Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Great dirt from Esk Valley news and reviews

Great Dirt is a great name and I’m not going to beat around the bush; the Great Dirt Syrah is one of the red wine highlights of my year so far. It’s been a tough one for many, not least for the winery that has just launched this evocatively named new wine brand, Esk Valley, which is part of Villa Maria Wines.

Winemaker Gordon Russell started at Esk in 1993 and has since forged a reputation for making a wide range of wines from the quirky (Chenin Blanc and Verdelho) to the mainstream with  Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and his pioneering work with Malbec, among many other grapes and wine styles he’s made.

This month Esk Valley Wines launched its new Great Dirt wines, named to appeal to those who are drawn to the origins of the wines they drink. It pays homage to the great soils on which the grapes in these four wines grew. Those soils are at The Terraces Vineyard at Esk Valley’s original home at Bayview north of Napier and the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District; that 800 hectares of stony ground which is devoted mostly to red grapes. Here are my notes on the new wines.

2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Hillside Syrah RRP $89.99

Impartiality can take a flying leap when it comes to a wine like this because while I can stand back and be the wine professional in tasting it, I can also say, hand on heart, this is my favourite of the new Great Dirt lineup.
It’s dense, dark and delicious and made in tiny volumes. This Syrah is made with grapes grown on a 1.1 hectare site at the top of The Terraces Vineyard at Bay View in Hawke’s Bay. This is a powerful Syrah which reminds me of biting into a freshly picked, black fleshed Omega plum, enjoying its warm flesh and sweet taste. The gently sloping, north facing vineyard it comes from receives full on sunshine during the day and cool sea breezes at night, both of which accentuate Syrah’s black spice peppery notes and add complexity to this wine.

2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Chardonnay RRP $49.99

This is a big white made for drinking with flavoursome food such as fleshy white panfried fish or simply pasta with parmagiano. Like those great flavours, this wine has all the creamy bells and nuanced spicy whistles that Chardonnay lovers enjoy, thanks to wild yeast fermentation which enhances the flavour spectrum, adding savoury notes of macadamia nuts and toasty flavours of oatmeal. It’s made with grapes grown on a coastal vineyard at Bay View north of Napier. The vines there are dry farmed, meaning they receive no irrigation so tend to be smaller in size and more concentrated in flavour. The finished wine was aged in French oak barriques, 36% new. It’s super tasty now and it’s a keeper for at least five to six years.

2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt River Gravel Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon RRP $69.99

If you’re looking for a wine to age for the long haul, here it is. Made of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon, which were grown in the Cornerstone and Ngakirikiri vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District. Long maceration time on skins provides this wine with its full body and full on structure, which makes it impressively weighty in the mouth, lingering in taste and all about dark fruit like flavours – blackcurrants, black cherries, grated nutmeg and hints of cardamon. This is a complex red, which was aged for 20 months before bottling and was bottled unfiltered, which means it retains its density and impressive powerful personality.

2019 Esk Valley Great Dirt Hillside Malbec Merlot Cabernet Franc Syrah RRP $89.99

Made with grapes grown on The Terraces Vineyard at Bayview north of Napier. Made from Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and dry-farmed with extremely low yields which means the concentration of blackberry and dried fruit flavours is bold and flavoursome in this wine… As with the others in the Great Dirt range, all the grapes were hand harvested and wild yeast fermented. The result is a wine that drinks well now but really should be aged for at least four or five years before decanting and drinking, lest a wine lover commi vinfantacide.

Enjoy your weekends, preferably with a large glass of wine that comes from a slice of great dirt somewhere on this crazy planet.