Planet Grape The SOMM Journal December January 2015/2016
While the Chinese have an unquenchable thirst for blue chip wines, especially Bordeaux – they are the number one buyer of the 42% exported share of its annual production of 685 million bottles - they also purchase a lot of wine from Gimblett Gravels, a warm rocky area within Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island.
First planted in 1981, this former river bed with dirt-poor soil comprised of silt and gravel - the river changed course in 1867 freeing up this gravel - is still today planted to Bordeaux varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. New Zealand’s North Island is warmer than its South Island, and Gimblett Gravels is the warmest point there. Like Bordeaux, it is maritime in climate, if considerably warmer and sunnier.
When presented with a flight of wines curated by Andrew Caillard MW as being representative of the strong 2013 vintage, members of the trade including Wine.com’s Wilfred Wong, writer Dan Berger and myself kept commenting how closed, taut and tannic they seemed. Was it because they were screw-cap finished? Perhaps, but Warren Gibson of Trinity Hill, one of the wineries present, explained to us that instead of comparing them to New World wines, we should compare them to Bordeaux. Gimblett Gravels Cabernet is not anything like Napa Cabernet. With its gently muscular tannins and restrained fruit it is much closer in style to young, long-lived, high quality Bordeaux, which was quite the shocker. Our whole mindset about New World vs. Old World is thrown on its head here. That is why it is so important for members of the press and trade to go to as many of these tastings as possible. So much of what we read in wine books is inaccurate. The world is changing so fast. Hard copy wine books can take two years from start to finish. What I wrote about New Zealand two years ago is not accurate. The same holds for Paso Robles, Rioja, and of course the eternally moving target Italy. Yet this is one of the very reasons I love wine. It is always a bit out of reach, mysterious, challenging, surprising, and inspiring. Highlights of the tasting were Bordeaux blend wines from Villa Maria, Beach House, Mills Reef, Newton Forrest, Squawking Magpie, Trinity Hill, and Vidal.
Thanks to David Strada of Wines of New Zealand and the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowers Association and to our humble host Peter Palmer of Farallon Restaurant and the Pat Kuleto Group.