New Zealand has a very wide range of climates from sub-tropical to cool alpine. The worldwide recognition of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc as a classic wine style put the country on the map. Since then many new wine growing areas have been developed, many more are being evaluated, more established areas like Hawke’s Bay have been re-assessed, careful matching of grape varieties to areas and soils has produced stunning new NZ wines styles.
Hawke’s Bay Syrah is a perfect example of the results of ongoing research and experimentation in existing areas; this sun loving grape is well suited to the warmer eastern vineyards of the North Island, producing rich but subtle wines that are much closer to the classic Rhône style than spicy dark Aussie Shiraz. Identifying sub regions with distinct characteristics is helping winemakers to fine tune the plantings of grape varieties – planted in the cooler coastal areas, aromatic varieties like Viognier, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer are ripe but fresh and scented in style.
Elephant Hill winery
When Reydan and Roger Weiss set up Elephant Hill in the Te Awanga, a sub region of Hawke’s Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island in 2003, they cannot have anticipated how quickly success would follow. Their first release was the 2007 vintage, this and subsequent vintages have won numerous awards at wine competitions around the world. Most recently Elephant Hill’s brilliant Syrah was awarded the Trophy for best Red Rhone Varietal (over £10 btl) at the Decanter World Wine Awards 2011 – the same competition saw Elephant Hill’s wines win three other medals.
The estate occupies a beautiful sloping coastal site with 25 hectares of vines, the cooling effect of ocean breezes allows a wider range of varieties to be grown than are usually successful in the relatively warm climate of Hawke’s Bay: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay are grown alongside more aromatic grapes. The vines are not irrigated, each variety has been carefully matched to the varying soil types, ranging from shingle-sand to fine clay-silt producing a range of flavour profiles in the wines offering extensive blending options.
Each variety is treated differently in order to retain as much of the character of the each terroirs – winemaking follows broadly a traditional path, grapes are hand-picked, sorted and then vinified in small batches using only yeast strains indigenous to the vineyard.
In common with most New Zealand producers, all wines are bottled using Stelvin screw caps.
Elephant Hill Syrah, Hawke’s Bay 2009 £15.48 bt £185.70 case 12
After picking, the bunches were gently de-stemmed but not crushed, then fermented in open-top cuves. After pressing, the wine was put into oak barriques for 10 months of which 40% were new.
Appearance: Deep ruby colour.
Bouquet: Displaying typical Syrah character with aromas of boysenberry, dark chocolate and anise blend with hints of smoked meat.
Palate: The rich palate shows ripe, juicy black fruits with abundance of fruit sweetness and spices, ensuring a great balance and length. Superb to drink now or to be cellared for up to five years. Alcohol 13%
||Elephant Hill Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2009 £15.48 bt £185.70 case 12
Grapes for this wine are sourced from the Three Miners vineyard in Alexandra, Central Otago, that is the coolest, hottest and driest area in New Zealand. Planted on well-drained Earnsleugh soil which is composed of a loamy silt over wind-blown alluvial schist, derived from the Fraser River. The grapes were de-stemmed and fermented in traditional French wooden barrels. Following pressing, the wine spent 11 months maturing in French oak barriques. It was bottled with minimal fining. Filtered using combination of cross-flow and membrane filtering.
Appearance: Deep garnet colour.
Bouquet: The nose displays elegant cherry aromas and gentle spices.
Palate: The palate displays black cherry flavours with subtle strawberry undertones. Notes of bay leaf and spice are also evident. Alcohol 13.5%
||Elephant Hill Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay 2009 £13.32 bt £159.79 case 12
The fruit was whole-bunch pressed to 228L Burgundian oak barrels, of which 50% were new. Fermented using wild natural yeast strains indigenous to the estate. Following the alcoholic fermentation the wine remained in barrel on fine lees for 10 months. No malolactic fermentation.
Appearance: Medium gold colour.
Bouquet: Aromas of pink grapefruit, citrus blossom and nectarines.
Palate: The nose complements the sharply focused palate of spicy Meyer lemon, green apple and hazelnut. The wine can be enjoyed in its youth but it is also suitable for cellaring for up to five years. 13.5% alcohol
||Elephant Hill Viognier, Hawke’s Bay 2010 £13.32 bt £159.79 case 12
After a harvest of six individual hand picks, the fruit was whole-bunch pressed and fermented in a mixture of stainless steel vats and oak puncheons. The wine was matured on light lees for four months prior to bottling.
Appearance: Pale yellow colour.
Bouquet: The nose displays the aromatic intensity of the variety with notes of ginger and fennel seed.
Palate: On the palate, the wine displays flavours of apricot, papaya, red grapefruit and nectarine. Richness is balanced with fine acidity and chalky minerality, with a long lingering finish. 13.5% Alcohol
||Elephant Hill Sauvignon Blanc, Hawke’s Bay 2010 £10.92 bt £131.05 case 12
After 13 separate picks, the grapes were hand-sorted and gently whole-bunch pressed. All picks were processed and fermented separately before blending. The juice was fermented at cool temperatures using wild yeast strains indigenous to the vineyard. The final blend was matured on the fine lees for 3 months to enhance the texture and complexity of the wine.
Appearance: Pale lemon colour with green tinge.
Bouquet: The nose displays citrus blossom, lemon verbena and wild herb characters.
Palate: The palate perfectly balances flint and wet-stone minerality with flavours of lime and gooseberry. Racy acidity complements the slight retained sweetness to create a classical Te Awanga Sauvignon Blanc.