PS: Hawke’s Bay’s string of ‘bests’ keeps growing

If you’re looking for a top red for the so-called silly season, check out Hawke’s Bay’s best from 2014 and 2013

 This story first appeared in a slightly shorter version in NZ Winegrower magazine, December/January 2016/2017.

It was dubbed the summer of your childhood and was so dry that Hawke’s Bay was in drought, North Canterbury was experiencing spontaneous fires and many New Zealand winemakers wondered whether they were still living in a maritime climate.

The summer of 2013 was so warm and dry that it set a new benchmark for mid to late ripening red grapes, which are used to make big, full bodied red wines – think: Malbec, Merlot and Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon and think Hawke’s Bay.

Not only was 2013 a stellar vintage for ripeness in reds, it was followed by the potentially even better year of 2014, which was frost free and mild during one of the most crucial moments in the vine’s life cycle – spring. This is when vines burst into life, setting the flowers that grow into grapes to make wine.

The 2014 Hawke’s Bay reds are now beginning to trickle onto the market and many have been described as “maybe even better than the much heralded 2013 vintage.”

This thought came from winemaker Gordon Russell, the head man at Esk Valley winery over the past 20+ years and also the chairman of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers’ Association (GGWA).

“Only time will tell which year is best,” he added, on the eve of releasing 12 high ranking wines from GGWA.

These wines were selected by going through a blind tasting conducted by Sydney based Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, who tasted them as part of a bigger group of GGWA wines in order to select his case of the best.

The top 12 wines were sent to wine writers in August this year and, having been privileged enough to taste the wines from both years, I must confess to being more impressed with the 2014 reds. This may change as the wines evolve and it will be interesting (and tasty) to follow their progress in the bottle over the next decade or more because the answer to which is best is likely to be years away and subject to the quality of storage conditions for  these big reds.

It can be tricky to predict ‘best’, not to mention a subjective exercise, due to stylistic differences between the 2014 Syrahs and the 2014 reds made from Malbec, Merlot and members of the Cabernet grape varieties.

There are quantifiable factors, however, which include an earlier and more compressed vintage in 2014.

Most grape growers in the GGWA had completed harvest about a fortnight sooner than usual. In part this was due to rain that arrived in early April (after 5 April 2014). It was also due to the fact that the main ripening period for 2014 was, in many cases, a more efficient and earlier season because the spring leading into that harvest was frost free and relatively mild, says Russell.

The GGWA’s top 12 reds from 2014 included seven Syrahs and five reds made from blends of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon, Malbec and Merlot.

My top wines were…

The Syrahs impressed me the most and all wines are scored below. Top of the pops for me was…

The 2014 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, $60, 14.5% ABV

And, of the other reds, my top wine was…

The 2014 Trinity Hill The Gimblett Gravels ‘The Gimblett’, a complex blend made up of 49% Cabernet Franc, 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot and 3% Malbec.


Getting closure

Four of the 12 wines were sealed with cork (one of which was badly affected by TCA – trichloranisole, also known as cork taint) while the remaining eight were closed with screwcaps.

The Gimblett Gravels Wine Association (GGWA) is also on a mission to accurately communicate the correct description of the area in which the grapes are grown because, as yet, there is no Geographic Indication law in New Zealand. This is likely to change in the first half of 2017 but in the meantime, the correct way to refer to the area and its wines is that the wines are to be known as Gimblett Gravels and the area as the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District.


The top 12 reds… 2014

These are the details on the top 12 Gimblett Gravels 2014 reds as selected by Andrew Caillard, Master of Wine, for the GGWA.


2014 Craggy Range Le Sol Syrah $120, 14% ABV

This 100% Syrah is deep purple in colour with dark flavours too; cloves, black pepper and spice dominate the aromas and there’s rich fruit flavour and a long finish.



2014 Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Syrah, $60, 14.5% ABV

One of the top wines of this line-up (for me), thanks to its black fruit and baked fruit flavours, its complex spiciness and its long, fruity finish.



2014 Sacred Hill Deerstalker’s Syrah $59.99, 13.5% ABV

One of the few wines here sealed with cork, this Syrah is already showing spicy complexity rather than fruit forward flavours, and history shows it will have a long life ahead, due to the big but balanced tannins, high acidity adding freshness and its long finish.



2014 Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah $35, 14% ABV

An outstanding wine in this line up, one of the best, thanks to its big smooth tannins, velvety fruit flavours and spicy notes of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and cedar… I’d love to see this wine again in 10 years’ time. It has everything I love about young Syrah and shows signs of great potential for the future.



2014 Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah $35, 13.5% ABV

This is an interesting blend of Syrah (97% ) and Viognier (3%), which shows beautiful powerful fruit aromas of black plums and ripe peach, intermingled with complex spicy notes. It’s a crowd pleasing style which will last the distance too; if you have the willpower to resist its forward charms right now.



2014 Vidal Reserve Syrah $30, 13.5% ABV

Big, beautiful, dark and rich… a well priced Syrah with structured big tannins and fruit richness supporting its powerful flavours.



2014 William Murdoch Syrah $36.95

This Syrah was affected by strong aromas of trichloranisole, unfortunately – not the wine’s fault, but a faulty cork.

No score


2014 Craggy Range Sophia $95, 13.8% ABV

This is a complex blend in terms of the make up of grapes used, which include 61% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 19% Cabernet Franc; all combine to create a wine for the very long haul, which does happen to drink pretty well now too, sporting dark fruit cake like aromas and dense spicy flavours held together in a big full bodied dry red with a long finish. A top drop.



2014 Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine $48, 14.3% ABV

Mission Estate winemaker Paul Mooney has outdone himself here in this soft, approachable Merlot-dominated blend (70%), which is fruit forward and supported by dark, full bodied power from the two Cabernets – Cabernet Sauvignon 25% and Cabernet Franc 5%.



2014 Squawking Magpie SWM Cabernets Merlot $79, 13.8% ABV

Another top drop from winemaker Jenny Dobson, this is a three way blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 62.5%, Merlot 25% and Cabernet Franc 12.5% – all combining to make a powerful, long term red, which will reward those with willpower to age it for up to and possibly beyond a decade.



2014 Villa Maria Merlot $49.99, 13.5% ABV

Big bodied, powerfully fruit, rich in flavour and made entirely from the soft and approachable Merlot grape. This is an impressive full-bodied, dry red with a long flavoursome finish.



2014 Trinity Hill The Gimblett $35, 13.5% ABV

Stunning four way blend of Cabernet Franc 49%, Cabernet Sauvignon 39%, Merlot 9% and Malbec 3%; it is supported by complex spicy notes, is bone dry, full bodied, extremely well priced and approachable right now – but also has the power to last the distance.


Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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