Monday, 21 November 2016

Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2014

Region: Gimblett Gravels

“So, how many of you have tried a New Zealand Syrah?” That question, asked by wine journalist Ch’ng Poh Tiong to a group of us gathered for a private tasting, surely made us think. Even though we were all fairly well-versed in wines, we had drunk far more Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from New Zealand than Syrah. My own experience with New Zealand Syrah came when visiting Man O' War Vineyards located on the breezy Waiheke Island, just off the Auckland coast. It was after tasting their Dreadnought Syrah that I came to appreciate why the Kiwis call it so instead of Shiraz like their Australian neighbours do. Stylistically, New Zealand has more in common with Northern Rhone than the Barossa Valley, with more restrained fruit and very often a peppery or gamey note.

The wines were selected by Sydney-based Master of Wine Andrew Caillard to represent the Gimblett Gravels wine region, located within the larger district of Hawke’s Bay. It's a fairly new region, with the first red grape plantings taking place in 1981, which proved more suitable than the Chenin Blanc and Müller-Thurgau that had been planted in the 1970s. The savvy producers in this region have banded together to trademark the name so that anyone wanting to use the Gimblett Gravels label must be a member of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association and prove that their vineyard is planted on the free-draining gravel soils that are the most significant feature of this region. Combined with a warm micro-climate, this allows producers to stand a fair chance of fully ripening the red grape varieties which form the majority of plantings here. 90% of the land is planted with Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a smattering of other red varieties, while the remainder is planted with Chardonnay, Viognier and other white grapes. Hawke’s Bay is in fact the only area in New Zealand where Bordeaux varieties can ripen consistently and I was eager to see if these wines could demonstrate a potential beyond New Zealand’s current star grape varieties.

All the wines were from 2014, rated an exceptional vintage with a dry and warm growing season resulting in high quality and volumes. Syrah performed particularly well, as reflected in the selection of 7 Syrahs and 5 Bordeaux blends for the tasting. My favourite wines are reproduced below, although standard was high across the board with the exception of one wine that appeared to have a low level of cork taint.

Tasting notes:

Vidal Estate Gimblett Gravels “Reserve” Syrah 2014 – Cool climate nose, lots of spice, cracked pepper and a little leather. Sumptuously deep fruit, displaying blueberry and violets. Plush and concentrated on the palate, with notable alcohol and upfront tannins. Lots of depth with a long, spicy finish. Incredible stuff.

Squawking Magpie Gimblett Gravels “Stoned Crow” Syrah 2014 – Ripe, overt blackberry aromas. Structured and bold with full-throttled tannins. It’s a wine that announces itself loudly but strikes a convincing argument.

Sacred Hill Gimblett Gravels “Deerstalkers” Syrah 2014 - Charming blueberry aromas. Bright and lively palate, very self-assured showcasing plenty of dark ripe fruit with an earthy hint.

Squawking Magpie Gimblett Gravels “SQM” Cabernets/Merlot 2014 – A blend of 62.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 12.5% Cabernet Franc. Sweet, fruity nose suggestive of fruitcake and violets. Well-balanced and elegant, giving an impression of lightness and rapier-like finesse. Lovely savoury element on the palate with flavours of blackcurrant, tobacco and licorice.

Mission Estate Winery Gimblett Gravels “Jewelstone Antoine” 2014 – The blend here is 75% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, aged for 20 months in French oak. A well-structured wine with a solid core of black fruit wrapped in dark chocolate.  It has a dense, brooding quality that should reward further aging.

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