The best of Hawke's Bay wine

by Michael Cooper / 26 May, 2017

Photo/Getty Images

Pinot gris and pinot noir are soaring beside the traditional varieties of Hawke’s Bay.

Hawke’s Bay … think sturdy, richly flavoured chardonnays; distinguished, age-worthy blends of merlot and cabernet sauvignon; and a recent surge of notably ­perfumed and peppery syrahs. Or should we?

Hawke’s Bay’s long history of commercial winemaking stretches back to the 1890s. But our second-largest wine region is changing – fast. Outstanding viogniers, gewürztraminers, oak-aged sauvignon blancs, sweet whites and rosés can also be found, and currently, on relatively cool, elevated inland sites, the bay’s output of pinot gris and – big surprise – pinot noir is soaring.

Alpha Domus AD Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2014 ••••½

This estate-grown, barrel-­fermented wine is powerful (14% alc/vol), with ripe grapefruit and stone-fruit flavours, woven with fresh acidity, mealy and creamy notes adding complexity, and excellent depth and ­harmony. $38

Ash Ridge Estate Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 ••••

Priced sharply, this barrel-fermented wine is enjoyable from the start. Medium to full-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), it has strong, vibrant peach and grapefruit flavours, ­well-integrated oak and a slightly buttery finish. $20

Askerne Hawke’s Bay Gewürztraminer 2015 ••••

Perfumed and mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), this well-rounded wine has a splash of sweetness, plenty of ripe, citrusy, spicy flavour, and excellent harmony. $22

Babich Winemaker’s Reserve Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2014 ••••½

This estate-grown red is clearly from a top season. Deeply coloured and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), it has strong blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, showing excellent ripeness, concentration and complexity. $30

Black Barn Vineyards R&D Hawke’s Bay Sur Lie Viognier 2015 •••••

This impressive wine is powerful and fleshy (14.5% alcohol), with concentrated, ripe stone-fruit flavours, enriched with finely integrated oak, balanced acidity, and a finely textured, lasting finish. $39

Brookfields Hawke’s Bay Sun-Dried Malbec 2015 ••••½

Labelled “malbec on ­steroids”, this sturdy (14% alc/vol) red was made from grapes sun-dried to ­concentrate their sugars and flavours. Deeply coloured, it has concentrated, ripe plum/spice flavours, a hint of ­liquorice, savoury notes adding complexity and a firm finish. $25

Church Road Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 ••••

Described by winemaker Chris Scott as “unashamedly just a little bit old school”, this bargain-priced wine was barrel-fermented. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol), it is smooth, with generous, ripe, peachy, slightly toasty and buttery flavours, showing good complexity and harmony. $18

Clearview Cape Kidnappers Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 ••••

Delicious young, this full-coloured red was grown at Te Awanga. Mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), it is vibrantly fruity, with ripe plum, spice and black pepper flavours, savoury notes adding ­complexity, and a very ­harmonious finish. $27

Craggy Range Sophia 2014 •••••

Matured for 19 months in French oak barriques, this is a lovely young red, highly fragrant, with substantial body (13.5% alc/vol), generous, ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, and a complex, lingering finish. $95

Crossroads Talisman Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2014 •••••

This floral, graceful red is dark and full-bodied (14% alc/vol), with rich blackcurrant and spice flavours, hints of dark chocolate and liquorice, and a long, slightly peppery finish. It’s already delicious. $45

Delegat Crownthorpe Terraces Chardonnay 2015 ••••½

Outstanding value, this mouthfilling wine (13.5% alc/vol) was grown at the company’s cool, inland site at Crownthorpe and barrel-fermented. It has rich, citrusy flavours, seasoned with ­biscuity oak, and an ­appetisingly crisp, long, slightly creamy finish. $20 

Elephant Hill Pinot Gris 2016 ••••½

This finely scented wine was estate-grown at Te Awanga. Mouthfilling (13% alc/vol) and vibrant, it has strong, pure pear and lychee flavours, a very subtle seasoning of oak, a sliver of sweetness, ­balanced acidity and plenty of ­personality. $26

Esk Valley Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015 ••••

This generous, sweet-fruited wine is mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with ­grapefruit and peach flavours, a subtle seasoning of oak, fresh acidity and a slightly mealy finish. Fine value. $20

Hãhã Hawke’s Bay Pinot Gris 2016 ••••

Priced sharply, this is a vividly varietal wine, medium-bodied (12.5% alc/vol), with strong, vibrant peach, pear and spice flavours, off-dry and finely balanced for early enjoyment. $16

Mills Reef Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 ••••

Mills Reef’s middle-tier ­chardonnay was barrel-­fermented. An “upfront” style, it is fresh and mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol), with vibrant, peachy, citrusy ­flavours, showing good ­richness, mealy and toasty notes, and a slightly buttery finish. $25

Mission Hawke’s Bay Riesling 2015 ••••

Finely balanced for easy drinking, this single-vineyard wine shows good intensity. Aromatic, with strong, ripe, citrusy flavours, moderate alcohol (11.8% alc/vol) and a harmonious, off-dry, lingering finish, it offers top value. $18

Sacred Hill Halo Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 ••••½

Grown in the celebrated Rifleman’s Vineyard, this is a ­delicious mouthful. Full-bodied and fleshy (13.5% alc/vol), it has concentrated, vibrant, peachy flavours to the fore, toasty and buttery notes adding ­complexity, and excellent depth and harmony. $28

Sileni Estate Selection Springstone Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir 2015 ••••

This graceful, finely poised red was grown in the elevated Mangatahi district. Full-bodied (14.5% alc/vol), it is ruby hued, with strong, vibrant, cherryish, plummy flavours, gently seasoned with French oak, and a well-rounded finish. $35

Stables Reserve Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2015 •••½

Priced sharply, this full-­coloured, mouthfilling (13.5% alc/vol) red is fresh and smooth, with generous red berry, plum and spice ­flavours, slightly savoury notes adding complexity, and lots of ­drink-young appeal. $15-$19

Stonecroft Serine Syrah 2015 ••••½

This elegant, estate-grown red has a distinctly peppery fragrance. Full-bodied (13% alc/vol) and supple, it has strong, plummy, spicy flavours, showing good concentration and complexity, and a long finish. Certified organic. $31

Te Awa Single Estate Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015 ••••½

Refined and subtle, this barrel-fermented wine is weighty (13.5% alc/vol), with deliciously ripe peach and grapefruit flavours, showing excellent delicacy and depth, finely ­integrated oak and lovely poise and harmony. $25

Te Mata Awatea Cabernets/Merlot 2015 •••••

This ­traditional blend is already highly ­approachable. Full-coloured, with a fragrant bouquet, it is mouthfilling (14% alc/vol), with blackcurrant, plum, herb and spice flavours, ripe and rich. A complex, ­claret-style red, it delivers fine value at $35.

Theory & Practice Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2015 ••••½

This delicious, bargain-priced wine was barrel-fermented. The fragrant, complex bouquet leads into a sturdy (14% alc/vol), savoury wine with ­generous, ripe, peachy, slightly mealy and nutty flavours, fresh acidity and a lasting finish. $25

Trinity Hill Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 ••••

This is a great buy. Full-coloured, it is mouthfilling (13% alc/vol), with youthful, ripe plum and spice flavours, showing good density, and some savoury complexity. Delicious young. $22

Vidal Reserve Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ••••½

Offering terrific value, this is a refined, deeply coloured red. Full-bodied (13.5% alc/vol), it is vibrantly fruity, with ­concentrated, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, good ­complexity and a finely ­textured, lingering finish. $20

This article was first published in the May 20, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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