Taste the Gravels: the new world classics of Hawke’s Bay

The last of the new finds for this year, from one of the world’s furthest wine outposts (well from Cork anyway) and New Zealand’s oldest winegrowing region, Hawke’s Bay.

This is all about the Gimblett Gravels, 800 hectares of gravelly soils laid down by the old Ngaruroro River and exposed after a huge flood in the 1860s. It’s one of the only strictly designated growing regions based on soil type in the New World, an area described as “a sacred site” by James Halliday and lauded by wine critics the world over due to the parallels in style with cru classé Bordeaux and the Rhône.

It’s the shared feature of river-gravel vineyards that give wines from the Gimblett Gravels the once-thought inimitable characteristics of the Médoc and northern Rhône — classily controlled but pure in fruit, glassy minerality, finely-tuned tannic backbone and essential acid balance — what winemakers refer to as the chassis of the wine.

Mills Reef exemplify what’s going down in the Gravels, with a winemaking team led by owner Tim Preston and Paul Dawick who now boast a haul of over 900 medals and 30 trophies at national and international competitions, along with twice receiving the prestigious New Zealand Winemaker of the Year award.

As well as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, the winery produces Pouilly-Fumé-style Sauvignon Blanc (yes, a New Zealand Sauvi not from Marlborough) and Chardonnay more reminiscent of Meursault than the new world, all represent genuine value for money against their old world counterparts.

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