Esk Valley | Tasting Review | September 2019

It was a great pleasure to have Gordon Russell present his current release wines to us. Having been at Esk Valley for the past 30 years, his knowledge of the vineyards, winemaking and wines is unsurpassed creating an amazing legacy. Famously renowned for his passion for the old open top concrete fermenting tanks, we all wondered how he was coping with the shift to the new consolidated Villa Maria group winery at Te Awa – Very happy apparently and the new concrete vats specially installed are working as intended and so as far as Gordon is concerned, it is business as usual. The tradition will continue.

Gordon’s wines always have a ‘twist’ – be it variety or style and can never be regarded as mainstream but the quality is unquestioned.

Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Rosé 2019

From 100% Merlot grapes; dry and a friendly alcohol of 12%. This is consistently one of the Bay’s best and Gordon has been making it since 1991 so with a few refinements along the way it has evolved into the pale and pretty wine it is today.

2019 was a fantastic vintage and Gordon rates this as his best so far. Gently pressed to extract just enough colour and a light destining of tannin.

Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2019

Like the Rose, Gordon was one of the first in the Bay to produce Pinot Gris and it too has been an evolving style. Fruit is mainly from a plot in the middle of the famed Keltern vineyard. A portion of wild yeast, barrel fermented (15%) juice is included.

This absolutely bursts with ripe nashi pear flavours along with some fleshy peach, and honey spice. A dry wine, it has a delicious succulence on the palate. It also has fruit sweetness that obviously comes from the beautifully ripe fruit that the 2019 vintage gave.

Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Verdelho 2018

Verdelho is a Portuguese variety that is the mainstay of Maderia. In the 1990s it was becoming increasingly popular in Australia and some made its way to Esk Valley with the first release from the 2002 vintage. Gordon describes this as a bit of an “Esk Valley Folly’. It has tiny berries, in very loose bunches with thick skins. It has a very low juice yield and not very economic to produce. But Gordon loves it and so do we.

Dry, with good body (30% barrel fermented) and fresh acidity it displays tropical fruit flavours with a squeeze of citrus. Interestingly different and appealing.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Chardonnay 2018

This is a single vineyard wine, from Esk’s Bay View vineyard near the airport on the uplifted marine clay soils, all dry grown. Made as naturally as possible with minimal intervention – gentle press and put into barrel to do its thing with some barrels going through malo-lactic and regular less stirring. The wine stayed in barrel until July this year when it was bottled.

Gordon is really excited by this wine. It has loads of flavour and personality. There’s ripe grapefruit, mineral salt, some reductive smokiness combining on the palate which has freshness and complexity. With just 12.7% alcohol there’s a very clever lightness as well. A wine the tasting group enjoyed very much.

Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Syrah 2018

The 2018 vintage didn’t provide enough quality fruit for Gordon to produce a “Winemakers Reserve” Syrah so all the fruit went into this label. From the Cornerstone Vineyard on the Gimblett Gravels, fermented in concrete and aged in larger oak.

Nice and dark in colour this is fragrant with pretty floral spice aromas. On the palate it is soft and juicy with berry-compote, vanilla spice flavours. Not a blockbuster, this is an absolutely delicious wine that in the current vernacular would be described as “Smashable”. Superb value.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Syrah 2016

Also from the Cornerstone vineyard this is quite a different beast. 2016 was a good Syrah vintage and the fruit spent around fermenting 28 days in the concrete vats with regular hand plunging before being transferred oak barrels for 14 months before bottling unfined and unfiltered.

An intense dark colour this has much more of everything. This is dark, concentrated and savoury with baking spice, black plum flavours. The palate is quite complete and as Gordon describes… ‘pure and expressive’.

Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot / Malbec 2016

For the first time ever this is a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend – Cabernet Sauvignon 38%, Merlot 32%, Malbec 30%. From the Gimblett Gravels Cornerstone, Ngakirikiri and Twyford Gravels vineyards aged in 40% new oak for 17 months.

Again inky dark this has olive, cassis, tobacco, plum flavours on an expressive palate with a developing savouriness. There is a great balance and beauty to this wine and those able to cellar it will be richly rewarded.

Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces 2015

A singularly unique, distinctive and iconic wine. From the terraced hillside behind the old Esk Winery. First planted by the Bird family in the 1940’s it became uneconomic and was planted in pines. When George Fistonich purchased Esk Valley he had the trees removed and re-established the vineyard planting Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet franc.

The first Terraces was 1991 and since then it is only made in good vintages (this is the 13th). Since 2001 it has been made as a field blend and now represents one day in the vineyard with all three varieties picked and fermented together and then aged in around 60% new, low toast oak. The hillside terraces are also now organically dry farmed.

Esk Valley Late Harvest Chenin Blanc 2018

A very limited production wine usually only available Cellar Door. Fruit from a small block on the Soler Vineyard. Late harvest shrivelled berries resulted in plenty of sugar concentration along with Chenin’s trademark acidity making it perfect for this style. A portion was oak aged.

Bursting with yellow fruits, pineapple and hints of honey. Delicious.