The wines of Kidnapper Cliffs
Superb wines from Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, by the Dry River/Te Awa team


Ant Mackenzie

Kidnapper Cliffs is the latest addition to the Robertson family portfolio of high-end New Zealand wineries, joining Dry River (Martinborough) and Te Awa (Hawkes Bay). Both wineries had been purchased by American businessman and wine lover Julian Robertson in 2002/3, and Kidnapper Cliffs is in effect a bit of a joint venture, involving the Dry River winemaking approach with Hawkes Bay fruit.

I tried these wines with general manager Ant Mackenzie, who joined in 2009 to launch this project. He’s now also looking after sister winery Dry River in Martinborough, since Neil McCallum’s retirement.

‘My philosophy is to make wines that cellar well, with phenolic ripeness and not too much concern with upfront characters,’ says Ant. The site chosen is a consistent one on the Gimblett Gravels, consisting of a 17 hectare parcel of the older vines on the Te Awa estate, which has been subdivided for this project.

The first three vintages were made at Dry River, in Martinborough, but since 2009 the wine has been made in Hawkes Bay.

McKenzie’s winemaking here is in the careful, analytical style that McCallum developed at Dry River. There is no post-ferment maceration and limited new wood used. He watches oxygen carefully, even topping up under gas. And he inoculates for alcoholic fermentation and malolactic at the same time.

Ariki, the top wine, is described as a ‘right bank’ blend. That is, it is based heavily on Merlot with some Cabernet Franc and a tiny bit of Cabernet Sauvignon. From 2010 there is also a little Malbec in the blend. The current release is 2007, with 2008 soon to follow. Here I got a preview of this and the not-yet-released 2009 and 2010.  

UK agent is Raeburn.


Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2010 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand (final blend from barrel)
Very fine and minerally with gravelly tarry notes and pure fruit. Sweet, elegant, pure palate with expressive berry fruits. Very fine. 93–96/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2009 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Fresh, gravelly nose with pure berry fruits. Lovely rich yet fine minerally sweet berry fruits on the palate. Lovely purity and elegance. 95/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2008 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Perfumed and fine with a berry fruits nose. Lovely pure, sweet, elegant fruit with supple structure and attractive cherry and plum notes. So pure and expressive, this is really fine. 95/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Ariki 2007 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Fresh, gravelly and a bit tarry with bold, deep, spicy fruit. Berryish with some blackcurrant notes. Grippy structure as well as some richness: this is evolving nicely. 94/100

Dry River Merlot 2006 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
This is the wine that kicked the project off, launched under the Dry River label. It is 100% Merlot. Supple, elegant and a bit leafy with lovely grainy structure under the elegant cherry and berry fruit. Showing a little evolution. Stylish. 93/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Solan 2009 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
A blend of Sauvignon and Semillon. 50% barrel aged. Subtle, rounded, textured with some nutty notes. Stylish with nice acidity. 92/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Chardonnay 2009 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Complex, restrained, nutty, toasty nose. Richly textured and complex (no malolactic) with great concentration and refinement. 94/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Pinotage 2009 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Highly aromatic. Fresh, cherryish and berryish. Lovely sweet, silky, pure berry fruits to the fore. Fine and fresh with clean, bright fruit. 91/100

Kidnapper Cliffs Syrah 2009 Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Pure, bright and fresh with focused cherry and berry fruit. Fine, pure, elegant style with real finesse and purity. 94/100

See also:

Visiting Central Otago, New Zealand (series)
Visiting Martinborough, New Zealand (series)

Wines tasted 02/12  
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