CJ pask vineyard
Three years ago my family and I spent a winter in New Zealand. We moved around a bit, travelling to remote newspaper offices, and got to experience a real winter in a country that makes the most of it.
It was cold in Christchurch, windy in Wellington and icy in Invercargill – literally, as one day sleet blew in from an open window and across a desk during a meeting at The Southland Times.
We drank quite a bit of wine from Hawkes Bay on those cold nights. It was a good way to explore a region whose wines, while revered and spoken about in serious tones, tend to get overlooked here.
With a worldwide, and well-deserved, reputation for rich chardonnay, elegant syrah and Bordeaux-style reds – such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc – people in Melbourne’s wine trade tell me Hawkes Bay isn’t as popular as it could and should be.
One reason for this, I suspect, is that you can find locally made wines of similar style and quality for around the same price. There’s no Hawkes Bay equivalent to the distinctive sav blancs of Marlborough and the deep pinot noirs of Central Otago that help those regions stand out from the pack.
Hawkes Bay lies on New Zealand’s east coast, almost halfway up the North Island between Auckland and Wellington, and is centred around Napier and Hastingse.
It’s the hottest place in the country, which is important when considering the types of grapes it grows and the styles of wine it produces. Coupled with hot days and cold nights, it’s perfectly suited to reds. The bulk of New Zealand’s top-end cabernets, syrahs and red blends come from vineyards here.
Interestingly, the region produces as much white wine as it does red. A mix of altitude, soil profiles and climate creates a great environment for whites, too, and while its complex and intense chardonnay flies the flag high, gewurztraminer, viognier, pinot gris, riesling, semillon and chenin blanc are also planted.
The bulk of the region’s whites are planted near the coast, where cooling sea breezes slow the ripening process to produce wines of intensity and elegance.
Moving inland, the hillsides around Havelock North have been home to vineyards since the 1890s. Te Mata Estate, built in 1896, still operates from its original site under the peak of the Te Mata mountain. The hillsides rely on aspect and altitude to ripen their grapes.
The alluvial plains of the Triangle, the Hawkes Bay dress circle that includes the revered Gimblett Gravels subregion, were formed over thousands of years by the changing course of the Ngaruroro River, which left free-draining soils and gravels. There are 25 different soil profiles, and many wineries have several vineyards in different parts of the Triangle.
The final piece to the Hawkes Bay terroir puzzle are the five river valleys that run across Hawkes Bay and are home to a diverse mix of soil types and climactic conditions. These plots produce an equally diverse
range of wines, from sparkling to pinot noir and malbec to syrah.
Next time you find yourself in the New Zealand section of your local bottleshop, start exploring the diversity of Hawkes Bay. It’s a journey well worth taking – especially on these cold nights.
CJ Pask Declaration Chardonnay 2009
(Hawkes Bay) $39; 13%
Grapes from selected vines are pressed straight into new French oak barrels, where wild yeasts get fermentation going. They spend 11 months in these barrels and the result is a wine of intensity, purity and character. White stonefruit, citrus, oatcakes and cedar-oak aromas leap from the glass and the concentrated lemon, grapefruit pith and cinnamon spice flavours are delicious. A creamy texture, sweet mid-palate, light tannic grip and balanced acidity contribute to a finish that drives on and on.
Food match \ Coquilles St Jacques
Paritua Syrah 2009
(Hawkes Bay) $44; 13.5%
I was tipped off about Paritua in a Wellington wine shop three years ago and have been a devotee ever since. Its wines are now available in Melbourne and are starting to appear on some good wine lists around town. It’s quite floral, with layered aromas and flavours of black cherry, blueberry, spice, violets, pepper and creamy vanilla oak. On the palate, it’s rich and smooth, with nice sweet and savoury balance, fine-grained tannins, bright acidity and fabulous length.
Food match \ Pan-seared duck breast
Te Mata Coleraine 2010
(Hawkes Bay) $90; 14%
One of Hawkes Bay’s most famous wines, this 58/36/6 blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc hadn’t been in bottle for long when I tried it but it did leave quite an impression. Floral aromas of blackberries, cassis, pencil oak, bittersweet chocolate and a twist of herb are mirrored on the wonderfully intense palate, along with a rich, nutty oak character. It’s a wine of great structure, too, with fine, drying tannins that are all class, seamless acidity and great length.
Food match \ Côte de Boeuf
Church Road Pinot Gris 2010
(Hawkes Bay) $25.99; 14%
This is grown high on river terraces above the Ngaruroro River in a new Hawkes Bay subregion, Matapiro, 40 minutes by car inland from Napier. All this means the grapes grow in warm days and cold nights, which helps build aromatics into the wine. And aromatic it is, with cut-pear, floral and spice flavours. With a lovely texture, this is an off-dry style, and the residual sugar helps flesh out the palate while bright acidity balances the sweet flavours nicely. It has length to burn, too.
Food match \ Mussels with chilli and lemongrass
Love a bargain
Te Awa Left Field Chardonnay 2010
(Hawkes Bay) $20; 13.5%
From grapes grown on the Gimblett Gravels, this unoaked chardonnay is a lesson in wine structure 101. Aromas of tropical fruits, peach, cantaloupe and apple are intriguing, while pure flavours of white peach, lemon zest and grapefruit have a good intensity that builds and builds in the mouth. It’s in the structure where the wine really triumphs – a smooth texture and balanced acidity that’s fresh, taut, and slightly chalky – and the lengthy, crisp finish is equally rich and refreshing.
Food match \ Roast chicken