Friday, 30 November 2012

Sacred Hill

Sacred Hill Central Otago 'Prospector' Pinot Noir 2010 13.5%
N: Strong Central Otago bouquet with a 'classic' mix of ripe dark cherry, cola, a hint of chocolate, freeze-dried raspberry and 'undergrowth' (thyme and dried herb suggestion). Medium+ oak. All elements showing youth and complexity.
4.5 Stars

P: Flavors on the palate reflect the nose with a blend of cherry and raspberry mixed with dried herb attributes; medium+ acidity, medium+ tannins - youthful and demanding attention (zippy); medium+ length and complexity. Well made and good attention to detail.
4.5 Stars

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Astrolabe 'Province' Pinot Noir 2010 14%
N: Pronounced varietal signature of ripe red and dark cherry, sweet raspberry and red apple skin. The oak signature is obvious but almost hidden by the strong youthful fruit presence. Medium+ complexity, generous and inviting bouquet overall.

P: A vibrant and youthful palate with flavors that reflect the nose plus brown spices and light toastiness from the oak, medium+ acidity and complexity, rich and long finish; fine medium+ tannins.
Really quite a delicious wine for enjoying at its best now and over the next three years.
4.5 Stars

Monday, 26 November 2012

Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill Syrahs November 3rd 2012

As part of the FAWC event in Hawke's Bay a Syrah tasting and lunch was held at Elephant Hill. It was also in part a comparative tasting with some 'classic' French Syrah based wines (not reviewed here) a Ogier St Joseph, Maxime Equis Graillot Cornas and Ogier Cote Rotie.

All of the Elephant Hill wines were crafted by Steve Skinner.

My notes below are in order of the presentation.

Elephant Hill Syrah 2009 13% (Gimblett Gravels Fruit)
The 2009 vintage was spectacular for many producers - drier and warmer than 'normal'.

This wine is immediately distinctive on the nose with a varietal signature of red and black berries, wild raspberry and a touch of black cherry; vibrant overall with medium+ oak presence - new barrel suggestions; faded white pepper notes. On the palate a dry wine with a solid fruit core baring raspberry and cherry rich flavors; medium+ acidity and medium to medium+ tannins - finer, but still bearing a youthful grippy edge; medium complexity overall. 
A very youthful wine -still - with around 2-3 years of bottle maturation yet. 89 Points.

Elephant Hill Syrah 2010 13.5%
The 2010 vintage was a little cooler in the Bay area and this, for Syrah, was a gift - not too warm and slightly cooler in the evenings meant a more even and consistent ripening. This in turn drove the quality in this wine much higher.

A balanced and harmonious bouquet with a sense of dry gravels as a layer and complexity giving attribute; White and black pepper notes too (a light hint of VA was ignored as bottle variation); black fruits emerge as the wine begins to unfold after a few minutes in glass (wondering what a couple of hours would bring - no time); On the palate the wine reflects the soil, savory and fruit flavor suggestions - softer more generous fruit texture and flavor, a luscious feel overall; darker berry fruits and more intensity; The finish is long and harmonious and will reward those who can cellar wine and not look at it every week to check its there (3 years at least). Decant if you must drink some before December 2013. 92 Points.

Elephant Hill Syrah 2008
A cooler year with a few challenges in the Bay area. The fruit for this wine was hand picked, destemmed and even berry sorted as well. The result in the finished wine is a testament to attention to detail and decent wine making.
With 4 years bottle age 'under the label' this example is looking very good: Showing a fruit driven core and perhaps less complexity than the '09 and '10 it is no less a wine in terms of attractive bouquet; a little jammy on the nose today - denser and richer black fruits with some leather notes and plenty of oak. On the palate a velvet texture from the tannins and lush body from the fruit concentration (slightly compote - ish). Medium to medium+ tannins and acidity and a longish finish. Overall a sound and balanced wine, well crafted and drinking well - now. 
88 Points.

Elephant Hill Reserve Syrah 2009 13.5%
Dense and powerful fruit core; an enticing bouquet packed with black and red fruits, baked field mushroom, a hint of truffle, meat and black cherry compote; On the palate a dry wine but packed with lovely ripe berry flavors, medium+ tannins - ripe, fine and flavorful; Medium+ to long finish; complex, youthful and a keeper.
I should have written more here, but I hope you'll trust me o this one - it is a wine worth cellaring for 10 years.
94 Points

Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah 2009 13%
Apparently Airavata was/is the white king god of elephants - a Hindu god.

Clean, complex, curious. A spectacular core of fruits that have a 'X' factor or 3rd dimension about the bouquet. Black fruits and wild raspberry, Iron filings, big and rich as well as complex. The palate reflects the nose with flavorful and rich fruit dimensions (the feeling I get when enjoying the flavors and textures of a hot blackberry and apple pie came to mind when tasting this wine); there is a lot of texture to consider with this example - high tannins, medium+ acidity and some whole bunch influences. A long and memorable finish, balanced and well made.
93 Points.

Elephant Hill Rania 2009 7% 
Not a Syrah, but a sweet white wine from Chardonnay 20% and Sauvignon Blanc 80%. Grapes were harvested at 58 degrees Brix and the finished wine has 360 gpl RS and a TA of 12.2.
So now you have been warned  - this is a very very sweet wine.

Hokey pokey, honey, apricot and prune juice and syrupy sugar aromas. On the palate a very very sweet sugar rush balanced only by some pretty high acid. The flavors described above return with a treacle texture and long finish.
What can I say - if you like a deliciously sweet wine with a dessert of of the same then this is the wine for you.
4 Stars

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Trinity Hill Barrel Tasting

Thanks to the team at Trinity Hill for bringing me to Hawke's Bay for the 2012 FAWC event on November 2nd 2012

At the beginning of the day a small group of wine writers (including myself) were offered to taste and comment on barrel samples of 2012 Arneis, Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah.
A sneak preview of a new and exciting Chardonnay - read on......

Arneis: From 5 year old (and older) barrels, wild ferment, high solids, 100% MLF, 11 months on lees.
Chalk, sweet lemon and floral, dry with a lemon pith and grape fruit flavors, green pears, blossom leaf and petal, just crisp with a medium+ fruit core, a lovely aperitif style, medium+ length. 

Viognier: 100% MLF, old oak and only 1 barrel, high solids.
Varietal signature is both strong and elegant with apricot laced stone fruit suggestions; medium+ (ish) body, full -ish and lush, texture plays a big role on the palate as does the lees contact, distinctive lemon cordial lift on the finish. A style that TH should definitely explore - it is delicious!

Chardonnay - from Gimblett Gravels fruits and aged in Puncheons, 100% MLF, Wild ferment, in barrel for 11 months (so far).
Elegant with an apple, floral, leesy soil bouquet. Some sulphide complexity showing. On the palate - citrus then stone fruit  flavors, leesy and sulphide notes, tight, youthful, finishes with a citrus flick, medium+ body. 
A wine to look out for when released - looking very smart indeed.

Merlot: Grapes were first to be picked in the Hawke's Bay in the 2012 season.
Noticably fruit driven with plum and black fruit core suggestions, sweet tobacco, gravel like under tones. Tannins are fine and have a distinctive flavor, dry yet finishes with the flavors of plum, blackberry and chocolate. 
Overall a lovely example, but needs a lot time in the TH cellar and bottle before its power is unleashed to the on-premise.

Blend - Cab Sav, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Tannat and Malbec (a 2000 case blend).
The Cabernet family aromatics are very dominant standing head and shoulders above the other varieties aromatics. On the palate a wine packed full of black fruits; some big tannins and medium+ acidity. The core shows this wine's potential - the tannins have a mealy, woody - chalky texture (which I like a lot). Plum notes and black fruits, the long finish is already a testament to how good  this wine is going to be. VVG - a master blender example. 

Great to learn Tannat can be ripened and used in blending of sound Hawke's Bay red wine.

Syrah - From Gimblett Gravels fruit.
Distinctive pepper and black fruits, raspberry concentrate and toasty. The palate reflects the nose and is quite concentrated, spicy and toasty with a solid fruit core. There is also an elegant line that is to look out for i this wine upon release. Some white pepper notes continue with a medium++ length, fine tannins are a key structural feature. VVG.

Chardonnay #1. 
We were shown another Chardonnay to comment on - a very specific expression. This was to essentially demonstrate where the winery was hoping to 'take' this style moving forward in the wine making programme.
The high solids ferment, in part, and careful attention to use of oak has produced a wine that is very different and very exciting! Perhaps a Chablisien style, but very distinctive as well.
I am excited by this new expression, but can also see the necessary education of Sommeliers and other on-premise staff about this emerging style. Customers will in turn require an introduction to this as well.


Syrah 2010. Not yet released and from bottle. This is a specific hillside fruit blend.
Complex with mushroom, leather and a core of toasty fruit; concentrated, complex and a touch of youthful elegance, black velvet, meaty notes. On the palate - fine brooding tannins, concentrated, complex, attention seeking texture and length. Sweet and toasty with moderate+ oak spices and flavors. A long finish - in short a delicious wine and a must buy.


Sacred Hill Halo

Halo Merlot, Cabernet Franc Hawke's Bay 2011
A wine hand crafted by Tony Bish 14%
Super ruby and purple core with a fuschia rim
N: Ripe and powerful - sweet plum, black currant, blackberry and chocolate; A strong presence of oak (it's a 2011!) that is talking to the fruits, but not yet to them. Medium+ complexity.
5 Stars

P: Reflects the nose with black fruits and oak flavors. Ripe and rich yet very young with the oak and powerful fruit tannins. Medium++ acid and a dry finish - this wine requires decanting at least an hour before service (I'd go for 3).
A keeper wine  - cellar if you can for two years and then check again for readiness.
The finish is long and complexity builds as the wine begins to open up. Very well made!
5 Stars


CJ Pask 'Delaration' 2006 Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec 13.5%
N: Still integrating - almost there. A bouquet of complexity - filled with aromas of aged meats, wild berries, blackberries and spiced plum compote. Hints of toasty vanillin spices and medium+ complexity.
4.5 Stars

P: Yum! Thanks Kate. While this wine is dry+ the flavors and textures carry a lot of weight and a healthy wallop of fruits - still dark - some fresh and wild , some dried. Medium+ tannins and brown spice earthiness.
Overall a lovely wine, balanced with medium+ length.

For me this is an enjoy now wine, but will continue to reward through 2013/14 if cellared well
4.5 Stars

The Islander

The Islander (estate Vineyards) 'The Red' 2010 14%
Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Viognier, Grenache
N: Fruity, peppery, spicy, nutty. Sweet black fruits and black-strap licorice. A plethora of aromas to match the varietal mix.

P: Dry with medium tannins and acidity, all the flavors suggested above continue onto the palate. Medium+ weight. An all-rounder and easy BYO at your local restaurant and probably really good with the next BBQ steak at the neighbour's shin-dig this Summer.
3 Stars

Monday, 19 November 2012

Le Fong Estate

Le Fong Estate Merlot '09 13.5%
Nose and Palate: Plums and dark red fruits laced with spice, earthy and oak spice features; medium+ tannins and length. A very dry wine - requires food.

Le Fong Estate Merlot '10 13.5%
Nose and Palate: Lots of plum and dark cherry with a touch of blackberry fruit, strong herbaceous and oak suggestions. A dry wine on the palate with medium+ tannins, medium acidity; earthy and plummy with black fruit flavors. Plenty of nutty oak spices, light on complexity; medium length.
3 Stars
3 Stars

Le Fong Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot '08 13%
Nose and Palate: An integrated example with a plum and light blackberry aroma, medium oak influences, pleasant. The palate reflects the nose with flavors of plum and blackberry; medium tannins are integrated yet still have a little bite and add texture, medium acid. Dry and balanced. Drink now.


Astrolabe 'Province' Marlborough Chardonnay 2011 14%
N: An elegant bouquet with sweet citrus, peach, white flowers, dry and wet stone, moderate oak and vanillin layer.
As I swirl the wine more complexity begins to build. A hint of sulphide adds a funky edge - nice!
5 Stars

P: Reflects the nose with flavors of citrus and stone fruit. I really like the ebb and flow of fruit flavors against the oak with citrus pith, a cashew nutty and spicy oak harmony. Medium+ complexity - this is a very cool wine! Long finish.
5 Stars

Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold Gisborne Chardonnay 2011 13%
Produced and bottled by Spade Oak
N: Golden peach, yellow and red apple laced with nutty, buttery and vanillin oak aromas. Hints of spiced oak and honey ensue.  

P: Creamy, peachy, oaky and dry. A Chardonnay for the fans of classically styled 'Old School' expression. I like the texture, medium+ weight and richness in flavor from the oak; balanced and well made with a strong vanillin and nutty finish. 
3.5 Stars
I often imagine what food would best suit a wine as I taste it and in this case pan-seared swordfish with a caper laced beurre-blanc sauce, new season asparagus with crumbled bacon and burnt toast scrapings - trust me on the burnt toast bit.


Isabel Marlborough Pinot Gris 2012 13.5%
N: A classically styled Marlborough Pinot Gris with pear skin, apple flesh, a hint of quince and honey-suckle.
3.5 Stars

P: Juicy and fleshy with ripe apple and pear flavors, off-dry with medium to medium+ acidity; some floral notes add a layer of flavor and complexity. A balanced and well made example.
3.5 Stars


Greywacke Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 14%
N: Wild white flowers, an array of white fleshed fruits laced with a little spice; and a mineral undercurrent. A little kiss from some skin contact and barrel add functionality while the wild ferment adds a little funk. In other words there is complexity, charm and a little fun to be explored. 
5 Stars - and worth it!

P: Just off-dry, spicy, warm and flavorful. Has an Alsace like feel with a Kiwi twist. Fruit flavors include white nectarine and peach; wild florals return adding a gentle complexity. A delicious wine that should be enjoyed now and through 2013.
5 Stars

Catalina Sounds

Catalina Sounds 2012 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 13%
N: Jalapeno like fragrance with a blend of sweet herbs and citrus centred fruit suggestions; a touch of peach. Crunchy red bell pepper also raises a hand (or is that a stalk!).
4 Stars

P: A vibrant wine with a no holds barred fruit and 'Marlborough' expression - citrus, jalapeno and red bell pepper laced with fresh herbs (basil). Acidity reaches pretty high and perhaps a touch of residual sugar adds balance and weight. A light mineral and stony soil finish adds length and a lick of complexity.
4 Stars

Te Mania

Te Mania Reserve Chardonnay 2011 Nelson 13.5%
N: A gentle fruit core of peachy/nectarine and citrus flesh and a little lemon pith note, are surrounded by lightly spiced oak - toasty with a light butterscotch suggestion. The vanillin is easily spotted (a little American oak - perhaps).
4.5 Stars

P: I like the texture of this wine: it is creamy with a mealy layer. The fruit platter returns to the palate with a sound balance between the citrus and stone fruit flavors. Dry, balanced, well made with a long (ish) finish.
4.5 Stars


Isabel Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 13%
N: Fragrant and varietal, but also a little edgy. Grapefruit and ripe tropical fruit suggestions begin to reveal themselves after a few swirls; then a light white flower, wet stone mineral and gentle herbal quality.
4.5 Stars

P: Generous and quite lush with red apple and sweet citrus flavors; tropical flavors of pineapple follow. Fresh and lively acid dances on the palate. A delightful example and an easy 'by the glass' choice.
4.5 Stars