Someone told me when I getting seriously into wine that I was about to develop a fascination for Geography. Hilarious, I thought, absolutely hilarious as I was shocking bad at Geography– much to the chagrin of my longsuffering High School Geography teacher Mrs Stewart. (Bless, I remember her well) But the truth is to really understand wine you have to understand where it comes from & what is it about where it comes from that has an effect on the wine? Why do some grapes grow so well in some areas? So I thought I would include in here some focus on wine regions of NZ. Truth is for such a small country we have a really diverse range of wine regions - we are suitably spoiled.
So where to start? Why not start with the oldest - The beautiful Hawke's Bay.
Situated on the East Coast of the North Island (39.4°S if you want to be precise) The Hawkes Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand with vines being planted there since 1851. The climate is maritime and funnily enough, it's not dissimilar to the climate of France's famous wine region - Bordeaux. Anyone who has spent a summers day in the Hawkes Bay knows about the long blissful hot days followed by hot nights which mean a long growing season that give this area the ideal conditions for grapes that find it hard to ripen elsewhere.
With over 100 vineyards and more than 70 wineries approximately 4,641 hectares in the Hawkes Bay is planted with wine grapes (800 hectares of this is the Gimblett Gravels - a strictly determined area known for its gravelly soils & impeccable wines - but that's a topic all of itself!)
So what grapes grow in the Hawkes Bay - well, to be honest, most of them do but 88% of New Zealand's production of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes in 2016 all came from this remarkable area, and they definitely specialise in Chardonnay (One of my all-time favourite varietals). Just under half of the grapes grown in the Hawkes Bay are either Merlot or Chardonnay so it stands to reason that these would be the varietals this area is known for - but they also do a pretty mean Syrah.
Below are my favourite picks for Hawkes Bay wines any why...
Church Road Hawke’s Bay Rosé 2016
I've previously talked about how the majority of New Zealand Rosé is made from Pinot Noir, but this Rosé from Church Road is, true to its origins a blend of Merlot & Syrah. The wine is deep, almost crimson pink and it's definitely a wine with depth as it's got more body than most Rosés and it's definitely one to eat with, I reckon (Asian fusion & this wine - Yum!). It's off-dry (8 grams of sugar) and it has tastes of raspberries with just a hint of spice, most likely because of the use of Syrah in it's makeup. Widely available for $20 but it will go as low as $15
Element Syrah 2015
I am really passionate about supporting small boutique wineries because even though the big guys it also needs the small guys. It definitely needs more people like the awesome guys at Element Wines.
This is the classic family-owned vineyard. In 2012 - Dom & Rachelle and their two daughters picked up and left Auckland to move to the Hawkes Bay and grow wine, and that's exactly what they do! They have a teeny tiny 2.66-hectare vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels and they make some pretty spectacular wines. They are all about a balanced & harmonious way of growing & don't use herbicides, pesticides or other associated nasties.
I like all of the wines of theirs that I've tried but my pick today is the Syrah, it's sublime. The colour is a deep Purple and it smells of violets & blueberries & boysenberries. It looks like it wil be domineering & grunty but its taste is smooth and soft silky & delicious.
This wine is only $25 (A freaking steal) but is only available online. However Dom being the awesome dude that he us has given me my very own discount code. If you enter the code "Mermaid" at www.elementwines.co.nz you will get 20% off for the next week - what are you waiting for!??!
Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2016
My final wine needs no introduction for those die-hard-Chard fans out there. Clearview Estate has built up a cult following when it comes to this wine. Each year they make a certain amount, each year it sells out (because it's unbelievable) and each year we all have to sit and wait with baited breath & dry eager anticipation for it to come around again. But come around it does and each vintage is as good as the one before and we all breathe a sigh of buttery oaky relief (between sips)
The Chardonnay is that perfect balance of fruity, creamy & toasty without too much of anything taking over. It will also cellar beautifully for the next 10 years for those of you out there with the willpower not to devour it now! It is a more expensive drop with a retail price of $47, but hunt it out for as low as $42 as it really is worth it (and so are you!).