Unison Classic Blend 2007

Though this is nice to drink, it’s in every way a lesser wine compared to its reserve-level sibling, the Selection (2005, 2006). I’d definitely spring for the mesmerising Selection for maximum satisfaction.

Having made that rather predictable point, it’s worth noting this wine shows some really attractive, regional characters that I enjoy very much. Principally, there’s a floral potpourri note on the nose that is a foil to noisy mocha oak, some (for me, questionable) vegetal notes, candied plums and brown spice. Though it’s quite piercing up top, and there’s dark fruit in the lower registers too, the aroma lacks a sense of continuity from top to bottom, and hence comes across as a little disjointed. No lack of volume, though.
The palate is equally robust. A similar array of flavours — plums, cough syrup, coffee grounds, spice — present quickly on entry, followed by a widening through the middle palate. The mouthfeel is notable, being roughly textural and quite bold. Despite the character of the flavours and texture, it’s not an overly intense wine, and there’s a slight sense of dilution to the softer fruit flavours. Grainy tannins emerge on the after palate, drying the tongue and giving the sweet fruit a nice edge. Those vegetal notes from the nose shoot through the finish as well.
Not sure I’m convinced by this on its own, though it improved markedly when taken with Bega tasty on crackers. Definitely drink this with assertive food to bring out the best of its flavour profile and soften its rather rustic mouthfeel. 
Update: markedly better on day two. Much rounder, more satisfying fruit (though quite sweet) and the rough mocha edge takes a step back. Perhaps I was feeling impatient last night.

Unison Vineyard
Price: $A30
Closure: Cork

Unison Selection 2006

Some wines are charismatic without being pretty; they make an entrance with the panache of the truly confident, and it takes a moment before you realise they’re really not that attractive in a conventional sense. But their confidence draws you in regardless, generating a visceral response that, perhaps, speaks to a different sort of beauty.

For example, I could describe the aroma of this wine as outré, inelegant, overanxious; it’s indeed all these things. But it’s absolutely magnetic too, exerting an attraction that is really compelling. It’s a bit volatile — indeed, not a clinical style at all — with lifted aromas of stalk, black pepper, dried flowers, and deep plum fruit. Despite the eagerness of each note, there’s a fluidity to their collective expression that unifies the aroma profile and generates a sense of coherence.

There’s coherence, too, from nose to palate, starting with an entry that tingles with delicately sweet, red fruit. The flavour profile quickly darkens towards the middle palate, and a few threads begin to emerge. There’s rich, fresh plum juice, tart plum skins, sweet mocha tannins, astringent stalk and cracked black pepper. It’s quite complex, with a beguiling mouthfeel that seems to be both liquid-smooth and velvet-tannic at the same time. Spices and red fruit rise through the after palate before a long, aromatic finish draws the wine to a satisfying close.

There’s definitely an “X factor” at work here and, perhaps because of this, I suspect the style will be divisive. But even if this wine doesn’t speak to one’s personal preference, it’s hard to deny the strength with which its stylistic argument is made.

Unison Vineyard
Price: $A50
Closure: Diam

Unison Rosé 2008

I have previously tasted the 2006 version of this wine and, swirling this more recent edition tonight, my earlier note remains relevant to a large extent. This is a savoury rosé style, quite full and somewhat angular; in other words, a more challenging wine than some. 

On the nose, a funky meatiness mixes with flowers, spice, red fruits and vegetation. It’s a serious aroma profile, not blowsy or even particularly expressive. But there’s a nice clean fruit character underlining the whole thing that I like very much. The palate has an unexpected thrust of fruit sweetness that is both sympathetic and a little surprising – the effect is akin to the North African habit of adding fruit to elaborately spiced, savoury dishes, in that it is organic but also creates tension in the flavour profile. Aside from this rounded, sweet red fruit, there are florals and peppery spice and a general masculinity (in the context of rosé style, anyway). It’s fresh and with a good slippery yet somewhat grainy texture. Nice medicinal finish.
Not your usual rosé, then, and perhaps a provocative drink to those who like more outré pink styles, sweet or dry. Personally, I like it a great deal.

Unison Vineyard
Price: $A20
Closure: Stelvin

Unison Reserve Merlot 2007

Yesterday’s 2008 Dowie Doole Merlot was the first of what I hope will be three quite different expressions of this grape (the third is a Blue Poles wine from Margaret River). The second, this Unison wine, is from the Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. Imported into Australia by Eurocentric Wine

A nose whose interest remains somewhat locked behind bars – it’s all there, though, you just need to look a bit harder for it. Mostly, this is just young; tight aromas of liver paté, rich potpourri, dried mixed peel and all manner of other things (including a wisp of nougat-like oak). The complexity here is quite impressive, though on initial pouring it really needs some swirling to draw out what’s on offer. As the evening wears on, the aroma is evolving a more fluid and generous expression.
The palate is also quite tight but blessed with an immediate gush of red berry fruit that creates good impact. On entry, tingly acidity that contributes both texture and sourness to this rush of fruit. Darker berries build towards the middle palate, as do flowers and spice and a medicinal note, quite dense and sombre in overall profile, though at the same time very detailed, indeed almost etched. Abundant tannins creep in at this point, drying the tongue and creating a good deal of textural interest. Although not an overwhelmingly full wine, its youth clearly evident, it nonetheless communicates a sense of plush richness that is quite seductive. A lift of lighter fruit on the after palate continues on and on through a lengthy finish.
This needs a couple of years in bottle, or a good spell in the decanter, to shed some of its structural aggressiveness. There’s real quality here, though; serious in intent without resorting to stylistic exaggeration.

Unison Vineyard
Price: $A25
Closure: Stelvin

Esk Valley Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Malbec 2007

I confess I loved many of the Hawkes Bay reds tasted on my last visit to New Zealand, so I’ve been keen to try a few more this visit. Whilst Gimblett Gravels Syrah is a spectacular style and very appealing me, tonight I’m trying a Bordeaux blend, which is historically more typical to this region.

Lovely bright purple colour, not overly dense, almost garish in its purity. On the nose, sweet red fruit and a distinctively Gimblett Gravels spice that reminds me of pot pourri. There’s a nice savoury edge to the fruit too. The more I sniff the deeper the aroma profile becomes, adding layers of complexity as I swirl. Very nice. The palate is currently highly structured with ripe yet very assertive tannins emerging quite early in the line. On entry, more bright fruit that edges towards confectionary but is held in check by spice and savouriness. Then the tannins come, powdery and even, masking the flavour profile a bit. That’s ok though, all it takes it some energetic swirling and chewing for a rush of fruit to register on the tongue, along with a well-judged amount of vanilla oak. It’s medium bodied, consistent in line and coherent. Reasonable finish.

A lovely return to Hawkes Bay.

Esk Valley
Price: $NZ30
Closure: Stelvin
Date tasted: December 2008

Craggy Range Sophia 2005

Craggy Range has by far the most glamorous tasting facility of all the wineries I visited in Hawkes Bay late last year. Its natural setting is glorious, but the spacious room itself is all glass and shiny surfaces — very upscale indeed. Worth a visit, for sure. There’s also a large range of wines available for tasting, including this, one of Craggy Range’s premium cuvées. It is a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and, on tasting at cellar door, was almost impenetrable. I took this as a personal challenge, of course, and purchased a bottle for later tasting.

Dark and dense, with flashes of purple. The nose is initially compact and savoury, with a good dose of iron filings and minerality and not much else. With time and some energetic swirling, a range of other notes emerge to add complexity. There’s a sense of purple flowers, dark berry fruit, perhaps a slight saltiness too. The nature of the wine’s oak gains some clarity too, and it’s quite present, though totally integrated. A hint of volatility rounds things out. The pitch never rises above a bass register, and there’s an ongoing sense of depth and power to this wine’s aroma.
The palate is very much in line with the nose in that it’s both dense and reserved. Flow over the tongue is very tightly controlled, and from entry to mid-palate a slither of iron, complex berry fruit and sappy oak slides confidently along. It’s medium to full bodied and certainly substantial, yet measured and never clumsy. The after palate is marginally more relaxed and slightly sweeter in profile. Flavour is most complex at this point, and the wine’s lift helps each strand of flavour to fully define itself as it lands on the rear of the tongue. Just as it reaches its peak, it starts to fall away to a very long, satisfying finish. Tannins are remarkably fine and approachable, though their abundance suggests the capacity to age well.

Unison Selection 2005

The flagship wine from Unison Vineyards in New Zealand. As with the regular Unison, this wine is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, proportions unspecified. A spicy, peppery, dried floral, clean-fruited nose that keeps shifting from under my feet (nostrils?). It’s a forthright. slightly lifted nose that promises intensity and dexterity in the mouth. Fruit is deep and complex, moving between shots of cassis, sweet raspberry liqueur and other goodness. Creamy, custard oak adds plushness. As it sits in the glass, high toned spice is giving way, partly at least, to fruit and oak. I love wines like this, constantly changing and revealing layers of complexity. The palate is initially a bit disorienting, in that it is perhaps less momentous than indicated by the nose. Once you adjust to the scale of it, though, it vibrates with fascinating flavours. Entry is tingly and acidic, signalling the other principal pleasure of this wine: texture. Intense fruit flavour registers soon thereafter, flowing to a medium to full bodied mid-palate of clean, complex fruit and spice. Coffee-ground oak is a fairly prominent flavour influence, and is somehow appropriate given the acidic, extracted nature of the mouthfeel. The after palate leaves behind any plushness of fruit and progresses to a more oak-driven savouriness that suggests some time in bottle may be beneficial. Finish is long, slightly sweet and a little aggressive. I wish I had more bottles of this. It’s a different wine from the Unison, although clearly emerging out of the same idea of “wine.” It’s a bigger wine in most ways, built to drink slowly and examine closely. I love it. Start drinking in about 5 years. Update: I’ve been following this wine for two days (unrefrigerated) and it has really opened up to become almost voluptuous. Great balance, the after palate and finish filling out nicely. No signs of the wine tiring yet. Unison VineyardsPrice: $NZ48Closure: DiamDate tasted: January 2008

Trinity Hill Gimblett Road Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

According to Trinity Hill, this wine is made only in vintages of a certain quality, the previous release being a 1998 wine. This 2002 is the current release and was purchased at cellar door a few weeks ago.
Characteristic dustiness is most noticeable on the nose, along with equally typical cassis fruit aromas and some supporting cedar oak. Some age is evident, not through any prominence of tertiary aromas but from good integration of flavour components, each seeming to melt into the other in a relaxed fashion. Good balance. Entry is smooth and fairly immediate, with fruit flavour registering quite quickly on the palate. The middle palate shows the same dustiness as the nose, but which here comes across as an attractive gravel note. Slightly simple red and black berry fruits sit underneath and are propped up by more savoury oak. As with the nose, flavours are well integrated. Weight is medium bodied at most, and the wine gives an overall impression of elegance rather than power. Fruit flavour continues linearly through the after palate, rising attractively towards a finish of fine, chalky tannins. Satisfying length.
I wondered at some points whether it lacks a little in intensity on the palate, but perhaps it’s a stylistic thing rather than an absence of flavour. I suspect a lot of people will enjoy this interpretation of Cabernet, which is stylish without being a showpony of a wine. It could certainly sit longer in bottle if you were so inclined, though it’s drinking well now. We had this wine with Wagyu rump and it matched the beef really well, all flavours intermingling deliciously.
Trinity HillPrice: $NZ29Closure: CorkDate tasted: January 2008

Unison Vineyard Unison 2006

This wine is Unison Vineyard’s signature wine, along with the “reserve” level Unison Selection. It’s a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Estate grapes. The proportions of the blend are not specified, and deliberately so. When I queried Unison about this, I was told it views the Unison wine as a style whose blend may vary from year to year, so the exact percentage of each variety is really beside the point. It’s nice to encounter a producer with such a clear, confident vision.

Red-purple colour, not massively dense, pretty. The nose immediately presents bright, sweet red fruits within a billowy arena of pepper and dried flowers. It’s striking and bold, full of character, if a little simple and gangly. There’s good intensity on the nose and it showed consistency through the evening, with perhaps each element calming a little with time in glass. The entry and middle palate are equally forward, showing great line from nose to palate. The same flavour profile of

Unison Vineyard Rosé 2006

Another wine from Unison that we tasted (and purchased) at cellar door. It seems everyone is producing a rosé nowadays, and it’s curious to watch the influence of fashion on wine production, especially regarding a wine style that has gone from terminally daggy to hip in the space of a very few years. Unison is quick to point out that its rosé is made from grapes of the same quality as the used in rest of its range, not inferior grapes as may be the case with other producers. The proof is in the pudding, of course.
A bright, almost lurid rose petal colour, good clarity, fun to look at. The nose is surprisingly complex and contains elements of bright red fruit, some peppery spice, and fresh flowers. It’s not a superficial flavour profile, and the wine hints at a depth of flavour that doesn’t always present in rosé styles.
Entry is bright and ushers in a palate of quite generous body. The flavour profile is fun and friendly but also possesses a savoury aspect that adds sophistication to this wine. It’s totally dry but full of fruit flavour, such that there’s the impression of sweetness and weight without residual sugar. Good acidity, not overdone, keeps things fresh in the mouth. Tannins are pretty subliminal on the finish, and it’s not the longest wine around.
This is a good wine to haul out if you want a rosé with some sophistication to serve with, say, paella.
Unison VineyardPrice: $NZ24Closure: StelvinDate tasted: December 2007