Great New Zealand Cabernet

5 premier producers


There really are very few grapes that New Zealand is not well suited to. Actually I should say that New Zealand’s many terroirs seem to produce some spots ideal for virtually every grape. While that might be splitting semantic hairs, the truth is that this varied country really does seem to have some sweet spot, with a magical combination of soil and climate that allows for the cultivation of virtually every wine grape somewhere along its 1,0000-mile length.

For Cabernet and Bordeaux blends, the Hawkes Bay region -- and specifically the vines planted on the Gimblett Gravels -- are emerging as New Zealand’s preeminent Bordeaux blends! While the region is still young, several producers are establishing themselves as among the finest. Here are 5 of my favorites.

Craggy Range

Craggy Range has made its name as a purveyor of unique and distinctive single vineyard wines, so getting a piece of the Gimblett Gravels was a no-brainer. With two wines that showcase Bordeaux varieties, the Cabernet-based The Quarry and the Merlot-based Sophia, it’s easy to see the promise of this region.

These are wines that combine rich, ripe, lush fruit with structure more reminiscent of Bordeaux than most comparable new-world wines.

Trinity Hill

Trinity Hill is a small artisanal winery working in Hawkes Bay to help define the region’s style, terroir, and ideal grape varieties. With almost 20 years of experience with their Gimblett Gravels vineyard, the team at Trinity Hill has begun to push the boundaries of what people are doing in the region with their plantings of grapes as diverse as Syrah, Tempranillo and Montepulciano.

Of course, all this has been made possible by the recognition that the Bordeaux varieties have garnered the Gimblett Gravels. Trinity Hill’s The Gimblett red blend is a Cabernet-based wine that has consistently redefined what is possible in the Gimblett Gravels.

Mills Reef

Mills Reef has been a leader in the Hawkes Bay region since the winery was completed in 1995. This is not just a winery though, as there is a restaurant and conference center at Mills Reef that has allowed the winery to become a vital and integral part of the region’s commercial and touristic appeal.

Mills Reef produces Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec from the Gimblett Gravels and uses these grapes to produce many wines, mono-varietal and blends at a variety of price points that helps to open the region up to wine drinkers of all tastes and price levels.

Matariki Wines

Still pretty much unknown in the U.S., Matariki Wines was in the Gimblett Gravels virtually from the beginning, if 1981 can be called close to the beginning. In 1992, the owners -- John and Rosemary O’Connor -- made a huge commitment to the region, buying 170 hectares and developing vineyards that paired well with the various soils and expositions their land afforded them.

The crown in the Matariki cap is its aptly named five-grape blend known as Quintology. It's almost a classic Bordeaux blend, with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and the outlier Syrah all contributing to the final wine. This was not a haphazard blend but rather the result of the careful matching of vines and soil that is evidenced by the intricate planting of the vineyards here.

Alluviale

Alluviale is a relatively new project, having been founded only in 2003. What makes this winery particularly interesting is the fact that it has been created by a cross-continental winemaking couple. New Zealander Kate Galloway and Frenchman David Ramonteu have joined together to make the most of a handful of French grapes (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as the white Bordeaux varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) grown on one of New Zealand’s greatest terroirs: The Gimblett Gravels.

This is a small winery with great promise and it will be fascinating to watch them find their way with two distinctly Bordelaise blends. Also worth noting is the rather distinctive label that features a stylized representation of the bands of the Ngaruroro River along whose shores lie Alluviale’s vines.

Read more about New Zealand wines

Did you catch the other installments in our series on New Zealand wines? Check out:

New Zealand Wines: The Discovery of Fine Wine

New Zealand Wine Regions

New Zealand Wines, Part 2: Cool-climate Chardonnay at its best

5 Top New Zealand Chardonnays

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