Kiwis can't get enough of Hawke's Bay Bordeaux

Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2013 and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2013.

Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2013 and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2013.

It's not uncommon in Europe to come across a wine style that is almost entirely and very happily lapped up by the local populace. Because of this, you rarely see these wines beyond their home turf.

Our young wine culture and export focus are against such a thing happening here in quite the same way. But there is one style that is a little similar – lower-priced Hawke's Bay Bordeaux varietals and blends.

Over these last few months, at every barbecue and function I've attended, there in force were Hawke's Bay cabernets, merlots, malbecs and others. (The Bordeaux descriptor is applied because that's the birthplace of these varieties, and where the blending of them first took hold.) 

Kiwi wine consumers are loving these wines. That's because they represent outstanding value for money (you're not going to find a pinot noir or syrah with similar depth and quality for around $16), and because with the arrival of the 2013s, there's a particularly rich seam to mine.

This is a wine style that tends to stay at home, though not because it wants to. Collectively, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay account for 96.1 per cent of our wine exports. There just isn't a lot of demand out there for a style of red that a number of other nations (such as key markets Australia and the US) feel they can do just as well themselves.

Not so good for those who devote themselves to producing these wines in this country; great for us who live here and enjoy drinking them.

The quality of Hawke's Bay reds was on an upward trajectory before the 2013 vintage. That year, so kind to the Bay, has steepened the curve.

I recently blind-tasted several dozen Hawke's Bay Bordeaux varietals and blends, all of which retail for under $30. There were some splendid wines in there – dark, ripe and built to last. Here are my top five:

1.   Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2013, $29.95

2.   Elephant Hill Le Phant Merlot Cabernet 2013, $24

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3.    Mission Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2013, $29

4.   Babich Winemaker's Reserve Merlot 2013, $24.95

5.   Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2013, $23.99

Merlot was the star red variety of the vintage. The best of them were delicious, showing that intriguing bay-leaf flavour along with the more standard dark plum. Merlot is the common dominator in that top five.


Babich Irongate Cabernet Merlot Franc 2013, $29.95

Beautifully pitched cabernet sauvignon ripeness is the hero here. This is a clean, classy blend, with great tannin definition. A wine worth cellaring.


Villa Maria Cellar Selection Organic Merlot 2013, $23.99

This intensely perfumed merlot is chocker with plush, gorgeous fruit that offers a rosewood-like sweetness. The tannins are silky, the finish long and fine.

John Saker is a leading New Zealand wine writer who shares his insights each fortnight.

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