Discover the flavors of New Zealand wine in Hawke's Bay

Edited By Maharshi Soni on Jun 30,2024

New Zealand is renowned for its exceptional wines, and among its many wine regions, Hawkes Bay stands out as a premier destination for wine enthusiasts. Situated on the east coast of the North Island, Hawkes Bay is the country's oldest and second-largest wine region, celebrated for its diverse microclimates and rich viticultural heritage. Let's find out more about the wines from this region.


A Brief Understanding of Hawkes Bay


Hawkes Bay vineyard


Hawkes Bay's wine history dates back to the 1850s when missionaries planted the first vines. Today, it is home to over 200 vineyards and 70 wineries, spanning approximately 4,700 hectares. The region's diverse terroir, characterized by gravelly soils, rolling hills, and river valleys, provides ideal conditions for cultivating a wide range of grape varieties. The maritime climate, with warm summers and mild winters, further enhances the region's suitability for viticulture, allowing grapes to ripen fully while retaining their natural acidity.


Hawkes Bay is located at a latitude of 39S, uniquely positioning it to benefit from maritime and continental influences. The region enjoys a high number of sunshine hours, averaging around 2,200 per year, and has a long growing season, which helps to develop the complex flavors and balanced acidity that are hallmarks of Hawkes Bay wines. The variety of soils in Hawkes Bay, from fertile alluvial plains to gravelly riverbeds, contributes to the distinctiveness of the wines produced here.


Hawkes Bay Reds


Bordeaux Varieties and Blends

Cabernet Sauvignon: Known for its deep color, firm tannins, and flavors of blackcurrant, plum, and cedar, Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in the warmer parts of Hawkes Bay. The gravelly soils of subregions like Gimblett Gravels help to produce concentrated and age-worthy wines.


Merlot: Softer and more approachable, with notes of black cherry, plum, and chocolate, Merlot is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to create balanced wines. Hawkes Bay Merlot is known for its plush texture and ripe fruit flavors.


Cabernet Franc: Adds aromatic complexity with raspberry, violet, and green pepper flavors. While often used in blends, single-varietal Cabernet Franc from Hawkes Bay can be striking, showcasing the region's ability to produce elegant and aromatic wines.


Malbec: Contributes richness and dark fruit flavors. Though not as widely planted, Malbec from Hawkes Bay can be deeply colored and flavorful, often adding depth to blends.


Petit Verdot: This grape provides structure and depth with intense color and tannin. Used sparingly, it can enhance the complexity and aging potential of Bordeaux blends.


Learn More: Discover the Magic of Bordeaux Wine: A French Excellence


The Famous Syrah of New Zealand

Another red wine that has put Hawkes Bay on the map is Syrah. Unlike its more robust Australian counterpart, Hawkes Bay Syrah is often compared to the refined, peppery Syrahs of the Northern Rhne in France. The region's Syrah is characterized by its vibrant acidity, supple tannins, and black fruit, pepper, and spice flavors. This elegant and aromatic style has garnered international acclaim, establishing Hawkes Bay as a leading producer of Syrah in New Zealand.


Syrah from Hawkes Bay often displays a complex bouquet of aromas, including blackberry, cherry, plum, black pepper, and floral notes such as violet. The palate is typically medium-bodied with fine-grained tannins and a long, savory finish. The cooler subregions of Hawkes Bay, like the coastal Te Awanga, can produce Syrah with additional layers of complexity and a distinct mineral edge.


The winemaking techniques used for Syrah in Hawkes Bay also contribute to its unique style. Many producers employ techniques such as whole-bunch fermentation, which can add complexity and structure to the wines. The use of French oak barrels, both new and old, helps to integrate the flavors and add subtle nuances of spice and vanilla.


Hawkes Bay Whites


Chardonnay is the most widely planted white grape variety in Hawkes Bay. The region's Chardonnays are highly regarded for their complexity and balance. They often exhibit a combination of ripe stone fruit flavors, such as peach and nectarine, citrus notes, and a touch of minerality. Hawkes Bay Chardonnays can range from crisp and unoaked to rich and buttery with a well-integrated oak influence, depending on the winemaking approach. The versatility of Chardonnay makes it a favorite among winemakers and wine enthusiasts.


Hawkes Bay Chardonnays are often compared to those from Burgundy due to their elegance and balance. The region's varied terroir allows for various styles, from lean and mineral-driven to full-bodied and creamy. Many producers in Hawkes Bay focus on expressing the unique characteristics of their vineyard sites, resulting in wines that reflect their place of origin.


In terms of winemaking, techniques such as barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation, and extended lees aging are commonly used to add complexity and texture to the wines. The use of French oak barrels, both new and old, imparts subtle flavors of vanilla, toast, and spice, complementing the natural fruit flavors of the grapes.


Sauvignon Blanc

While Marlborough is more famously associated with Sauvignon Blanc, Hawkes Bay also produces exceptional examples of this varietal. Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc tends to be more restrained and elegant than Marlborough's exuberant, tropical styles. It often features citrus, green apple, and herb flavors, with a subtle minerality and a crisp, refreshing finish. The region's cooler subregions contribute to the wine's aromatic intensity and vibrant acidity.


Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc is known for its balance and finesse. The wines typically exhibit a bright acidity balanced by ripe fruit flavors and a hint of herbal complexity. The influence of the region's diverse soils and microclimates is evident in the range of styles produced, from zesty and citrus-driven to more textured and mineral-focused.


Winemaking techniques for Sauvignon Blanc in Hawkes Bay often include cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks to preserve the grapes' fresh, aromatic qualities. Some producers also experiment with partial barrel fermentation or aging on lees to add complexity and mouthfeel to the wines.


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Hawkes Bay Subregions

Esk Valley

Esk Valley is known for its scenic beauty and varied topography, ranging from coastal plains to rolling hills. The cool maritime climate and alluvial soils are ideal for producing elegant, aromatic white wines, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The reds from Esk Valley, including Merlot and Syrah, are also highly regarded for their finesse and balance.


The vineyards of Esk Valley benefit from the nearby ocean's cooling influence, which helps moderate temperatures and extend the growing season. This allows the grapes to develop full flavors while retaining their natural acidity. Wines from Esk Valley often exhibit a vibrant freshness and purity of fruit, making them highly appealing to wine lovers.


Gimblett Gravels

Gimblett Gravels is the most famous subregion within Hawkes Bay. It is renowned for its unique, gravelly soils, which the Ngaruroro River deposited over thousands of years. These free-draining soils and the warm climate create ideal conditions for growing Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. Wines from Gimblett Gravels are known for their intensity, structure, and ability to age gracefully.


The Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District covers approximately 800 hectares and is home to some of Hawkes Bay's most prestigious wineries. The gravelly soils here are highly prized for retaining heat and draining quickly, promoting even ripening and concentration of flavors in the grapes. The wines produced in this subregion are often characterized by their depth, complexity, and potential for long-term aging.


Bridge Pa Triangle

Located west of Hastings, the Bridge Pa Triangle is characterized by its ancient, sandy soils and a warm, dry climate. This subregion excels in producing robust red wines, particularly Bordeaux blends and Syrah. The wines from the Bridge Pa Triangle are often noted for their concentration, ripe fruit flavors, and velvety tannins.


The sandy soils of the Bridge Pa Triangle provide excellent drainage, which is crucial for producing high-quality grapes. The warm climate and long growing season allow the grapes to achieve optimal ripeness, resulting in rich and full-bodied wines. The Bordeaux blends from this subregion are noteworthy for their balance and complexity, while the Syrahs are celebrated for their intensity and spice.


Te Awanga

Te Awanga, situated along the coast, benefits from a cooler maritime climate. The region's limestone and clay soils are well-suited to producing refined and expressive white wines, especially Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The coastal influence imparts a distinctive minerality and freshness to the wines, making them highly sought after by enthusiasts.


Te Awanga's vineyards enjoy cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, which help maintain acidity and enhance the aromatic qualities of the wines. The limestone soils add a distinct mineral character to the wines, contributing to their elegance and complexity. Chardonnays from Te Awanga are often described as finely balanced with a beautiful interplay of fruit, acidity, and minerality.


Also Read: Cabernet Sauvignon Box Wine: A Revolution in Packaging



Hawkes Bay has something to offer every wine lover, from the elegant Bordeaux blends and world-class Syrah to the refined Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. Exploring the subregions of Esk Valley, Gimblett Gravels, Bridge Pa Triangle, and Te Awanga provides a deeper appreciation of the intricate nuances that define Hawkes Bay wines. Whether you're a seasoned oenophile or a curious newcomer, Hawkes Bay's wines will captivate your palate and leave you wanting more.

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