Straight to the Pool Room – December 2016


Produttori del Babaresco Nebbiolo Montestefano 2007 – $$$+ – drink 2017-2022. Plucked from the MS wine ballot after the Produttori del Barbaresco horizontal tasting. Delicious. One of the world’s great wine styles.

Elephant Hill Airavata Syrah Te Awanga HB 2013 – $$$$ – drink 2018-2028. Not tasted, but if judged by both the 2013 Syrah and Reserve Syrahs out of Elephant Hill this will be a Stunnah.

Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces Merlot Malbec Franc Bay View HB 2013 – $$$$ – drink 2018-2028. Tasted at the Winery. Fantastic. A longsleeper, this.

Hawkes Bay Winery Visits


The Terraces, Esk Valley, Hawkes Bay

Coming back from our Lake Waikaraemoana tramping trip, and passing through Hawkes Bay, I was super-fortunate to have the time and space to visit a number of my very favourite NZ wine producers with my lovely L.

Esk Valley

Esk Valley was first up. Esk Valley is situated beside the coast at Bay View north of Napier. Behind the winery were the famous Terraces, facing north and the sea, first terraced and planted by owner Robert Bird with hybrid wines in the 1940s. Low yields and high production costs saw those pulled out and the hillside planted in pines.

Pine tree cones make poor wine so when George Fistonich of Villa Maria bought the property in 1989, the pines were in turn pulled out, and plantings of cabernets, merlot and malbec vines were dug in. Cabernet Savignon proved hard to ripen consistently at this cool coastal location, so those vines were pulled out in the mid-90’s and replaced with more Merlot and Malbec vines.


L and I tasted through a range of their standard wines – Savvy, Chardy, Rose, Pinot Gris, Syrah – then we paid a $10 fee to try the Terraces 2014 blend in a separate room. This was presaged by tastings of the standard 2015 Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec blend (a go-to red of mine), then the $60 Winemakers Reserve of the same blend (delicious, complex, aromatic). The Terraces was powerful and refined, with a wonderful aroma. Enough for me to invest in a bottle.



Eponymous elephant at Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill

A lot of money has been spent establishing Elephant Hill, starting with situating a very impressive bronze elephant before a huge copper-clad winery. The tasting room is one of NZ’s finest, with a high-cuisine kitchen attached, and a sunny terrace out from.


We tasted through their wines, before settling down to a nice Chardonnay and Gris with a cheese platter. And I bought a bottle of their top rated syrah, the Airavata from 2013.


I like their wine so much, that later in town I had another glass of their delicious standard Syrah at the stylish café Bistronomy while L had her feet pedicured after the big hike…



Buck House, Te Mata Estate

Te Mata Estate

The next day we went out for a bike ride, intending to head from Clive up to the top of Te Mata Peak. We were running a bit short of time, and were waylaid by the tasting room at Te Mata Estate instead.


I didn’t need much persuading: anyone who reads my blog knows I really rate these guys work. We tried the latest Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc, Elston Chardonnay, Gamay Noir, Bullnose Syrah, and Awatea red blend. We couldn’t carry anything on our bikes, so we left with our bank accounts intact.




Our time riding was short due to a lunch date at the famous Clearview Estate vineyard café. It was packed. We settled in, ordered our starters and our mains, before heading to the tasting room. We tried their large range of wines, and listened to a very funny and engaged hostess shared information and gags in equal measure. I was even treated to a taste of their $150 Basket Press red blend. For lunch I had to have a glass of their Semillon (quite rare to see a NZ version for sale by the glass), and then their Malbec to go with my steak. Both were yum.

I am so privileged.

What’s in the glass tonight December 1st – Verdelho


Esk Valley Verdelho Hawkes Bay 2016 – $$

I haven’t tried a Verdelho since ages ago! When I saw this on sale I just had to buy.

Pale gold. 14% alc.

Aromatic with sweet tropical fruity scents. Open and lifted, with notes of spice and honey and butter candy, and Golden Delicious apples.

To taste – sweet and ripe on entry, a citrus edge throughout the mid-palate, spicy and with a long finish. Unctuous and mouth-filling, textural and bold, with bountiful flavours of apples, mangoes and mandarines.

Recommended – 88 points

What’s in the glass tonight July 17th

Esk Valley Syrah 2013

Esk Valley Syrah Hawkes Bay 2013 – $$

I have been really enjoying wines from this label this year. The 2013 Cab Merlot has been stunning, the Chardonnay has delivered beyond its price point. I thought I’d get this wine in the office order to give it a go.

Inky scarlet colour. 13.5% alc. A fresh and approachable, un-challenging red wine. Fruity on the nose, mildly earthy too with some vanilla. Soft ripe blackberry flavours, with a medium tannin profile and concentration. Mild spice.

Not wowed with this one. No faults, but a bit soft and lacking personality.

Mild is the word. G 3

What’s in the glass tonight – a Tale of Two Esks

Esk Valley HB Chard 2014

Esk Valley Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2014 – $

Ever since R brought us over a bottle of this producer’s Chardonnay last year I have seen it as a good low-cost and dependable Queen of Wine for everyday drinking.

From the latest vintage: yellow straw, 13.5% alc, lightly fragrant with notes of pears lemons and apricots.

The wine is leaner than the 2014 Church Road. Flavours of citrus, Golden Delicious apples. Very moreish, again.

BTG 3+

Esk Valley Merlot CS Malbec 2013

Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec Hawkes Bay 2013 – $$

Lovely inky colour. Rich and mouthcoating. Tannic, drying from the Malbec component in the blend, and showing deep black stonefruit. Great structure, and showed really well on the second night. Very flavoursome. A good cellar wine.

VG 4

What’s in the glass tonight December 27th

Brancott Flight Sav Blanc 2014

Another tough summer’s day. Lawn mowing. Taking the kids to the beach. Drinking a medley of wines with friends in the sun.

Brancott Flight Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2014 – $

Practically no discernable colour. 9%. One of a number of low alcohol wines being brought to market in these sober drink/driving times. Interesting to see how this wine fares in the taste test…

..Not much bouquet. To taste it is light and bright and quite spritzy. I see citrus and green apple. No bold grassy notes as would be typical of a Marlborough sav. It is pleasant enough, but I wouldn’t choose it as my standard quaffage unless I knew I was likely to be called upon to perform an emergency heart operation while piloting a plane during an emergency landing, in an emergency-type situation that would require a wise and sober head: I like the buzz too much. Good 3

Ata Rangi Summer Rose 2014

Ata Rangi Summer Rose Wairarapa 2014

New Zealand Rosé royalty. Light cranberry colour. 13.5%. Sweet strawberry nose. Light strawberry fruit in the mouth, bitter in the middle palate, long tannic finish. An intense attack, quite robust for a rosé. Not sure how to rate this. Good 3 I guess.

Esk Valley

Esk Valley Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2013

Pale gold. 13.5%. Rich involving bouquet of ripe warm peaches and vanilla. Buttery and rich to drink, with cooked peaches, manuka honey and vanilla on the mid palate and a brusque fnish. Managed to be both tannic and unctuous. Better Than Good 3+

Straight to the Pool Room – December 2014

Pool Room Dec 2014

I got paid, and Santa came early, so these Christmas presents to myself will be finding a place under the tree in my cellar:

Church Road Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 2013 – $$ – drink 2017-2018. A wine critic that I admire stated this is the best CR standard Chardonnay he has seen. I’ve been drinking a lot of it already this year and agree. Very elegant. Put it down to the great 2013 vintage. And put it down I will!

Esk Vallet Merlot Cabernet Malbec Gimblett Gravels HB 2013 – $$ – drink 2018-2021. This wine scored the category trophy for  Merlot Cabernet blends at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards 2014. The wine has also received media attention from other wine reviewers I follow. I have been keeping an eye out for discounts, and saw these bottles on special at my local supermarket for Christmas, so into the cellar they go!

i append the report of the Chairman of Judges of the Awards. Interesting reading:


Chair of Judges Report

This year we have achieved more than 98% of entries that were both grown and made sustainably. This is important because sustainability means delivering excellent wine to consumers in a way that enables the natural environment, the businesses and the communities involved, to thrive.

The Awards attracted a total 1551 entries, which is 12% up on the 2013 competition. 7% of entries were awarded Gold medals, and 48% of all entries received awards.

I stated last year that 2013 was a very good grapegrowing season across the country, and very clearly the effects of this vintage continue to be seen in this year’s results, particularly with the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. 2014 had some challenges in many regions, but the quality of the best wines is still as good as ever, showing the signs of well managed vineyards and good winemaking.

Sauvignon Blanc wines from 2014 have some excellent examples, with the best showing complexity of fruit characters and an absence of green flavours. The 2013 vintage wines still shine with another year of bottle age, retaining the weight, texture, length and balance that marked them from the beginning. Once again, the best examples show a balance between very ripe and slightly edgy mineral characters which give these wines both depth and vibrancy.

Chardonnay is very strong indeed, particularly from 2013, but the success of some older vintage wines certainly shows the ageing capability of this superior grape variety. Among the best wines are a wide range of styles and regions, and show what can be achieved with Chardonnay when the grapes are ripened correctly for the region concerned, and the use of oak is carefully balanced with the other components of the wine.

Pinot Gris has enjoyed a significant lift in quality compared to previous years, and is clearly a variety on the rise in New Zealand. The best wines have rich, luscious characters that do not rely solely on sugar to give texture and length.

In the dry styles the best Riesling wines show elegance and purity with beautiful aromatic, minerality and flavour persistence. The medium wines were generally outstanding with great fruit aromas, flavours and acidity balanced carefully by sugar sweetness.

Gewürztraminer was a variable class with some great pungent fruit aromas and palate richness among the best wines, but with too many examples lacking in fruit weight and texture.

It was very encouraging to see such good examples of Albariño, Arneis and Grüner Veltliner in the other white varieties section as the number of wines exhibited has risen and the competition has become keener.

The Sparkling Wine category had a very large number of entries, and the standard was very high. The Gold Medal wines show the complexity and finesse that is required for recognition at this level.

Pinot Noir is once more the most successful varietal class in the competition with 27 Gold Medals. This is an outstanding group of red wines, particularly from the 2013 vintage but also in the more aged categories. There is diversity of style ranging from strongly coloured, robust wines with richness and tannin, through to more fresh, elegant and silky wines. The best wines exhibit layered complexity and palate length, always with tannin and acid in harmony with the fruit and oak characteristics.

With the class of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and their Blends, the 2013 vintage is certainly showing its quality. The Cabernet Sauvignon component seems to shine through in particular with ripe cassis fruit, rich tannins and flavour complexity, but also with the Merlot and Malbec having a significant impact on the blends.

Syrah provided a quality class of wine displaying a diversity of styles from fresh, vibrant peppery and herbal to full-bodied rich and ripe black fruit styles with significant oak impact and earthy tannins.

It should be noted that the judges are now being much more critical of oak characters that are too dominant and out of balance with the other components of the wine.

The Sweet White Wine class this year was wonderful, with a number of varieties showing beautifully ripe concentrated fruit characters, often augmented with botrytis cinerea noble rot, and made into a diverse range of styles.

The prestigious reputation of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards is particularly due to the quality of the judging panels. We have a very high standard of local judges with a great deal of both local and overseas judging experience. The associate judges are also of a very high standard, and make an important contribution to the judging process, particularly at discussion time.

What’s in the glass tonight August 12th


From the Cellar: Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Syrah 2010 – $$

Recommended by Geoff Kelly, I tried this first back in August 2012. Noted it needed time in bottle to open out more. And on the first night open today I thought exactly the same. It showed a bit closed, thin & mean. Stuck between primary and secondary. I don’t want to Thrash Decant so best to leave it to sit overnight and try again…

Which I did. Not too much of an improvement on the night before. The wine presents as largely correct. There are interesting notes and complexity. But what is lacking is the fruit weight, extract, florality and ripeness I expected. Only a 3+

What’s in the glass tonight June 23rd

Esk Valley HB Chardonnay 2013

2013 Cheap Chardys: Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2013 – $

Light gold in the glass. 13.5% alcohol.

Bouquet of typical golden stone and pip fruit. Young ripe pears in mouth. Citrus and minerals. Sweet also. Light mouthfeel. I see not near as much extract as the Stoneleigh of earlier.

Have to say it’s undemanding, and somewhat forgettable in such a vintage as this. I expected more. 3

What’s in the glass tonight July 26th

Esk valley HB Syrah 2011

Drinking on the job: Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Syrah 2011

At Friday drinks this week we have a nice syrah.

Not particularly floral, or ethereal.  Deep magenta colour.  Nose of pepper and pencil shavings. A typically varietal mouthful of red plums and spice.

Smoothes the rough edges off the week…3.5