Hawke’s Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand and one known for the quality of its Bordeaux blends. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec do well here, as does Syrah. Some 40 wineries, most with cellar doors (Kiwi for tasting rooms), are within a five-mile radius of Hastings, a relatively short drive from the Art Deco town of Napier.
During a recent visit to both North and South Islands, we tasted several hundred wines. Here are favorites from three in the Hawke’s Bay region. The prices are in New Zealand dollars (about 66 cents in American dollars; New Zealand is a great value in travel).
Anthony Joseph Vidal, a young emigrant from Spain, established Vidal Estate in 1905. He was a pioneer in Hawke’s Bay. The family tradition continues. It now produces some 50,000 cases a year. It is also noteworthy for opening New Zealand’s first winery restaurant in 1979. One of the treats of tasting through New Zealand: many wineries have food available and matched to their wines. Here are notes from a tasting at Vidal.
- 2014 Vidal Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay $25. Pale straw gold; stone fruit, loquat, vanilla nose (15 percent new French oak); crisp, tight fruity finish.
- 2014 Legacy Chardonnay $55. Mid-straw gold; peach and vanilla nose (42 percent new French oak); round, ripe, long lush finish, good fruit.
- 2014 Reserve Marlborough Pinot Noir $25. Light mid-garnet; bright cherry nose; mid-body; round; easy-sipping Pinot.
- 2013 Reserve Hawke’s Bay Syrah $25. Dark purple; peppery, prune, mineral, ripe grape nose; mid0-bog body; balanced; chewy finish.
- 2009 Legacy Gimblett Gravels Cabernet (76%) Merlot (24%) $65. Mid-dark garnet; distinct Cabernet nose; berries, cassis, light wood (50 percent new French barriques); balanced; long fruity finish. One of our favorites at Vidal.
Craggy Range has an impressive collection of single vineyard wines from both North and South Islands. Its Terroir Restaurant is one of the finest in New Zealand wine country. The grounds are spectacular, with ponds, gardens and sculptures. It produces some 80,000 cases a year, with 70 percent exported. Here are a few notes from our visit.
- 2014 Te Muna Road, Martinborough, Riesling $27. Pale straw; clean Riesling nose; fruity/flowery; crisp, tight acids with tough of residual sugar; smooth finish. Summer sipping.
- 2014 Te Muna Road, Martinborough, Sauvignon Blanc $24. Pale straw gold; big grapefruit nose; citrus; tight acids; good fruit, long finish.
- 2014 Cape Kidnappers Chardonnay $25. Pale straw; clean stone fruit Chardonnay nose (stainless steel fermentation); soft; mid-body; food-friendly fruity finish.
- 2013 Te Muna Road, Martinborough, Pinot Noir $43 NZ. Mid-garnet; stemmy varietal nose; black cherries; mid-body; good tannins; semi-chewy finish. Needs time. One of our favorites.
- 2013 Gimblett Gravels Syrah $32 NZ. Dark purple; big berry, peppery nose; jam; mid-big body; grapey; thick; chewy; long finish. Worth saving.
- 2013 Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels $28 NZ (Merlot 73%, Malbec 13%, Cabernet Sauvignon 12%, Cabernet Franc 2%). Mid-dark garnet; minty, herbaceous, cocoa nose; mid-big body; long chewy finish. Another keeper.
- 2011 Aroha Pinot Noir, Martinborough, $90. Mid-garnet; subtle Pinot nose; light wood, vanilla; cherries; velvety, elegant style; long smooth finish. Top wine for our group.
- 2011 Te Kahu Gimblett Gravels (Bordeaux Blend) $25. Dark purple; smoky, wood, cocoa and blackberry nose; smoother than the 2013; balanced finish.
Te Awa has a collection of wines from different areas, most notably its estate wines from the Gimblett Gravels Wine Growing District. The gravelly soils were formed following a flood in the 1860’s. Te Awa has beautiful grounds and restaurant with a Mediterranean flair. We tasted:
- 2015 Left Field Albarino $25. Pale straw; citrus, peachy, apricot nose; round, fat (5 percent residual sugar); easy sipping summer wine.
- 2015 Left Field Pinot Gris $18. Pale straw; mineral, green apple nose; mid-body; semi-fat; long fruity finish.
- 2015 Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc $21. Pale straw; clean citrus, new mown hay nose; mid-body; balanced; tight; good acids; long fruity finish. Shellfish wine.
- 2012 Left Field Martinborough Pinot Noir $18. Mid-garnet; light, fruity Pinot nose; hints of cherries; balanced; smooth; good Pinot flavor. Fine value.
- 2012 Te Awa Tempranillo $30. Mid-garnet; big blackberry, cherry, wood nose (100 percent French oak); round, ripe, almost sweet finish.
- 2010 Te Awa Merlot $38 (60%) Cabernet Franc (30%) Cabernet Sauvignon (10%). Mid-dark garnet; sweet fruity nose; strawberries; cocoa; light oak; round, ripe, balanced fruity finish.
- 2011 Te Awa Kidnapper Cliffs Syrah $70. Mid-dark garnet; subtle nose; mint, cherries; pepper, wood (60 percent new French oak; open top fermenters); rich balanced fruit on the palate; fine style. Worth aging. Our favorite from Te Awa.