What is it about our Top 10 Tastings recently? I can’t recall a single one that hasn’t been postponed at least once (and often more than once) before we’ve managed to actually get around a table and review the wines. This one fell victim to isolating households – inevitable in these mixed-up times, and ended up falling onto April Fool’s Day! No joking though over the standard of entries for this big tasting – we had a lot of big wines arrive, and I spent over an hour pulling corks and arranging the entries for tasting.
A quick note – our Top 10 Tastings are perhaps a little different from most. It is quite different to a wine show – where you’ll skip through a class of thirty wines – tasted, scored and adjudicated in under an hour. And, although I’ve naturally not been invited to tastings from other publishers, I can’t imagine that after a few flights, that there’s a sit-down home-cooked meal suited to the wines in question – and then a break for a cheese course a third of the way from the end? Bread, olives and snacks are available right from the start. Every wine probably gets a couple of minutes to be tasted, savoured, scored and quickly discussed.
I believe that every wine entered therefore gets a chance to shine. Under these circumstances we get closer to how wine can best be appreciated, and perhaps how wine is best be enjoyed – at a measured pace, around a table, and with food, in convivial surroundings. I hope we discover the ‘best’ this way?
This Top 10 tasting had the theme of ‘Red Blends’ – wines with more than one variety in their DNA. Although this type of wine is made all over New Zealand, the results show that the twin powers of Hawke’s Bay and Waiheke Island are where the showstoppers are made. We also noted that many of the $20–ish priced wines showed very, very well in this tasting. Whilst many of our Top 10 are at the premium wine end of the scale – and we are looking for ‘the best’ in WineFolio (actually, our golden rule is “delicious”) – there are excellent standard wines at the entry level as well. All of our Top 10 were gold medal scorers.
On to the wines…
Our winner scored remarkably consistently, with every judge giving it the same, high, score. Only one of our panel scored another wine one point higher – otherwise this was pretty much everyone’s favourite wine of the night.
#1 – Radburnd Merlot Cabernet 2019
Selected from parcels of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Bridge Pa and gravelley soils of the old Ngaruroro River. This years blend featuring 10% more Cabernet than the ’18. Kate had this to say about the wine when she sent it over
“Low yielding vines, open canopy management, managed irrigation and Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand farmed were common to all sites. Bridge Pa Merlot delivers ripe dark plum fruits, which compliment the spicier brighter Merlot fruit from the gravels. Cabernet thrives on gravel sites and contributes structure, acidity and fragrant blackcurrant fruit notes.
Strength, structure, power and grace are the hallmarks of these wonderful blends which make some of the finest wines in the world. Sensitive winemaking and superb fruit have created this complex, more-ish fine dry red which will evolve and reward over the decade ahead.”
An intensely deep, bloody claret colour, aromatic with elderberry, bay leaf, eucalypt and cassis. Refined, with an elegant power rather than density – showing good tension and poise. Lovely fruit! This version has the Cabernet just nudging out the Merlot for the limelight – it sets an opulent tone – with blackcurrant, cranberry and savoury, roasted beetroot, umami notes; then the Merlot fills in the middle with its easy-going swagger. A sinewy spine of fine-grained tannin and lovely peaty oak – enriching, vanilla and toasty. “Concentrated and with amazing complexity” wrote one scorer.
#2 – Destiny Bay ‘Destinae’ 2019
A young Bordeaux style blend with a cornucopia of pure, pristine flavours. A brilliance of colour – here is your colour of claret defined in a glass. Clean, with a latent energy and drive. Managing a balance of dexterity and delicacy through the palate, but with complexity and layers of interest developing as you go. Ripe tannins and masterful use of oak – no mistaking its presence, but it frames and supports wonderfully. ‘Intriguing’ was a descriptor used by two judges.
#3 – Elephant Hill ‘Hieronymus’ 2018
Dense, with primary, focussed fruit and a detailed concentration. Blackcurrant, olive, graphite, spice, chestnut, plum and mocha. Great structure and excellent depth, delivering a big hit for lovers of ripe, fine tannins. Somehow intense, sweet-fruited and smooth – a beguiling complexity. The finish is sumptuous and sustained. A pristine, classic Gimblett Gravels expression.
#4 – Topsy Turvey ‘Menage a Trois’ 2019
Delivering a herbal edge on the nose, alongside fragrant and spicy notes of dark plum, anise, bramble, tobacco and raspberry. A triumph of the blenders art – crafted with lashings of oak (which our panel loved) into a well-rounded, albeit hedonistic wine. At least one comment hinted at a “Californian style”. Fruit is succulent, the tannin and acids well-balanced and it is just “a very quaffable drop” – according to our red-stained notes.
#5 – Clearview Estate ‘Old Olive Block’ 2020
Another one that just felt like a sweet spot, with each varietial contributing to a sum of the parts that felt lifted, tightly coiled and pure. An intense colour, and nose to match. Boysenberry, fruit jube, cassis, rhubarb, cedar, and campari all showed in up in our descriptions. Seriously stylish through the palate with svelte tannins and layer upon layer of nuance to discover. Still a pup – with potential plus.
#6 Church Road ‘Grand Reserve’ Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
A vivid, coltish wine with brooding colour and aromatics to sit alongside. A top floral note of violets over dark berry, iron-earth, tapenade, roasted spice and plum. Fleshy fruit is balanced by that savoury, tar and peat note; and underpinned with a serious, fine tannin backbone that gives a tight core and allows the more voluptuous elements to expand. Satisfyingly well-rounded but with real personality.
#7 Man O’ War Island Blend 2019
Made from Waiheke and Ponui Islands fruit, with a swag of Cabernet Franc in the mix… David was odds-on to enjoy this one. ‘Pepper, bramble, thyme, forest floor and salami’ were all found somewhere in the notes across our panel. An aromatically vivid nose leads, interestingly to an absolute velvety cuddle of a palate where the fruit soars, plush and plump over an understated spine of oak, tannin and acidity in great harmony. A cracker.
#8 Te Motu 2016
Waiheke shines again, with this more ‘traditional’ approach to red blend winemaking from the Onetangi valley. Dry, elegant and serious. Perhaps the most ‘old school’ of our Top 10 (blame Gabor for that comment), with a dashing bitter cherry top note, and a rich sweet/sour coffee bean, black tea nip of savoury interest through the palate. Showing some bottle age characters already, with liquorice and mocha sliding in at the finish.
#9 Trinity Hill ‘The Gimblett’ 2020
“Lots of appeal” was a fine way to describe this super blend from the Gimblett Gravels. An ode to Cabernets, with the Franc giving a little ‘Franc funk’ and the blackcurrant, mint and pencil-shaving notes and structure from the Cabernet Sauvignon. Promising much on the nose, and delivering in spades on the palate. Super ripe, broad and complete. A delicious, lengthy, drying finish.
#10 Osawa ‘Flying Sheep’ Merlot Cabernet 2016
Dark garnet in the glass, perfumed with smoky, charred plum, bramble, tobacco, blackcurrant, vanilla and cedar notes. The pulse of ripe, dark fruit is framed with oak, and with a sinewy tannin backbone. A glossy, textural underbelly, and a mineral-flecked big finish.