Hawke’s Bay (September 2018)

New Zealand’s second largest wine region, Hawke’s Bay has an ‘intermediate’ rather than ‘cool’ climate for winegrowing in most districts. Renowned for its versatility, it has Chardonnay as its long-term white-wine success, backed up by such aromatic varieties as Pinot Gris and sturdy, oak-aged Sauvignon Blancs.

The region’s world class red wines were at first spearheaded by blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and more recently Merlot-predominant blends, but Syrah is now the hottest red.

In terms of plantings, the major varieties – around 1000 hectares each – are Chardonnay, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. But Pinot Gris, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon are also well established, and there are significant pockets of Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Gewürztraminer.

The tasting reflected these figures, except for the surprising absence of Sauvignon Blancs (only two per cent of entries), suggesting that most of the region’s Sauvignon Blanc currently disappears into blends dominated by other regions.

Looking at the reds, the wet autumn of 2017 has produced medium-bodied wines, typically in the drink-young category. The good news is that the 2016 growing season – despite its humid, often moist autumn – has generally yielded vibrant, moderately rich reds, highly enjoyable in their youth.