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Wine of the Week for week ending 22 Mar 2009
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Sacred Hill Broken Stone Merlot 2006
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

It's been called The Judgement of Taupo, a tasting held by Scenic Cellars, a wine shop in Taupo, in conjunction with wines from the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawkes Bay. Taupo is an hour and a half's drive, at legal road speeds, from the famed winegrowing district. Six Gimblett Gravels wines from the 2005 vintage were pitted against six classed growth Bordeaux from the same harvest year. Surprise, surprise when a Gimblett Gravels wine took the top vote. Cellar palate preference of the tasters, perhaps, their palates more aligned to the fruit forwardness of the local drop.

The exercise was then repeated in London, only this time the more Euro-aligned palates had Bordeaux coming out on top. However, what was exciting was the consistent performance of one wine, Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Merlot 2005*. This took out 3rd place in Taupo tasting and fourth place in London where the first three places when to Bordeaux wines (Lafite, Mouton Rothschild and Ch. Angelus).

I've always been a fan of the Sacred Hill reds and I did taste the Helmsman 2005 in July last year. Checking back on my notes I reviewed it quite favourably.

" Sacred Hill Helmsman Hawkes Bay Cabernet Merlot 2005 is a very deep dark blackcurrant red with purple/violet hues. On a first quick tasting it has obvious vanillin oak scents and bright cabernet fruit attack in the palate - it's big rich, ripe and Australian-like with its luscious cherry fruit and finely structured thick grainy tannins. A few days later from the same tightly closed bottle I was struck by the intensity of the thick chocolatey scent infused with sweet cherry, cassis and cedary oak. Lifted to the taste - the lift of cabernet fruit, dried herbs, tobacco and cedar with the merlot making its statement in the lush chocolate backbone and the plush velvety tannins. A rather sumptuous full bodied red and a beautifully harmonious example of this classic red blend".

Tonight I opened another Sacred Hill wine and it delivered to all expectations.

Sacred Hill Broken Stone Merlot 2006, although three years on from vintage (almost), is still such a young wine. It is rustic red in the glass, almost opaque. Smoky oak on the nose is infused with predominantly red and more subtle black fruits as well as dried herbs and a hint of liquorice. A concentrated full-bodied red with a savoury, dark oak attack, it becomes quite creamy and chocolatey in the palate. Laden with fruit - blackberry, blueberry, raspberry spring to mind - it is momentarily like blackberry ice cream (without the cold and the sugary sweetness) along with sweet vanillin oak, mocha and liquorice. Tannins are firm, acidity is poking it head out a bit and the finish seems well-balanced, rich and savoury. Overall the attack is smooth with the wine gently caressing the mouth and slowly, but surely, seducing the palate.

We tasted this wine on it own, then with cheese - a vintage, wine-soaked cheddar - delicious, as was a ripe triple cream brie. Or just grab some baguette, ciabatta or Maori bread and dip it into the wine. Yum.

Neil wanted something more substantial and cooked up a moist, juicy fillet steak, perfectly seasoned, which helped us to polish this sumptuous wine off.
"It's almost all gone," I exclaimed to Neil.
"A sign of a good wine," he said.

Sacred Hill Broken Stone Merlot 2006 is sealed with a screwcap. It spent 18 months in French oak and has 14% alcohol by volume according to the label. It costs approximately $60 a bottle. My rating : 5 stars.

* I've been informed that the exercise in London was not exactly a 'repeat', because the Gimblett Gravels wines in London were the 2006 vintage, not 2005. See this blog entry.

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© Sue Courtney
16 Mar 2009

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