Elephant Hill Tasting – Aug 2015

Elephant Hill tasting

M shouted me to this tasting at Regional Wines and Spirits hosted by Richard Sherriff. I tried this producer’s Syrah after a Taupo Cycle Challenge a couple of years back and I was really impressed at what they were doing. So I was well pleased to be invited along!

Elephant Hill is owned by the Weiss family. It is a boutique producer of sustainably-produced hand-crafted wines, located on the Te Awanga coast of Hawkes Bay. It produces about 20,000 cases PA at present. I am told it also boasts a fine restaurant, which features dishes well-paired to the wines. The site is named for a life-size teak sculpture of an elephant the owners brought back from a trip to the sub-continent. As you do.

Elephant Hill has three vineyards – Te Awanga with coastal shingle and clay, Gimblett Gravels with inland stony gravels, and Bridge Pa Triangle with inland alluvial and red metal soils.

The wines were poured in advance, non-blind. They were presented by winemaker Steve Skinner and Marketing Manager Vince Labat.

E H Viognier Te Awanga 2014 – No malo, small barrel ferment, short time on lees. 13.5%. Steve admitted that they (EH) liked a cooler climate style of wine. The Viognier grapes were planted in 2007, the estate’s oldest vines. It is a fickle grape to grow, with ripening being problematic. Apparently M. Chapoutier has said, “Making Viognier is an act of Charity”.  EH fight to keep the alcohols from going over the top, and maintaining lovely aromatics. I saw good fruit aromas here – mandarin, passionfruit, nectarines. There was ginger spice and mandarin in the mouth, dry, with a citrus burst and some salinity. It’s an easy Viognier, not oily. I liked it. 3+

E H Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Te Awanga 2014 – They say Reserve designation refers to more time spent in the vineyard and winery. A simple wine picked at optimal ripeness. Fermented in old oak puncheons, wild yeasts, with lees complexity.  Herbaceous nose with some tomato stalk character. Food friendly. In a Sancerre style. To taste – a strong line of citrus, refreshing green apples, lean and elegant. Others remarked about liveliness and saltiness (the end rows are only 25m from the ocean…). I thought this was great. 4

E H Chardonnay 2014 – Burgundian whole bunch pressed. Fermented 11 months in 25% new oak barrels, wild yeasts, on lees, no malo treatment.  The vintage was slightly warmer than 2013. I saw a very fine nose. There was richness and delicacy, biscuity notes, vanilla and golden fruit. It was delicious to taste too – open and fine and with a light touch. Very good. 4+

E H Chardonnay Reserve Te Awanga 2013 – From vines planted in 2003. Exceptional vintage. Wild fermented in oak, more lees complexity, no malo treatment. I noted a hint of apparent reductive character, but this blew off as I swirled. My notes said: powerful, rich, beautiful Chardonnay. Luscious viscous richness. Elegance. A 12 yr wine. Fantastic. 5

E H Syrah 2014 – Syrah is Elephant Hill’s flagship variety. Here it is a blend of grapes from the Te Awanga, Gimblett and Bridge Pa sites. Very ripe fruit, soft and sweet on nose. Still young, tastes young. Remarkable 32.5g dry extract. Taste is reminiscent of the E Guigal CdR 2010s I have been drinking. A very exciting Syrah. Will look fantastic in a few years, very good now. 4+

E H Syrah Reserve 2013 – Here the blend of grapes from the Te Awanga and Gimblett Gravels sites, with 1% Viognier co-fermented. This glass was poured three hours before the tasting.  A big black carmine colour, it shows vanilla, elegance, density of fruit on the nose. Still a baby, but made to last. To taste, tannic and rich, rich black plums, held together refined and closed. Very Good 4+

E H Syrah Reserve 2009 – This was a treat. An older bottle. Made from EL Chave clone grapes. Almost meaty character, overlaid with gorgeous fruit flavours, almost feminine. Silky tannic structure, elegance in the glass. Just superb. 5

E H Merlot Malbec 2013 – A young wine from young vines (2011). Trophy Champion NZ Red Wine at the Int. Wine Challenge. Eminently drinkable. Soft, perfumed, dark fruits. Approachable tannins. Sweetness on palate, coming from low cropping 4

E H Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2013 – A blend of 64% Merlot, 35% Cabernet and 1% Malbec. Rich, tannic, mouthfilling and mouthcoating. Dense. Will be really worth watching as it ages. I didn’t pay too much attention to this wine as I was still reeling from the Syrahs and Chardonnays…still, 4+

What a great tasting. I was very impressed with the breadth and quality of the wines we were offered. I already have a ’13 Syrah in the Pool Room, and am keen to supplement it with a brace of these…

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