouth it tastes of cherries and tobacco, with a medium bodied style that has good acids and lovely smooth tannins that are well integrated into the texture of the wine, making for a very pleasurable, textbook-style claret that would be hard to distinguish from many lesser Cru Bordeaux wines. 9/9.5
2002 Matariki Sangiovese, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Light garnet in the glass, this wine has a nice perfumed nose of cherry and floral aromas. In the mouth it possesses candied cherry and typical Sangiovese flavors of sandalwood and cedar, though without the characteristic tannic backbone one would expect from the grape. This is a surprising, and pleasant (if not particularly profound) treatment of the varietal that will delight anyone who doesn't care to hold it up against its Tuscan cousins for scrutiny. 8.5/9
2004 Matariki Chardonnay, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Pale gold in color this wine has a nose of cold cream and pastry cream aromas. In the mouth it is silky and sexy with classic butter and vanilla characteristics balanced with mineral and light citrus qualities that lean towards the lime end of the spectrum. Not stupendous, but it's hard to find anything wrong with this wine. 8.5/9
2004 Te Awa Reserve Chardonnay, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Pale, straw/gold in color, this wine has a lovely nose of coconut cream and lemon aromas. In the mouth it has lovely glycerin levels, giving it a weighty feel on the palate and flavors of vanilla and lemon cream mixed with a nice minerality and resonance that makes you sit up and take notice. 9
2003 Te Awa Cabernet Merlot Blend, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Somewhere between medium and dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a very nice cherry and tobacco character in the nose, with similar flavors in the body of the wine. Good acid levels and very light tannic structure support this core of cherry and tobacco flavor, joined with juicy tart plum that lasts through a decent finish. 8.5/9
2004 Te Awa Pinotage, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a pleasant nose of raspberry and plum aromas. In the mouth it is juicy and spicy with raspberry and tart Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi) flavors and completely lacks the woody greenness that mars so many of the South African interpretations of this varietal. While not phenomenal, this somewhat rare varietal in New Zealand has been managed with care in this wine, and makes for an unusual and pleasant alternative to the ubiquitous New Zealand Pinot Noir. 8.5/9
2005 CJ Pask "Roy's Hill" Merlot, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine shows aromas of tobacco, plum, and notes of damp earth. In the mouth it is medium bodied with primary flavors of plum and lightly green tannins that stay restrained enough to avoid being objectionable. 8.5/9
2004 CJ Pask "Gimblett Road" Merlot, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium ruby in color this wine has a nose of barnyard and smoked meat aromas. In the mouth it offers light tannins and nice earthy and slightly leathery qualities with subdued plum and cherry fruit with a gamey aspect that sets this wine apart from most of the others I've tasted from the region. 8.5/9
2005 CJ Pask "Declaration" Cabernet Merlot Malbec Bland, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium to dark garnet in the glass, this wine has an attractive nose of tobacco, cherries, and light, green olive aromas. On the palate the wine is smooth and well balanced with cherry and leather flavors and well integrated tannins that support the wine's flavors through a nice finish. 9
2002 Vidal Estate Merlot Cabernet, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in color this wine has a nose of soft cherry and leather aromas. In the mouth it has nice cherry flavors with an earthy aspect that at times becomes mineral in quality. The wine is balanced and has a very nice finish, lengthened by well integrated tannins.
2003 Vidal Noble Semillon Dessert Wine, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay
Bright yellow-gold in the glass this wine has an alluring nose of sultanas and fresh honey. In the mouth it is thick, but not syrupy, with brilliant acidity and flavors of sultanas and apricots and honeysuckle notes in the finish. 8.5/9
2005 Clearview Estate "Cape Kidnappers" Cabernet Merlot Blend, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in color, this wine has a nose of wet stones and cherries and a hint of cocoa powder. In the mouth the wine is smooth and silky with lovely tannins surrounding a core of cherry fruit and wet slate/stones, adding a minerality to the earthy dark fruit flavors. 9
2005 Clearview Estate "Two Pinnacles" Malbec Merlot Bland, Hawkes Bay
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine offers aromas of cherry and cassis. On the palate the wine is lengthy and round with silky well integrated tannins that support flavors of cassis, spice, and cherries through a nice finish. 9
2004 Clearview Estate "Old Olive Block" Cabernet Merlot Blend, Hawkes Bay
Dark garnet in color, this wine has an unusual and distinct aroma of drying river algae or seaweed along with a more typical note of tobacco. In the mouth it provides smooth, round flavors and a nice depth of character with fine grained tannins lurking in the shadows. 9
2004 Clearview Estate "Enigma" Merlot (10% Malbec, 5% Cab Franc, 5% Cab Sav)
Medium garnet in the glass this wine has a strong nose of wet stones, tobacco and rainwater. In the mouth it is super smooth and full, with flavors of cherry and tobacco that modulate to notes of leather and espresso on the substantial finish. Well balanced with a distinct personality, this wine is a great interpretation of this currently out-of-favor varietal. 9/9.5
2005 Te Mata "Bullnose" Syrah, Hawkes Bay
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of strong white pepper and cassis aromas. In the mouth it is light to medium bodied with flavors of tart plum and blackberry with light tannins and a good length over the palate. The finish is pleasant if unremarkable. 8.5/9
2006 Te Mata "Woodthorpe" Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay
Colorless in the glass, this wine has a bright and clear nose of green apple fruit. In the mouth it just as bright and clear with green apple and starfuit flavors with good acidity and a straightforward personality that makes it hard not to like. 8.5/9
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