Last week I was very fortunate to judge the Bayley’s Hawke’s Bay A&P Wine Awards.  I love working at this event for three reasons, firstly there’s always excellent camaraderie and jolly japery amongst the judges who come from local climes and overseas.  Secondly, it get’s me out of the house and out of the clutches of appallingly addictive ‘Mountain Monsters’ on Animal Planet (so terrible it’s great) and the butt-clenching, knuckle-gnawing violence and drama that is Narcos on NetFlix.  And thirdly, it’s just the most fantastic way for me to get up close and sippable with hundreds of shiny new wines from my home province.  In its 16th year it’s the oldest and most prestigious regional wine show in the country and I think I’ve been judging this show, on and off, for at least the last 12.  One thing always shakes me around the shoulders as each show gets underway and that is the proven versatility of New Zealand’s second largest wine region.  For aeons I’ve referred to Hawke’s Bay as the ‘ultimate’ wine region, simply because there’s basically nothing, grape-wise, that you can’t grow here or wine styles that you can’t make exceptionally well in Hawke’s Bay.  I can now see some readers rolling their eyes and mouthing the words “pinot” and “noir”.  To which I’ll retort with “Central Hawke’s Bay” and “the RD9” thank you very much.

I love how sub-regional subtleties in styles like chardonnay show themselves too.  The results of fruit harvested in the lower reaches of the Tukituki Valley, the Te Awanga pebbles, the red metals of the Bridge Pa Winegrowing District or the world-famous Gimblett Gravels are so exciting to see.  Compare them to chardonnay grown on the old pre-earthquake tidal estuary of the Esk River, or fruit grown amongst giant rocks known as ‘Matapiro swedes’ out west of Hastings, or down in the limestone-laden soils of South Central and you’ve got a smorgasbord of sensational sipping.  Those sub-regional differences also come into play with syrah, but don’t even get me started on how ridiculously good that is.


Reynella Basket Press McLaren Vale Shiraz 2014 $40 ★★★★

Alongside the bog standard technical stuff written on the notes that accompanied my sample of this bottle (things like acidity, alcohol, pH etc…) the winemaker has added ‘Occasion = Late Night’.  I concur.  Dark chocolate, seasoned leather, cigar box and blackcurrant compote notes followed by cockle-warming, juicy, spiciness on the finish, makes this the perfect midnight snack (pastrami, pickle & strong cheese) wine.  Fact: Established back in 1838 this winery is the oldest working wine cellar in South Australia.

Folding Hill Ballasalla Central Otago Pinot Noir 2015 $32 ★★★★½

Straight away you’ll be struck by the stunning ruby-garnet colour of this Bendigo-grown pinot – but despite the prettiness of the colour, this wine is quick to grip you around the gumline and shake you into submission.  Exotic rosehip, cherry and smoked sandalwood aromas lead to a palate packed with rhubarb, cranberry, black tea and liquorice characters, cheek-slapping acidity and follows with freshly-turned earth to finish.  The tannins have seductive chewiness.


Cover all bases this week with a little sip from ‘Straya, another from France and a rock n roll riesling from home… 


Howard Park Margaret River Miamup Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $30 ★★★★

An instant hit of crushed blackberry and blackcurrant that’s edged with rooibos tea and hints of tobacco means it’s clearly an overachiever in the aroma stakes.  It ranks up with the prefects in palate-weight too with dark, elegantly structured , smoky, cedary oak, chewy cabernet tannins and a choco-spice finish.  ‘Miamup road’ runs between Cowaramup and Wilyabrup, through the middle of Australia’s best cabernet growing soils.  Savour over a bowl of roast beetroot, smoked ricotta and black garlic salad.

For stockists email

Bernard Schurr Organic Cote du Rhone Villages 2014 $30 ★★★½

Bernard Schurr’s wines are now made at his friend Laurent Delaunay’s estate, Domaine de Lambisque, in the northern reaches of the Cotes du Rhone appellation.  This softly spiced, earthy red is a blend of 50:50 Grenache and Syrah, aged for 9 months in large, seasoned oak vessels.  It’s got a lovely forest-floor character alongside fragrant, dried herbs, wild fruit and saddle leather notes, which make this certified organic little bottle of awesome just delicious with duck and mushroom pate.

For stockists email

Mt Maude Central Otago Dry Riesling 2015 $25 ★★★★½

If you were to meet winemaker Sarah-Kate Dineen whilst sipping this wine, you’d be struck by a sudden urge to shout, “Wow! If this wine were a person, it’d totally be her!”  Crisp, vivacious, toothsome and tangy, it bounces around with incredible intensity, presence and depth.  The hand-picked, foot-stomped fruit for this citrus-soaked riesling, comes from 22 year old vines grown in Wanaka, that’ve produced lime, green apple and punchy purity of flavour.  Prawn Pad Thai? Oh most definitely yes.