Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand: Home of hearty red wines


Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are the grapes most American consumers recognize as ones that New Zealand excels at. But that only tells a small piece of the New Zealand wine story. There are a number of distinct growing regions, and each shines by growing what works best there. In the Hawke’s Bay region, hearty red wines are the star of the show. Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon lead the way, followed by smaller amounts of emerging grapes such as Tempranillo and Malbec, which may yet play an important role in New Zealand’s second largest wine region.

Earlier this year, I spent a few weeks in New Zealand touring regions on both islands. I hit some of the biggest regions and a couple of the smaller regions too. Excellent wine abounds all over the country. One area that made a particularly lasting impression is Hawke’s Bay, which stands out for their focus on bigger red wines. It’s important to note that the reason they concentrate on these grapes is because they thrive there. Not only are they producing distinct wines of quality, but they’re doing so at great prices. Dollar for dollar, wines from New Zealand deliver more value than their counterparts in nearly every case. Here’s a look at some delicious bottles I highly recommend. Even the higher priced bottles are great values for the quality offered.

Church Road 2014 McDonald Series Syrah ($22)

It’s dark and inky in the glass. Black raspberry, plum and hints of licorice are evident on the nose. The palate is stuffed with oodles of proportionate dark fruit flavors. Bits of dark chocolate and chicory are present on the long, spice-laden finish. This is an exceptional example of Syrah for the price.

Black Barn Vineyards 2014 Merlot / Cabernet Franc ($28)

The vibrant, cherry red hue shimmers in the glass. Cherry aromas and bits of leather are evident here. The palate shows off continued red fruit, cinnamon, clove and wisps of earth. All of these characteristics continue on the finish. This fresh, fruity and impeccably balanced wine is going to pair with an impressively wide array of foods.

Villa Maria 2013 Gimblett Gravels Reserve Merlot ($29)

Red cherry aromas are underpinned by wisps of dust. There’s an intense core of minerals here that’s wrapped around a near stampede of red fruit flavors. Bits of clay, dried cherry and earth are all evident on the finish along with a final punch of flint. If you need proof that Merlot can be structured, dry and age-worthy, here’s exhibit A.

Trinity Hill 2013 Homage ($93)

This entirely Syrah offering is their flagship wine. Toast oak and blackberry aromas lead the way. The palate is littered with intense dried black fruit flavors. Wisps of savory herb play along as well. Black raspberry, white pepper and more are all in evidence on the long, lush finish.

Rod McDonald 2013 Trademark Syrah ($54)

Over a period of 2 ½ weeks in New Zealand, I tasted a lot of amazing wines. A few were as good as this Syrah, but none were better. It leads with immense and appealing aromatics that show off violets and plum. The palate is layered, deep and complex with fleshy black fruits tinged by wisps of red fruit and savory herbs. The prodigious finish shows minerals, earth, wisps of chocolate and more. This wine is fresh, balanced and stuffed with genuine character. It’s beyond appealing now, but it easily has 20 years of life ahead of it. To distill it into a single word: awesome.

Craggy Range 2013 Gimblett Gravels Vineyard “Le Sol” ($86)

This Syrah features lifted aromatics such as fresh flowers, plums and bits of vanilla. The chewy palate is at the same time beefy and big but elegant and restrained. It’s a fine example of grace under pressure. Limestone, black raspberry and more are the stars. The finish shows off limestone, earth and wild blueberry.

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