2019 Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection: top reds from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

The Gimblett Gravels is a special sub-region in the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand. As the name suggests, the soils are free draining gravels, laid down by the river back in the day. It’s slightly warmer than the rest of the region, and this makes it one of the most privileged terroirs in the country for Bordeaux-style red blends and Syrah. This is the 12th annual selection that has been made: the wines are assessed by Andrew Caillard, who gets to pick the ones he thinks are best.

2019 was a warm vintage (1425 growing degree days against a long-term average of 1304), with slightly higher rainfall (546 mm versus the average of 437mm). Crucially, though, vintage was dry, allowing growers to pick when they wanted. It’s regarded as a very successful vintage in the region.

Here are my verdicts on the wines.

Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.7% alcohol. Single vineyard, aged in new and used oak for 20 months. This is peppery, supple and bright with juicy blackberry and black cherry fruit supported by good acidity and a bit of grippy structure. There’s a hint of wood here in the background, but the dominant feature is the fruit. Has a lovely peppery edge with some raspberry crunch. 92/100

Squawking Magpie The Nest 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 58% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc. 18 months in French oak, 30% new. This is bright and supple with some raspberry and cherry fruit, a touch of blackcurrant, and some coffee and cedar notes from the oak. It’s fresh and firm, but currently a bit angular and unintegrated, finishing abrasively with noticeable oak. It probably just needs time to flesh out and come together. 91/100

Elephant Hill Hieronymous 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. A blend of the best batches of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, aged in two-thirds new French oak. Vividly coloured, this is fresh and balanced with some oak evident, complementing the sweet blackberry and blackcurrant fruit. It has cool-climate restraint, with good acidity, but also the stuffing to age really well. Lovely fruit intensity, and with time in bottle the oak will marry, and this will probably reach a mellow maturity in 10-20 years! 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Heretaunga 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. Taut, compact, slightly reductive nose with sweet black cherries, vinyl, pepper and boot polish. The palate is fresh and taut, with bright blackberry and black cherry fruit. There’s some tar and spice too, with hints of iodine and pepper as well as focused fruit. This needs time to unfurl: it’s in a bit of a reductive funk (which doesn’t blow off after three days) but there’s clearly lots of potential here. 92/100

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.3% alcohol. Heady nose of floral black cherry and blackberry fruit with notes of coffee, pepper and iodine, as well as some vinyl-like reductive character. The palate is bright and primary with fresh black fruits, good acidity, a bit of structure and some peppery detail, but it’s still quite closed. It’s a bright, expressive example of Syrah. It will be approachable sooner than Le Sol, and prettier too for a while, but should still be able to age. 93/100

Craggy Range Le Sol 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This Syrah is dense and structured with a hint of pepper and clove, but emphasizing the ripe black fruit side of this grape. It’s fully ripe, but still has good definition. Hints of meat and damson, as well as sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit, and then a hint of chocolate/cocoa from the oak. Impressive, but a little taut and closed, and not showing all that it’s capable of yet. Layered and concentrated. 94/100

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is really fresh and well defined with blackcurrant fruit as well as some raspberry, with a gravelly edge and some nice black pepper hints, as well as a touch of spicy oak in the background. There’s a hint of spicy, savoury, stony wildness too, in a really good sense. Lots of character here. 94/100

Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Merlot-driven (47%) and fermented and aged in French oak (10% new). Bottled in clear class. This is floral and juicy with a lightness to it. There’s a spicy, gravelly edge to the bright fruit on the palate which shows supple cherry and berry fruit with a touch of plum. Pure and very drinkable, and approachable now. Inviting and fun. 92/100

Esk Valley River Gravel Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. From the Ngakirikiri and Cornerstone vineyards planted in 2014 and 1996, fermented in concrete then aged in barrel (45% new). Brooding dark fruits on the nose with some floral hints, as well as a hint of gravel and spice. The palate is fresh and quite structured with some cedary woody hints sitting under fresh, nicely concentrated black cherry and raspberry fruit, with a savoury, spicy edge. It’s very youthful and a bit edgy with its structure and acidity, but there’s a lot of focused fruit here, and with time this should integrate nicely. It impresses, but it feels unformed – as if it really needs to come together more. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12 months in French oak (40% new). Cork sealed. This shows brooding, fresh blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry brightness and a touch of floral cherry character. Oak is absorbed very nicely, and there’s quite a bit of structure here. Nicely balanced with potential for development. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Organic, from the Mere Road vineyard. 12 months in French oak, 23% new. This is peppery and fine with lovely textured black cherry and blackberry fruit. Such lovely poise here with sweet, textured, seamless black fruits and hints of olive and pepper. Very fine. 95/100

Pask Declaration Merlot 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. 16 months in French oak, 50% new. This is supple, rounded and fresh with sweet berry fruits bolstered by some spicy oak. Lovely fruit purity. Midweight and drinkable, needing a bit of time for the oak to integrate. Lots of polish here. 91/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

See also:

Gimblett Gravels 2018 Selection

Gimblett Gravels 2017 Selection