Thursday, 30 October 2014

You say tomato, I say Te Mata

You don’t know how many years I’ve waited to make that feeble pun in print. The Te Mata in question is New Zealand’s oldest family-owned winery, where vines were first planted at their Havelock Hills vineyard in Hawkes Bay back in 1892.

In recent years, the New Zealand wine regions making waves in the export market have been elsewhere: Marlborough, home to the oceans of Sauvignon Blanc that we do our best to drink dry every year; and  Central Otago and Martinborough for their Pinot Noir. Hawkes Bay has taken something of a back seat, despite having a long history of winemaking dating back to the mid-19th century.

While we tend to think of New Zealand as pretty much a white wine producer (all that Sauvignon Blanc), Hawkes Bay has major plantings of Syrah, Merlot and other red varieties. Sauvignon Blanc is still the single most planted variety, followed by Chardonnay, but as a region it stands out as one of the few parts of the country able to successfully ripen the warmer climate Bordeaux varieties and Syrah.

The climate of Hawkes Bay is broadly similar to Bordeaux, ie warm summers and a strong maritime influence. Hawkes Bay just edges it on annual average hours of sunshine (2188 vs 2052) and has slightly less rainfall (803mm average vs 900mm in Bordeaux). Compare this to the averages on the south coast of England, usually the sunniest part of the UK, of around 1750 hours of sunshine a year and 900-950mm of annual rainfall. I can certainly see the attraction of Hawkes Bay from a sun-lover’s point of view.

A key part of Hawke’s Bay’s renown is down to producers like Te Mata, with their long time reputation for fine reds and compelling white wines.

Te Mata wines in the UK
Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc – Majestic list the 2012 vintage for £23, The Wine Society for £17.50; has the 2010 for £18.21, but you must buy 6 bottles
A style first made by Te Mata in the 1980s, this confounds the typical Kiwi Sauvignon model, which is fermented in stainless steel and designed for early drinking. Looking to Bordeaux (again) for inspiration, they barrel ferment in 25-30% new oak and add Semillon and Sauvignon Gris to the blend. Ignore the usual advice for New World Sauvignon Blanc, which is DYA (drink youngest available) – this is a wine that really gets into its stride after a few years in bottle.

The mix of varieties and the barrel fermentation give a more interesting texture and range of flavours than you would usually find in a Kiwi Sauvignon. The 2012 is a youthful, linear wine with fennel and angelica aromas and a powerful, mineral finish. The 2010 has gunflint aromas overlaying tropical fruit. The palate has some viscosity and a touch of grapefruit bitterness – this would be my choice for drinking now.

Elston Chardonnay – Berry Bros have the 2012 for £28.95, New Zealand House of Wine for £21.99 and various independent merchants at prices in between
We’re more used to Chardonnay being given the barrel fermentation and ageing treatment, in classic white Burgundy mode. While New World makers of this style of Chardonnay are probably heartily sick of having their wines compared to Burgundy, it’s hard to look beyond it when looking for a benchmark for oaked Chardonnay.

I especially love the 2013 vintage, which doesn’t appear to have hit the shelves here yet. It combines Chablis-style minerality and lively acidity with a floral note and manages to combine delicacy with bags of flavour. While you’re waiting for this to arrive, you’ll just have to try a bottle of the linear and intense 2012.

Coleraine 2010 - £49.95 from Berry Bros, £39.64 from, £46.29 from Flagship Wines. Older vintages available from various independents
In New Zealand terms, Coleraine is a positively antediluvian wine, dating back to 1982. It’s the jewel in the crown of Te Mata’s wines and arguably one of New Zealand’s finest. If you have expensive tastes in claret, this could be a relatively cheap option.

It’s a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc and it has classic Bordeaux proportions too: medium, not full, bodied and with a sense of power reined in; dark cassis fruit with cassia and clove spice along with juicy acidity are there now. You could certainly enjoy it now, but wouldn’t necessarily see the point of it for a few years yet.

If you’d like that Bordeaux blend in something to enjoy rather sooner (and more cheaply!), then search out a bottle of Te Mata’s Awatea. There’s some lovely summer pudding style fruit (and acidity) here and prices for the 2009 vintage start at around £21 from various independent merchants.

Estate Vineyards Gamay Noir 2013 – £12.95 from The Wine Society; older vintages £13-15 from independent merchants

At the positively bargain end of things, I hugely enjoyed this Gamay (the Beaujolais grape) with its crunchy plum and raspberry fruit. It had the acidity and fruit intensity to stand up to a tomato and red pepper risotto and, like Beaujolais, is extra refreshing served lightly chilled.

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