Unveiling the 2021 Gimblett Gravels Vintage Selection: The Best Reds from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand

By | 11 March 2024

The Gimblett Gravels signifies a distinctive sub-region within the Hawke’s Bay area of New Zealand. Taking a hint from the name, this region has uniquely free-draining gravel soils, courtesy of ancient river deposits. It is somewhat warmer compared to other parts of the region, making it a highly favoured terroir for cultivating Bordeaux-style red blends and Syrah wines. The fourteenth annual selection of wines are assessed by Andrew Caillard, who chooses the ones he regards as the best.

The 2021 vintage produced twelve wines that were handpicked for the Hawke’s Bay Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection. As predicted, all these wines have earned relatively high scores since they were a carefully chosen selection. Here are my tasting notes and scores for each wine in no specific order.

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2021
The fragrance is slightly subdued immediately upon uncorking. The aroma hints at black cherries mingled with gravel and cured meat notes. The palate is concentrated, focusing mainly on fresh black cherry fruit complemented by a well-structured tannic backbone. Currently, it presents as quite firm and compressed with a marked intensity and some reductive notes affecting the texture. But there’s a promise of a splendid wine emerging in the future, indicating serious potential. 94/100

Craggy Range Le Sol 2021
This Syrah features 13% alcohol content. Its taut and compact nature is evident at first pour, with focused black and cherry fruit underpinned by hints of pepper and a touch of olive. Although it might seem a bit uninventive at present, the beautifully focused cherry, raspberry and blackberry fruit mingled with good structure and pleasing freshness indicate promising ageing potential. Currently raw and unfolding, but a beautifully proportioned and harmonious Gimblett Gravels Syrah. Might be worth cellaring for a decade? 94/100

Mission Jewelstone Antoine 2021
This wine has a 14% alcohol content and is cork sealed. The Bordeaux-style blend comes with a fresh, focused black cherry and black currant nose with fresh chalk and gravel hints in the background. The palate is supple, balanced with lovely freshness to the fruit. It scores 94/100 for its good structure and acidity, implying that everything is in harmony. The midweight wine has lovely potential for mid-term ageing – perhaps five to ten years? The balance and harmony of this wine is indeed lovely.

Stonecroft Reserve Syrah 2021
The aromatics of this wine are lovely, with taut peppery berry fruits showing some floral perfume. It exhibits a lovely concentration in the mouth but also brightness and some elegance. There’s a slight hint of ginger and cinnamon. The finish of this wine hints at a gravelly crunch alongside the pepper. It is very stylish and scores 95/100.

Elephant Hill Stone Merlot 2021
This wine scores 94/100 and is all about immediate appeal with its lush, ripe berry fruits and a touch of sweet black currant. There’s a nice hint of greenness and some lushness to the fruit, with a hint of spicy oak and some gravelly, tarry grip emerging at the end to give savoury balance. The experience is grippy, grainy and spicy as well as delivering pleasure.

Craggy Range Sophia 2021
This wine is well structured and yet still supple. This classy Bordeaux-style red offers fresh blackcurrant fruit with some nice green hints and notes of chalk and gravel. The taste is fresh, elegant and well balanced and it should be drinking at peak in a year or two, although it could likely last for ten years. The wine is beautifully proportioned and no shame in drinking this wine now. The experience is supple and digestible. It scores 94/100.

Saint Clair James Sinclair Malbec 2021
This wine has an inviting floral scent, complemented by sweet cherries and berries and a slight green note. The palate offers fresh fruit with brightness and openness. It’s both polished and bold, making it very appealing. It offers a juicy, sweetly fruited and inviting drink. Score: 93/100

Elephant Hill Hieronymous 2021
This wine boasts ripe and supple flavours with a core of sweet blackberry and black currant fruit. There’s a bit of tannic bite and some sweet green notes on the finish. It does show a slightly sweet and sour character, but with lovely fruit and real drinkability. It is polished and modern. Score: 93/100

Smith and Sheth Cru Syrah Omahu 2021
This wine offers an intriguing sappy green edge on the nose, combined with pepper and cherry notes. Its red fruits show a very sweet, sappy quality with some apple notes which might indicate a little oxidation, but it still presents freshness and elegance. Ripe black fruits and a hint of cracked black pepper can be tasted on the finish. Score: 92/100

Trinity Hill Homage 2021
This is a substantial wine that’s initially tight and unyielding on opening. It presents compact floral black cherry and blackberry fruit with some tar and gravel sternness on the nose, and a chocolate hint in the background. The palate is dense but fresh with good structure and acidity. This wine offers a lot of energy and potential. Not lush and sweetly fruited, but ripe and beautifully poised. This is a wine for the long haul, emphasising classic style. Score: 96/100

Pask Declaration Syrah 2021
This wine is intriguingly potent and focused, revealing intense cherry and berry flavors. Despite its current taut and undeveloped state, there is a presence of oak that augments the dynamic fruit bouquet. Even though it may exude a freshness and a slightly angular quality, it holds great promise for evolving over time and is nonetheless enjoyable at present. This wine boasts an appealing structure and offers plenty of interesting nuances. 93/100

Squawking Magpie The Nest 2021
This vibrant wine greets you with fresh, blooming aromas, leafy green undertones and delectable notes of black currant. Its structure is well-balanced, nicely supporting the fruit-forward flavors, and is suffused with a radiant quality. The wine might be perceived as youthful and tannic with a hint of oak but it suggests potential for aging gracefully. This is one formidable wine in a traditional format. 94/100

Having the opportunity to sample these wines each year is a genuine delight and the 2020 vintage appears to be exceptionally promising. It wasn’t the climate that posed as a challenge for the wineries during this period, but rather the national Covid lockdown coinciding with the harvest season. Winegrowers were uncertain about being permitted to pick grapes and produce wines. Thankfully, the government intervened, sanctioning an exemption for the wine industry.

This particular season started sooner than expected, with early budbreak, flowering, and veraison. The harvest schedule was also ahead of the regular timeline. While the weather in summer was dry, the overall temperature during this duration was slightly warmer than the average. However, the harvest conditions were impeccable.

Craggy Range Le Sol 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
With 13.5% alcohol content, this Syrah spent 17 months in French oak (38% new) and sourced from the stoniest parts of Craggy’s Gimblett Gravels vineyard. The nose is taut yet inviting, revealing a peppery edge to the cherry and berry fruit with a hint of crushed rock notes. Floral yet maintaining a savoury presence, the palate fuses ripe black fruit with grippy structure and notes of pepper and dried herbs, creating a remarkable tension between the fruit and the tannins. Despite its youth and intense flavour, it has the potential for long ageing; it could potentially be the best version of Le Sol yet. Rate: 96/100.

Trinity Hill Homage 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Boasting a 13.5% alcohol content with 68% new oak, this varietal Syrah originates from one of the top producers in the region. Featuring a robust core of black cherry fruit supported by a nice structure and savoury notes of pepper, gravel, and even ash, it’s intractable upon opening but promises great potential for cellaring. It has good proportions and shows excellent balance. Rate: 96/100.

Stonecroft Reserve Syrah 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
With an alcohol level of 13.5%, Stonecroft pioneered Syrah in Hawke’s Bay, growing on organically farmed vines now in their 40th vintage. With a new oak content of 60% and sealed with a cork, the wine is supple and fresh, featuring a sweet core of blackberry and cherry fruit highlighted by a vivid peppery edge. It’s refined and grippy with restrained black fruits and a savoury dimension. Although it’s still slightly unfurled, it has potential for development which would also help the oak settle down. Rate: 94/100.

Church Road Single Vineyard Malbec 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
A higher 14.5% alcohol content is paired with 14 months in French and Hungarian oak and 41% new in this Malbec, produced from 22-year-old vines and sealed with a cork. It presents very floral and aromatic notes, featuring sweet blackberry and black cherry fruit elements, accented with notes of spice, wood smoke, pepper, and ginger. The palate is lush and sweetly fruited with blackberry and blackcurrant, balanced by a very easy tannic structure that melts into the very ripe fruit. An intriguing wine. Rate: 94/100.

Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. This is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc and 15% Merlot. 12 months in French oak, 60% new. Supple, aromatic blackcurrant fruit with a gravelly, spicy edge showing midweight personality and good acidity. This is a very Bordeaux-like wine with drinkability and potential for ageing. Admirable restraint here. 93/100

Elephant Hill Heironymus 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 38.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 38.5% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc. 24 months in French oak (54% new). This is classic and polished, showing sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with a floral character. Lush, ripe, seamless palate is fine and fresh. Shows a chalky, gravelly quality on the finish, but the core of this wine is supple, ripe fruit. Really polished. 93/100

Elephant Hill Stone Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Cabernet Franc 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14.5% alcohol. 53% Merlot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc. Sweetly aromatic with lush cherry and blackcurrant fruit, but also some lovely texture. Shows sweet cherries and plums on the palate as well as more lush blackcurrant character. Quite classic in a ripe polished style, showing nice concentration. 94/100

Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 15 months in French oak (18% new). This spends 20 months in a mix of old and new French oak. Vibrant, fresh peppery nose with a stony, gravelly edge. Black cherries, plums and blackberries on the palate. This has some stony sternness on the finish, with good focus and grip. Tarry and dense, but not too heavy. 93/100

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Comprising an alcohol volume of 14% and a unique blend of 50% Cabernet Franc, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Merlot. This Bordeaux-style blend spent 18 months in French oak, with 53% of it being new. The nose expresses an aromatic mix of brooding blackcurrant and blackberry. The palate is fleshy, filled with sweet black fruits and slight hints of spice and cedar, complemented by savoury gravelly notes. It is highly textured and well-balanced mix with oak and a structure that supports its sweet fruit. Recommended to be left to age. Score: 95/100.

Esk Valley Artisanal Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Another 14% alcohol blend, this time comprising of 55% Malbec, 28% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 17% Merlot. Aging for 18 months in French oak, with 15% being new, this blend’s aroma possesses elegantly tinted green blackcurrant and cherry fruit. The palate is bright and sappy, exhibiting a fleshy black fruit character with a green hint – ultimately making this wine incredibly supple and enjoyable to drink. Score: 93/100.

Church Road 1 Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Boasting an alcohol content of 14%, with a maturing period of 19 months in a mixture of French and Hungarian oak, 29% of it being new, from 18-year-old vines. A testament of a great Cabernet Sauvignon which rarely sees production in New Zealand as a single-variety wine. The nose is aromatic with savoury-tinged blackcurrant fruit while the palate is robust with blackcurrant fruit concentration, raspberry crunch, and firm tannins. Layered with grainy, spicy, tarry, and darker notes, it also has a pleasant savoury twist and a hint of green. With enough age, this wine will likely flourish over the next 20 years! Score: 95/100.

Babich Single Winemaker’s Reserve Vineyard Merlot 2020 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
This blend consists of 14% alcohol, 87% Merlot, and 13% Malbec. An interesting wine that presents a floral aroma with a green overtone to the black cherry and blackcurrant fruit. The Merlot is sappy, bright, and fresh with an acceptable concentration of flavor, boasting a ripeness that reveals sweet black fruits contrasted by sappy green notes. It concludes with soft tannins exuding hints of tar and green herbs. This Merlot shows signs of savoury green undertones which add dimension to the fruit. An interesting and tasteful interpretation of a Merlot from Hawke’s Bay. Score: 92/100.

2019 was a warm vintage (1425 growing degree days against a long-term average of 1304), with slightly higher rainfall (546 mm versus the average of 437mm). Crucially, though, vintage was dry, allowing growers to pick when they wanted. It’s considered as a very successful vintage in the region.

Here are my judgments on the wines.

Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.7% alcohol. Single vineyard, aged in new and used oak for 20 months. This Syrah is peppery, supple and bright with juicy blackberry and black cherry fruit supported by good acidity and a bit of grippy structure. There’s a subtle hint of wood here in the background, but the dominant feature is the fruit. This has a lovely peppery edge with some raspberry crunch. 92/100

Squawking Magpie The Nest 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 58% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc. 18 months in French oak, 30% new. This blend is bright and supple with some raspberry and cherry fruit, a touch of blackcurrant, and some coffee and cedar notes from the oak. It’s fresh and firm, but currently appears a bit angular and unintegrated, finishing abrasively with noticeable oak. It probably just needs time to flesh out and come together. 91/100

Elephant Hill Hieronymous 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This appealing blend comes from the finest batches of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, matured in two-thirds new French oak. You’ll be impressed by its vibrant hue and balanced mix of oak, sweet blackberry, and blackcurrant fruit. While it manifests a cool-climate restraint with good acidity, it also promises to age brilliantly, offering a wonderful fruit intensity. Indeed, as it ages in the bottle, the oak will beautifully integrate with the rest of the elements, reaching a sort of mellow peak in about 10-20 years. 93/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Syrah Heretaunga 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. This offering’s tight, compact scent offers intriguing hints of sweet black cherries, pepper, vinyl, and boot polish. Similarly, the taste teems with fresh blackberry and black cherry fruit, underscored by nuances of tar, spice, iodine, and pepper. Whether or not it’s in a reductive funk, which doesn’t lift even after three days, there’s definitely abundant potential here. 92/100

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.3% alcohol. Expect a beguiling floral explosion with notes of coffee, pepper and iodine, giving way to a fresh, bright underlying taste of juicy black fruits, spiced up by good acidity and a slight structure. While this Syrah is currently quite reserved, its expressivity and brightness spell enticing potential. It’s likely to be approachable sooner than Le Sol, also appearing prettier for some time, but its aging potential is not to be underestimated. 93/100

Craggy Range Le Sol 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
With an alcohol content of 13.5%, this Syrah is more on the intense, structured side, teasing with hints of pepper and clove, but with a dominating ripe black fruit profile. Despite the ripe richness,

you’ll appreciate how well it maintains definition. With undercurrents of meat and damson, sweet black cherry, and blackberry fruit, capped by a slight chocolate/cocoa note from the oak, this wine impresses. While it’s still relatively tight and reticent, what lies behind the walls is promising. Look forward to a layered, concentrated experience. 94/100

Trinity Hill The Gimblett 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13.5% alcohol. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This is really fresh and well defined with blackcurrant fruit as well as some raspberry, with a gravelly edge and some nice black pepper hints, as well as a touch of spicy oak in the background. There’s a hint of spicy, savoury, stony wildness too, in a really good sense. Lots of character here. 94/100

Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Merlot-driven (47%) and fermented and aged in French oak (10% new). Bottled in clear class. This is floral and juicy with a lightness to it. There’s a spicy, gravelly edge to the bright fruit on the palate which shows supple cherry and berry fruit with a touch of plum. Pure and very drinkable, and approachable now. Inviting and fun. 92/100

Esk Valley River Gravel Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. From the Ngakirikiri and Cornerstone vineyards planted in 2014 and 1996, fermented in concrete then aged in barrel (45% new). Brooding dark fruits on the nose with some floral hints, as well as a hint of gravel and spice. The palate is fresh and quite structured with some cedary woody hints sitting under fresh, nicely concentrated black cherry and raspberry fruit, with a savoury, spicy edge. It’s very youthful and a bit edgy with its structure and acidity, but there’s a lot of focused fruit here, and with time this should integrate nicely. It impresses, but it feels unformed – as if it really needs to come together more. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
14% alcohol. 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12 months in French oak (40% new). Cork sealed. This shows brooding, fresh blackcurrant fruit with some raspberry brightness and a touch of floral cherry character. Oak is absorbed very nicely, and there’s quite a bit of structure here. Nicely balanced with potential for development. 93/100

Mission Estate Jewelstone Syrah 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Volume of alcohol is at 14%. These were grown organically on the Mere Road vineyard and aged for 12 months in French oak barrels, out of which 23% were new. The wine is characterized by a peppery, fine taste, featuring exquisite textured black cherry, blackberry fruit. Enjoy the distinct poise demonstrated by the sweet, textured, seamless black fruits and slight hints of olive and pepper. This wine is exceptional and is rated at 95/100.

Pask Declaration Merlot 2019 Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Holds about 13% alcohol. The aging process lasted for 16 months in French oak, where 50% were fresh barrels. The taste of this wine is supple, rounded and fresh due to the sweet berry fruits enhanced by some spicy oak. Expect excellent fruit purity from this midweight, highly drinkable wine – the oak requires some time to integrate fully. The overall experience is polished, deserving a score of 91/100.

You can find these wines at wine-searcher.com

Also, check:

Gimblett Gravels 2018 Selection

Gimblett Gravels 2017 Selection

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