I recently spent a perfect summer week in Hawke’s Bay, where I was fortunate to be treated to some of the best wine and food on offer.
Craggy Range is a massive, multi million dollar outfit opposite the imposing Te Mata Peak.
I was particularly taken with another of their Bordeaux blends, the graceful and harmonious Te Kahu, a Merlot-dominant red of great character.
The winery restaurant is also excellent, and offers breathtaking views.
Just around the corner is the legendary Te Mata Estate, established by John Buck and family, and now in the stewardship of charming chief executive, Nick Buck.
Nick was good enough to take us on a guided tour of some of their extensive plantings in Hawke’s Bay, including the world famous Coleraine vineyards, and their historic winery – formerly the stables of the original Te Mata Station, but now home to a winery for over 100 years.
The timeless, elegant Coleraine is perhaps New Zealand’s most collected wine. A magical blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, this poised and perfectly balanced wine will reward cellaring for many years to come.
The exquisite Bullnose Syrah is seductive and dense, and charmingly named after an early Morris Cowley Car, the distinctive bullnose radiator now takes pride of place in the friendly cellar door.
I have long been a fan of Awatea, the baby brother to Coleraine. Elegant and refined, it will also cellar very well, and offers magnificent value at around $35.
While Sauvignon Blanc is widely seen as a “Marlborough grape”, Te Mata have been making the gorgeous Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc for many years.
Unusually for a “Savvy”, this wine is 100 per cent barrel fermented and then returned to the yeast lees for an extended period, producing a succulent, rich wine of immense class and beauty.
Anyone with even a passing interest in NZ wine will have heard of the Gimblett Gravels region in Hawke’s Bay, just outside Hastings. Until the 1980s, this was considered the poorest, least productive land in the region. Chris Pask of CJ Pask took a punt and purchased 40 hectares at the end of Gimblett Road.
He was closely followed by Dr Alan Limmer, a soil scientist, who established Stonecroft Wines, and planted the first Syrah vines in the country. The rest, as they say, is history, and Gimblett Gravels Syrah (including the excellent Stonecroft Serrine Syrah) have become the envy of the wine world.
The region also produces some top examples of Chardonnay, including the quite phenomenal Te Awa Single Vineyard Chardonnay. Produced by the countries newly proclaimed “King of Chardonnay”, the affable Richard Painter, it is probably my favourite NZ Chardonnay, and at $25 it is exceptional buying. Focused and concentrated, with mealy, savoury lees characters and incisive, elegant fruit, it is well worth buying as much as you can find.
The lovely restaurant at Te Awa is well worth visiting, with fresh local produce and a magical setting under the vines. We spent an entertaining couple of hours trying Richard’s lovely wines and eating ourselves stupid.
The Single Vineyard Syrah is an excellent expression of the unique terroir that makes up the region, with peppery, cedar notes, hints of berries and an chalky texture.
Te Awa’s flagship white is the fantastic Kidnapper Cliffs Chardonnay. Whole bunch pressed into a mix of old and new French Hogshead barrels, naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts, and with partial natural malolactic fermentation, it is a muscular, robust yet elegant wine with the texture and charm of a fine Chablis.
While I am not a food writer, I can’t end this column without mentioning the brilliant “Hunger Monger” on Marine Parade.
We took a stab in the dark at trying it, as we were unable to get a booking at the ridiculously popular Pacifica, which is widely considered to be one of the country’s best.
Hunger Monger has a charming retro “grannies dining room” feel and absolutely exceptional fresh local seafood and produce.
It also has a thoughtfully considered and wildly interesting wine list and reasonable prices.
I strongly suggest you get there as soon as you can, and beg for a table, it gets packed out early.