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Wine of the Week for week ending 23 October 2006
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Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2005
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

At Wine New Zealand, New Zealand's biggest wine trade show which was held last week, there were a number of free seminars running concurrently in a curtained off area of the wine hall. One that I decided to attend was called "Where to from Here?". I wanted to find out what the wine industry experts would see in their crystal balls as they gave their opinions on some of the exciting developments that the next decade would offer for New Zealand wines.

Well blow me down when the two wine critics on the six-person panel both predicted that Tempranillo would be the next big thing in New Zealand red wine, especially when this prediction was based on the wines of the NZ's only producer, Trinity Hill.

"It's going to be a varietal to watch because it is different," said Bob Campbell MW.
"It is the one new varietal that is being produced that is exciting," said Michael Cooper.

They based their predictions on the taste of the wine and Michael Cooper, in support of his prophecy, mentioned Dr Richard Smart, a renowned viticulturist who worked for some time in New Zealand during the 1980's, who had said how eminently suitable this varietal was to Hawkes Bay.

Not surprisingly, after the seminar, people flocked to the Trinity Hill stand to taste this exciting new wine. I was one of them and what I found was a rich deep red coloured wine that smelt fruity and inviting while the juicy succulent flavours were flushed with pepper and spice. A wine of robust proportions, though quite deceptive in that respect, and utterly fascinating. People were nodding in approval.

Temparanillo is the famous Spanish grape that is behind the classic reds of Rioja, Navarro and Ribera del Duero. However only 92% of Trinity Hill's wine is made from Tempranillo. The remainder is composed of Touriga Nacional, one of Portugal's best grapes used primarily in the production of port but lately becoming increasingly popular for dry red, unfortified wines.

When I tasted the first release of Trinity Hill's Tempranillo from the 2002 vintage, which I reviewed as a Wine of the Week two and a half years ago, I was mesmerised. But the following 2003 vintage wine did not have the complexity, weight and richness of the 2002 and I wondered if it could be a first crop wonder. But the sensational wines produced in both 2004 and 2005, completely quash that notion.

Trade wine shows, where there are 140 producers and over 1000 wines to taste, are not the place for writing in depth notes on a wine as complex and intriguing as this one, so a bottle was procured to taste at home and with food. And the wine was even more seductive than before.

Richly aromatic, the winey, savoury aroma of the Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2005 wafted out of the glass even before it was raised to my nose, but with my nose right in the glass the fragrance imparted its glory even more. I smelt wild summer berries growing wild amongst the bracken in the Coromandel bush. I smelt rose spice - the smell that is left on your fingers when you have just picked a Dublin Bay or Cecile Brunner rose. I smelt chocolate, sweet leather, spice and oak.

There was so much going on, I had to force myself to stop smelling it in order to taste it but then I was seduced even more. It tasted sweet yet savoury, robust yet juicy, with succulent, velvety textured tannins and mouthfilling flavours reminiscent of black doris plums, wild berry fruits, liquorice, fruit cake spices and dried herbs with a touch of tobacco on the smoky finish. Well-balanced acidity underpinned the wine and lifted the finish. Oak seemed subtle but when poured from a tasting glass into a bigger drinking glass, the vanillin oak became more prominent but remained in balance to the succulent fruit.

In the notes on the Trinity Hill website, the wine is described as being like a combination of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon but the only connection I could find to Pinot Noir was its earthiness. To me, it had a complex and spicy Syrah-like depth.

Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2005 was matched to a variety of sausages, including chorizo, but the most successful match was venison sausage accompanied with a sauce made from reduced pinot noir and cranberry jelly. The wine also worked well with a warm salsa made from spring onions, garlic, tomato, basil and courgettes and served atop mashed potato, although the salsa was made to match accompany the chorizo but the meat in that sausage didn’t really work. Nor did an Italian herb sausage work. Trinity Hill suggests pork as a food match but I had none on hand to try that.

Later on in the evening the wine was accompanied to cheese and a creamy Blue Vein style worked exceptionally well.

You could say Trinity Hill winemaker, John Hancock, is a visionary with his passion for trialing new varieties. Some, like Roussanne, have failed to deliver but with Tempranillo the future looks exciting. Although he imported the grape in the early 1990's when working at Morton Estate, a wine was never made there so John took the unwanted Tempranillo grapevines with him when he left Morton Estate to start Trinity Hill. He felt that the gravel soils of the Gimblett Gravels subregion had the potential to consistently ripen what will be a unique wine style for New Zealand. When I spoke to him about it three years ago, he was strongly positive and some of his points that made him so passionate about Tempranillo were -

    That it is capable of making some of world's best wines
    That is it readily blendable - in Spain it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Grenache
    That it can make a range of styles
    That it suits cooler climates
    That the name is pronounceable and not too obscure

He also added that the bluish-black, thick-skinned grapes form in large clusters and ripen relatively early to make a sturdy wine with deep fruit flavours and excellent balance of acidity and tannins. In fact the early ripening character of the grapes gave it its name because temprano means early in Spanish.

Well, it seems that Trinity Hill has a winner so it shouldn’t be long before they are faced with competition in the production of this exciting catalyst for the next big thing in New Zealand red wine.

Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2005 is sealed with a DIAM technical cork, carries 14.5 percent alcohol by volume and costs about NZ$29.95 a bottle at recommended retail. It's cheaper if you buy directly form the Trinity Hill website, but you do have to buy half a case.

However, if you are in Hawkes Bay this weekend, pop into the Trinity Hill winery and cellar door because you will be able to taste the Tempranillo as well as the absolutely delicimo Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Touriga Nacional Port 2004. This 'late bottled vintage' (LBV) port style is made from the same grapes that the best ports from Portugal are made from. It is a first for New Zealand.

© Sue Courtney
16 October 2006

Footnote: After this review was written, Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Tempranillo 2005 went on to win a Gold Medal and Trophy at the 2006 Hawkes Bay A & P Mercedes Benz Wine Awards. Very well deserved.
Winemaker Warren Gibson, who now makes all the Trinity Hill wines, was crowned Champion Winemaker, while the Trinity Hill 'Homage' Syrah 2004 was awarded the Champion Wine of the Show.
Trinity Hill won six gold medals in total and as well as the above, gold medals were won by Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2004, Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Montepulciano 2005 and Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Viognier 2005.

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