2017 was a tricky vintage in the Hawke’s Bay wine region. How did the red wines from the famed Gimblett Gravels district fare?
Each year, the Gimblett Gravels Wine Association ask Andrew Caillard, an Australian auctioneer, to make a selection of what he considers to be the best of the red wines from the district in the latest vintage to be released. They then send his chosen twelve out to selected journalists. It’s a great idea.
The Gimblett Gravels the most famous red wine terroir of Hawke’s Bay: 800 hectares or so of free draining gravels with a warm microclimate, and capable of ripening Syrah and the red Bordeaux varieties most vintages.
2017 was a bit of a stinker of a vintage in the region, with quite a bit of harvest rain. It shows in some of the wines. Despite the tricky vintage, I found a few that I really liked. Here are my notes.
Trinity Hill Hommage 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This is, in most vintages, one of New Zealand’s top Syrahs. Beautiful peppery notes on the nose which integrate really well with the sleek, lush black fruits. Great concentration on the palate allied with freshness, showing a polished blackberry and black currant fruit quality, as well as fine green hints and good structure. Serious stuff but not at all overdone. There is a till a slight fragility which hints at its cool climate origins. Some ashy, tarry notes. Lovely.94/100
Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Heretaunga 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
12.5% alcohol. This is really lovely. There’s some black pepper and fresh black cherry, along with some raspberry freshness and silky mouthfeel. There are no rough edges here: it has freshness, some fleshiness and also lovely precision. This bridges the old and new worlds beautifully with precision and purity. 94/100
Elephant Hill Stone Syrah 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This Syrah comes from the Gimblett Gravels and spent two years in French oak barrels (40% new). It’s a very sleek, polished wine showing ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some hints of liquorice, tar and cedar. There’s a bit of black pepper, but the smooth, ripe fruit, coupled with some vanilla sweetness from the oak, leads the flavour profile. But despite the seductive side, there’s also a nice meaty savouriness. A very stylish, polished expression of Hawke’s Bay Syrah. 94/100
Smith & Sheth Cru Cantera 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo. Deep coloured, this is a fresh, floral, brooding red with flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and plum fruit, with a nice smooth mouthfeel, firm but fine tannins, and a woody vanilla edge from the oak. The creamy vanilla character dominates the finish a bit at the moment, but this is a very stylish wine that shows great concentration and fruit intensity, and it should age well. New Zealand does Rioja. 93/100
Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This has a bit of richness, with fleshy but well defined blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There’s some tannic crunch, but also some sweetness to the black fruits, with a little fragility from overripeness round the margins. Seductive with some freshness and savoury detail too. 92/100
Squawking Magpie Gravels Syrah 2017 Gimblett Gravels, New Zealand
13.2% alcohol. This is light, bright and peppery with some savoury clove notes, as well as fresh black cherry and raspberry fruit. A lighter expression of Syrah with some nice detail, for early drinking. Fresh and expressive, and a tiny bit rustic. 91/100
Mission Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Barrique Reserve Gimblett Gravels 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Juicy and bright with nice blackcurrant and cherry fruit with some cranberry brightness. Midweight and fresh, this is a very light style of Cabernet with some juicy appeal, in a Loire-like style. Crunchy tannins on the finish. 90/100
Sacred Hill Helmsman 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc from the Gimblett Gravels. This spends 18 months in French oak. It has a gravelly edge to the fresh blackcurrant fruit. Midweight with supple fruit, this has lots of appeal, but lacks a little concentration and structure to be really serious. 90/100
Vidal Soler Syrah Gimblett Gravels 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. Just 11 barriques of this wine made, where it stays for 18 months, finishing off with 4 months in tank. Supple, bright and very drinkable with a vivid peppery edge to the red cherry and berry fruits. It’s a medium weight wine with good acidity and a bit of tannic structure. Very peppery on the finish. 90/100
Craggy Range Te Kahu 2017 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. A blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Fresh and supple with a floral red cherry and blackcurrant note on the nose. It’s midweight and juicy on the palate with bright cherries and plums, showing real drinkability and nice freshness and a hint of green on the finish. A really attractive, bright, easy wine. 89/100
Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is Elephant Hill’s flagship wine, and it spends 26 months in French oak, half of which is new. There’s a big blast of coffee and vanilla from the oak, overlying the sleek black cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s hard to get past the char of the oak here, and while it might resolve with some time in bottle, it currently beats the sweet black fruits into second place. Hard to drink now, but hopefully will resolve with time. 89/100
Squawking Magpie SQM Cabernets Merlot 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.7% alcohol. Juicy and bright, this lighter-style red shows vivid redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit with a slight smokiness and hints of oak, as well as tar and herbs. It’s fresh, bright and juicy, with good acidity. Give it a year or two to unfurl, perhaps? 88/100
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