Elephant Hill | Tasting Review | May 2019

Established in 2003 by the Weiss family, with the first wines made in 2007, Elephant Hill are now recognised as one of Hawkes’ Bay’s top producers. Under the guidance of wine-maker Steve Skinner, Elephant Hill’s rise over that short period has been remarkable. The fruit is sourced from their three vineyards – 18ha at Gimblett Gravels planted to all red grapes; the Bridge Pa Triangle block which is mainly Syrah, Malbec and Merlot with some Tempranillo and Chardonnay and the 24ha “Home” block at Te Awanga which is planted mainly in the white varieties of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Gris. Elephant Hill also operate an award winning fine dining restaurant and lodge alongside the winery – well worth a visit!

Steve is one of the most thoughtful, considered wine makers around, happily sharing his acquired knowledge with the tasting group. It is quite obvious that he brings a lot of technical skill and innovation to the wines and these are wines of the very highest level. The Reserve and ‘Icon’ wines are exemplary.

Elephant Hill ‘Sea’ Viognier 2018

From the ‘home’ Te Awanga coastal vineyard. Whole bunch pressed, 60% barrel fermented. This shows floral, white fruit flavours. Steve has managed to keep the wine fresh and elegant – something that requires plenty of work in the vineyard. The barrel influence adds some weight and spiciness.

Elephant Hill Chardonnay 2017

2017 was a cooler vintage year in Hawkes Bay and Steve says that suits him fine. He likes to have fruit with an ‘elegant, linear aspect’ that he can build on in the winery. We have always found that Elephant Hill Chardonnays appear quite ‘tight’ on release, then magically open out over the next year. Steve would like to be able to wait longer for releasing the wines but demand dictates earlier releases. You just have to cellar them yourself if you like a richer style, but in the meantime this has fresh white nectarine flavours on an elegant, creamy palate. All the winemaking inputs are beautifully balanced – a bit of spice, cream, flint. A clean, classic style.

Elephant Hill ‘Reserve’ Chardonnay 2016

80% from the Te Awanga vineyard and 20% from the newer Bridge Pa vineyard. 12 months in 26% new French oak. Just looking at this in the glass, this is a much riper, complex wine. A light golden colour with fig, orange peel, nougat, biscuit/brioche flavours. Quite complex and complete on the palate. A big Chardonnay.

Elephant Hill Tempranillo Rose 2018

Something different. Elephant Hill have a few rows of Tempranillo planted on the Bridge Pa vineyard. There is an intention to produce a Tempranillo red once they have a handle on the variety, but they are finding it does produce an excellent Rose. Like all Elephant Hill wines it is fermented with wild yeast. Given a long slow basket press with just an hour or so on skins then keep on lees for around 6 months with regular ‘battonage’ or stirring to add palate texture.  A pale salmon colour with melon and spice flavours. Dry and crisp and surprising palate weight.

Elephant Hill Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon / Malbec 2016

A blend of 67% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Malbec and 5% Cabernet Franc; 55% from the Gimblett and 45% from the Bridge Pa Triangle Vineyard. Small batch fermented and aged for 22 months in 30% new French oak. Dark and juicy, this is elegant and refined with restrained oak. Plums and cassis with a hint of black olive. Medium weighted, this is a very enjoyable Merlot based red to drink over the next 3 or 4 years.

Elephant Hill ‘Reserve’ Cabernet Franc / Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot 2016

34% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot & 8% Malbec; 58% from the Gimblett and 42% Bridge Pa vineyards, aged 24 months in 45% new French oak. Almost black in the glass the aromas leap out of the glass inviting you to savour this beautiful wine. Ripe berry compote, vanilla, spice flavours abound. On the palate this is velvety smooth, yet with plenty of tannins to give the wine structure. There was none of the super premium Heironymus produced in 2016 so all the fruit destined for that was included. No wonder it tastes so good!

Elephant Hill Syrah 2016

Elephant Hill put a lot of work into Syrah, including having over 30 separate picks to ensure a spectrum of flavours; from white pepper through to ripe and almost rasiny. The result is a wine with some complexity, soft and generous and good length. From the Gimblett, Te Awanga and Triangle Vineyards aged for 22 months in 25% new French oak

Elephant Hill ‘Reserve’ Syrah 2016 

As good as the Estate Syrah is, this is a definite step up. Ripe, rich, dark and savoury. Super fine tannins coat the mouth. There is a real depth of flavour to go with the mouthfillng quality.

Elephant Hill ‘Hieronymus’ 2015 

The pinnacle of Elephant Hill red blends. 41% of Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 12% Malbec and 8% Tempranillo from the  Gimblett (58%) and Bridge Pa Triangle (42%). Batches were fermented separately in oak top cuves and then drained to barrel without pressing then aged for 26 months in 50% new French oak. Serious stuff indeed. All the stats tell you that this is a big wine. It even has 33gms/l of extract (dry matter), yet such is the quality of the wine, it seems so balanced and approachable now. This is a wine that will stand the test of time for maybe 20+ years to watch those layers of flavour unfold.