When Michael Daymond-King of Hatton Estate read in his Hawkes Bay newspaper last January that about 70 pre-1956 MG's were to converge on Hawkes Bay for the national rally of pre-1956 MG cars, he extended me an invitation to visit the winery. I had to decline because my MG is not a pre-1956 model, so I would not be in town for the rally. However we took Michael up on his invitation when we visited Hawkes Bay this Easter for the Auckland and Wellington MG Clubs' annual combined weekend.
We had a busy schedule but I wanted to find the time to go to Hatton Estate, right in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels growing district, for Michael had baited the hook with a taste of the Tahi. This luxury Hawkes Bay wine, virtually unheard of in New Zealand, received much international acclaim when the first vintage, the 1998, with just 150 cases made, was picked up by most Gordon Ramsey's Michelin 3-star restaurant in London where it was listed for the equivalent of NZ$360.00 per bottle. Other top-rating restaurants clamoured for the wine, then it was launched with much acclaim in the States. However I had been completely unaware of Tahi until a reader in Singapore asked me for an opinion. At that stage, I was not able to oblige.
"Perhaps we could visit on Good Friday in the late afternoon, after we arrive," I suggested.
"Bring along any others," he said.
Nothing was pre-arranged with the club but a quick rally up of interested parties who like us, had not long arrived at the motel, saw ten of us heading to Hatton Estate in Gimblett Road for a private tasting. But there was more in store than the Tahi as Michael had a whole range of wines to open, including the Fish and Chip Chardy 2004 and the Verandah Rosť 2004 which are non-commercial wines made for his massive extended family. "We think about what meals we like, then we make a wine to go with it," he said.
The other wines we tasted were all, or were going to be, commercial releases
Hatton Estate EC2 Chardonnay 2004 ($22) is a perfumed wine with an oily, rich, plush texture, pear and peach fruit, a tangy, crisp, lime citrus finish and a savouriness to the aftertaste. EC stands for 'experimental chardonnay' and is evidently an incredible match to crayfish. I would have loved to experiment the combo.
Hatton Estate Gimblett Road Merlot 2004 (for release 1st May at $19.95) has great depth of blackberry colour and is rich in the palate for its medium weight. There's plenty of upfront fruit and spice with smoky oak, firm ripe tannins and a juicy finish. A very appealing, 'drink this winter' style.
Hatton Estate Carson's Cabernet Merlot 2003 ($25) is unbelievably purple black in colour with bright crimson rims. "The colour is a feature of the Gimblett Gravels' wines but particularly of Hatton Estate," said Michael. The flavour in the mouth is voluptuous and although there are massive tannins, the wonderfully rich fruit tames them beautifully. It's intense and concentrated with cigar, leather, currants and aromatic spicy cedary oak and a fulfilling lingering dry finish with cocoa coming through on the aftertaste.
This wine is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Merlot that matured in 70% new oak (in the proportion of 70% French and 30% American), and 30% 2nd use oak (in the proportion of 60% American and 40% French). It stayed in oak for 12 months before bottling.
Hatton Estate Carson's Cabernets 2003 ($25) smells like a bucket of wild blackberries. It's a full-bodied wine but seemingly lighter with its scents of rosehips over the fruit but is firm and leathery in the palate. Cabernet Franc makes up 85% of the blend.
Hatton Estate Tahi 2000 ($70), a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot, has an intense blackberry red colour which is very youthful for its age. It lives up to its reputation with its lovely perfume of musk, edged with liquorice and backed up by creamy oak; and its concentrated flavour of blackcurrant and blackberry with beautifully integrated tannins and lingering mocha, tobacco and cigar. All in all it is a seamless, clean-edged dry wine with a sweet fruit finish.
Hatton Estate Syrah 2004 (not released, $60) had just been bottled. Intense purple crimson, it shows some reductiveness on the nose at first but that soon goes to reveal grapefruit and acorn-like aromas. It is spicy in the palate with some acidity, grippy tannins, and a floral, pepper and leather aftertaste. It's going to be a blockbuster when it is released.
All in all a most impressive range of wines and fabulous to taste the Tahi - not many people in New Zealand get to taste a wine like this.
But the Wine of the Week goes to the Hatton Estate Carson's Cabernet Merlot 2003. Throw away your vintage charts, they are meaningless and this stunning wine is the proof. Many people had written off the 2003 red wine vintage in Hawkes Bay after the multiple frosts that damaged successive newly formed buds in the spring. But not everywhere frosted, although overall crops were light. It just meant less work in the vineyard to remove fruit to reduce yields as one would do in a normal cropping year.
The Carson's range, named after Carson Green, the winery manager, is the second level in the Hatton Estate tier after Tahi, but in 2003 the cabernet sauvignon dominant Carson's Cabernet Merlot is definitely a sensation.
Prices listed above are the prices ex-winery. These wines may cost more in retail. Check out the www.hattonestate.com for local and international stockists, or fill in an order form and order direct from the website.
© Sue Courtney
27 March 2005