Te Awa Left Field Merlot/Malbec (Hawkes Bay, New Zealand)

te awa

I have a free weekend "sans famille" coming up that may or may not involve some of the following: a St John Bread & Wine bacon sarnie, half a dozen Colchester natives and a pint of Oyster Stout at Bentley’s,  a plate of jamon and a glass of sherry at Dehesa and a fat ribeye steak from Darragh O’Shea. Happy days.

The steak will require very little to make it wonderful: some salt and pepper, a very hot pan and a large glass of red wine are the essentials. A smear of Dijon, some sort of fat-infused potato and a token bit of watercress come a close second.

My wine choice for said steak is the Te Awa Left Field Merlot/Malbec.

Now Malbec and bloody hunks of cow is an increasingly common match – Wines of Argentina did a brilliant job a few years ago with their ‘Meat and Malbec’ campaign – but this wine has more in common with St Emilion than Mendoza.

The blend relies more on Merlot than Malbec with a healthy splash of Cabernet Franc in the mix too. The grapes are grown in Hawkes Bay on New Zealand’s North Island in an area known as the Gimblett Gravels, an old dry river bed that is home to most of NZ’s serious (non-Pinot Noir) reds.

What makes the area special lies, (as it usually does with wine) in the dirt. The river bed gravel soils are quick-draining, warm and not very fertile; perfect for growing red grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah flourish here, producing perfumed, elegant wines that are a sort of halfway house in style between the restraint of France and the exuberance of Australia.

The Left Field Merlot/Malbec is wonderful. At its core is a heart of dark, spicy black fruit but layered on top you find perfumed violet notes from the Malbec and hints of something herby from the Cabernet Franc. The acidity is quite soft, leaving most of the structural work to some fine but ever so slightly chewy tannins.

It proves there is much more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.

Gareth Groves
3rd March 2011

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