edited by Sue Courtney
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Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Unison Vineyard has made it to the big time. It is now mentioned specifically in Jancis Robinson's new "Concise Wine Companion" (published 2001) as one of Hawkes Bay's up and coming producers. In fact Unison is the only New Zealand producer listed amongst the 28 world-wide up-and-comers and I suspect it was the Unison Selection 1999 that did it. This is one of the wines, according to the Unison Vineyard newsletter, that Jancis Robinson took home with her after the launch of the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing sub-region of Hawkes Bay (no, I was not invited!).
Unison is a tiny vineyard in today's scale of things - just 6 hectares on the acclaimed stony soils of the sub-region. Here, German-born Anna-Barbara Helliwell and her kiwi husband Bruce specialise in the red varieties, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. Both are viticulturists and winemakers and so the wines are made on site at the Unison winery. The first vintage was in 1996.
Two wines are made - the premium Unison Selection (about $38) and the 'regular' Unison (about $28). Recently I had the opportunity to try them side-by-side - a mini-vertical if you like - with a Unison Selection from the 1999 vintage and the regular Unison from the 2000 vintage.
The Unison Selection has no grape varieties stated on the label and when I asked Anna-Barbara the blend, I was told it was a 'secret'. It is, however, a selection of the best barrels from the vintage. The Unison 2000 has Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah stated on the label.
It was interesting to taste the wines over the course of several days.
The Unison 2000 was immediately seductive with its lush ripe flavours and approachable tannins while the Unison Selection 1999 brooded beneath its cloak of tannins.
I just loved the younger wine, the Unison 2000 with its colour of freshly crushed purple-black grapes. It's a deliciously vinous wine - just the thing for a self-declared vinophile. Smoky oak combines with ripe blackcurrant and plum, while vinously fine tannins and creamy licorice provide a wonderful texture and flavour. There's some meaty richness, a touch of black pepper and a sultry savouriness that lingers on the lifted finish. Incredible balance, gorgeous ripe flavours and delicious length makes this one of the most impressive wines I've tried from the 2000 vintage.
The Unison Selection 1999 is a spicier, more tannic wine which doesn't seem to have the same depth in the palate. The spice and tannin kind of override and hide the deliciously juicy red fruits and creamy oak that soon emerge to show the long term potential of the wine. A while later the wine had really opened up on the nose but I found the tannins just too gripping on the finish. This is, however, a wine that will reward for one who has patience and by the enbd of the week this wine was drinking just beautifully.
Hence I recommend the Unison 2000 for the immediate pleasure it provides.
Unison Vineyard does not have a website, so for an excellent profile check out this page from Rock Creek Wines in the U.S, one of the export destination countries.
Unison wines can also be found in the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium.
Here in New Zealand the wines are available at selected outlets. If in doubt as to where to buy, contact the winery on e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Wines can also be bought ex cellar door at 2163 Highway 50 from Monday to Saturday, 9am to 5pm, or Sundays from 1 to 4pm.
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