Wine rack: breaking away from Bordeaux.

AuthorClarke, Jim

The Wines of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, have a character of their own

We all want to be like Bordeaux. Even last year, 30 years after some Napa wines beat out Bordeaux's best in an expert blind tasting now known as the Tasting of Paris, a newish Napa producer called Vineyard 7 and 8 arranged a similar blind tasting of its own wine, hoping to show that it was of equal pedigree to top-rank Bordeauxs. The results were mixed. In addition, a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap Wine Cellars in Napa took first prize in the Paris tasting. (Incidentally, that was the same year that the Hargraves began planting winegrapes on the North Fork.)

The East End's vinous potential has been compared to Bordeaux, for reasons both plausible and less so. Both areas enjoy a maritime climate, and those ocean breezes help moderate temperatures so that grapes can ripen evenly and well. Plausible. It's occasionally argued that we're at the same latitude as Bordeaux, and therefore should be able to make the same sorts of wines. Less plausible--in fact, it's a lie. Latitudinally-speaking, we are about as close to Bordeaux as we are to Tangiers, Morocco. The claim is also a fallacy: Given the number of other factors that contribute to defining the character of wines from a certain region, latitude is of minimal importance.

No shame, however, in trying to grab a bit of that Bordeaux magic. And it's not just Americans who have that desire. New Zealanders have their own version of would-be Bordeaux, namely, Hawkes Bay, on the southeast side of the country's North Island. Like almost every wine region in the country, it enjoys that same maritime climate shared by Long Island and Bordeaux. While most Long Island producers have singled out Merlot among the Bordeaux varietals as most suited to our climate and soils, Hawkes Bay, on the other hand, leans toward Cabernet Sauvignon.

In both cases, there are good reasons: Long Island's vineyards are dominated by sandy soils and are somewhat cooler; good for Merlot, which ripens earlier and doesn't need as much heat. Hawkes Bay is warmer (not Napa or Australia warm, but warmer nonetheless), and has gravelly soils--good for drainage--and the stones absorb the daytime heat and radiate it back onto the vines at night. (Back in Bordeaux, most of the Cabernet Sauvignon grows on the gravelly left bank of the Gironde River.) Hawkes Bay's best vineyards, in fact, are in an area called the Gimblett Gravels. This 1,500 acre stretch used to...

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