Shiraz, Kiwi Style
According to Saint Ambrose, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, when in New Zealand, how could I defy native ideology and look elsewhere than the wares of the vignerons of both the South and North Islands? While visiting their country, would it be churlish to refuse the local offerings in favour of the tried and trusted Australian or old world labels?
Having spent some time in the Central Otago region, a foray into the vineyards of the north island seemed a logical next step and the hillsides of the Hawkes Bay region near Napier and Hastings were the obvious choice. The Hawkes Bay wine district is the second largest wine producing region in New Zealand and has a well-credentialed offering in Merlot/Cabernet blends and Chardonnay. Though having said that, the area also produces some lovely aromatic whites and pepperyShirazz. By plantings, Merlot is the dominant grape of the region – on 2016 data, accounting for about 1079 hectares of vineyards. To put that number into perspective, the most prominent white varietal was chardonnay with about 1041 hectares under trellis, sauvignon blanc 918 hectares and Shiraz, 334 hectares.
The region was first planted under vines in 1851 and the maritime climate and many hours of daily sunshine make it well-suited to grape production, especially the styles that don’t need slower ripening in order to put their best foot forward. Geologists tell us that millions of years ago, 4 rivers moved and merged in the Hawkes Bay region, resulting in a diversity of terroir from clay to sand, limestone and even free draining gravels and blue metal. It’s no wonder that so many different styles can do well in the varying parts of the locale. The alluvial plains are perfect for growing Merlot and Cabernet, while the coastal and valley parts produce great Chardonnay and aromatics like Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. The terraced hillsides, on the other hand, are perfect for the production of the classic Bordeaux style reds and the higher vineyards are even serving up ideal conditions for planting of Pinot Noir. So, what’s not to love?
Trinity Hill Chardonnay
As the dominant white grape, chardonnay figures prominently in the inventory of most Hawkes Bay winemakers and some of them are heavenly. One of the local crowd favourites is the Trinity Hill Chardonnay from an estate near Hastings. The 2016 vintage was selected by Air New Zealand to serve in the business lounge, but frankly, I reckon they could have done better! The label is an iconic industry brand, but this chardonnay fails to excite. Flat fruit, no more than medium body and an insipid conclusion make it a no-go zone for my palate. But at least their reds are elegant and seductive.
My tip is to steer your lips in the direction of the Hawkes Bay reds whenever the opportunity arises. The Merlot is undoubtedly good, and as a blend, can rival the best the Bordeaux has to offer. And while it’s the Cabernet/Merlot blends that understandably headline the dance card, I reckon the local Shiraz is the under-rated smoky in the pack.
2016 Te Awa Single Vineyard Shiraz
One of the more attention-grabbing reds from Hawkes Bay is the 2016 Te Awa Single Vineyard Shiraz which hails from some of the wineries’ gravelly blocks in the Gimblett sub-district which are low yielding, but well suited to shiraz vines. The result is an approachable wine that shows a lively deep violet colour in the glass and dark savoury fruits on the palate. The real attraction is the peppery cedar and chalky edges that embrace the middle, while hints of vanilla and a lingering sweetness take hold on the finish. It’s like a good Mc Laren Vale shiraz, but with a more elegant fruit structure.
Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2016
Another chart-topping shiraz from Hawkes Bay is the Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2016. Like the Te Awa, it has its genesis in the Gimblett region but is a more floral and flamboyant version of the same style. The fruit is fleshy, dark and exudes a savoury elegance, while ample tannins take a grip on the middle until they are tempered by a cherry-esque sweetness through the finish. A perfect partner for Moroccan Lamb on cous-cous or my mum’s Sheppard’s Pie!
You can’t compare a Hawkes Bay Shiraz to the ripe South Australian examples of the style, but if grace, poise and elegance matter, then a Hawkes Bay shiraz could be the red of choice for you!