On a recent visit to Auckland restaurant The Grill, I was taken with their extensive wine list and the wine display, which has to be one of the most impressive arrays of fine wines in any restaurant I have seen in New Zealand. I was fortunate at the time to try what was described to me by Antonio Crisci (of Poderi Crisci) as one of the ’best wines’ in the world – the Sassicaia (pronounced sass-e-ky-ya). The Sassicaia is a super Tuscan blend and, without doubt, one of the best wines in Italy. Antonio, being Italian born, has a bias towards Italian wines. (I am sure if I asked a Frenchman he would argue they have the best wines in the world too.) Tasted this fantastic wine got me thinking about which wine would I pick from this part of the world as ’the best’. So, I set out on a mission to find some of the best reds New Zealand has to offer… here is my list:
Yalumba, The Caley, 2012 (Barossa and Coonawarra, South Australia)
Yalumba is one of Australia’s oldest wineries and has a long history of innovation, with pioneering wine research at its heart. Yalumba boasts the pre-eminent Viticultural Nursery of Australia and is the only Australian winery with its own on-site cooperage.
The Caley is a brand-new ‘rare and exceptional’ release from the Yalumba family and a culmination of more than a century and a half of creating great clarets. Claret is a wine style that has developed over the years, and it’s a favourite of Australian winemakers. It pulls together two great varietals, Cabernet and Shiraz, to to create the ‘Great Australian Red’. Cabernet is often referred to as the doughnut grape, with a great beginning and a great finish, but not a lot in the middle.
With 2012 being both an exceptional growing year for Yalumba and the culmination of 168 years of winemaking, they launch that year’s Caley this month. Named after one of Yalumba’s most adventurous sons, Fred Caley Smith (the grandson of founder Samuel Smith), this is a nod to the journey that brought them to this point.
It’s great to drink in its youth but it’s also a wine that will be even greater with some maturity. If the Cabernet Shiraz is the Great Australian Red, then this has to be the Greatest Australian Red.
The wine is superb, with incredible depth in colour, richness and warmth. It’s savoury with hints of pepper, blackcurrants and has smokiness on the nose and luxurious smoothness on the palate with hints of tobacco, leather, mocha, blackcurrant and berries. It comes in at $395 a bottle and, believe me, it is worth every cent.
Te Mata, Coleraine, 2015 (Hawke’s Bay)
Te Mata is New Zealand’s oldest winery – dating back to 1896. The Coleraine is considered by many to be the best of our New Zealand reds.The only major issue with this wine, though, is getting your hands on a bottle, since the winery sells out of Coleraine within a matter of weeks.
Having tried the 2013 and the 2014 Coleraine (these two vintages were described by Michael Cooper as the ’twin peaks’), needless to say I was looking forward to sampling this one. I described the 2014 before as New Zealand’s ’best red yet’ and I can say the 2015 measures up nicely with its predecessors and I can comfortably say that Te Mata winery has achieved the inconceivable and created a trifecta. At just $120 a bottle (RRP), and selling out so quickly, I can see this wine reaching $200 a bottle in coming years and it will still be well worth the investment. The wine itself is a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc blend; a Bordeaux style, but the winemakers from Te Mata say, “the Coleraine is a Hawke’s Bay-style wine” – since the area is gaining international recognition for the unique styled wines they are producing. First produced in 1982, the Coleraine derives its name from the Coleraine vineyard, home of John and Wendy Buck of Te Mata Estate. John’s late grandfather was born in Coleraine in Northern Ireland and the name has been maintained through the family home to the wine.
Flame red in colour, with splashes of magenta and brilliant purple, the wine has a wonderful floral bouquet of lavender, violets and roses with a hint of cassis. The first thing you’ll notice on tasting this wine is the rich fruity sweetness, a bouquet of blackcurrants, black cherries and wild strawberries laid over with a touch of cedar and hints of French oak.
Villa Maria, Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 (Hawke’s Bay)
A milestone in Villa Maria’s 53-year winemaking history, and the culmination of years of winemaking achievements from New Zealand’s most awarded winery, the Ngakirikiri has been years in the making, as they waited for the very best vintage before they finally produced this outstanding wine.
Ngakirikiri is the Maori word for the gravels on which the vines were grown. The Hawke’s Bay is an area recognised for some of the best wine production in New Zealand and the best place to grow the Bordeaux-style grapes that went into the production of this wine.
It is deep ruby in colour, with intense aromas of plums, cassis and notes of violets, mocha with hints of thyme.The palate is complex and layered, beautifully balanced from start to finish with flavors of ripe blackcurrants, fine grain tannins and French oak emerging throughout at levels that perfectly complement and take the palate on a wonderful journey. At $150, this wine is well worth adding to the cellar and will keep well for up to 20 years.
St Hallett, Old Block Shiraz, 2013 (Barossa Valley, South Australia)
St Hallett produce the Old Block Shiraz from selected parcels of grapes from the Barossa and Eden valleys, where only the best are selected and blended to create the Old Block Shiraz. The vines that produce the grapes must be grown from root stock that is at least 40 years old, however, in the case of the 2013, there was no rootstock under 80 years of age. Blind tasting by the winemaking team ensures that only the best quality wine goes forward for careful blending by the senior wine maker.
The resulting wine is a fabulous blend rich in colour, textures and complexity, underpinned by lingering tannins that make this an outstanding wine.
The bouquet is slightly floral, with lingering tones of black plums and dark berries with a hint of nutmeg. It has a delicately balanced palate, rich and smooth, spicy and full-bodied with dense fruit at its core and long, lingering finish. This is an impeccable wine that will cellar well for 30 years or more if stored correctly.
Trinity Hill, Homage Syrah, 2014 (Hawke’s Bay)
When I approached winemaker John Hancock about including this in my list of the best of our local reds, he commented: “ I think it would be great. Homage is kicking goals!! I think the Homage will stack up more than well against those wines!!” Like John’s winemaking, he was right on the money.
The Homage is in honor of Hancock’s inspiration and mentor, the late Gerard Jaboulet from Côte-Rôtie, in the Rhône valley, who took Hancock under his wing.
Traditionally blended with a small amount of Viognier, and produced from grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels of Hawke’s Bay, 2014 was one of the best growing season the region has seen and this wine has to be one of the pinnacles of Hawke’s Bay Syrahs.
Highlights include that it is dark in colour with beautiful floral notes overlaid with oak and blackberries; is powerful and fragrant with great structure and length; and it has strong tannins and incredible layers, leaving the mouth savouring for more. At $130 a bottle, this wine will cellar well for years to come.
Lowburn Ferry, Home Block Pinot Noir, 2015 (Central Otago)
We couldn’t complete a list of the best reds from this part of the world without including a Pinot Noir from Central Otago. The 2014 Home Block Pinot Noir took out not only the Pinot Noir trophy but also the overall trophy for Best Wine of the Show at last year’s Air New Zealand wine awards (arguably New Zealand’s most influential wine awards). The 2015 took out the best Pinot Noir award at the Sydney International Wine awards too.
For a small family winery, both awards in one year – and for two different vintages – is an outstanding achievement. And a richly deserved one, too. Pinot Noirs don’t get much better than this and I’d challenge even the best Burgundys of France to beat this little number. Probably the least expensive on our list ($55 RRP), this wine should be in everyone’s best-wine selection.
The colour is deep red with flashes of purple; the wine has a floral aroma mixed with dried herbs, spice and smokiness, while the palate has hints of tobacco and leather blending nicely with sweet plums, black cherries and fine silky tannins. There’s a long, lingering finish of sweet red berries.
Crossroads, The Talisman, 2013 (Hawke’s Bay)
This is an outstanding blend from the best areas within their company vineyards in the Fernhill, Twyford and Mangatahi sub-regions of Hawke’s Bay. The winery itself was established by a leading chemist from Auckland University, who moved to the area to try his hand at winemaking. Using his knowledge of chemistry, he set about creating a blend of grapes to come up with the very best possible blend he could. The original blend used something like eight different wine varietals and the blend to this day remains a closely guarded secret known only to the winemakers of the Crossroads winery, and the current winemaker, Miles Dinneen. Today the wine uses just six varietals and, to date, even the best wine aficionados have only managed to identify four of these grapes.
It is my understanding that the main grapes here are Bourdeaux in origin, but more important is the outstanding result from the blend. The 2013 vintage has been described as one of the best growing seasons in Hawke’s Bay, the grapes selected producing a beautifully balanced, multi-layered wine with incredible complexity (no doubt the results of the multiple grapes in the blend) and a rich creamy softness that ensures this treat makes it high on our list of outstanding wines and, priced at less than $60, it is highly recommended.
With a bouquet of cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants and blueberries, the palate is rich and smooth with smoky savoury notes and dense plummy fruit, toasty oak and rich tannins. The finish is long and fine.
Elephant Hill, Airavata Syrah, 2013 (Hawke’s Bay)
This is one of the youngest vineyards on the list, first established in 2003 by German-born Reydan and Roger Weiss after falling in love with the Te Awanga coast when visiting New Zealand in 2001. Within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean, with majestic views of Cape Kidnappers, and boasting one of the best restaurants in Hawke’s Bay, the winery has become one of the region’s leading tourist attractions. They have invested a lot in the design of the winery, with state-of-the-art water treatment, sustainability accreditation and inspired architecture ensuring that it fits seamlessly into the environment.
Currently under the management of second-generation family member, Andreas Weiss, the commitment continues with their quest to create great wine, as particularly expressed in their Icon range (the selection to which the Airavata belongs), where only the best seasons and the best grapes are selected to become an Icon wine. The Airavata is the Icon Syrah and has only ever been produced twice in the history of Elephant Hill winery. The 2009 vintage won plenty of acclaim, even taking out gold in the UK Sommeliers Awards. Of course, 2013 was an exceptional growing year too. In creating the 2013 Airavata, the team selected Syrahs from the home block in Te Awanga and from their Gimblett Gravels vineyard and blended these with a touch of Viognier to come out with an outstanding Syrah.
The colour is rich ruby, the aroma has elements of savoury and a touch of violets; you’ll pick up hints of bayleaf and olive tapenade on the palate, mixed with plum, dark cherries, pepper and spice. Firm tannins and oak deliver a lingering finish and, while this wine is great for consuming now, it will be even greater in years to come. (Priced at just $120 a bottle.)