Hawke’s Bay – A Wine Aristocrat (Sep 2017)

Hawke’s Bay’s heritage of quality table winemaking, stretching back to the nineteenth century, and early success with such internationally prestigious varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, have earned it the status of an aristocrat among New Zealand wine regions. By far the largest wine region in the North Island, in 2017 it produced 8.8 per cent of the national grape harvest.

Sheltered from the prevailing westerly winds by rugged inland ranges, Hawke’s Bay enjoys a warm, sunny climate; the city of Napier has similar sunshine hours and temperatures to Bordeaux. During summer, anticyclonic conditions lead to droughts in such growing seasons as 2013, although easterly cyclonic depressions can also bring heavy autumn rains, as in 2017.

Hawke’s Bay’s 4841 hectares of bearing vines are dominated by Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc – all well ahead of Pinot Gris, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc yields sturdy, ripely flavoured wines, well-suited to barrel maturation, but these complex, ageworthy Sauvignon Blancs live in the shadow of the more pungent, cool climate examples from further south. The regional body, Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers, promotes four ‘hero’ varieties: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and – the latest star – Syrah.

From the Esk Valley in the north to Central Hawke’s Bay in the south, Mangatahi and Crownthorpe inland to Te Awanga on the coast, Hawke’s Bay’s wines are strongly influenced by soil type, proximity to the sea and elevation. A stimulating array of wine styles can be discovered, including – in this tasting – impressive examples of marsanne, pinot noir, marzemino and tempranillo.