The Buyer
Roger Jones judges the Gimblett Gravels Vintage Selection 2021

Roger Jones judges the Gimblett Gravels Vintage Selection 2021

Tasting through the 12 wines of the Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2021 – which gives a snapshot of the recent vintage – Roger Jones reflects on a defining blind tasting Judgment where wines from this New Zealand region proved to be equal to First Growth Bordeaux. The need for these Judgments is past, Jones believes, arguing that Gimblett Gravels, along with Margaret River and Stellenbosch no longer need to prove anything other than show wine buyers the extraordinary range, quality and value of the wines they each produce.

Roger Jones
10th May 2024by Roger Jones
posted in Tasting,

The Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2021 is chosen annually by Andrew Caillard MW to represent the latest vintage. The Selection is the fourteenth release, the first being in 2008.

The idea is to share and gain a perspective of where Gimblett Gravels stands in any given year, and chart the progress and evolution of this key New Zealand region.

I first became aware of the world class quality of these Gimblett Gravels wines in 2009 at a Bordeaux & Gimblett Gravels masterclass hosted in London; prior to this my love of New Zealand wine was based on Pinots from Central Otago and some unique wines from Martinborough, both outside the popular influence of Sauvignon Blanc.

At this 2009 'blind' masterclass numerous top wines from Bordeaux were put up against the same from Gimblett Gravels, with the New Zealand wines averaging £19 a bottle retail, the French had a norm of £800 a bottle, the results were that two of the Gimblett Gravels wines reached the top six: Sacred Hill – The Helmsman 2006 and 'Newton Forrest' Cornerstone 2006 with the Bordeaux wines including Château Lafite Rothschild 2005, Mouton Rothschild 2005 and Château Haut-Brion 2005.

More important than who won, was that this ‘little region’, once dismissed as useless land by sheep farmers, has now evolved into world beating fine wine terroir in such a short period of time. I would add two other New World 'little regions' that sit happily in this same world class category and they are Margaret River in Western Australia and Stellenbosch in South Africa.

Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2021

Gimblett Gravels: once seen as useless land by sheep farmers

In my mind these three regions have in the last ten years firmly established themselves as being able to produce world class Cabernets and Syrah.

I think that we have moved on from these blind tasting Judgments and comparisons like "this is better than a First Growth" because the key points are the regional attributes and variety that each of these regions can offer wine buyers.

I also think there's no longer a need to challenge Bordeaux in this way... all three regions would love to get the volume and prices of a First Growth but what is important is that the consumer is being offered more and more choice both in regional styles and price points, expanding the market for all tastes and credit cards.

In my early years in the wine trade it was Coonawarra that dominated the Australian Cabernet scene but this region has been eclipsed in my opinion by Margaret River in Western Australia which has been flying high for many decades, starting with Vasse Felix in 1967 then followed soon after by Moss Wood, Cullen and Leeuwin. In more recent years it has also started to showcase some exceptional Syrah.

Similarly with Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon – a recent Decanter Panel Tasting (results out in July issue) of the 2017 vintage showed once again incredible quality, value and class.

For restaurateurs all three regions give a breadth of quality and value, and wines from all three will age gracefully giving a wise investment and a faster and more economical return than Bordeaux.

Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2021

Gimblett Gravels Annual Vintage Selection 2021

Wines were opened one hour in advance and poured into stemless Riedel Cabernet glasses. The 2021 vintage comprises six blended reds and six Syrahs, as follows:

Craggy Range Sophia 2021

77% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Franc.

17 months in French oak (33% new) 14% abv

Blueberries and violets, silky smooth with a sprinkle of cedar, granite. Tart blackcurrants give it freshness, pure tea notes, perfectly balanced, rather good now but will evolve beautifully over the next decade or more. Excellent quality.

Elephant Hill Hieronymus 2021

50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc

22 months in French oak (50% new) 14.5% abv

I note that Hugh Crichton is now at Elephant Hill (you can’t keep a good man down) and it will be good to see how Elephant Hill’s wines gain stature with his influence.

Perfumed, bilberries, juicy ripe fruit, toasty notes with hints of green tea, green pepper and a dusting of toast. Love the juicy fruity feel, with hints of savoury meats in the background, such as Peking duck. This will tone down and grow into a superb elegant wine, enjoy the journey.

Elephant Hill Stone Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv 2021

44% Merlot, 28% Malbec, 24% Cabernet Franc, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon

22 months in French oak (32% new) 14.5% abv

Cedar and spice, warm feel, cocoa and spice, restrained fruit, grippy notes, a touch green. Blackcurrant notes evolve as it opens up, giving a great balance, this needs time to evolve but has all the attributes of a fabulous wine.

Mission Estate Jewelstone Antoine 2021

52% Merlot, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc

12 months in French oak (60% new) 13.9% abv

Under cork closure. Juicy dark cherries and sweet blackcurrants, I love the spices that balance the fruit, this is a lighter style but still delivers a delicious long palate. It is clean, focused with a beautiful feel, a class act, drinking well now but will continue to shine. Touch of tannin and polish on the finish to ensure this will continue to evolve.

Saint Clair James Sinclair Malbec 2021

100% Malbec

10 months in French oak (10% new) 13.5% abv

Perfumed nose of polish, violets and juicy dark cherries; on the palate it is very fruity with ripe blackberries softened with cigar and tobacco notes, some green pepper and nutmeg give it a hint of tropical rain forest. Still evolving and offers a good mouthful of rich wine that is crying out for a succulent bit of British game.

Squawking Magpie The Nest 2021

53% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec

20 months in French oak (30% new) 14% abv

Savoury nose, cedar and spice, tobacco leaf, then as you take the first sip there is a wave of luscious fruit that engages the palate. Love the Yin and Yang of this, it has great structure and layers of flavours dancing well together. The finish is a lovely balance between savoury notes and a blackcurrant puree.

Craggy Range Le Sol 2021

100% Syrah

17 months in French and Austrian oak (32% new) 13% abv

There are dark, dried strawberry and raspberry notes that perfume the palate, taut savoury notes, very Rhône like, stunning wine that is still in its infancy, but my word what a stunning wine. There are hints of fresh cigar leaves, blackberries, chalk, gravel, gripping fruit, this is a marvel that will evolve over the next twenty years, but do try it sooner.

Pask Declaration Syrah 2021

100% Syrah

Matured in a selection of aged French oak 13.5% abv

Dark and seductive on the nose, then a basket of red and dark fruits, fresh and zippy notes, easy drinking, quite restrained currently with more fruit notes than savoury.

Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2021

100% Syrah

18 months in French oak 14% abv

Chewy and meaty on first taste with hints of cedar and spice, then gentle notes of dark fruit emerge, blackberries and blackcurrants, cured hung Iberico ham, leafy .. this is layered and complex and needs time, but what a fabulous wine. Start drinking in two or three years and continue for another 20 years.

Smith & Sheth 'CRU' Omahu Syrah 2021

97% Syrah, 3% Tannat

22 months in French oak (40% new) 13.8% abv

Under cork. Sweet perfumed nose, dark juicy red and black cherries, with polished notes. Coffee, cocoa spice, cigar leaves, some tannin, then a refreshing fruit hit, this is layered and complex, quite superb. Love the dark side of this, and those intriguing, long, dark, seductive notes on the finish, a hint of liquorice but restrained, a touch of dark ripe fruit but again restrained. This is a work of art, and will continue to excel over the next 10, 20, 30 years.

Stonecroft Gimblett Gravels Reserve Syrah 2021

100% Syrah

18 months in French oak (33% new) 13.5% abv

Dark Rhône style nose with a perfumed feel, pomegranate, wow pure luscious fruit, with a cedar backbone, vanilla spice, silky lingering fresh – New World meets Old World – what a banger of a wine. Juicy fruits dance on the palate followed by savoury notes that entice you back for more fruit. Fresh and drinking well now but this will develop and I look forward to the story that will evolve over the years as it ages.

Trinity Hill Homage 2021

100% Syrah

21 months in French oak (54% new) 14% abv

A class act, still evolving but you can tell that this is going to be pretty special. Hints of cocoa, chocolate, savoury, green herbaceous notes, green papaya, then layers of retrained dark fruit. All this controlled by a savoury tannin feel that gives this wine a great grounding for the next 30 years or so. Certainly worth trying it now, this has great potential to hit the very best of Homage, which I have enjoyed drinking from the very beginning. Exceptional wine.