2021 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 14th annual selection that has been made: the wines are assessed by Andrew Caillard, who gets to pick the ones he thinks are best.

These are the 12 wines chosen to be part of the Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection from the 2021 vintage. As you’d expect, all of these wines scored quite highly as they were a curated selection. In no particular order, these are my notes and scores.

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2021
Slightly muted nose immediately on opening. Black cherries and some gravel and cured meat notes. The palate is concentrated a focused with fresh black cherry fruit and nice tannic structure. It’s quite firm and compressed at the moment, with nice intensity but also some reductive grunt that affects the texture. But there’s a lovely wine here waiting to emerge, and I think it’s quite serious. 94/100

Craggy Range Le Sol 2021
13% alcohol. Syrah. Taut and compact on opening with focused black and cherry fruit with some pepper notes, as well as a hint of olive. It’s currently a bit closed for business but the lovely focused cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit together with good structure and nice freshness suggest that this has good ageing potential. Quite primary and unfurled but a beautifully proportioned and harmonious Gimblett Gravels Syrah. Give it 10 years? 94/100

Mission Jewelstone Antoine 2021
14% alcohol. Cork sealed. Bordeaux-style blend. Fresh, focused black cherry and black currant nose with fresh chalk and gravel hints in the background. The palate is supple, balanced with lovely freshness to the fruit. Really fine with good structure and acidity, but everything is in harmony. Midweight with lovely potential for mid-term ageing – perhaps five to ten years? Such lovely balance and harmony. 94/100

Stonecroft Reserve Syrah 2021
Lovely aromatics here with taut peppery berry fruits, showing some floral perfume. In the mouth this has lovely concentration but also brightness and some elegance. There’s a slight hint of ginger and cinnamon, and then it finishes with a hint of gravelly crunch alongside the pepper. Very stylish. 95/100

Elephant Hill Stone Merlot 2021
This is all about immediate appeal with its lush, ripe berry fruits and a touch of sweet black currant. There’s a nice hint of greenness and some lushness to the fruit, with a hint of spicy oak and some gravelly, tarry grip emerging at the end to give savoury balance. Grippy, grainy and spicy as well as delivering pleasure. 94/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2021
Well structured and yet still supple, this is a classy Bordeaux-style red offering fresh blackcurrant fruit with some nice green hints and notes of chalk and gravel. It comes across fresh, elegant and well balanced and should be drinking at peak in a year or two, although it will likely last for ten. But there’s no shame in drinking this beautifully proportioned red now. Supple and digestible. 94/100

Saint Clair James Sinclair Malbec 2021
Open, floral and perfumed with sweet cherries and berries and a slight green note. On the palate there’s lovely fresh fruit with brightness and openness. Polished and bold, this is very appealing. Juicy, sweetly fruited and inviting, with real drinkability. 93/100

Elephant Hill Hieronymous 2021
This is ripe and supple with a core of sweet blackberry and black currant fruit with a bit of tannic bite and some sweet green notes on the finish. Has a slightly sweet and sour character, but there’s lovely fruit here and real drinkability. Polished and modern. 93/100

Smith and Sheth Cru Syrah Omahu 2021
Intriguing sappy green edge to the nose with some pepper and cherry notes. There’s a very sweet, sappy quality to the red fruits with some apple notes that might be a sign of a little oxidation, but there’s certainly freshness and elegance here. Ripe black fruits and a touch of cracked black pepper on the finish. On day two it tasted similar: would be interesting to see this in a few years as it might be better than my score suggests. 92/100

Trinity Hill Homage 2021
This is a substantial wine that’s initially tight and unyielding on opening. Compact floral black cherry and blackberry fruit with some tar and gravel sternness on the nose, and a hint of chocolate in the background. The palate is dense but fresh with good structure and acidity. This is unfurled and has lots of energy and potential. Not lush and sweetly fruited, but the fruit is ripe and beautifully poised. This is a wine for the long haul, in a really classic style. There’s some pepper here but also a lot more besides. But it would be a waste to drink this now. 96/100

Pask Declaration Syrah 2021
Powerful and focused with bright cherry and berry fruit with considerable structure. There’s some oak in the mix supporting the vivid fruit, and this is quite taut and closed at the moment. Grippy, fresh, a little angular but offering promise for mid-term development, and delivering pleasure now. Really nice structure here with lots of interest. 93/100

Squawking Magpie The Nest 2021
Fresh, floral aromatics with leafy green notes and lovely black currant fruit. There’s good structure under the fruit, and nice brightness. Quite primary and tannic with some oak in the mix, but with potential for further development. Serious stuff in a very classic mould. 94/100

Notes on the previous release, the 2020 vintage

It’s really valuable getting a chance to taste these wines each year, and 2020 looks to be a very special vintage here. The big challenge for wineries wasn’t the weather, this year, but rather the national Covid lockdown that kicked in just as harvest was due to take place. For a while, winegrowers weren’t sure whether or not they’d be allowed to harvest the grapes and make the wines. Fortunately the government granted an exemption for the wine industry.

It was an early season, with budburst, flowering and veraison ahead of normal. Harvest was also earlier than usual. Summer was dry (growing season rainfall of 387 mm, long-term average 437 mm), and the year was slightly warmer than usual (GDDs 1362 with long-term average of 1303). Harvest took place in perfect conditions.

Craggy Range Le Sol 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 17 months in French oak (38% new). This Syrah is from the stoniest parts of Craggy’s Gimblett Gravels vineyard. Taut but inviting on the nose with a peppery edge to the cherry and berry fruit, showing some crushed rock notes. It’s floral but also has some savoury presence. The palate combines ripe black fruits with some grippy structure, notes of pepper and dried herbs, and a lovely tension between the fruit and the tannins. This is just a baby, and it’s unfurled and quite intense. Has the potential for long ageing, and I think it’s the best version of Le Sol I’ve tried. 96/100

Trinity Hill Homage 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 68% new oak. Varietal Syrah from one of the top producers in the region. This is dense with a core of black cherry fruit supported by some nice structure and savoury notes of pepper, gravel and even ash. Unyielding on opening, this is a wall of inky intense Syrah, but there’s a lot of potential here for cellaring. Well proportioned and showing great balance. 96/100

Stonecroft Reserve Syrah 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This is from organically farmed vines that are now in their 40th vintage: Stonecroft was the pioneer of Syrah in Hawke’s Bay. 60% new oak. Cork-sealed. This is supple and fresh with a core of sweet blackberry and cherry fruit, and a vivid peppery edge. Refined and grippy with restrained black fruits and a nice savoury dimension. Still a little unfurled and with the potential for development, which would also help the oak settle down a bit. 94/100

Church Road I Single Vineyard Malbec 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. 14 months in French and Hungarian oak, 41% new. 22 year old vines. Cork-sealed. Very floral and aromatic with sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit, as well as some notes of spice and wood smoke, and even pepper and ginger. The palate is lush and sweetly fruited with blackberry and blackcurrant fruit and a very easy tannic structure that has melted into the very ripe fruit. Intriguing stuff. 94/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. 12 months in French oak, 60% new. Supple, aromatic blackcurrant fruit with a gravelly, spicy edge showing midweight personality and good acidity. This is a very Bordeaux-like wine with drinkability and potential for ageing. Admirable restraint here. 93/100

Elephant Hill Heironymus 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.5% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc. 24 months in French oak (54% new). This is classic and polished, showing sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with a floral character. Lush, ripe, seamless palate is fine and fresh. Shows a chalky, gravelly quality on the finish, but the core of this wine is supple, ripe fruit. Really polished. 93/100

Elephant Hill Stone Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. 53% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc. Sweetly aromatic with lush cherry and blackcurrant fruit, but also some lovely texture. Shows sweet cherries and plums on the palate as well as more lush blackcurrant character. Quite classic in a ripe polished style, showing nice concentration. 94/100

Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 15 months in French oak (18% new). This spends 20 months in a mix of old and new French oak. Vibrant, fresh peppery nose with a stony, gravelly edge. Black cherries, plums and blackberries on the palate. This has some stony sternness on the finish, with good focus and grip. Tarry and dense, but not too heavy. 93/100

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 50% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot. 18 months in French oak (53% new). A Franc-heavy Bordeaux-style blend, showing brooding blackcurrant and blackberry on the nose, which is sweetly aromatic. The palate has some flesh, with sweet black fruits and subtle notes of spice and cedar, as well as savoury gravelly hints. Textured and balanced with some oak in the mix, and appropriate structure supporting the sweet fruit. Give this time. 95/100

Esk Valley Artisanal Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 55% Malbec, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot. 18 months in French oak (15% new). Fine aromatics of green-tinged blackcurrant and cherry fruit. The palate is sappy and bright with fleshy black fruit character and nice green hints. So supple and drinkable with nice brightness. 93/100

Church Road 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 19 months in French and Hungarian oak, 29% new. 18 year old vines. This is just the essence of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape that few are brave enough to try to produce a single-variety wine from in New Zealand (although, bizarrely, it was one of the varieties initially touted as a potential success in Marlborough back in the 1970s). This is aromatic with savoury-tinged blackcurrant fruit on the nose, and notes of tar, cedar, lavender and green herbs. The palate is intense and concentrated with bold blackcurrant fruit, some raspberry crunch, and firm tannins. It’s grainy, spicy, tarry and dark, with a lovely savoury twist and a hint of green. But it really works, and I can see this ageing well for 20 years! 95/100

Babich Single Winemaker’s Reserve Vineyard Merlot 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 87% Merlot, 13% Malbec. Floral and bright with a green tinge to black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, this Merlot is sappy, vivid and fresh with good concentration of flavour and just enough ripeness, showing sweet black fruits jousting with the sappy green notes and finishing with soft but present tannins and hints of tar and green herbs. It’s an interesting wine: there’s some flesh and ripeness, but also some savoury green characters adding a foil to the fruit. A lovely Hawke’s Bay interpretation of Merlot. 92/100

Notes from the 2019 selection

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