New Zealand’s great alternatives…………..
I’m often set a challenge to recommend alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot or Shiraz. Whilst checking out the options it became apparent that New Zealand wines often offer the solution and one winery came to mind more often than not: Esk Valley in Hawkes Bay in North Island.
It is here that Gordon Russell, the senior winemaker, has developed a range of high quality wines at this independent winery with its own vineyards and winery. In fact, it is on the steep terraced vineyards right outside the winery that he has made the iconic wine aptly named ‘the Terraces’ that has been described as probably the best red wine to come out of New Zealand and is only produced in outstanding vintages in small quantities.
A large proportion of the fruit used in Esk Valley wines comes from Hawkes Bay and the renowned Gimblett Gravels region. Like many vine growing areas in New Zealand it benefits from the cooling maritime influence from proximity to the sea. This creates wines with a natural tangy fruity style that is very evident in white wines even those that are not Sauvignons. Chenin Blanc vines can produce wines that are dry to very sweet and this example has classic Chenin Blanc characters of honey, quince, and green fruits with a mineral-like acidity. It is this freshness that is also reflected in the Verdelho, the style is quite different to that produced in its native Portugal; highly aromatic and intensely flavoured with a fleshy mouth-feel balanced by fresher notes of mandarin and passion fruit.
Esk Valley is one of only a handful of wineries in New Zealand that make a Chenin Blanc and a Verdelho which are becoming their speciality together with Pinot Gris, a grape that is beginning to gain ground on Sauvignon Blanc in terms of popularity. This richly aromatic style, with its exotic fruit aromas and flavours has so much going on in the glass that it’s easy to see why that might be.
Esk Valley is a boutique winery, but it is unique in that many of the techniques used to create its award-winning wines are dictated by the winery itself. The old concrete vats, the layout of the buildings, and the absence of modern technology mean the winemakers at Esk Valley have had to make wine in a simple, honest, hands-on way with texture and complexity. Gordon Russell has protected the old vats to ensure the wine style is retained too. White wines are now benefitting form a refurbishment and use of temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.
Some of the Esk Valley red wines are traditional including the Syrah, which displays classic Hawkes Bay Syrah notes of red fruits, pepper, and exotic spice notes with subtle oak integration. It is a medium bodied and food friendly style with excellent ageing potential. Thus, very different to a New World Shiraz.
In additional to varietal wines Esk Valley under Gordon Russell have developed a reputation for blends that are a full-bodied and rich such as the Hawkes Bay Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet mix. It has a bouquet of dark fruits and subtle oak seasoning while the palate is softly textured and generous in nature with aging potential. The quintessential Gimblett Gravels blend and Gordon Russell’s speciality, producing a fragrant, rich, and complex red, offering a brooding palate of smooth, plump ripe fruit and smoky spices. The same blend also makes a sturdy yet elegant dry Rose with a hint of spice amongst the soft fruit notes.
The Terraces, mentioned above, is widely renowned as one of New Zealand’s greatest reds, is a single vineyard blend of Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, it is generous with rich fruit, spices, supple tannins, great concentration, length, and elegance.
Thus, whether red or white the wines of Esk Valley are distinctive and very well made, obviously from New Zealand with their fresh tang and a delicious set of opportunities and an intro to new flavours.