Not Rioja!

In days of yore (remember Yore? Lovely girl!) I used to recommend bottles of wine that were good and under £10 a bottle. Whilst I believe there is quality at every level – there is a bottle that is the best for £10 and a bottle that is best for £100 – I do not feel I can really do that anymore.

Why? It is a result of the rising taxes and costs associated with factors other than the wine in the bottle. For example, if you buy a £5 bottle of wine then remove the taxes, cost of the bottles, transportation and so on, you are only actually getting £0.47 worth of wine. This really is not enough to produce a wine with a very high-quality level.

Drop an Ayrton (Senna = Tenner) on a bottle and the amount that you get invested in the wine itself is a tad under three quid. It is just on the margins of possibility to make a wine with some personality and maybe even a bit of style for three quid.

However, if you spend £20 on a bottle of wine you are getting just over £8 spent on making the wine itself. You are spending four times the amount than if you bought a £5 bottle of wine, but you are getting wine that has over sixteen times the amount of money lavished on the fun fluid itself. Anyone with half a brain can see that this will clearly result in a far more characterful and lovely wine than one that’s had someone miserably throwing a few 10p pieces into its making.

Consequently, it is rare for me to spend less than £20 on a bottle of wine these days. Given the very tight limits on fun that living on disability benefits allows, this is one of the reasons why I review wine less frequently than I used to.

However, I have a bit extra to put into the food budget this week as I was bought this wine as a gift – WEHAY! I was chatting with my chum Mr P about my ever-growing interest in Rioja and mentioned that the super brilliant wine merchant and wine bar, The New Zealand Cellar, had a pure varietal Tempranillo (the great grape of Rioja) at the correct price point where interesting wine begins. Next thing I know there’s some of the stuff sitting on my door step. Thank you, Mr P, generous as ever! I also want to thank Melanie of The New Zealand Cellar for running a wine merchant that always has something one is interested in trying whilst never coming remotely close to ripping customers off; even their delivery charges are one of the lowest I have ever paid!

It is about time for the tasting note, do not you think?

Trinity Hill Tempranillo 2016Tempranillo 2016, Trinity Hill

It is currently the warmest summer on record in the UK, so before The Editor and I popped the screwcap (well done, Trinity Hill) on this wine I stuck it in the fridge for 45 minutes. If it had been served at the intolerable room temperatures we are currently experiencing, there is no way we would have been able to assess the wine fairly. Serving red wine too warm makes it seem overly alcoholic and blowsy. In hot weather one should either pluck one’s reds from the cellar or put them in the fridge for a while.

So when I first sniffed my chilled glass of New Zealand Tempranillo I thought, “Wow, this smells like a restrained, balanced and harmonious Zinfandel!” There is a lot of blackberry type fruit that I associate with Zinfandel. However, at a thankfully low 13% alcohol this has none of the hot, burning, stewed elements one usually finds on Zinfandel.

On a further sniff there are definite characteristics in common with Rioja, where this grape varietal is more normally found, but it is sparklingly clean with none of the weird aldehyde/ketone/frankly bloody weird aromas one hopes for on fine Rioja. It projects fruit in a clean, well-made manner that is distinctly pleasing.

This is more than just a fruity wine, though, I feel I get gravelly, richly earthy aromas as well, some complexity is certainly here, well done Trinity Hill!

I will come back to how the palate was when it was chilled in a moment, but I just want to talk about the nose as the wine warmed up. As it got warm the nose became quite strongly marked by oak, probably American. The back label said this has spent 16 months in barriques, although it did not mention that any proportion of them were new.

This is quite a long time to spend in barriques, new or old, and I am not entirely sure it is a good thing to have done to this wine. The oak character is powerful and does make the Tempranillo seem a bit closer to Rioja in its set of aromas, but this is a Hawkes Bay Tempranillo, not a Rioja, it does not need to smell like a Rioja. The oak distracts from the deeply lovely fruit and sophisticated gravelly/earthy aromas.

The wood is is too strong in character. If they wanted to have a hint of American oak character to the wine they could easily have aged only a proportion of the wine in barriques or aged it in them for half as long, sixteen months, even in old barrels is simply too much and masks the more, and they are really rather, desirable characteristics. If you buy this wine I suggest you chill it right down and drink it before you start getting battered by oak staves.

Whilst chilly, the palate is richly fruity and delicious, there is a taut but refined tannic structure that is aided by a good acidity. That gravelly, rich earthiness adds to the complexity of these characteristics and it, at first taste, seems a distinctly lovely and reasonably complex entity.

However, even whilst chilled one gets quite a tang of vanillin and oak derived tannins. When it is chilled these do seem in balance with the rest of the palate and it is a nice experience drinking the lovely, structured, stylish wine.

As it warms up in the ‘global thermonuclear war’-heat of this British summer the oak characteristics grow in presence and seem to dominate the more lovely, fruity, earthy flavours. It is by no means, unpleasant, and if you are a regular drinker of Crianza-style Riojas you will bloody love this, but it is somewhat different to what I was hoping for.

I was not looking for a baby Rioja, I wanted to taste the character of Tempranillo grown in Hawkes Bay terroir. That was there, certainly, especially when it was fresh from the fridge, but ultimately I though the extended oak treatment made it a tad unbalanced. I am not saying it was a bad wine, it was not, it was different to what I was hoping to try and what the initial promise of the nose suggested it was. I think most people will drink this with an awful lot of pleasure, I just seemed to be approaching it with the wrong set of hopes rather than reading the back label first and adjusting my view as to what to expect from it.

It is not overly alcoholic, I think it smells and tastes of where it was grown, it has a lot of really delicious fruit, it just could be a little too oaky. If you have no problems with oak, buy this wine, you will love it! If you are worried by excessive oak, also buy it as it is an interesting variation on a wine style you should find familiar; just stick it in the fridge before you open it and drink it whilst it is still chilled. I bet both of groups of potential buyers will find features to enjoy here.