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Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Red Blend 2012
Esk Valley is a boutique winery, but it is unique in that many of the techniques used to craft its award-winning wines are dictated by the winery itself. The old concrete vats, the layout of the buildings, and the absence of modern technology mean the people at Esk Valley have had to make wine in a simple, honest, hands-on way. Winemaker Gordon Russell has established himself as one of New Zealand's most recognized winemaking personalities with his passionate approach to winemaking, and the enormous success he has achieved with his wines in tastings and competitions. Gordon believes that the concept of 'texture' in a wine is as important as the aromas and flavors of the wine. By 'texture' he means the balance and harmony of the wine, together with complexity and palate interest. Hand-plunging with wooden plungers is one of the manual techniques he employs in his pursuit of texture – a method used only by a fraction of New Zealand wineries. Old-school winemaking results in wines with old-world flavor profiles – and with a suave, perfumed Sauvignon Blanc, a very Burgundian Chardonnay and a very Bordeaux-like red blend, Esk Valley offers something different than many other New Zealand wineries.
An eclectic region on the east coast of the North Island, Hawkes Bay extends from wide, fertile, coastal plains, inland, to the coast range, whose peaks reach as high as 5,300 feet. While the flatter areas were historically more popular because they are easier to cultivate, their alluvial soils can be too fertile for vines. In the late 20th century, the drive for quality led growers to the hills where soils are free-draining, limestone-rich and more suited to producing high quality wines.
Over the passing of time, the old Ngaruroro River laid down deep, gravelly beds, which were subsequently exposed after a huge flood in the 1860’s. In the 1980s growers identified this stretch, which continues for approximately 800 ha, and named it the Gimblett Gravels. The zone has proven to be ideal for the production of excellent red wines, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
Today the area takes well-earned recognition for its Bordeaux blends and other reds. Expressive of intense stewed red and black berry with gentle herbaceous characters, Gimblett Gravels wines are suggestive of their cool climate origin, and on par with other top-notch Bordeaux blends around the globe.
One of the world’s most classic and popular styles of red wine, Bordeaux-inspired blends have spread from their homeland in France to nearly every corner of the New World, especially in California, Washington and Australia. Typically based on either Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot and supported by Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot, these are sometimes referred to in the US as “Meritage” blends. In Bordeaux itself, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates in wines from the Left Bank of the Gironde River, while the Right Bank focuses on Merlot. Often, blends from outside the region are classified as being inspired by one or the other.
In the Glass
Cabernet-based, Left-Bank-styled wines are typically more tannic and structured, while Merlot-based wines modeled after the Right Bank are softer and suppler. Cabernet Franc can add herbal notes, while Malbec and Petit Verdot contribute color and structure. Wines from Bordeaux lean towards a highly structured and earthy style whereas New World areas (as in the ones named above) tend to produce bold and fruit-forward blends. Either way, Bordeaux red blends generally have aromas and flavors of black currant, cedar, plum, graphite, and violet, with more red fruit flavors when Merlot makes up a high proportion of the blend.
Since Bordeaux red blends are often quite structured and tannic, they pair best with hearty, flavorful and fatty meat dishes. Any type of steak makes for a classic pairing. Equally welcome with these wines would be beef brisket, pot roast, braised lamb or smoked duck.
While the region of Bordeaux is limited to a select few approved grape varieties in specified percentages, the New World is free to experiment. Bordeaux blends in California may include equal amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec, for example. Occassionally a winemaker might add a small percentage of a non-Bordeaux variety, such as Syrah or Petite Sirah for a desired result.