Wines of the week, news and reviews

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Wines of the week… Gimblett Gravels top 12

Sydney based Master of Wine Andrew Caillard has independently selected all 10 vintages of the Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection (2008 to 2017)… He said 2017 was a difficult growing season but “plenty of wines transcended the vintage because of attention to detail in the vineyard and the winery.”


Winter is here and so is the tenth box of the best full bodied reds from the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association (GGWA). And here I am surrounded by last year’s top 12, which I have yet to write about.

The top 12 collection is selected every year from a blind tasting undertaken by wine critic Andrew Caillard, a Master of Wine, based in Sydney, who is employed to taste Gimblett Gravels top reds in a quest to find the best 12 of the bunch. It’s no mean feat. Blind tasting is a full on exercise at the best of times, let alone where big tannic reds are concerned, such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and their blending companions (Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot, to name the usual suspects). And it’s no secret that 2017 was a tricky growing season in New Zealand, but that’s never stopped a determined winemaker from reducing their crops to make  better, more concentrated wines from tough years. I’m seeing this pattern emerge strongly in the 2017 Central Otago Pinot Noirs, which I think are some of the best yet – despite being from a cool, challenging year in terms of weather. Attention to detail in the vineyard can go a long way to making great wines in tricky vintages, as Caillard says in his report of the 2017 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection top 12: ““Plenty of wines transcended the vintage because of attention to detail in the vineyard and the winery.”

Here, without further ado, are my top three wines of the week and the top 12 lists from the past two years.

Bargain buy

2017 Jacob’s Creek Barossa Signature Cabernet Sauvignon $19.99

This is a new wine from an old winery, Jacob’s Creek, in the Barossa Valley. It’s made with grapes harvested from the cool summer of 2016, which means grapes hung on the vines for longer, developing ripe flavours – essential for Cabernet, which needs a long ripening season to develop its signature black fruit flavours. The grapes were fermented on skins for 15 days then matured for 12 months in a combo of French and American oak barrels. It contains 14.2% ABV, is dry, full bodied and delivers on its promise of next level flavours, fortunately without an eye watering price tag to match. There is also a Jacob’s Creek Barossa Signature Shiraz in the range, also $19.99. Both are great everyday drops with impressive flavours and smoothness.

4 stars


Treat of the week

2016 Saint Clair Gimblett Gravels Premium Cabernet Merlot Malbec $35

Saint Clair may be better known for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs than its big bodied Hawke’s Bay reds, but here’s a wine that bucks the trend and it comes from the warm summer of 2016. This means the flavours are ripe, rich and developed from the hot days with cool night allowing Cabernet and Malbec the time to develop fully ripe flavours.

There’s an underlying elegance to this big dark red, which is approachably drinkable right now thanks to its

Reaching for the stars

2016 Vidal Legacy Gimblett Gravels Syrah $79.99

Deep purple is a colour usually found only in the ripest, darkest, mostly deeply tannic of grapes, such as Syrah when it is harvested in small quantities – as in this full bodied, youthful red, which is dry, intensely spicy and has at least a decade’s worth of aging up its tasty sleeve. Its high price tag is slightly detracting but the quality does stack up, especially when tasted alongside international counterparts from France and Australia.

4 stars


The 2017 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection

Blended reds (Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon dominant)

2017 Craggy Range Te Kahu

2017 Mission Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

2017 Sacred Hill Special Selection Helmsman Cabernet Sauvignon

2017 Smith & Sheth CRU Cantera Cabernet Sauvignon

2017 Squawking Magpie SQM Cabernets Merlot

2017 Trinity Hill The Gimblett



2017 Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah

2017 Elephant Hill Stone Syrah

2017 Smith & Sheth CRU Heretaunga Syrah

2017 Squawking Magpie Gravels Syrah

2017 Trinity Hill Homage

2017 Vidal Estate Soler Syrah


The 2016 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection

Blended reds

2016 Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc

2016 Babich The Patriarch

2016 Craggy Range Sophia

2016 Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine

2016 Sacred Hill Special Selection Helmsman

2016 Saint Clair Gimblett Gravels Premium Cabernet Merlot Malbec

2016 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon

2016 Vidal Legacy Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot


2016 Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah

2016 Esk Valley Winemakers’ Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah

2016 Sacred Hill Special Selection Deerstalkers’ Syrah

2016 Vidal Legacy Gimblett Gravels Syrah

Esk Valley cellar door on the move

Esk Valley Cellar Door is on the move… from its long term home in Bay View, north of Napier in Hawke’s Bay, to State Highway 50 at Roy’s Hill.

The relocation will take place in August this year, says winemaker Gordon Russell, who has made wines for the Esk Valley brand for over two decades now.

“Esk Valley wines have been at the forefront of New Zealand wine since our first vintage in 1988. Renowned for our Merlot based Gimblett Gravels reds and The Terraces, Esk Valley has also been an industry pioneer bottling New Zealand’s first Verdelho in 2002, first Malbec in 1999 and pioneering the now well loved Hawke’s Bay Merlot, Malbec blend. We still hold dear to our artisanal values, including fermenting all our premium reds in concrete. This is what makes Esk Valley wines unique and special.”

More information will be published on the new cellar door when it is nearing completion. In the meantime customers can taste Esk Valley wines by appointment and buy online at

Wine of the week… top southern drops

Winemaker Frederic Coulon of Domaine de Beaurenard visited New Zealand this week and described  his family’s journey into biodynamic French winemaking as being inspired by his father.

The seventh generation French winemaker said his father used chemicals on the winery’s vineyards, post war in the 1950s, but he encouraged the family to change. And change they did. Today,  biodynamic certification is more important than organic certification because it is better for the land. “We don’t do the minimum to be certified, we are doing a lot of preparation. At one time my father used chemicals after the war, but he always described the soil as our capital and told us to see the soil and land as our greatest asset.”

This means that today all 60 hectares of Domaine de Beaurenard’s vines are grown organically and biodynamically with certification to back it up.

The winery values diversity and complexity, as is seen in their vineyards and winemaking. They continue to use all 13 grape varieties that are allowed in the Chateauneuf du Pape appellation, including the white grapes; Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc.

The Beauregard Chateauneuf du Pape red is predominantly Grenache, the most important grape in the appellation and, in the latest wine, the 2016, the blend is 65% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre and 10% of all the others. The winery also makes a white Chateauneuf du Pape and a Rasteau, featured below.

Bargain buy

4 stars

2018 Te Kano Rosé Central Otago $21

Dry pink wine is on a roll and this one ticks the boxes technically as well as taste-wise. It’s dry technically speaking, with 4 grams of residual sugar per litre, which is the threshold to be classified as dry. This is nicely balanced by Central Otago’s vibrant cool climate acidity, which adds zing to the ripe strawberry flavours in this wine from the super hot 2018 vintage. Winemaker Dave Sutton says the grapes were so ripe on Te Kano’s vineyards in 2018 that they had hand harvested them all before they’d even started to harvest grapes in the 2017 in a comparative timeframe.

Treat of the week

5 stars

2017 Gulfi Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG $39.99

This wine comes from the east of Sicily where the island’s only DOCG allows winemakers to blend Nero d’Avola (the island’s most planted red grape) with Frappato, a lighter, softer, fruity grape, which balances the bold dark cherry flavours of Nero.

These two grapes are used in varying proportions to make wines ‘Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG’ wines and this is the best I have tried yet. I’m not alone. Italian wine specialist and author, Ian d’Agata, writes in his Native Wine Grapes of Italy book that Vito and Matteo Catania of Gulfi Estate have done more than anyone to highlight how Nero d’Avola can taste in different vineyard sites, different elevations and in blends that allow Nero’s dark flavours to shine.

Those flavours are beautifully balanced by the smooth lightness of Frappato in this full bodied, purple coloured, young red wine. Refreshing acidity adds balance to every lingering sip.

Reaching for the stars

5 stars

2017 Domaine de Beaurenard Rasteau AC $44.99

Rasteau is a little higher in elevation than Chateauneuf du Pape with a mix of soils ranging from limestone to clay and stony ground. A wine from Rasteau must contain at least 50% Grenache with 20% Syrah and Mourvedre. The warm climate can lead to high alcohol levels, as in this wine, which contains 15% alcohol. It is made from certified organic  and biodynamically grown grapes from the winery’s 25 hectare property , which was bought in 1981 by the Coulons.

All grapes were hand harvested and the wine was vinified in Chateauneuf du Pape. Grapes were destemmed and fermented mostly in stainless steel (a small portion in oak) with natural yeasts and a long fermentation between 15 and 35 days. Elevage was 12 months in oak, mostly large mature barrels rather than new oak. The aim is controlled oxidative maturation to soften the wine, not to imprint the taste of oak on the wine. It tastes fresh, dry and full bodied with intense red fruit and spice flavours.

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