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Visiting New Zealand's wine regions 
Part 13: Sacred Hill, Hawkes Bay

Website: www.sacredhill.com

Tony Bish (right) began working at Sacred Hill at the beginning, in 1985, and the first vintage, 1986, was just 350 cases. Shortly afterwards he went off down south and, among other gigs, he was the first winemaker in Central Otago. He came back to Hawkes Bay to rejoin Sacred Hill in 1994 when production had grown and 200 tons were being crushed annually. He’s been here ever since and Sacred Hill is now a 300 000 case operation that currently exports around 40% of its production to the UK and USA.

‘We are regarded by our peer group as being Chardonnay experts’, says Bish. ‘Rifleman’s [the top Chardonnay in the range] is iconic in New Zealand’. The wine in question certainly is quite special. It is own-rooted Mendoza clone Chardonnay from an elevated river terrace, with deep-rooted, dry-farmed vines. The fruit is hand-picked and whole-bunch pressed with no rotation for 4–5 hours. ‘We get wonderfully clear juice’, says Bish, ‘which we settle for 6 hours and then put in barrel’. Some yeast nutrients (Fermaid) are added, but fermentation is with indigenous yeasts.

‘Our natural fermentations are by no means haphazard’, states Bish. ‘We watch them carefully: it’s a managed process’. Malolactic is natural. Apart from Fermaid, the first addition is in the spring when the first sulphur dioxide additions are made.

The wines tried here were all pretty serious, with consistently high quality, but it was the Chardonnay that was the real standout.

Sacred Hill Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2007
An aromatic grapefruit and gooseberry style that’s really in-yer-face. The palate is vivid with herb-tinged fruit and good acidity. Lovely rounded character. 90/100

Sacred Hill Barrel Ferment Chardonnay 2006 Hawkes Bay
Fresh, with subtle melon, herb, fig and toast nose. Fruit driven and refined. The palate is richly textured, nutty and refined with broad, stylish flavours and a sophisticated veneer of oak. 91/100

Sacred Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2007
Very appealing with bright cherry and herb nose. The palate has a lovely sappy undertone to the bright berry fruits. A sophisticated, elegant style with good freshness. 90/100

Sacred Hill Basket Press Merlot Cabernet 2006
Mostly from the Gimblett Gravels. Deep coloured. Focused nose shows fresh dark fruits, leading to a palate with expressive, balanced, bright fruit. Nice subtle structure with a hint of greenness. Tasty stuff. 88/100

Sacred Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2006
Fresh, vibrant red and black fruits nose with a nice savoury quality, as well as a bit of white pepper freshness. Supple, savoury and quite charming. Drinkable, digestible wine. 90/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Sauvage Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006
Aromatic, but not in a typical Sauvignon way: notes of quince and lime with a tangy, exotic, spicy edge. The palate has a smokiness as well as spicy, fresh mandarin fruit. Fantastic stuff. 91/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Riflemans Chardonnay 2006
Refined, nutty, toasty nose, which is elegant despite the intensity. Broad, complex, powerful nutty palate with rich fruit and some nectarine and mandarin freshness. Mouthfilling and nutty with lovely breadth of fruit. Delicious. 93/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Riflemans Chardonnay 2004
Nutty, minerally nose with almost a salty, mineral tang, with some herbs as well. Quite complex and still youthful. The palate has a toasty edge to the broad but focused fruit character, with mandarin brightness on the eternal bready, nutty finish. 94/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Brokenstone Merlot 2004
Lovely blackcurrant fruit nose with a nice savoury, earthy edge. Quite focused and dense. The palate has an attractive earthy savouriness with plummy blackcurrant fruit and a tight spicy finish. 91/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Helmsmann Cabernet 2004
Fine restrained aromatic nose with some gravelliness and dark fruit character. The palate is lively and fresh with high acid and very fine refined bright fruit. Real potential here for further development, and there’s a hint of earthiness under the fruit. 92/100

Sacred Hill Special Selection Deerstalkers Syrah 2006 Gimblett Gravels
Very deep coloured. Taut, focused nose of spicy, fresh dark fruits. Fresh and intense. The palate is concentrated with expressive pure dark fruit and lovely focus. A fresh style, but with sweet dark fruit and some spicy complexity. Lots of potential for development. 92/100

Wines tasted 11/07  
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