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2010 William Murdoch The Guardsman, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Located in the middle of the famous Gimblett Gravels wine district in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, The William Murdoch vineyard is currently planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Syrah. The vineyards are farmed organically while the wines are made by Hayden Penny under the watchful eye of Jenny Dobson, consultant winemaker, known to the older members of our team as the girl who made a series of brilliant wines at Chateau Sénéjac in the Haut Médoc in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Cabernet Sauvignon lends itself particularly well in blends with Merlot. This is actually the archetypal Bordeaux blend, though in different proportions in the sub-regions and sometimes topped up with Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
In the Médoc and Graves the percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend can range from 95% (Mouton-Rothschild) to as low as 40%. It is particularly suited to the dry, warm, free- draining, gravel-rich soils and is responsible for the redolent cassis characteristics as well as the depth of colour, tannic structure and pronounced acidity of Médoc wines. However 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines can be slightly hollow-tasting in the middle palate and Merlot with its generous, fleshy fruit flavours acts as a perfect foil by filling in this cavity.
In St-Emilion and Pomerol, the blends are Merlot dominated as Cabernet Sauvignon can struggle to ripen there - when it is included, it adds structure and body to the wine. Sassicaia is the most famous Bordeaux blend in Italy and has spawned many imitations, whereby the blend is now firmly established in the New World and particularly in California and Australia.
Hawkes Bay, encompassing Napier on the east coast of North Island, is New Zealand's second largest region by plantings, with 4,500 hectares (or 20 percent of the country's total) in 2006. It is led by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (34 percent), Chardonnay (23 percent), Sauvignon Blanc (16.5 percent) and Pinot Noir (nine percent).
It boasts a diverse spread of soils, from fertile alluvial to stony dry, resulting in an array of variously-sized wineries from the small to the not-so-small; the region accounts for 12.5 percent of the country's 530 wineries, suggesting a happy balance between the two.
Hawkes Bay continues to fine-tune its Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Franc Bordeaux blends, offering some fine, fresh, pencil-shaving-nuanced examples, particularly from the Te Mata Estate (ie Coleraine). The more recent success story seems to be that of Syrah, in a cool, black pepper Northern Rhône style.
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