Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hawke's Bay Tasting - Spitbucket at Coast Restaurant

How to make Hawke’s Bay Cabernet sexy? A significant challenge for any marketer in Australia I would imagine. New Zealand and Pinot are somewhat synonymous and fashionable, but NZ and Cabernet are not. Moreover, Cabernet is positively uncool as a varietal in Australia at the moment. Pinot is trendy, Shiraz is ubiquitous, and everyone’s talking about the wonderful turnaround in Australian Chardonnay. In the Twitterverse there has been a Rose Revolution and a Summer of Riesling. However, Cabernet kind of sits outside a lot of the discourse about wine in Australia at the moment.

This is something I find a bit incongruous given I continually find Australian Cabernet as impressive as any other variety that we do, and indeed I’m as impressed with Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends as I am with any other red wines from New Zealand. However this doesn’t seem to be a view held by many and is seemingly well illustrated with the just released New Zealand wine liftout/magazine from Decanter magazine where Hawkes Bay Cabernet barely rates a mention. Fortunately Dan Coward ( and Poppy Greeson ( are not of this view and organised a great Hawke’s Bay tasting at Coast Restaurant in Sydney last week

The tasting started off with some Hawke’s Bay Syrah. There’s plenty of critical acclaim for these wines, but to be honest, apart from a couple of exceptions, I’m yet to be really impressed by their Syrah. This possibly reflects a bit of ambivalence on my part for cool-climate syrah. I often find a bitterness and/or stalkiness in these wines that doesn’t quite work for me. Funnily enough I don’t mind a bit of stalkiness and bitterness in my Pinot, but in Syrah it's rarely my thing.

We then moved on to the Bordeaux varietals at which point the interest and appeal of the wines increased and indeed found a crescendo with the final two wines of the night. All of a sudden I remembered what I love about Hawkes Bay. Beautifully balanced Bordeaux blends that are generally medium-bodied but that don’t lack for anything in terms of intensity and grip.

My favourite of the final two, and my wine of the night, was the 06 Newton Forrest Cornerstone Cabernet Blend. It had a complex, savoury bouquet that had an appealing whiff of varnish. On the palate it had a beautiful intensity of savoury flavours, lovely tannins, and a touch of leafiness. A quality Cabernet with just a bit of an X-factor to it.

The other wine was the 07 Trinity Hill The Gimblett, which for me was just a whisker behind the Cornerstone. It was in a richer, more fruit forward style, reflecting a greater Merlot component, but was of undoubted quality. Lovely blackcurrant and plum flavours, excellent quality oak, and nice tannins in support. It should age nicely.

Hawke’s Bay Bordeaux blends may be a bit of a tough sell at the moment, but I do hope the region continues to focus in this area, because to my mind it is one of the New World’s most impressive styles of wine.


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