Because of the success of Sauvignon Blanc, many people think of New Zealand as a white wine country. And if they’ve heard of New Zealand red wines, it’s usually Pinot Noir – the country’s second most widely planted grape variety, and a success story in its own right. But don’t forget about Hawke’s Bay, which until the flourishing of Marlborough in the late 1980s and 1990s, was the largest wine region in New Zealand. I spent some time there last year, and came away enthused. Here are a couple of lovely reds from the Gimblett Gravels district in the Bay, which enjoys a slightly warmer microclimate.

Elephant Hill Stone Syrah 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This Syrah comes from the Gimblett Gravels and spent two years in French oak barrels (40% new). It’s a very sleek, polished wine showing ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit, with some hints of liquorice, tar and cedar. There’s a bit of black pepper, but the smooth, ripe fruit, coupled with some vanilla sweetness from the oak, leads the flavour profile. But despite the seductive side, there’s also a nice meaty savouriness. A very stylish, polished expression of Hawke’s Bay Syrah. 94/100

Smith & Sheth Cru Cantera 2017 Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
13% alcohol. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Tempranillo. Deep coloured, this is a fresh, floral, brooding red with flavours of blackcurrant, black cherry and plum fruit, with a nice smooth mouthfeel, firm but fine tannins, and a woody vanilla edge from the oak. The creamy vanilla character dominates the finish a bit at the moment, but this is a very stylish wine that shows great concentration and fruit intensity, and it should age well. New Zealand does Rioja crossed with Bordeaux. 93/100

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