Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Gimblett Gravels 2021 Annual Vintage Selection

The irony about heatwaves is that they often lead into some of the best vintages of wines that seem to be the exact opposite of what you would want to drink during extremely hot days. But a new release of 12 top reds from 2021 is a reminder of the halcyon days before the rain that has blighted New Zealand's North Island wine regions over the past two years and it has been a great insight into the evolution of big reds from Hawke's Bay. It is the 14th release of the Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection.

The wines are selected by Master of Wine Andrew Caillard, who is commissioned as an independent wine professional to evaluate and rate the best 12 of a larger bunch of reds submitted by wineries in the Bay. Over the past 14 years, it has been heartening to see innovation from winemakers, with Syrah now often forming six of the top 12 and other varieties also coming into play, such as Malbec and even, on occasion, the inclusion of the late ripening grape Petit Verdot.

This week's top wines on my wine writer's tasting table have all come from the 2021 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection, which were sent to me late last year to evaluate; always a challenge when Caillard has already done so, but as always, I find this range fascinating and am intrigued by his choices as so many factors have evolved over the past 14 years; grape variety proportion planted in the Bay, winemaking and last but far from least, the climate continues to evolve. 

So, what I am drinking now that it is only 24 degrees Celsius rather than 30 degrees plus?

Here are my top picks of a very impressive bunch. The full top 12 list is below this trio.

What I'm Drinking this Friday, 26 January 2024

2021 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah RRP $60


This incredibly tasty wine comes from Stonecroft, the first winery to produce outstanding full bodied red wine from the rocky Gimblett Gravels, which were once regarded as infertile land that was suitable for nothing. How thinking changes. This wine was aged for 18 months in French oak, 33% new, and has lovely balanced alcohol of 13.5%. It reminds me of ripe, juicy plums macerated with their skins, reduced to an essence and bottled freshly. The plums on the beautiful tree I live with are beginning to ripen and have already reminded me of the beauty of stone fruit in summer and the great depths of flavour of ripe fresh fruit straight off the tree. What a gift. This wine is another fabulous example of Syrah's plummy taste. We know about rotundone - the black pepper taste in Syrah - but here's a wine that argues the case for fruit essence captured in the beauty of wine. 

2021 Craggy Range Le Sol RRP $170


The word sol is French for the soil or earth and taps into every winemaker's desire to capture a sense of place in the bottle, which this quintessentially New Zealand Syrah definitely has. Three clones of Syrah were blended in this wine, which was aged in a combination of French and Austrian oak for 17 months. It is a big wine. Full bodied, structured and already characterful with dark fruit flavours driving the taste. It almost seems to beg for time in the cellar and will definitely reward at least a decade of ageing. 

2021 Saint Clair James Sinclair Malbec RRP $28


The best value for money of the entire top 12 and quirkily enough, it is a 100% Malbec. Very unusual in New Zealand today but then 2021 was a dry vintage, potentially with even longer ageworthy wines than the great 2020 vintage. The wine tastes very approachable for drinking now and was aged for 10 months in French oak, 10% new; a modest amount that allows the dark ripe black berry flavours to shine. And in case readers are thinking that Saint Clair Family Estate is a Marlborough based winery, it is, but it also owns a portion of land on the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. 

The top 12 Gimblett Gravels 2021 Annual Vintage Selection wines

Blended reds

2021 Craggy Range Sophia RRP $140

2021 Elephant Hill Hieronymus RRP $125

2021 Elephant Hill Stone Merlot Malbec Cabernet Franc Cabernet Sauvignon RRP $65

2021 Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine RRP $50

2021 Saint Clair James Sinclair Malbec RRP $28

2021 Squawking Magpie The Nest RRP $59.95


2021 Craggy Range Le Sol RRP $170

2021 Pask Declaration Syrah RRP $50

2021 Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah RRP $60

2021 Smith & Sheth CRU Omahu Syrah RRP $80

2021 Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah RRP $60

2021 Trinity Hill Homage RRP $150

  • The Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection has taken place every year from 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 vintages, with the new 2021 now out.