One of the pleasures of tasting a vertical of wines from the same producer with grapes from the same vineyard, with the same winemaker at the helm, is that you really see the impact nature makes on the vintage.
It's simply called 'vintage variation' and it is something the viticulturists and winemakers have little control over.
Jenny Dobson of Te Awa in Hawkes Bay loves this factor and makes the wines in accordance with what nature presents to her.
I was to see the impact of nature and Jenny's interpretation of it when I tasted three vintages of Te Awa's flagship wine, 'Boundary', from the 2002, the 2001 and the 2000 seasons.
Boundary is a blended wine made, usually, from predominantly Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in support. Not surprisingly the blends, since the debut of Boundary in 1995, have never been the same.
Jenny, who had 12 years in Bordeaux at Château Sénégac, says that blending is such an essential part of winemaking process, a process she loves, but it starts in the vineyard. Thus in a year like 2003, when Merlot was affected by early season frosts and the later-setting Cabernet Sauvignon excelled under the vintage conditions, Boundary was predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon for the very first time. However the wines I were to taste were predominantly Merlot.
In 2002, Cabernet Franc produced magnificent grapes so it made up a reasonable proportion of the supporting component, whereas in previous years it had never been more than five percent. Cabernet Franc is a wonderfully fragrant grape with a fine tannin structure and its character was evident in Te Awa Boundary 2002 ($39.95), a blend of 68% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Cabernet Franc. This youthful wine is deep dark red with impressive depth. Fragrant, oak-bound aromas with spice and berries coming through the cedar, are lifted by the appealing floral component of the Cabernet Franc. In the palate, brambly fruit is backed up by mellow cedar with mulled wine spices and a deep plummy character pushing through to make a statement on the full-bodied savoury finish. The wine has lovely vinosity with fine grained tannins and concentrated fruit adding a liquorice nuance to the finish where purples of all colours, aromas and flavours abound.
Te Awa Boundary 2002 is a young wine that needs a little time to let the oak and fruit integrate into a seamless flow across the palate. I think it's one for the cellar right now and in two or three years time with evolution in the bottle, you will be in for a delicious treat. "It will have the richness of the 2000, but more elegance in the long term," said Jenny.
Te Awa Boundary 2001 ($39.95) was a contrast. A blend of 82% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 3% Cabernet Franc, it's a rich red colour with lighter red guava hues. It shows a Bordeaux-like character on the nose with its more savoury aromas that are infused with mellow bramble-rich fruit and fruit cake spices. In the palate the oak is integrated and the smooth, rounded tannins give lovely mouthfeel. There are slightly savoury, herbal, tobacco nuances on the smoky backbone and the fruit is integrated and mellow with the wine already showing some developed, secondary characters. Cinnamon, clove and nutmeg-like spices abound on the finish and with its fine, elegant vinosity, the wine is drinking beautifully now.
Te Awa Boundary 2000 ($49.95) shows how a wine from an excellent vintage evolves with age. A blend of 85% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc, it combines the power produced in the wines of the 1998 vintage with the aromatic finesse that the wines produced in 1999. It was my wine of the tasting.
Te Awa Boundary 2000 is deep, red-black colour with a dense core and the rims the colour of fresh blue-red blood that would send Dracula into delight. The aromas seduce with their mellow cedar, plum, prune and blackberry scents while in the palate the fruit is opulent, almost luscious. Concentrated blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and cherry are supported by silk-grained tannins and dark, smoky, savoury oak with a touch of bitter chocolate while Herbs de Provence in the background add another dimension to the layers of flavour. There's also a leathery character which in its small proportion in this wine adds intrigue, then a spicy, fragrant, rose-petal note emerges to linger on the finish. It's a rich, mouthfilling wine that is integrating nicely, but still very primary in its fruit character as it ascends up the hill to the plateau, which is some way off.
Poured into the right glass, this is drinking beautifully and can be savoured from go to whoa and even longer as after the wine is swallowed the aftertaste extends into the yonder to continue the enjoyment. A gorgeous wine - and thankfully still available, as a little has been re-released so people can enjoy it with age. Jenny says it has a caramel richness that she has noted coming from the Merlot in their vineyard, with age.
I tasted Boundary with a Beef fillet that was sitting on roasted Mushrooms and Porcini Mash surrounded with red wine jus, and topped with rocket and a couple of slices of parmesan. This dish as a whole pronounces the sweetness of the fruit in the wine, providing a delicious balance to the earthy savouriness of the mushroom flavours while the vinosity of the wine melds with the rareness of the steak and the cheese introduces a sensual creaminess to the texture.
Boundary is not a wine for simply drinking, it is a wine that is best enjoyed with fine food and good company.
For more on Te Awa, dial up the website, www.teawafarm.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
26 February 2006