First established in 1897 Church Road is one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries. The original owner returned to Luxembourg in 1920, leaving the winery in the hands of a 19 year old Tom MacDonald, who later purchased the winery and famously produced the country’s first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon in 1949. Through the 1960s and early seventies these wines became bench marks. The 1980s saw the winery shut down, but Montana re-established the winery and 1993 saw the first release of Church Road label wines. Now owned by Pernod Ricard, Church Road is an entirely stand alone operation that is left to focus on producing quality Hawkes Bay wine. With the emergence of the McDonald, Grand Reserve and TOM labels the winery has achieved much notable success.

Tonight, wine maker Chris Scott presented us with what can only be described as a very impressive set of wines. Throughout the three ranges and styles there was a common thread of plush full textural wines built to last. Chris is a very thoughtful wine-maker, who has been able to craft what can be considered some of New Zealand’s best. Any thoughts of Church Road just being part of a multi-national corporate beast not being able to craft distinctive, exceptional quality wines was very quickly dispelled. As Chris says .. “they are always trying to lift the bar..”

Church Road Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2013 $31.99

The Grand Reserve Range wines are only produced in the very best vintages. This Sauvignon Blanc is inspired by Bordeaux rather than Marlborough. It is made from hand-picked, whole bunch pressed fruit, wild fermented French oak – 22% new and the balance 4 years old. Although quite rich and full this doesn’t try to emulate the smoky ripe tropical fruit styles such as Te Koko, but rather more fine line with a citrus, mineral edge to it.

Church Road Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2014 $31.99

Fruit sourced off two vineyards in the Tuki Tuki Valley. One near the coast by the river mouth and the other further up by Te Mata peak. The cool sea breeze moderates the temperatures here. The main vineyard is on dense clay with a hard clay-pan that the roots cannot penetrate and this devigourates the vines. This starts off all funky and smoky then in the glass the fruit emerges – ripe grapefruit, spicy oak, savoury nuttiness with a good acid drive. A big, mouthfilling wine.

Church Road TOM Chardonnay 2013 $149.99

Also from the Tuki Tuki off a parcel of intensively managed very low yielding vines. This is just the 4th release of the TOM Chardonnay. The concentration and density of the wine is impressive. Preserved lemon, a hint of marmalade and toast flavours, but it is the intensity and power of the palate that sets this apart. Only a few bottles still available.

Church Road McDonald Pinot Gris 2015 $22.99

Alsace is the model here. A sweeter style (35gms), this is an essence of spiced pear, fruit salad with palate richness and oiliness but enough fine acidity to take it through the palate. This proved to be very popular with the tasters.

Church Road McDonald Tempranillo 2013 $26.99

This is the first release of Tempranillo. The fruit is grown in the Redstone Bridge Pa Triangle’ red soils. Tempranillo needs a warm summer which 2013 provided in abundance. This is inky dark in colour and intensity giving an indication of the mouth filling quality and generosity of the wine. Yet without heaviness. It could tend to being slightly syrupy but this is reigned in by nice fine grainy tannins. It tastes and feels like molten black forest chocolate. This is another NZ Tempranillo to benchmark from.

Church Road Grand Reserve Syrah 2014 $36.99

Just released this 2014 is another example of how good 2014 was for Syrah in the Hawkes Bay.  A very dark colour. The aromas leap out of the glass on this one  along with the plummy fruits there are floral, sweet spice notes. On the palate there is again weight and density with the sweet fruit flavours coming through along with vanilla, then a meaty, savouriness. Very approachable now but I’m sure it will cellar very well.

Church Road McDonald Merlot 2013 $26.99

This is everything you expect a Merlot to be, but seldom get. This is a dense solid wine with a beautiful, ‘fluffy’ texture. Dark fruits, plush, savoury, plummy, featherbed tannins. Brilliant.. Says it all.

Church Road Grand Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2013 $36.99

And so the super yummy reds kept coming. This is a ripe Hawkes Bay style – not even a hint of herbaceous blackcurrant leaf! Chris’ wife aptly describes the aromas and flavours as “Hippy-shock” – sandalwood, cedar, incense, spice, lavender. This is presented on a silky, satiny palate that is then filled by big chalky, grippy tannins. I had the pleasure of enjoying this wine with a beautiful (and expensive) steak at the new Bessies Steak restaurant in St Asaph St – a perfect match.

Church Road TOM Cabernet Merlot 2013 $199.99

Most of us would have been happy to finish the tasting on the high note of the previous wine, but we were then taken to another level with this TOM. OK, so this is not cheap. There is no doubt that this is a collectors wine, but it is an aspirational wine that firmly places itself amongst the great wines of the world. It is reassuring though that the wine is very,very good and for those lucky enough to be able to put this away, this will be something very special to bring out in years to come. Put it on your Christmas list now .. it comes in a beautiful gift box! Tastes?.. Big, dark, gritty, chewy… this baby needs time. Leave it for 5 years and drink over the next 10+