The 2016 vintage selection from the Gimblett Gravels, in New Zealand's Hawke's Bay

The 2016 vintage was a good one in the Gimblett Gravels. It was just a touch cooler than average (GDDs 1430 as opposed to an LTA of 1500), but it was a bit drier (growing season rainfall 340 mm versus an average of 463 mm). Since 2008 a selection of 12 wines has been made, and these are sent out to key journalists. For the last few years Andrew Caillard has made the selection, and this year he chose 8 Bordeaux-style wines and 4 Syrahs. These are the notes. Overall, I enjoyed the wines, but my impression from a recent visit is that these aren’t the absolute best wines from the region. Most of them will need some time to show their best: many of these wines are in a slightly leaner, taut, oak-influenced style, and I think sometimes Hawke’s Bay needs a bit more texture and flesh. Here are my notes on the 2015 selection.

Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, spending just over a year in barriques, 40% new, 13% alcohol. Lively with some bright raspberry notes and a bit of spicy, cedary oak alongside the core of blackcurrant and plum fruit. Structured and quite firm, but with nice bright fruit. 91/100

Babich The Patriarch 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
40% Merlot, 33% Malbec, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16 months in French oak (45% new). 13% alcohol. This is fleshy and grippy at the same time, with sweetly aromatic berry and black fruits. There’s a bit of oak in the mix, and some grippy, tarry, gravelly notes, too. Quite firm on the finish. 91/100

Craggy Range Sophia 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
58% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. 18 months in French oak, 45% new, 13% alcohol. This is a polished, balanced wine with sleek blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, with some freshness and a supple, textured mouthfeel. There’s structure here, too, and I reckon it could age positively over the next decade. Really smart winemaking, combining freshness, mid-weight digestibility and good structure. 94/100

Sacred Hill Helmsman 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
56% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 22% Cabernet Franc, 17 months in French oak, half new. 13.5% alcohol. Rich, dense and with a spicy, gravelly core to the attractive, supple blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. Has density and grip with nice firm structure and some cedary, spicy wood. Needs a bit more time to harmonise. 92/100

Vidal Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. 20 months in French oak, 5 barrels made, three of which were new. This is supple, fresh and juicy with bright raspberry, redcurrant and blackcurrant fruit. It’s really pure and has brightness and focus with lovely fruit quality, and potential for development. There’s tannin here, but the overall impression is a mid-weight, supple one. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone ‘Antoine’ 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Cabernet Franc, 26% Merlot. 14% alcohol. 18 months in French oak (half new). Very fresh and linear with bright, supple raspberry and cherry fruit, with some blackcurrant hints. Focused and taut with a linear personality, and a hint of oak. Quite primary and compact still with good acidity and tannin, and fresh, pure fruit. Has potential. 92/100

Stonecroft Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Organic, from the Fernhill Vineyard. 18 months in French oak. This is grippy, tannic and quite gravelly, with a grainy, chalky texture to the blackcurrant fruit. It’s Cabernet at the margins, with lovely focus and structure to the bright fruit. Has all the ingredients to age really well, with firm tannins still clamping down on the fruit. But you could drink it now with robust red meat. 94/100

Saint Clair Cabernet Merlot Malbec 2016 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. 67% Cabernet, 20% Merlot, 13% Malbec, 10 months in French oak, one-third new. Gravelly, spicy and tarry with some grip to the sweet blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. There’s some savoury cured meat and spice character here, with a touch of smokiness. Ripe and quite drying on the finish. 89/100

Esk Valley Winemaker’s Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. From the Cornerstone Vineyard. Fermented in old concrete fermenters with wild yeasts, then aged for 15 months in French oak. This is bright, fresh and supple with midweight cherry and plum fruit, as well as some pepper and clove notes. Quite grippy, youthful and structured. Give this time. 91/100

Vidal Legacy Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
From the Omahu Gravels and Twyford Gravels vineyards. 13% alcohol. 20 months in French oak, 14 barrels made. Concentrated and vivid with a spicy, grippy structure and notes of pepper, blackberry and black cherry. This is dense, structured and quite backward, and needs time. Tight and closed at the moment. 93/100

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. 16 months in barrel. There’s some generosity here, but also tight black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. Vivid and fresh with subtle peppery notes and a sleek edge to the smooth black fruits. Pure, refined, midweight and expressive. Has potential to develop with time. Quite structured at present. 93/100

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2016 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. 16 months in French oak. This is savoury and dense with taut blackcurrant and blackberry fruit, with hints of pepper and spice. Unfurled but with mouthfilling density and firm tannins. Lots of potential here: taut and structured with a grainy, grippy finish. Needs to come together a bit more, and this could take a few years. 92/100

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