Wine Guide: The Best Reds

During the year we get to try some incredible wines. It is always the best of these wines that we feature in our pages and while we don’t feature every wine we are sent, we are always thrilled at the calabre of wines that keep coming across our desk.

However there are a select few that we keep back for our best wine features. In this feature, ‘the best reds’, we selected 7 red wines from NZ and one from Australia). All priced at over $100 a bottle, and for very good reasons, in our opinion, these are some of the very best wines from the antipodes that you’ll find on the shelves today….

TE MATA, COLERAINE, 2016 (HAWKE’S BAY)

Te Mata is New Zealand’s oldest winery – dating back to 1896. Their history for creating great wines goes well back with Te Mata winning an international Gold Medal right back in 1909 for its Cabernet in the Imperial International Exhibition. But it wasn’t until the early 80’s when the Buck family took over that it really started to reach it’s strides with its unique bordeaux blends. The Coleraine is considered by many to be the best of our New Zealand reds and was recently hailed as being “among the top Bordeaux blends in the world.” by Decanter Magazine. One Aussie critic described it as being “a good as a Grange only a lot cheaper”. Being among world’s best, however, also means it is hugely popular with most vintages selling out within days! Getting hold of a bottle could be a challenge but well worth it if you can.

The last three vintages have been outstanding. Last year I described these as a trifecta, and for the fourth year in a row they have done it again. The long hot summer, mature vines and careful management of the vines has paid off in spades. Named after the hometown of the Bucks grandfather, the wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend; a brilliant magenta colour, the wine has a wonderful floral bouquet of lavender, violets and roses with a hint of cassis. Superb depth and complexity with ripe plums, blackcurrants, black cherries and wild strawberries overlaid with a touch of cedar and thyme.

YALUMBA, OCTAVIUS OLD VINE SHIRAZ 2014 (BAROSSA, 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 Barossa Valley was one of the few areas around the world that remained untouched by the devastating root fungus phylloxera that ravaged the winegrowing industry in the early 20th century. As a consequence, the Barossa Valley has some of the oldest Syrah vines in the world. Sourced from the Barossa (63%) and Eden (37%) Valleys the grapes used in this wine were selected from vines with an average age of 71 years.

The only winery in Australia with it’s own cooperage, Yalumba commissioned its own American octave barrels (the inspiration behind the name) for the maturation of this truly outstanding handmade and handcrafted wine. The wine blends the richness and density of the Barossa Shiraz with the fruity aromatics of the Eden valley Shiraz to deliver and exquisitely refined wine; medium to full bodied the wine exhibits savoury notes of red currants followed by dried herb aromatics. The deep richness and concentration of the Barossa Shiraz comes through on the palate with notes of bitter chocolate with a seamless palate structure and robust tannins through to the finish. This wine is worth cellaring for up to 15 years.

TRINITY HILL, HOMAGE SYRAH, 2015 (HAWKE’S BAY)

Trinity Hill has been though a few changes in recent years in ownership and management. However, the winemaking has been under Warren Gibson for quite few years now and I’m pleased to say their flagship wine remains one New Zealand’s most outstanding Syrahs. Warren’s predecessor in winemaking at Trinity Hill was John Hancock. 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, 2015 was a warm season in the region with dry conditions lasting till late autumn. Impeccable attentive viticulture has ensured that fruit was in premium condition before harvest with the result being another outstanding Syrah from Trinity Hill.

The grapes were handpicked from numerous site around the Gimblett Gravels vineyard to ensure only the best bunches went into the making of this wine. With each batch being whole bunch fermented and traditional foot stomping to contribute to the freshness of the aromatics and structure. Up to 50 days on the skins for some batches has contributed to the dark colour. The wine is beautifully aromatic with floral notes overlaid with notes of licorice and blackberries. Tightly structured and well balanced this wine will cellar well for years to come.

Being of the best Syrahs of the 2015 vintage you may struggle to still get hold of a bottle. I suggest to avoid disappointment in future you
consider the 2016 Homage Syrah – En Primeur offer where you’ll get 6 x Bottles of 2016 Homage Syrah delivered to your door one month before
the official release for just $590. That’s $780 value! (the wine will be shipped out in the beginning of October 2018).

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. This wine is well worth adding to the cellar and will keep well for up to 20 years.

PYRAMID VALLEY VINEYARDS, HOME COLLECTION, EARTH SMOKE PINOT NOIR 2015 (NORTH CANTERBURY)

Pyramid Valley Vineyards is dedicated exclusively to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Inspired by their time in Burgundy, founders Mike and Claudia Elze Weersing set up Pyramid Valley near Waikari in North Canterbury, in 2000. They employ bio-dynamics, no filtration and natural fermentation in their processing This is a truly organic farm having never suffered pesticides or herbicides. The processing of thewine is  entirely by hand and foot with no commercial yeasts or finings added. They also call on the lunar cycle to determine harvesting and allow nothing to interrupt the natural cycle.

Without herbicides they have become very familiar (even fond of) the weed population on the farm. It is the fumitory weed (fumus terrae) an Old World plant, with wispy magenta flowers and finely divided greyish leaves resembling smoke and fire rising from the ground, form whence this wine gets its name.

The result of careful handling and avoiding any attempts to interrupt the natural progress from soil to cellar has created one of the most outstanding Pinot Noirs I have tried to date.

Light ruby in colour with lively hues, the wine is brooding with sombre depths and scents of dark berries, rich dark plums and black cherries and violets. Plum and cherry also comes through on the palate melded with savory herb and a long silky finish.

If the whole of Canterbury dedicated their land to making wine like this, we wouldn’t have the issues with our waterways we do now and we would be producing a lot of great wine too – just saying.

The Pyramid Valley vineyard sold recently to Texas Billionaire, Brian Seth. At the same time Seth also bought award winning winery Lowburn Ferry and formed Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates. With the owners staying on to help the transition, the aim is to retain individuality and brand identity, while raising the brand profiles on the world stage.

CRAGGY RANGE VINEYARDS, PRESTIGE COLLECTION, LE SOL SYRAH 2016 (GIMBLETT GRAVELS, HAWKES BAY)

Part of their recently released (June 2017) Prestige Collection. The range also includes the Aroha Marlborough Pinot Noir and the Merlot based Sophia (also from Hawkes Bay’s Gimblett Gravels). Having a reputation for producing some of the countries best reds for quite some years now, it was natural that they should choose to produce a prestige range such as this.

Craggy Range winery, owned by the Peabody family, was first established in 1997 on greenfield underneath Te Mata peak. The gentle sloping stoney soils on the river bank proved perfect for the production of exquisite single vineyard Bordeaux-style reds.

Le Sol doesn’t in fact come from the homeblock but, like most of our best Syrahs, comes from the celebrated Gimblett Gravels. The name Le Sol (French for ‘the soil’) a nod to the haloed ground from which it was created.

The wine is an inky purple red with beguilding, lifted aromatics of violets, clove, boysenberry and savoury herbs. Rich with fruit flavours the palate has intense and deep flavours of ripe blackberry balanced
with precise acidity and fine tannins make for lovely liguring finish. While Craggy Range has had a lot of negative publicity in recent times over a track, created with best intentions, up to the peak (how that could
in anyway upset the Maori ancestors more than the dirty great road up the other side baffles me), we shouldn’t forget the massive contribution this winery has made, not only to the local economy, but also to the wine industry as a whole.

CHURCH ROAD, TOM, MERLOT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2014 (GIMBLET GRAVES AND BRIDGE PA TRIANGLE, HAWKES BAY)

Church Road is one of our oldest Vineyards,  established in 1897 on the side of Church Road by Luxembourg native, Bartholomew Steinmetz. It was when Bartholomew returned to Luxembourg in 1920 that 19 year old Tom McDonald, having spent most of his teenage years on the winery, took over. Tom later bought the winery and went on to become one of the pioneers of the winemaking industry, establishing the first commercial Bordeaux-style reds, the style that is now at the heart of Hawke’s Bay wine production.

It is a tribute to the late Tom McDonald (1907 – 1987) that this wine carries his name and signature. The Tom series which includes Syrahs, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot produced exclusively from outstanding vintages. This Cab Sav Merlot is made predominantly (62%) from Merlot grapes grown in the Gimblett Gravels region and Cab Sav grapes (38%) are from the Redstone vineyard in the Bridge Pa Triangle subregion. The blend is outstanding with the Merlot delivering a wonderful rich mid-palate freshness while the firm tannins and structural length of the Cab Sav keep it in check. The aroma is of rich dark fruit overlaid with violet, sandalwood and cedar with subtle notes of vanilla, cacao bring a luxuriousness to the flavour profile. The balance between the Merlot and the Cab Sav delivers a beautifully rounded and seamless feel across the palate and an ethereal quality as these two elements dance harmoniously on the tongue.