It’s a Spring in which visitor numbers have been decimated in our biggest City. No New Zealanders want to travel to the only place in the country that seemingly carries a threat of catching COVID-19. Even natives of Tamaki Makaurau, eager to follow tourism marketing’s new mantra of ‘Do something new New Zealand’ have taken to the regions, leaving the city largely devoid of people. As such, the visit of one of Hawke’s Bay’s best wine labels for a weekend afternoon’s tasting is a Level-1 treat for Aucklanders.
Steve Smith MW brings the whole range of wines for us to taste – including a tableful of Pyramid Valley alongside the full CRU selection, and some Lowburn Ferry. A quick introduction to the wines from Steve, and some really rather delicious canapés emerge from the kitchen at the venue, Vivace Restaurant, as the grand tasting starts.
Most people get their arm twisted to try the Albarino as they arrive – I’m a few minutes late and manage to side step straight over to the Chardonnay (I know). I’ll give you an overview of the glasses I tried; then look out for separate reviews where I will go over a couple of the stand out wines.
Let’s talk about Chardonnay. There are three in the CRU range, and two under the Pyramid Valley ‘Appellation’ label. The three CRU wines are from Hawke’s Bay – one from the Howell vineyard that Steve Smith had a hand in establishing earlier in his career. The Heretaunga version is fruit-driven, lighter and mineral-tinged; the Omahu one is more concentrated – nutty and rich. From Marlborough, the new Appellation Pyramid Valley Chardonnay is a beauty – flinty, aromatic and sweet-fruited; whilst its sibling from North Canterbury is more savoury, textural and just darn delicious.
The range of whites has grown with two Sauvignon Blancs added – again, they travelled to Marlborough for great fruit and make a wine underpinned by all that’s special about our country’s most famous wine. It’s tropical, citrus and cut grass, just bursting from the bottle. Another wine is termed Sauvignon Blanc + as it’s enriched with a little Riesling, and there’s also a straight Riesling coming from Marlborough also.
CRU has had a range of opulent reds for a while now, and the Cantera continues to blaze away, with rich Spanish flavours and real power with its balance and depth. The Cabernet Franc we’ve reviewed before, and I continue to regard this as the best of the CRU reds – with a lovely chewy crunch, and masses of blue fruit, with moss and bark savouriness. The Syrah too is very typical of the best of Hawke’s Bay styles – red fruits, olive and liquorice.
Finally, moving on to the Pinots, and these present quite a spectrum of tastes. There are now three 2018 vintages from Central, and these are perhaps closer in style than the North Canterbury ones.. From the classic Gibbston style of the CRU Kawarau Pinot, to the (always) very classy Lowburn Ferry, and now a Pyramid Valley Central Otago Pinot joins the ranks. They all have plum, cherry, savoury and are fragrant with some mineral undertow. Differences can be tasted but they form a family style that is definitely worth investigating. I’d recommend trying these three in a flight together and making notes – it’s an interesting trip around Central in a glass (or three).
Lucky us… on the table alongside the new North Canterbury Pyramid Valley Pinot, were two of the classics that Smith and Sheth have inherited from the Weersing legacy – a 2016 Earth Smoke Pinot, and a 2016 Angel Flower Pinot as well. These two iconic wines deserve separate reviews, and will appear in these pages in short order.
Talking of the new wine on the roster – it’s a 2018 – this was a belter. People are now talking of Waipara Pinot with the reverence of the first flush of Central Otago wines that took on the world. There are some truly magical wines emerging from vineyards that are getting some age on their vines, and real expression of this limestone-laden region is coming through. Bright fruit – but they’re complex beasties of earth, herbal, spice and fruit all entwined, such that the whole is so well balanced, and complex. “New wine of the month” award for this one.
You can visit Smith and Sheth at their home in Havelock North, and the Studio Experience comes well recommended. Also, they offer a Wine Club with a range of benefits, including 20% off wines. Online at smithandsheth.com. It’s a range worth discovering