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Wine of the Week for week ending 11 July 2004
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Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2002
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

It seems only a few months ago when Mills Reef released their icon wine, Elspeth One. August 2003, in fact. But earlier this week the successor to that outstanding 2000 vintage was introduced. A much younger wine in retrospect, being a 2002 vintage wine it was only two years on from vintage rather than three.

One of the highlights of the release was the component tasting of Elspeth One, a wine that is made from five grape varieties - Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Syrah - harvested from the Mills Reef Mere Road vineyard in the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawkes Bay. Four wines in total, the Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah wines being 100 % single varieties while the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are blended in a proportion of 80 to 20 respectively. All wines spend 12 months in oak of which 50% is new. All use French oak except for the Syrah, which has a small component of American. All carry 14% alcohol by volume.

"Outstanding" is the only way I can describe these wines across the board, I rated the Cab Franc 4 stars and the rest were easy top of their class, 5 stars without a doubt.

But my favourite, should I have to pick only one, was the deep, dark and mysterious Mills Reef Elspeth Malbec 2002. A wine that is dense and inky in its shining black colour with wonderfully bright rims like that of a rubellite gemstone. A sensuous smelling wine with leather, plum and a hint of tobacco spice from the oak that is not intrusive. A wine that builds up the expectations and delivers to the palate with an intriguing earthiness to the deep, dark, smoky flavour. There's a mysterious floral character and smoky herbs combining with dark fleshy plum and ripe berry fruits while the concentration of the fruit and the soft acidity tame the voluptuous tannins and spicy creamy oak. Hints of liquorice appear on the long lasting finish. What I call the essence of Malbec. A powerful wine. Certainly a benchmark for New Zealand. Only the Argentinians can do it better.

I just love this wine on its own and I just love the depth it adds to Elspeth One.

My other notes for the component wines are as follows-

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Franc 2002
Immensely fragrant with rich winey scents, creamy oak, juicy red berries, blueberries, prunes and violets. The grainy tannins and smoky, leathery characters of the wine dominate the palate at this stage of its life but the fleshy red berry fruit flavours balance them somewhat. There's bright acidity, a touch of tobacco and pepper in this very youthful wine that needs to develop or have with food at this stage.

Mills Reef Elspeth Cabernet Merlot 2002
More delicately scented than the Cab Franc with less intrusive oak and more essence of cassis, the fruit is concentrated and powerful. The oak comes through in the palate with earthy grainy tannins, leather, plum, tobacco and cigar, a wine of great power yet still has the delicacy to show off its lovely red fruit and fascinating nuances of rose petal. With lovely fruit sweetness on the finish and lingering creamy oak and liquorice, this wine is showing beautifully now but clearly has the goods to evolve even further.

Mills Reef Elspeth Syrah 2002
Deep in colour with blackberry hues and smelling slightly peppery with pristine red berries, the aroma gets better and better as the wine opens up in the glass and the sweet American oak component becomes more fragrant. Creamy oak, pepper and liquorice then a warm biscuity bready spiciness characterise the flavour of this velvety textured wine. It has more acidity than the others with bright lifted fruit and a touch of tobacco in amongst the spicy oak and the finish is long and satisfying.

Combine the four components and you get Elspeth One 2002, a wine of fragrance and concentrated fruit with tannins that are nicely settled and oak that is nicely balanced. A powerful blended wine with a winey richness, leather, chocolate, thick grainy tannins, a hint of pepper and that excellent fruit from the wonderful 2002 vintage. I would just like to see it with a little more age, it certainly has the pedigree to blossom in the cellar.

Expect to pay about $40 for the Elspeth range of wines. Luxury wines selling at what these days is an affordable price.

Find out more from the Mills Reef website.

© Sue Courtney
4 July 2004

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